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Manchester Urban Institute

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Education

Our research is addressing inequalities in educational outcomes, policies, processes and practice.

The Manchester Institute for Education has a commitment to addressing social justice. Our research is distinctive in its focus on equity and practice. We work collaboratively with policymakers and educational practitioners to ensure our research is cutting edge and that it contributes to improvements in the overall quality of education for students, their families and communities.

Our researchers work in four main areas:  special education and additional needs; critical pedagogies; critical education policy and leadership studies and disadvantage and poverty (including the Centre for Equity in Education). Inequalities are a core concern for all these groups.  The Centre for Equity in Education works particularly in disadvantaged urban schools and local authorities, including in Greater Manchester.  It involves practitioners, policy makers and researchers in collaborative development and research projects that seek to have a direct impact in the field. 

Schools and equity

Schools and university researchers collaborating to enhance practice.

The challenge

Schools everywhere are required to drive up their students’ standards of attainment. In diverse and often disadvantaged urban areas such as Greater Manchester, children can be left behind by such a narrow focus. How can schools ensure that all of their students do well – and how can universities help them? 

Our research

Researchers from the Centre for Equity in Education work with groups of schools – the ‘Coalition of Research Schools’ -  in Greater Manchester to help them explore which of their students are at risk of being marginalised and what they might do about this. The schools have set up inquiry teams who collect data on which students are not doing well and why. They then decide how they can change the school’s practices and monitor the impact of those changes. University researchers advise them on research methods, generate data alongside them, and act as critical friends in making sense of what they find.

The impact

Every year, teachers in groups of 10-15 schools, develop and trial better ways of working with some of their most vulnerable students. Sometimes just a few students are the focus of their work, other times larger numbers benefit from these developments. Because teachers monitor what they do, they know that those students are better supported, more successful and more content than they otherwise would have been. 

The practices teachers develop are customised to their own situations. However, they share those practices amongst the group of schools, and reports of their work are published nationally. More importantly, their work shows that, even in the pressured environment of schools at the current time – and even in the particularly intense pressure of urban schools – there is space for schools to pay attention to equity issues.

Key people

Inequality in university access

Reconsidering participation in the higher fees era.

The challenge 

At a national level, there is a challenge for young people of any background to understand and negotiate a new fee and repayment structure for English Higher Education (HE), and to reach appropriate decisions about whether to participate based on a full understanding of all the relevant information. This challenge is particularly acute in some areas of Greater Manchester because participation rates in HE are historically low.

Our research 

Our research speaks directly to those most affected by higher fees in English Higher Education: young people attending low participation schools and from families where participation is relatively unusual. Our research sought to understand more about how students’ financial considerations interacted with other views, attitudes and dispositions they had towards university. Our research focused on high-attaining young people who were from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We know young people from these backgrounds are less likely to progress to high-prestige universities and we asked them how the prospect of taking on greater student debt affected their decision-making process. 

The impact

Together with other studies, for example a Sutton Trust report by the Manchester Institute of Education looking at how some applicants could be disadvantaged by the university application process, our research aims to impact not only on national Higher Education policy, but also on the outreach work undertaken by universities across England. In areas of inequality, such as Greater Manchester, access is limited not only to direct educational resources, such as private tuition and attainment-driven schooling, but also to less visible forms of capital, such as help from family members and access to ‘insider’ knowledge.

Our findings show that, almost as important as the ‘attainment gap’, is a ‘wherewithal gap’. Many students have the ability to secure a place at a high-prestige university but struggle to grasp issues around student finance and university selection processes. The lessons of the research point to a need for more nuanced, context-sensitive approaches to widening participation, and our recommendations include simplifying application processes and financial support systems.

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Key people

Inequalities in education choice for migrants

The impact of race, gender and class.

The challenge

Greater Manchester is often considered as one of the most diverse cities outside of London. The population has grown in recent years, and much of this growth can be attributed to increased migration. For example, Greater Manchester has a higher proportion of Asian and Black African or Black Caribbean residents than other parts of England and Wales. A key challenge for migrants with young children is how to negotiate the United Kingdom education system with very little pre-existing knowledge and information about this including social networks to obtain this information. However, we know that migrants are a diverse group demographically and this raises questions of how issues of race, ethnicity, gender and class shape differences in the barriers they face when negotiating schools and school choice within our region.

Our research

This was an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project on migrants, school choice and the impact of race, ethnicity and class. We conducted 47 semi-structured interviews with individuals as well as group interviews with 54 participants. This included a combination of migrant and non-migrant parents and all were from the Greater Manchester area.

The findings highlighted examples how race, ethnicity, gender and class shape different barriers for migrant parents over schooling. For example, many migrant women did not feel confident asserting their children’s rights in public institutions, and were often marginalised from decision making by male relatives.

In addition, many migrant parents described wanting their children to go to ethnically diverse schools but faced a tension between sending them to schools with ‘too many like us’ (as a form of resistance to racialized categories) and schools with not enough ‘like us’ (out of fear of potential racism).

Our research therefore demonstrates the impact of race, ethnicity, gender and class on migrant parents choices over schooling, and how they negotiate these in order to avoid social disadvantages that the ‘wrong choice’ might have on their children.

The impact

The research has an important impact for people living in Greater Manchester because it demonstrates the inequalities faced by migrant parents over school choice and the impact of race, ethnicity, gender and class.

It has implications for policy makers at a local and national level because it suggests not only that such inequalities need to be addressed but may also require different strategies that recognise the diverse nature of inequalities faced by different migrants living in the UK.

Our research findings have formed the basis of a number of presentations aimed at academic and policy audiences in the UK including a keynote symposium at the British Educational Research Association. The findings are also presented on a website which disseminates the outputs to academics, policy makers and individuals on the issue of school choice, schools and inequalities.

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The educational equity toolkit

The challenge

It is known that poverty is associated with poor educational attainment. Technical responses to this have over a number of decades included performance management, data gathering, a marketplace of school choices, and more vocational options on the school curriculum. And yet there is little evidence of improved educational equity. The challenge is that such technical responses ignore wider influences such as public spending cuts and students’ own values. How can urban schools reflect on and improve their efforts to tackle educational inequity effectively?

Our research

Professor Carlo Raffo has formulated an Education Equity Framework that complements aspects of the work of the Chicago Consortium (Bryk et al., 2010) who found that multiple simultaneous efforts by schools with their communities best addressed systemic influences on education inequity. He then developed this framework into a value-driven Education Equity Toolkit designed to analyse education inequity by questioning educational practice at the micro, meso and macro level - three analytical tiers developed by researchers within Manchester Institute of Education’s Disadvantage and Poverty thematic programme of research and presented in the 2010 Joseph Rowntree Report Education and poverty, a critical review of theory, policy and practice. The toolkit is designed to be a resource for a non- technical response to educational injustice – it prioritises ideas associated with relational equity.

  • At a micro level the Education Equity Toolkit asks questions about individual experience within the classroom and within the school.
  • At a meso level the toolkit looks at the relationships of families, communities and neighbourhood locales to educational inequity.
  • At a macro level the toolkit looks at national or global impacts, such as austerity, on educational inequity.

 Our research underpinning the toolkit suggests that there is a need for a shift in the axes of educational power from national and local policy makers and professional practitioners to community-based fora where elements of teaching and learning in schools could be co-constructed and co-produced with community representatives, families and young people.

Professor Raffo has studied Manchester Communication Academy as an authentic example of professionals, organisations, young people, families and communities attempting to work together in equitable ways to make things educationally better and fairer in their communities. He analysed its process using the toolkit and found it to be a successful and pioneering project on two of the three tiers. The challenges of schools, from a local level, attempting  to influence the macro level remains an open question for educationalists and policy makers, since we found that without broad systemic changes root causes of educational inequality would not be addressed. 

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