Robert Owen Centre Thematic Strands

  • Education, Equity and Public Policy

  • Education and International Development

  • Education Systems and Change


THEMATIC STRAND: Education, Equity and Public Policy

Strand Leaders: Mark Murphy, Kristinn Hermannsson and Barbara Read

Core Members: Katherin Barg, Queralt Capsada-Munsech,

Policy makers and academics alike now tend to accept the view that issues of educational disadvantage and inequity cannot be addressed in isolation from other forms of disadvantage, be they cultural, social, geographical, political or economic. It is widely accepted that the causes of educational inequity are complex and multi-faceted, and are unlikely to be alleviated via education initiatives alone. This is also the case for educational trajectories and identities at the micro-level, which are subject to multiple and intersecting sources of influence.

This consensus at a policy and research level is one of the key reasons why a much stronger focus has developed on ‘inter’ work – inter-professionalism, inter-agency, inter-sectoral, inter-disciplinary and inter-sectional. Inter-agency working, whole-systems thinking and inter-professional learning are agendas that speak to the continuing need for joined-up approaches to public policy and also to the reality of social problems that often have multiple causes and complex multi-levelled solutions. Joined-up approaches are also necessary when it comes to the lived experiences of educational ‘users’, which requires assessment of the ways in which constructions and performances of identity (e.g. in relation to gender, social class, and ‘race’/ethnicity) are impacted by – and help to influence, resist or challenge – policy and practice in educational settings

By its very nature, this strand connects the work of the Centre to a range of other research and policy agendas, offering up a set of underexplored but innovative strands of intellectual and impact-oriented activity. These include the likes of a focus on:

  • Reforming the public sector – regulation and impact of accountability mechanisms on professional behaviour: do they deliver the desired reforms?
  • Unintended consequences of public sector reform – examining the consequences for street-level bureaucrats (teachers, nurses, police etc) and field of public administration more generally.
  • Partnership and inter-professional working – how do such forms of working impact on equity agendas at national and international level?
  • The impact of education on life outcomes: such as labour market success, health and happiness. With a particular emphasis on the interaction of education with confounders such as socioeconomic background and the transmission from individual to macro impacts.
  • Education and the economy: The role and impact of education institutions and associated staff and students in the (local, regional, national) economy.
  • Participation and attainment in education: Participation and attainment in education and the influence of social and spatial dimensions, access to educational provision and efficacy of institutional processes.
  • The place of culture: Student and staff experience and perceptions of educational/academic cultures in the context of changing governmental/institutional policies and practice
  • Belonging and exclusion: Issues of ‘belonging’/exclusion in educational and social life, and social power relations/dynamics
  • Identity and precarity: The relationship between re/constructions of identity, subjectivity and difference in socio-economic conditions of austerity and increased social precarity

Alongside these research agendas, this thematic strand offers an excellent opportunity to bring together a wide range of professions and services – for example, police, probation, health, social work and guidance services – that can help to broaden the remit of the Centre while at the same time contributing to an inter-professional culture in itself.



THEMATIC STRAND:  Education and International Development

Strand Leader: Oscar Valiente

Core Members:  Michele Schweisfurth, Queralt Capsada Munsech, Oscar Odena

Affiliated Members:  Clive Dimmock, Kristinn Hermannsson, Barbara Read

Education for a sustainable development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that education is essential for the success of the SDGs, with Goal 4 specifically dedicated to the objective of ensuring equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.  This reflects the faith that the international development community has in educational change as a potential means to address these global and local inequalities.  However, they also acknowledge the need to understand more at all levels about education’s role in interrupting or perpetuating cycles of deprivation, from questions of economic investment at the macro level to classroom-level questions regarding quality provision.

A focus on equity and inequalities

Inequality is a global as well as national and local phenomenon, in at least two ways.  Between countries, development inequalities persist, whether we define development in terms of economic growth, human wellbeing, or democratic governance.  Additionally, at the national level, lower and middle-income countries experience some of the worst income and educational inequalities in the world, with wealthy elites co-existing with extremes of poverty and deprivation.

The Robert Owen Centre aims to generate a better understanding of the processes and mechanisms that reproduce and amplify educational inequalities between and within countries, as well as to critically discuss and influence international development agendas in a more equitable direction.

Research themes

Diverse expertise exists within the Robert Owen Centre, which covers this full global to local range. Some key research themes in which members have experience and interest include:

  • pedagogical change;
  • vocational education;
  • macro-economics;
  • intercultural education;
  • education in emergencies and post-conflict situations;
  • student migration;
  • education for social inclusion;
  • gender;
  • and higher education.

Research methods

Methodologically, we are well-equipped to work at macro, meso and micro levels and we are particularly well-placed to explore the interactions between levels through strengths in political economy, comparative research and policy-to-practice analyses.

Postgraduate teaching

Our postgraduate teaching includes two courses with a focus on education and development (International and Comparative Education & Education and International Development), which are both part of the Msc Education, Public Policy and Equity. In September 2019, we will be part of the European consortium programme M.A. in Education Policies for Global Development (GlobEd).


Doctoral supervision is an integral part of the centre’s activity and we welcome applications from PhD candidates interested in doing research on educational issues from an international development perspective.

Research projects

Our experience spans much of the global South as well as the world of aid agencies. Current and recent projects have included work in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Malawi, the Philippines, The Gambia, Rwanda, Vietnam, the Andes region of South America, India and China.  Current and recent projects include:

  • Examining gender in Higher Education (EGHE): STEM and beyond. A UK-African countries network (ESRC)
  • Case Study of Developmental Leadership in The Philippines:  Educational Experiences, Institutions and Networks  (Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade/Developmental Leadership Programme)
  • Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy in Kenya and South Sudan. (UNICEF)
  • Pilot Study of the Implementation of the Mexican Model of Dual Vocational Education and Training (Scottish Funding Council)
  • Evaluation of the Connecting Classrooms Programme (British Council)
  • Governing the Educational and Labour Market Trajectories of Secondary TVET Graduates in Chile (ESRC/Newton Fund)
  • The Implementation of Educational Reform in Vietnam (British Council)
  • Policy and academic networks in South Africa and Malawi (ESRC IAA)
  • Disadvantage and Participation Accountability Processes: Theory and Evidence from School Development and Management Committees in Karnataka, India (ESRC-DFID)
  • Sustainable, Healthy, Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (Global Challenges Research Fund)


Thematic Strand: Education Systems and Change

Theme Leader: Kevin Lowden

Members: Prof Chris Chapman; Stuart Hall; Deja Lusk; Prof Jim O’Brien and

Prof Clive Dimmock.

This Thematic Strand focuses on research into institutional and systemic structures and processes to provide a powerful analytical framework to understand factors that promote more equitable outcomes for different groups of young people. The Strand encompasses: system reform; equity; networking and collaboration; leading change at all levels; roles and responsibilities; the use of evidence and enquiry and mobilising knowledge into action. The work of the group aims to develop theory and concepts on education systems and change but is also committed to applying findings to drive developments to bring about positive change in education.

A key part of the Strand’s work is an innovative research-based methodology developed by the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change (ROC) to better understand and tackle the relationship between low educational attainment/ achievement and various forms of disadvantage; Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE). The model involves undertaking a detailed analysis of context and then drawing on expertise located within the Centre, local authorities, schools, their partners and other relevant stakeholders to develop bespoke change initiatives which are monitored and refined in light of emerging evidence of impact. The model is underpinned by collaborative relationships and enquiry and a sustainable partnership approach that is informed by a body of international research that confirms the value of school-to-school networking and cross-authority partnership work as key levers of innovation and system improvement (e.g. Chapman and Hadfield, 2010; Fullan 2013). The model was initially developed by ROC as the School Improvement Partnership Programme (SIPP) a national pilot project commissioned by the Scottish Government during 2013-16.

School Improvement Partnership Programme: Using collaboration and enquiry to tackle educational inequality

The ROC model goes beyond traditional analyses of the factors influencing disadvantage and attainment/ achievement, to combine research, experimentation and developmental work to promote more equitable and innovative practices. It explores the impact and interaction at three key levels: Within-institutions, Between- institutions and Beyond- institutions.

  • Within-institution improvement. These are improvements that arise from practices within institutions. For example, they can include: the ways in which students are taught and engage with learning; the ways in which teaching is organised and the different kinds of opportunities that result from this; the ways in which the institution responds to diversity in terms of attainment, gender, ethnicity and social background; and the kinds of social relations that are characteristic of the institution and the relationships the institution builds with families and local communities.
  • Between-institution improvement. These are issues that arise from the characteristics of local systems. For example, they include: the ways in which different types of institution emerge locally; the extent and ways in which institutions collaborate; the distribution of educational opportunities across institutions, and the extent to which students in every institution can access similar opportunities.
  • Beyond-institution improvement. This arena includes: the wider public policy context within which institutions operate; the demographics, economics, cultures and histories of the areas served by institution. Beyond this, it includes the underlying social and economic processes at national and – in many respects – at global levels out of which local conditions arise.

Using this approach, this Thematic Strand is currently contributing to major projects with a focus on working with partners to research, develop and monitor a range of holistic strategies and practices that make a difference to the outcomes of students from disadvantaged settings.

Recently, this model has been adopted by schools in Chile as part of their work with Lideres Educativos, a network made up of primary and high schools, supporting organisations, national and international universities and non-profit foundations, who share a commitment to promote effective public education. The ROC Thematic Strand team is working with the Leadership Center for School Improvement, headed by the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso to support the development of the ROC collaborative model across their network. The Leadership Center for School Improvement develops innovative training, research and extension programmes to improve the quality of education and works in partnership with the University of Chile, Universidad de Concepción, Fundación Chile and the University of Toronto. Other international work involves partnerships with academics and policy makers in Singapore including a focus on equity across school systems and the roles of policy makers and school leaders in bringing this about.

This ROC Thematic Strand also works in partnership with Policy Scotland (PS), What Works Scotland (WWS), the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) in a range of multi-agency, multi-practitioner public service environments across Scotland to understand how theory and evidence can inform local improvement and equity. This includes developing the Children’s Neighbourhood Scotland (CNS) programme – an area-based approach to tackle disadvantage and educational inequity in Scotland.

The CNS initiative sees the ROC thematic team working with WWS, GCPH and Glasgow City Council and in partnership with Clyde Gateway and other local and national third sector and private organisations in the Bridgeton and Dalmarnock areas. CNS aims to harness the power of local networks and help bring together people, resources and organisations in the neighbourhood area, so that all can work together to promote better lives for the children living there.








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