Blog Post - Stephen Ward's Reflections on COVID-19, BESA and Book Publication

Stephen Ward Picture (2020)For the first post in our blog series, we welcome thoughts and reflections from Stephen Ward; one of our founding BESA members, and Journal Reviews Editor. With the COVID-19 crisis and cancellation of the 2020 conference providing a starting point to the post, thoughts then move to the origins of BESA and the development of book publications. With Stephen now editing an education studies book series with Routledge, the post ends with an invitation for anyone with new ideas for publication to get in touch.

We’ll meet again….

Yes, it’s a corny old phrase, but it does touch us in this time of Covid crisis. Universities are teaching online. Zoom brought 15 of us together for the BESA Executive meeting on 8 June. The BESA conference planned for June 2020 at Manchester Met was cancelled and, while there are hopes that it can be held in 2021, we decided to plan for the necessity of an online conference. Digital wonders make all this online stuff ‘work’: we can stay cushioned at home, while an online conference would bring members from abroad, and it won’t cost much. But the danger is that if it all this works so well and so cheaply, the physical existence of the university is threatened. But aren’t we all, including students, going to be sick of spending our lives peering into screens?

The loss of the 2020 conference is a sharp reminder of the importance of getting together in an educational world which is so harshly threatened by today’s politics. The annual conference was the principal reason for BESA’s existence, and it has become part of the educational landscape for Education Studies.

BESA origins

In 1999 we launched our first Education Studies degree at Bath Spa University. We had spent a year drawing up the course programme, trying to make it new and distinct from teacher training. Other universities were doing the same thing, with Ed Studies getting on its feet. It occurred to me that, while we were all creating new programmes and making the curriculum for Ed Studies, we were all doing our own thing and not talking to each other. Initial teacher education had a network of communication: The Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET). But there was no network for Ed Studies. Steve Bartlett, then at the University of Chester, and I got some course leaders together to form a founding group and decided to call ourselves the British Education Studies Association.

Picture of The University of ChesterIn June 2005 we held our first conference at Chester with 60 delegates and Alison Wolf as a keynote. We held our first AGM and BESA was born. There was only a handful of Ed Studies courses then, and we were mostly post-92 institutions. Ed Studies has grown to some 50 courses and we are joined by members of the Russell Group. That first conference was a warm and friendly coming together of colleagues who had been working away on devising the new subject. It’s not new anymore, but the conference is loved for always being warm and friendly, giving students and early researchers a chance to speak!

A textbook

We now know what Education Studies is, but at that time it was all rather uncertain. The subject was mainly grown from initial teacher education courses, but it wasn’t teacher training and there were debates about what it should include. At Bath Spa we decided that we would do a textbook with our version of the Education Studies curriculum. I asked course tutors to do a chapter on their module to produce a book written by those teaching the topics. A Student’s Guide to Education Studies was published by Routledge in 2004 with three editions.

The content was in three sections:

  1. Policy and politics
  2. Global and environmental education
  3. Learning, knowledge and the curriculum

We were keen on introducing students to the political aspects of education which had been forbidden in teacher training. The second theme was to open up students’ knowledge of the world: international education and global issues of climate change and sustainability. The third introduced ideas about learning and the nature of knowledge, but not how to teach it.

A new edition

The book was successful and its fourth edition has been published with my co-editor, Catherine Simon, currently the award leader at Bath Spa. We drew on a wider range of contributors, often BESA members, from other universities. Topics are updated: for example, in the politics section there is a chapter on political populism. And the content is wider, reflecting the way that Education Studies has grown over the years, with two additional sections:

  1. Childhood and youth
  2. Professionalism and employment

The fourth addresses the way that Education Studies now embraces degrees in child development, and particularly early-years education. A chapter on health is relevant today!

In those first attempts at Education Studies it was defined as not teacher training and some academics wanted to see it as a ‘pure’ university subject. This led to a tendency to dismiss anything which looked like preparation for employment. Recently, courses recognise the need for students to have a vision of their graduate employment, be it initial teacher education or professional roles in other educational contexts. Therefore, we have chapters on work-based learning and the nature of professionalism.

The early Ed Studies courses also tended to avoid explicit reference to the disciplines of Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy and History of Education, perhaps because of their bad reputation in old teacher training courses. Another shift in academic perspective has been to draw explicitly on the disciplines with modules in Psychology or Sociology. The new book addresses the disciplines in Section 3 with chapters on the social psychology of learning, the sociology of knowledge and the philosophy of education.

For details of the new book see:
https://www.routledge.com/A-Students-Guide-to-Education-Studies/Simon-Ward/p/book/9780367276683

A book series

Routledge have been supportive publishers for Education Studies. In 2015 they asked me to edit a book series on the key topics in the Student’s Guide. So far we have nine published volumes, mainly written and edited by BESA members: for example, Zeta Williams-BrownInclusive Education, Cathal ÓsiochrúPsychology and the Study of Education, Brendan BartramInternational and Comparative Education.

For a full list of the books in the series see:
https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Education-Studies-Series/book-series/RESS

And if you have ideas for a book, I’d be glad to hear from you!

Stephen Ward, Bath Spa University
Email: s.ward@bathspa.ac.uk

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