Research Mobilities in Primary Literacy Education

Funded by Economic and Social Research Council.

Collaboration with Lancaster University and Sheffield Hallam University.

Primary school literacy is a foundation of education and yet use of research-based evidence to inform teachers' professional decision-making in this area, while increasing, is piecemeal and varied in quality. This study explores how movements of research are significant to this pressing problem. While much has been written about how ideas move in a networked society, manifesting in concerns about fake news and the rapid, widespread circulation of ill-informed or prejudicial perspectives and practices, little is known about what happens to educational research evidence as it moves through complex and intersecting networks, movements that are complicated further by a shifting landscape for professional learning and changes in communication media facilitated by digital technologies. This study will explore what happens as research evidence moves from research producers to research users, identifying the individual, organisational and technological brokers (such as literacy charities, social media influencers, algorithms and hashtags) that facilitate its movements or halt its progress, and any shifts in key messages as it moves.

We focus on literacy education in the primary phase (age 5-11) because literacy is a foundation of education and because international studies have highlighted the need for teachers to draw on a wide variety of research evidence generated through different research paradigms if literacy education is to be inclusive to all learners and fit for the 21st century. Teachers however must navigate a complex research environment, drawing on multiple sources accessed through diverse channels, often mediated by digital platforms. Against this background, research evidence can be distorted and some kinds of evidence gain greater traction than others - not necessarily in line with research merit but propelled by a proliferation of producers, strategies and channels of communication, diverse methods of uptake, and mixed messages in media discourse. There is therefore a pressing need for a better understanding of how literacy research evidence moves to teachers (or not) and what happens to it as it does so.

This study addresses this need by exploring the movements of research in primary literacy education (RPLE). It will explore how multiple actors combine to mediate, broker, propel or stall research evidence, and investigate the meanings that evidence accrues or drops, the credibility it acquires (or not), and how it gains or loses momentum as this happens. The complexity of researching movements of research has led us to draw from across the social sciences in order to design effective, multi-layered methods, and we are developing our own multidisciplinary instruments to examine the interfaces of networks of individuals, organisations, communication channels and texts.

The project will produce new important knowledge about the impact of movement on what is 'received' as research by teachers, and reinvigorate debate about the relationship between research and practice amongst stakeholders including educators, school leaders, policy-makers, literacy charities, teacher educators and other educational organisations. It will develop new for a for enabling teachers to engage with researchers, and produce professional learning materials for use by teachers, schools and student-teachers that support a critical engagement with research that considers not just research evidence itself, but the broader networks that construct it in certain ways. These findings will also be valuable to researchers when planning dissemination activities and to the bodies, such as UKRI, that fund them. While the focus is RPLE, the study will generate theoretical and methodological resources for understanding the movements of research across education and other social sciences, paving the way for a new programme of research into what we call 'researchmobilities'.

Total award value £23,212.00

People (1)


Dr Terrie-Lynn Thompson

Dr Terrie-Lynn Thompson

Senior Lecturer, Education

Outputs (1)