Research England – England’s research grant funding body for English universities – is allocating a total of £6 million to higher education providers for the 2021-2022 academic year to be used for Participatory Research (PR). According to Research England, participatory (or co-produced) research “strengthens research outcomes by involving the communities and users of research, better recognising their experience, needs and preferences, and giving greater agency to communities to implement findings.”
In this round of funding, several academics at the University of Reading’s Institute of Education have been successful in their PR funding applications, and we would like to congratulate them. Details of these funded projects can be found below.
Project 1: ‘Identifying research priorities for the dyslexia community’
Research team: Dr. Cathy Manning (School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences) and Dr. Holly Joseph (Associate Professor of Language Education and Literacy Development)
Value of funding: £9,995
Dyslexia is a condition characterised by difficulties learning to read, affecting ~10% of the population. Despite its prevalence, research into dyslexia is underfunded compared to other developmental conditions. To date, dyslexia research has focused on identifying causes, characterising differences between those with and without dyslexia, and evaluating interventions. Yet, we do not know what research the dyslexia community want to see conducted, meaning that there could be a discrepancy between community research priorities and current research taking place. Such a mismatch could mean that the research conducted does not benefit the community it purportedly serves, as shown for other conditions (e.g., autism). In this project we will develop a new partnership with the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity to find out what the dyslexia community would like to be researched, and whether this matches with the current research funding landscape. This exercise is the first step in ensuring that the dyslexia community can shape the research that is conducted, and that research funding is targeted to the areas that matter most for people with dyslexia. Such targeted funding will ensure that future research outputs are best placed to have translational benefit. A similar exercise has already influenced funding priorities for autism research. Given the relative underfunding for dyslexia, it seems even more important to ensure that funding goes to projects that align with community priorities. This will be necessary for conducting impactful, well-designed experimental studies.
Project 2: ‘Co-designing a school readiness intervention with community members for pre-schoolers in an area of high deprivation’
Research team: Dr. Holly Joseph (Associate Professor of Language Education and Literacy Development), Dr. Daisy Powell (Associate Professor in the Psychology of Written Language) and Prof. Carol Fuller (Professor of Sociology of Education)
Value of funding: £8,550
The extent to which children experience shared storybook reading (Senechal & Lefevre, 2002) and number skills (Dyson et al., 2013) activities at home is a strong predictor of school-entry skills in literacy and maths which in turn have been strongly linked to later academic success (Stanovich, 1986). We also know that children from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to be weaker and less enthusiastic readers and mathematicians. Early educational experiences tend to be passed down the generations so supporting parents in developing skills and confidence in supporting their children in reading and number skills could lead to long-term benefits for disadvantaged children. However, low-income families are less likely to engage in researcher-led projects of this type and it is therefore crucial to consult parents and other stakeholders in the design of a successful intervention to raise school entry literacy and number skills and promote school readiness in disadvantaged children. We plan to engage directly with parents, children, teachers and community leaders (e.g. community centre leaders, librarians) in order to establish what is likely to be successful in running a school readiness intervention, and will then run the intervention in June based on the outcomes of these conversations. The project will take a sensitive and respectful approach in producing a co-designed programme based both on current evidence of effective strategies for facilitating school readiness and also the expertise, views, tastes and preferences of our primary stakeholders in the Whitley community.
Project 3: ‘Developing parent-teacher partnerships to teach about LGBTQ+ maters in primary school’
Value of funding: £6,930
It is known that LGBTQ+ youngsters suffer disproportionate amounts of victimization in schools (Harris, Wilson-Daily & Fuller, 2021a; Stonewall, 2017). It is also known that such students are more likely to feel isolated (Harris, Wilson-Daily & Fuller, 2021b) and that isolation is associated with significant longer term mental health issues (Higa et al, 2014; Hussong et al, 2019). However, studies show that students who are supported in developing a strong sense of identity demonstrate greater resilience in the longer term (Chen et al, 2012; Kosciw, Palmer & Kull, 2015). Yet most interventions cited in the literature are focused on secondary school students, which overlooks the fact that children typically develop the ability to recognise gender by the time they are 3 years old, and that children, who identity as LGBTQ+, often question their sexual and gender identity whilst in primary school. The fact that there is a gap between children questioning their identity at primary school yet often not coming out until some point in secondary school means children can be left isolated and without the support needed to navigate complex issues at this crucial stage in their identity development. This can easily create significant mental health issues in both the short and longer term, as well as impact on educational attainment (and subsequent life chances). There have been some projects directed towards primary schools, notably the No Outsiders Project (e.g. DePalma & Atkinson, 2009), but this project focused largely on working with teachers, and became the subject of national media attention, following hostile demonstrations from parents and local community groups, who fundamentally objected to the work being undertaken, and who felt they had not been consulted. The inclusion of parents, as major stakeholders, in the process of addressing such a sensitive issue is an important issue that needs to be addressed (Cumming-Potvin & Martino, 2018; Eisenberg et al, 2012; Kambouri et al., 2021). By including various participants in this project, working as research partners to address an area that is both sensitive and would provide support to young people, we anticipate the project could have a significant longer term positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ young people.