‘Excavations’ in the IOE’s School Histories Collection

The Newsam Library at the Institute of Education has a large collection of  education institutional histories. These form a discrete collection and provide a rich source of information on individual schools, colleges and universities and their communities across Britain. The books and pamphlets mainly date from the early twentieth century up to the present day. Older materials, dating mainly from the nineteenth century, are held in the History of Education Collection in the closed stacks.

In anticipation of the half-day symposium on writing institutional histories, jointly organised by ICHRE (International Centre for Historical Research in Education) and FNLA (Friends of the Newsam Library and Archives), we present a guest blog by Dr. Barry Blades on his use of the IOE’s School Histories Collection to write his book, Roll of Honour.


Blades, B., 2015. Roll of Honour: Schooling and the Great War 1914-1919. Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

Until relatively recently, the School Histories Collection (SHC) at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) resided deep in the storerooms of the Newsam Library, its individual volumes accessible only by request in advance. In the early days of collecting material for a commissioned trilogy of books entitled Schooling and the Great War I was looking for anything that might give clues as to the experience of individual schools and the impact of war on their communities. The IOE Library and Archives catalogue was brilliant but daunting, listing some 1,500 SHC titles. My first tentative, but manifestly over-ambitious, request was for all titles beginning with ‘A’. The stacked library trolley awaited my arrival on the designated day and the archaeological digging and sifting process began. By the time I was ready to examine the ‘M’s, the SHC had been moved en-masse to its own study room next to the IOE Archives Office. I can only assume that I was not the only researcher who had stumbled across this veritable treasure trove.

The School Histories Collection  consists of hundreds of monographs of individual British schools, covering a range of institutions spanning the educational spectrum. The voluminous histories of elite public schools stand next to brief studies of charity schools for waifs and strays. Publications marking the centenaries of ancient grammar schools are shelved next to accounts of elementary schools which no longer exist or have been absorbed into other institutions. A school’s place in the hierarchy of schooling is generally mirrored by the status of the publishing house which was commissioned to tell its story. Many of these histories – the vast majority relating to English, Welsh and Scottish institutions – were written by alumni: former pupils, teachers (especially retired Deputy Headteachers) and governors determined to place on record the distinctive development and particular achievements of their alma mater.

It is easy for the outsider to criticise the esoteric, celebratory and partisan nature of these histories. The great majority were intended primarily for the school community itself. Few beyond the immediate community would identify the school in question from headline titles such as Where the Fat Black Canons Dined, Further Up Stephen’s Brae, or Hyacinths and Haricot Beans. Subtitles were generally more informative. These histories were aimed predominantly at a readership already familiar with the institution, namely the ‘Old Boys’ or the ‘Old Girls’. An institutional history might cover hundreds of years, but in most there will be at least one section for the alumnus which refers to their particular period of attendance and school life as they experienced it. Headteachers inevitably dominate the story. The tenures of these deified – and very occasionally demonised – individuals commonly provide a chronological structure to a story of growth and development. Teachers, and especially those with nicknames deriving from their idiosyncratic mannerisms or behaviour, are fondly remembered. Heroic deeds on the playing field and battlefield are fixed in print and validate memories of achievement and loss. Narrative triumphs over analysis.

Yet, what may at first appear to be the greatest weaknesses of published school histories is, for the historian investigating the history of education more generally, their greatest strength. The rich detail, the human stories and the relatively obscure anecdotage contained therein tell us so much about the ethos, culture and formative traditions of individual institutions. These ‘secondary’ sources thus become a form of ‘primary’ material when the researcher asks questions relating to continuity and change and similarity and difference in any given period or aspect of schooling. Many of the histories were, of course, constructed using primary sources, their authors making full use of the archive material still retained by many institutions. School logbooks, magazines, headteachers’ annual reports, governors’ minutes, the records of alumni organisations, and ephemera including school photographs and fixture lists are the real archival treasures upon which these broader accounts are based.

Roll of Honour, the first book in the Schooling and the Great War trilogy, includes material from over one hundred such histories and drew ideas and inspiration from many more. Wherever possible I used extracts which were evidently drawn directly from the institutional archives. Other material was subjected to the usual tests of authenticity, accuracy and reliability. School histories vary considerably in their coverage of national events. This was particularly noticeable when searching for references to the Great War of 1914 to 1919. A few histories cover the wartime years in detail. In others, there is little or no reference at all to the impact of the war on the daily life of the school or even to the conflict in general. In many, the wartime experiences of alumni take centre stage. Taken collectively, however, these histories formed a major component of my research; an evidence base which could be cross-referenced and triangulated with material from other archival collections, official publications, newspapers, contemporary autobiographies, printed secondary works and digital resources.

For the researcher who wants to find out more about how different institutions created, developed and maintained their distinct cultures and particular identities, then dig deep into the School Histories Collection. For the researcher who wants to discover how institutional imperatives tempered directives from national and local authorities, or how schools responded to national and local economic and social circumstances, then test your hypotheses in the School Histories Collection. For those of you who are historians of the school curriculum, or teachers and teaching methods, or pupil origins and destinations – or indeed any given period or particular aspect of British schooling – I can assure you that delving into the School Histories Collection will be most rewarding.

Barry Blades

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“Whip top! Whip top!”: play throughout the seasons… and times

How would you find out about games and toys in former times? Are there instructions for families on how to make a spinning top or a rag doll? Are there essays on the origin of obscure nursery rhymes? And were outdoor pastimes of young and old captured in images centuries ago?

Drawing of three spinning tops.On cataloguing older books at the Newsam Library (UCL Institute of Education), I was struck by a work following games and folklore through the cycle of the year.

The author displays great learning when he refers back to Romans and Celtic literature and mythology; and he grasps the reader’s attention on every page with delightful historical pictures or quaint little songs, including dialect or Gaelic versions. “Whip top! Whip top! Turn about and never stop!”

Children’s games throughout the year (1949/1976) by Leslie Daiken will tell you as much about everyday life and festive tides of the European past as about children’s games and songs. Where was it that ‘Flour of England, fruit of Spain met … tied round with a string’? In a Christmas pudding!

The same author’s work Children’s toys throughout the ages (1953) abounds with background information and illustrations.

Colour photograph of Victorian toys, including a board game and ‘carpet bowls’.An up-to-date theory and history of play just came onto the shelves: The Routledge international handbook of early childhood play (2017) covers many areas of the world.

To share the history of play with children, just walk to the Curriculum Resources shelves at the Newsam Library and have a look in the ‘790’ range. There and nearby, at ‘745’, you will also find ideas for toy-making!

The Seasonal projects series follows Daiken’s approach in linking the seasons and their traditions to appropriate activities. Projects for autumn, for example, deals with autumn leaves, harvest and hibernation as well as Martinmas, Thanksgiving Day and Diwali.

For online teaching resources, head to our LibGuide on Open Education Resources (OER). You can find, for instance,  inspiration and even templates about the yearly cycle at Teaching Ideas. For poems about the seasons, their features and their fests – in print and audio formats – listen in at Children’s Poetry Archive.

 Half a page with suggestions for play in the month of March and a nature scene.

Leslie Daiken (1953) devotes a chapter to “Toys that teach” but explains that toys, however simple, always teach – and on the other hand exist above all for the “Spirit of Fun”! In the same vein, Bruce D. Perry (2001) reminds teachers in his brief online article The importance of pleasure in play: “Play, more than any other activity, fuels healthy development of children. […] If it isn’t fun, it isn’t play.”

Illustrations from ‘Children’s games throughout the year’ and ‘Children’s toys throughout the ages’ by Leslie Daiken.

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IBBY’s Silent Books: Wordless picture books speak loud in the library

1709 Silent books main shelfIf you visited the library during September you will have seen, just beyond the Help Point desk, an array of children’s picture books displayed face on. They were of all shapes and sizes, from miniature to massive, and represented many styles of illustration from trendy retro-looking block prints to soft watercolours and bright collages. Some opened right to left and some left to right, and they had titles in a variety of languages and several different scripts.

But open them up and the differences faded. Suddenly what was striking was what united them – no words.

These books formed IBBY’s touring exhibition Silent Books: Final Destination Lampedusa (Libri Senza Parole: Destinazione Lampedusa). The exhibition resulted from a project in 2013 to create a library on Lampedusa for both Italian children and the children from other countries arriving across the Mediterranean. In view of the many languages spoken, a collection of wordless books could clearly not be more appropriate, and IBBY Italia put out a call to IBBY branches around the world for the best wordless picture book publishing from their countries. A member of the jury responsible for selecting the books, Sophie Van der Linden, comments:

No form of reading is more universal and at the same time more personal than a picture story. You have to have seen kids pick up these books over and over again and comment on them with their friends, taking pride in pointing out hidden details and the way things logically follow on from one another; and above all, you have to have experienced the fabulous silence that surrounds them when they read this kind of book, to really believe it. Source

1709 Silent books in boxWhen the books arrived at the IOE in two grey boxes there was already a story to read. The labels on the boxes, like those on a battered suitcase, told of their most recent travels, from Belgium, Dublin and Newcastle. The books had a well-loved look to them; some a little battered with a few repairs here and there, which spoke even more about their history and the previous readers who had handled and learnt from them.

Some might think that the idea of a book without words is a contradiction, but as these books demonstrated in so many different ways, an absence of words does not mean an absence of plot or characters. Pictures can tell stories powerfully, sometimes even two stories at the same time like the delightful Bramenjam (Blackberry Jam) where a couple’s quest to produce their own jam takes place in the main image, while another story happens in a picture frame on the wall.

IOE’s Sue McGonigle has recently written about the value of wordless picture books in the classroom for publisher Tiny Owl:

One of the reasons for the increased popularity of wordless picture books is the development of a broader view of what reading is, what can be read and what it means to be literate in the 21st century. It is now widely recognised that we read pictures as well as words and that illustrations can communicate ideas and tell stories very powerfully. Source

Mariella Bertelli, librarian and storyteller with experience from Lampedusa and coordinator of the Silent Books tour in Canada, lists some of the ways these books can be used:

The wordless books generate an interest in exploring what a story can be. I discovered that the stories can:

  • Tell a tale with a beginning, middle and an end
  • Be playful and open the way for games, improvisation and guessing
  • Prompt discussions about diversity, differences and new perspectives
  • Throw up new words, sentences, associations
  • Pave the way for imaginative journeys
  • Inspire interpretations and discussions about art and illustrations         Source

1709 Silent books staff by shelvesDuring the month they were with us the Silent Books attracted much attention. In addition to being browsed by library users they were the focus of a student book group visit and a staff book group session where members chose a title that appealed to them and presented it to the rest of the group. The books also formed the core of the first session for our PGCE Primary Children’s Literature Specialism where they were greeted with great enthusiasm. Students looked at the books in small groups and chose one to present to the class. For some of the books this was easier than for others – some had a clear and simple narrative like the delightful story of a pig trying to have a bath in the midst of a very troublesome family (La Porte (The Door) by Michel Van Zeveren), whereas others contained a more complex tale like Suzy Lee’s Mirror, where a little girl’s joyously dancing reflection discovers a life of its own and the mirror has to be broken for order to be restored. In some cases there was a distinctly surreal storyline, where readers are likely to interpret different tales, like Bente Olesen Nyström’s Hr. Alting (Mr Everything).

1709 Silent books pgce cropped1709 Silent books pgce close up cropped

Some of the books were loved for their characters – the black and white cat who follows a red flying fish from cover to cover in Il Mare (The Sea) by Marianne Dubuc was a particular favourite. Others were picked out for the way they played with the structure of the book, like Hamin va Hamaan (Both This and That) where flaps allowed images to change or Jeannie Baker’s Mirror where the passage of a day is depicted in Baker’s wonderful trademark collages, one version showing an Australian family and opening right to left, while bound with it and opening left to right is a parallel story set in Morocco.

The exhibition also received a visit from UCL’s MA in Library and Information Studies students (amongst them students from school and public library backgrounds) and later in the term, inspired by the exhibition, a collection of our own wordless picture books will be visiting a BA Education Studies class working on film making. Many of the wordless picture books have much to demonstrate about how framing and points of view in still images contribute to storytelling. Shaun Tan’s remarkable The Arrival is one – it must be said particularly brilliant – example.

At the end of September the books went back into their grey boxes to wing their way to Cambridge, and at the end of the year they apparently leave the country for more distant travels. But it feels as though their impact will live on, in an understanding that books without words can actually tell a very loud story, and that stories, and the physical books that contain them, can cross boundaries both geographical and cultural. If you would like to know more about the project please see the IBBY Silent Books website. Full details of the Silent Books referred to are listed here. If you would like to explore the wordless picture books held in our own Curriculum Resources collection please go to UCL Explore and use the search term ‘stories without words’.

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Silent Books: a display of wordless picture books from around the world

4-30 September 2017 at the UCL Institute of Education Library, Level 4

Silent books

The IOE Library, working with IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People), is bringing the Silent Books collection to UCL. It will be on display in the Curriculum Resources area of the library during September.

About the project:

The Silent Books project began on the Italian island of Lampedusa in response to the experience of refugees arriving from Africa and the Middle East after long journeys culminating in a hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean. The project created a library on Lampedusa and brought together a collection of wordless picture books from over twenty countries, selected and now circulated by IBBY.

Find out more:

You can read about the original project and the touring collection, and find ideas about how wordless picture books can be used, on the IBBY website: www.ibby.org/awards-activities/activities/silent-books

For the library’s opening times please see www.ucl.ac.uk/library/sites/ioe If you don’t hold a UCL ID card please contact sally.perry@ucl.ac.uk in advance of your visit.

“It soon became clear that the books and the stories gave comfort and security, an opportunity to disappear into a story and escape the difficulties of life for a moment. This was a place where people could share worlds and experiences with each other. The books provided a fast route into the new language, and sparked a desire to read.”

Rose-Marie Lindfors (2016) Silent Books: A handbook on wordless pictures packed with narrative power at ibby.org/awards-activities/activities/silent-books.

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Of ‘Guns at Bull Run’ and ‘Good wives’ : children’s worlds in the past

My favourite book, when I was little, was my mother’s illustrated description of Technological masterpieces of millennia past. My father would buy us whole series of colourful children’s books on animals in habitats all around the world. All my childhood, I naturally wanted to research and explore the world — whether as an astronomer, zoologist or archaeologist!

Drawing of curving Roman aqueducts crossing over.This drawing in my book on antiquity had a profound influence on me as a child.

Therefore I was puzzled to read in a survey of American children’s reading habits from the early 20th century: “The interest of girls in travel, adventure, and science is almost negligible.” Has the nature of girls changed so much in a few generations… or were they kept on a certain intellectual diet in the past, so that it became second nature?

Arthur Melville Jordan’s meta-study of 1926 contains many other nuggets. I was puzzled about ‘women’s arts’ – were girls perhaps passionate about ladies’ colleges for fine art, where young women were not exposed to such ‘hairy’ subjects as naked people? Far from it: labour in the home is chiefly done by women even to this day, but to see it labelled ‘women’s arts’ did not necessarily lift my spirit…

Cover of 'Popular mechnaics': men inside a huge metal construction.Moreover, it is one thing to see American girls prefer the Ladies home journal, while boys patronise Popular mechanics, or have male pre-teens favour the civil war story Guns of Bull Run over the four sisters’ lives in Little women – but to find a renowned educationalist stating less than a hundred years ago that “the strong, healthy American boy” scorns Little women, is another. Is the reader to conclude that only a weak and sickly boy reads girl’s fiction…?

The titles almost summarise 19th century gender roles: Bull Run is a real place, but Guns of Bull Run seems a smart choice for a mega-masculine message. And guess what the sequel to Little women was called? There’s only one way it could go: Good wives.

Cover of 'Ladies Home Journal': young girl in bonnet and blue dress with flowers and frills.Children’s interests in reading is only one of thousands of books in the stores underneath the library which you may not have known about until now.

This is one thing librarians do in the background, quite possibly underneath your feet: they check if older books are indexed, so that you can find them under the subject matter, and indeed recorded. As soon as they appear on Explore, you can order them to be consulted in the library.

Look at the following gem, from an analysis of teenage life in the 1960’s: “… we strongly believe that … American civilization tends to stand in such awe of its teen-age segment that it is in danger of becoming a teen-age society, with permanently teen-age standards of thought, culture and goals.”

Very old television set in tall wooden box with knobs.In Grace and Fred Hechinger’s account Teen-age tyranny, the portrait of society looks uncannily familiar, even if the cultural references and moral standards sound dated: the cult of fast cars and shopping to surfeit; the rule of movies and television; the social issues of too early dating and teenage pregnancy…

Since then, there have been more studies on The disappearance of childhood and of adulthood in favour of permanent teenage — and of a homogenised and globalised Life on the screen. You are likely to find these studies at the Newsam Library of the Institute of Education, at another UCL library, at Senate House Library, or online through our library pages.

So, keep your eyes open on our New accessions and check our various search functions (listed on the left of all IOE LibGuides). Never assume that the 18 UCL libraries will not hold a certain book or journal article, or can find it for you elsewhere. That’s what we are there for.

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Minute Books offer glimpses into the organisation of women teachers at the turn of the 20th Century

Volunteers’ week may be long over but that doesn’t mean we can’t say thank you to our volunteers throughout the rest of the year!  This time I would like to introduce some of the work done by one of our volunteers, Ashley Zuelke, who you may have come across before in this Volunteer Week post. As well as volunteering in Special Collections we have been lucky enough to have Ashley volunteering with us in UCL IOE Archives.  Ashley has worked on catalogue enhancement of Minute Books of the London branch of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT).  The account which follows is a fascinating analysis of what she uncovered and gives an insight into the interesting stories that can be found in these unassuming looking volumes.

Minute Books Offer Glimpses into the Organisation of Women Teachers at the Turn of the 20th Century

By Ashley Zuelke
Summer Volunteer with Special Collections, Archives and Exhibitions studying for an MSc in Business Analytics and Management

In the early 1900s, British women teachers formed their own associations, branching out from the primary teaching organizations of the time to advocate for emerging issues including equal pay, pensions, and the management of “combined” boys and girls school departments. Reading the first minute books kept by the London Branch of the National Union of Women Teachers – then known as the National Federation of Women Teachers – is like sifting through snapshots of history taken every few months.

Entries from 1908 to 1922 reveal glimpses of the expansion of women’s rights and education in the U.K. before, during and after World War I. Discussions on proposed resolutions for national meetings reveal issues on which broad consensus prevailed, such as supporting aging women teachers, as well as points of disagreement, which included Parliament extending the vote to women. In history books, women’s suffrage seems like a natural course within a history punctuated with equal rights victories. The minute books, however, present a more nuanced picture with a spectrum of views and no certain results.

Demonstration by the London Unit against the allocation of the Fisher Grant, 1918

Demonstration by the London Unit against the allocation of the Fisher Grant, 1918

The year 1918 marked a watershed moment for the organisation: Parliament passed landmark education reform legislation and the group merged with the Women Teachers Franchise Union to create the London Unit of the National Federation of Women Teachers. The Franchise Union at the time was a politicised organisation, which prompted some members to urge that the group not advocate for political issues. The group did not accept those proposals, though the organisation unanimously postponed advocacy on political issues during the war. With the merger, the group codified its practices into a constitution and began to persistently advocate for equal rights and the implementation of the Education Act of 1918, which was designed to improve school conditions and to study the UK educational system – objectives for which public support increased dramatically after the war.

Within 10 years, the group grew from a handful of regular members to more than 50 subscribers in attendance at annual meetings representing nearly all parts of greater London. The organisation’s behaviour evolved as well. Initial notes that focused mostly on social gatherings and group administration became disciplined accounts of proposed resolutions and active correspondence. Early schisms dissolved as rules and procedures were finalised. By 1916, the group even published meeting minutes in newspapers as public record.  Members, some of whom participated in the group for more than a decade, built seniority. The group developed a clear, ringing voice on important issues. The women’s dedication is evident, with many lines commemorating achievements of group presidents and expressing condolences for members with illness or those who passed away.

The minute-book entries represent many hours of work for members outside the classroom, often on weekends. They offer readers a new perspective on events in the first two decades of the 20th Century. The books show how one organisation developed, enduring setbacks and victories on a path that many organisations today would likely recognise. And the books open windows into time as a group made changes and won rights for women and children that today many of us could not imagine doing without.


Thanks so much Ashley for writing up such an interesting account of the early minute books of the NUWT and for all your work in expanding and enhancing the catalogue description for these.

For more information on the National Union of Women Teachers please refer to our libguide or our online catalogue.

All images ©UCL Institute of Education Archives

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How to design your doctoral research: concepts and methodologies (edited by Jon Swain)

When I first came to the Institute, I had the pleasure of supporting the students who were on the ‘Conceptualising and Designing Research’ (CDR) course which was compulsory for all doctoral students.  It was a course that I had always wanted to take in order to understand the issues that social science researchers had to be aware of when designing a research project.  I never had the time but now we have a book that reflects most of the contents of the course – for it has chapters by the course leader  Jon Swain and by others who taught on the course – Mano Candappa, Olga Cara, Professor Jane Hurry, Will Gibson, Rebecca O’Connell and Charlie Owen.  What it doesn’t have is a chapter on historical research because the book focuses on the research projects most often undertaken by the majority of doctoral students in education.  The book has much to offer and it is therefore a pleasure to feature it on Newsam News.

Jon's book

Location:  Level 5 Butb SWA

There is a new book on the market that is a landmark in the field of designing research, and is an ideal companion for any postgraduate student or early career academic conducting research across education and educational studies. How to design your doctoral research: concepts and methodologies (Sage, 2017) is edited by Jon Swain, who is a senior researcher and lecturer at UCL IOE. Jon used to be programme leader for the MPhil/PhD and one of the core, 30-hour, research training courses he ran for 7 years was called CDR (Conceptualising and Designing Research). CDR had a number of presenters who are highly experienced tutors and researchers who work, and have published extensively, in their particular field. Typically, each tutor/researcher began their session by introducing and raising issues about the key principles of their particular research design, and then used their own research project(s) as a vehicle to ground it in the real world with real life examples. In this way, students were introduced to different designs and types of research and evaluation, and were able to position research in its wider historical, political, social and ethical contexts. It is these presentations/workshops that form the core basis of the book. The designs include case studies, ethnography, experimental design, and survey research, and there is also a chapter on mixed methods.

The book is not about how to do research; rather its aim is to help doctoral students design and conceptualise their particular research projects, understand the philosophical foundations of their work, refine their research questions and choose a coherent methodology. Getting this right will go a long way in determining the satisfaction of the examiners.

Students begin their doctoral studies from a wide range of backgrounds, interests, and experiences of working in a variety of research traditions. While some have relatively deep understandings of different research approaches and designs, others have little idea of what, for example, the characteristics of ethnography are, or perhaps, what the difference is between epistemology and ontology. Whilst some students already have their research proposals and designs more or less worked out, the majority discuss and reflect on what they see and hear during their core research training, and in resultant discussions with colleagues and their supervisors many begin to change their designs. Some modify them a little, others more dramatically. The book captures the experience of uncertainty that many novice researchers feel, and draws on examples of students’ questions and the issues they face.

Although the subject matter (for example, ethical considerations or theories of knowledge) can be complex, the collected authors chart a clear course through this complexity. The generic structure is clear, logically sequenced and transparent, and the writing style is engaging and knowledgeable. How to design your doctoral research is divided into two sections: the first part looks at concepts and issues that inform research design, and the second part looks at the application of concepts in different research designs that use both quantitative and qualitative approaches. In other words, ideas and concepts that are introduced in the first half of the book are developed and illustrated in the later design chapters.

The book has an international element and also a broader appeal outside of education/schools: some of the contexts contain a number of multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary examples, such as child minders, asylum seekers and Muslim communities in China. The book also covers the growing area of internet research, which not only has a profound impact on the way ideas are formed and knowledge is created, but is also has its own particular social and ethical, implications which arise from mass public access to information resources such as discussion forums.

At the end of each chapter there is a section called ‘Areas for Discussion’, which highlights issues raised in the chapter to generate student discussions/activity. Also at the end of each chapter, is an Annotated Bibliography with a list of additional readings, which authors have found particularly influential. There is a companion website that provides a wealth of online resources to aid study and assist in teaching. There are also weblinks, which are clearly marked by icons in the margins of the text, and which direct readers to relevant websites and further readings. These help connect doctoral students and researchers to real world organisations and issues, and key articles to reinforce knowledge and understanding.

This is definitely a ‘must-read’ book for doctoral students and early career researchers in education.

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