University lecturers’ research paper wins BERJ Editor’s Choice Award

Tue 22 December, 2020
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A research paper written by two University of Bedfordshire lecturers has won the British Education Research Journal (BERJ) 2020 Editor’s Choice Award.

BERJ, the flagship journal of the British Educational Research Association (BERA), originally published the paper written by Dr Oli Belas and Dr Neil Hopkins in 2019. Every year, the winner of the Editor’s Choice Award is named by the editorial team of BERJ and is selected from their nominated published work from the previous year.

Dr Belas & Dr Hopkins

The winning paper by Dr Belas and Dr Hopkins, ‘Subject English as citizenship education’, centres on the study of English literature in the UK curriculum. It argues that curriculum should respond to conditions of inequality and structural white supremacy, drawing on the disciplines of political philosophy and history of education.

The award-winning authors are both members of the University’s Faculty of Education and Sport and help coordinate the Bedford branch of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, of which they are members.

Juliet Fern, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education and Sport, said:

Juliet Fern“This award highlights the high quality research of Dr Belas and Dr Hopkins. I am delighted that the research paper was commended for its capacity 'to contribute to wider academic and social debates'.

“We have a range of education and English courses in the Faculty, on which Oli and Neil teach, and this research will create opportunities for our students to debate its content with the authors.”

Dr Oli Belas, Lecturer in the School of Education and English Language, was delighted and surprised by the win. He said he isproud to have had the paper recognised by a journal that does not typically publish theoretical or philosophical work:

It’s always encouraging to have your work acknowledged and appreciated, of course. This means a lot because our piece is not unusual in and of itself, but it’s perhaps not the sort of paper typically published in BERJ. The journal is probably better-known for publishing empirical research, and the editors have tried hard in recent years to encourage submissions from theoretical and philosophical researchers like us. More importantly, though, the paper is about something that matters – to us (of course) but we’d argue it matters more broadly, too.

The paper retraces the history of English Literature as a school subject, and teases out the colonialist and authoritarian thinking “behind” it. We focus on the philosophical tensions from which state education emerged, and the ways in which English, as a subject, is the product of those same tensions – it disciplines or ‘civilises’ as much as it liberates; it tries to form ‘good’ citizens.

Our argument is that those complex but often unpleasant impulses of the nineteenth century are alive and well today in current policy and curriculum frameworks (the narrowness of the GCSE English Literature curriculum, for example).

The paper was commended by the editorial team of BERJ for demonstrating the ‘capacity for educational research to contribute to wider academic and social debates around Britishness and diversity in the English cultural canon’.

Also happily surprised by the award win, Dr Neil Hopkins, Senior Lecturer in the School of Teacher Education, believes the paper’s content currently has particular political importance. He said:

As BERA is itself the primary educational research organisation in the UK, to get an award from the editors of its flagship journal (BERJ) is a significant achievement. It is also a commendation from people with national and international influence.

I have expertise in citizenship education, so one of the most interesting aspects of the paper is how the study of literature in schools and colleges can have a major impact on how we perceive citizenship and national identity. These are issues that have particular political relevance at the moment.

Moving forwards, I am currently working with a colleague in the NHS. We are writing an article on the ways education and psychoanalysis create knowledge and meaning through interaction and collaboration.

Meanwhile, Dr Belas is now focussing on a book, which draws on the award-winning paper directly. The book covers English, Creative Writing, and disciplinary identity. He is also a member of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, and is the editor of the group’s new Blog which has just been launched.

To read the academics’ award-winning research paper, visit BERJ.

For more information on study and research opportunities within the Faculty of Education and Sport, visit: www.beds.ac.uk/howtoapply/departments/es/

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