The Carlisle Social Mobility Story

In the UK there is a Social Mobility Commission. Their task is to ensure people are able to progress and improve their lot in life. In order to see how well efforts are going to improve social mobility they have developed a Social Mobility Index.

The Social Mobility Index compares the chances that a child from a disadvantaged background will do well at school and get a good job across each of the 324 local authority district areas of England.

It examines a range of measures of the educational outcomes achieved by young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and the local job and housing markets to shed light on which are the best and worst places in England in terms of the opportunities young people from poorer backgrounds have to succeed.

The last use of the index was in 2017. 324 Local Authorities in England were measured. This showed 49% of North West Local Authorities were in the lowest half of rankings.

The Cumbria wards scored in the following ways:

    • South Lakeland 104th
    • Copeland 170th
    • Barrow 280th
    • Carlisle  321st out of 324.

These are shocking and unacceptable statistics. Why did Carlisle do so badly?

A range of 16 indicators are used to calculate the social mobility scores for each area. And Carlisle’s rankings on this start to highlight some of the issues.

  • Early years attainment in Carlisle is amongst the worst 30-40% in England
  • School attainment was in the worst 10-20%
  • Youth outcomes were in the worst 0-10% and 8th worst in England overall.
  • Adult outcomes were in the worst 20-30%

This highlights that something goes amiss for school leavers. There are uncharacteristically high levels of young people counted as NEET, or not meeting their predicted potential after leaving school. This was, however, in the era before the school leaving age was raised to 18, which will have since improved this area just by keeping young people in school for longer.


As a result of this the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission at that point, Sir Alan Milburn, warned of a “spiral of division”, with London providing greater opportunities for the disadvantaged than coastal, rural and former industrial areas which are being “left behind economically and hollowed out socially”. He stated that; “The country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one. There is a stark social mobility lottery in Britain today”.


The index has not been repeated since 2017 (we wonder why?). The Social Mobility Commission has been active however. In 2019 they carried out a poll into public opinion into social mobility. The survey was limited, however, as it was only completed by 5000 people.


The poll returned the following results:

  • Just 31% of people living in the north-east think there are good opportunities to make progress in their own region. Only 48% of those in the north-west felt this optimism. This compares with 74% in the south-east and 78% of Londoners.
  • Almost half of people (44%) said that where you end up in society is largely determined by your background and just over a third (35%) feel that everyone has a chance to get on
  • The majority of people (77%) think there is a large gap between the social classes in Britain today
  • Only a third (30%) of 18 to 24 year olds think that everyone in Britain today has a fair chance compared to almost (48%) of those aged 65 and over
  • 50% of people think central government should be doing more to improve social mobility and to ensure opportunity for all – 38% felt local government should do more and 37% felt schools should do more.

Understanding why this is the case is important. We need to know how the geography, socioeconomic status, education, welfare and social care provision, work landscape, demographics and economy in the region interact to create this particularly stark scenario.

The task of improving social mobility has long been the duty of schools, colleges and educators. This is not the whole picture however, education is only one form of social capital. Other forms of capital also support social mobility such as money, network, skills, culture and so on. So what else can be done?

What the commission has done since is to publish a toolkit for employers to improve the social mobility in their organisations. Whilst useful guidance, this also does not address the systemic issues that limit social mobility.

Many organisations are also signing up to a new social mobility pledge – again a move in the right direction, but only if actions accompany the pledges made.

Whilst positive, for me, these measures all fall far short of what is required. Whilst we do need to support people to do well in schools and organisations, we, as a society, need to address all the inequities that stifle social mobility. That would include reducing income inequality, improving welfare provision, creating more equitable access to a wide range of resources. An attitudinal change is also required so everyone is treated with equal respect rather than as entirely responsible for their own issues.

This means a large scale structural change in society and attitudinal change. Improvement is necessary, as demonstrated by the higher levels of social mobility in different areas of Cumbria and especially the South of England.

Step one: raise awareness of this issue in local government, councils, organisations.

Step two: dig into the data, work out what drives the issue

Step three: petition for the changes that need to happen, linked to other local initiatives and provision.



What would you do?


The social mobility commission:

The toolkit:

The pledge:


Screenshot 2018-09-06 07.57.18


World Day of Social Justice

Happy social justice day!! Today the United Nations observe and champion social justice through the theme of closing the inequalities gap.

What can you do to mark the occasion?

* do something nice to someone who is usually ignored or treated badly

* read or watch something to increase your awareness and f the issues

* talk about inequality at home – put it on the table

* contact your local paper ask them to run a story

* give to charity

* start a charity

* lobby your local and national power holders to improve pay, tax and welfare policies

* stage a peaceful protest

The options are endless but the need to do something an imperative as the UK becomes more unequal every day.

Scholar Activism – what can you do to generate and mobilise knowledge for positive social change?

Why does Scholar Activism Matter to Me?


I identify the starting point for my scholar activism in my early life experiences. I grew up cold and hungry and experienced a degree of economic disadvantage which made life just less than comfortable and made me aware of how different I was to peers at school. I had some developmental health issues and spent a lot of time in hospitals, this again set me apart from friends and meant that I missed school due to these health disadvantages.


As I has missed a lot of school I didn’t do very well and ended up really disliking the experience. The worse I did the less I liked it and I got locked into a cycle of educational disadvantages. Because I did badly and because I wore second hand clothes and had worn out shoes I was bullied and ended up truanting, giving me an early experience of social discrimination.


I was lucky and in time my parents moved to a new area – some 200 miles away – and a better school. Whilst this was a great opportunity I experienced regional discrimination as my Yorkshire accent did not fit into a Kent Grammar school. This was mostly from a French teacher (“how can you speak French when you can’t even speak English?”). However, one teacher there was excellent. She invested in me, she saw past the lack of experience, the shyness, and saw potential. This was a real catalyst for change and I started to believe in myself and do well in school.


This was the motivation to want to support others to make good. I became a primary school teacher in the hope I could enable them to have the best start in life. Later I moved to secondary education thinking that was the key period when young people needed support. But all of this was focused on individual young people within a wider system. I changed sectors and worked in social care with young people with profound emotional and behavioural issues, trying to support those most in need. I re-trained to work in outdoor education and was a youth development worker at Brathay Trust and expedition leader. These were all attempts to achieve social change, but for individual people. All this time I studies voraciously and kept updating qualifications in the hope I would learn the keys to making more of a difference, but that scholarship didn’t seem to help as much as I hoped.


What I realised later was that I was working within a system that was broken, and I could not see the system, how broken it was, and therefore not do anything other than perpetuate its ill effects despite my best intentions.


Activist Continuums


I think there is a continuum of scholar activism, I’ve grounded this on the levels of conscious competence (unknown), a model of how we gain competence in any area. That model says you progress through four stages when, say, learning to drive a car:

Unconscious incompetence – don’t know I’m doing it wrong

Conscious incompetence – know I am doing it wrong

Conscious competence – can do it right with a lot of effort

Unconscious competence – can do it right without even thinking.


My adaptation looks like this:


Unconsciously complicit  – don’t know I’m part of oppression

Consciously complicit– know I am part of oppression

Consciously activist – can be activist with a lot of effort

Unconsciously activist – can do it without even thinking.


In my career to date I had been unconsciously complicit in my work, I had not really thought about the ‘system’ or the ‘organisation’ that was shaping teaching, or youth work or social care. I just got on with the job to the highest level I could. Of course there would never be enough of me to be able to change everyone’s lives, so I was bound to feel frustrated.


Later I started to realise that I was working within an oppressive system in power-ful organisations which dominated children and young people, but I was not brave enough to do anything about it – this was me acting in a consciously complicit way. This was deeply uncomfortable.


Eventually, a few career moves later, I was working as a researcher, studying for a PhD and developing the critical thinking I needed to be more critically conscious. My work started to take a more critical stance but I only published within the usual academic domains which was also unlikely to lead to any serious social change. I started to consider how I could achieve more through my scholarly work. This led to a writing more ‘daring’ papers where I overtly challenged the system and said what I really thought (Stuart, 2019).

This was a start, writing in a more activist style, but I was not reaching people who cared, or who would make a change. Here my work became more consciously activist and I started to send my writing, research and reports to local councillors and members of parliament. Whilst this rarely prompted a change I hoped it would make those power holders think more deeply about the issues they had power over.


Writing to power holders tackles one end of the hierarchy. Another potential for achieving social change is to work with the people most affected, to build a social movement and community of people who want change from the bottom up. To this end, I reached out to colleagues in other organisations and we jointly created the Carlisle Equality Group, attempting to draw people across Carlisle together to discuss and act on issues of inequality.


I hope that at some point in the future this will become an unconscious and effortless activity, where public outputs oriented to social change come ahead of academic publications, and indeed, inform them. Beyond that, I see a role in supporting others to become more activist in their scholarly work.


So why is it so difficult to get to scholar activism? Aside from all the usual barriers to getting anything done, we often feel paralysed by the enormity of the issue at hand. So even if we do reject the oppression we see in the world many of us end up sitting in the centre, doing nothing.

This is a phenomenon Andre Lourde wrote about as long ago as 1982. As he points out, however, this position is untenable, we have to find a way to act:

“To refuse to participate in the shaping of our future is to give it up. Do not be misled into passivity either by false security (they don’t mean me) or by despair (there’s nothing I can do). Each of us must find our own work and do it. Militancy no longer means guns at high noon, if it ever did. It means actively working for change, sometimes in the absence of any surety that change is coming” (Audre Lorde, 1982 cited in Fine, 2018a).


Say we do act, how should we do so? Ideally our activism should enhance outcomes for everyone and not happen at our own expense. There may be a cost, however, and Fine (1991) observed working class kids rebelling about the poor education they were receiving, often refused to attend school. Whilst an act of rebellion and activism, this was also self-defeating as it prevented them from gaining their education. This observation equips us with a good critical question – is there any aspect of my work that is self-defeating, and is that acceptable to me? To personalise the example, if I spoke or acted in a way which was intolerable to the university I work for, I may lose my job, and therefore the opportunity to continue use the privileges of higher education for social change.


A second scholar activist position speaks back to the levels of activist competence, but also to a deliberate choice. We may decide that we can best optimise our activities through what Fordham (1996) called conformist resistance. So I may not shake the university setting too strongly although I know it to be deeply oppressive, as I wish to use the privileges of higher education to affect social change in other communities. That may be a case of picking your battles, or accepting some power imbalances whilst challenging where you can. The third position is transformational resistance, where you do the work to affect social change (Solorzano and Delgado-Bernal, 2001). This is where I aim to work on issues of social and health inequalities.

Wherever we are able to act, within our own and contextual parameters, I feel we must. Whatever the issue, whatever the scale, whatever the impact. As Spooner and McNinch in their text Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education, state:


The future is on all of us. Time to resist, organise, and act in concert with initiatives, collaborations, affinity groups, and movements within and well-beyond the academy at both local and global levels – it is incumbent on us to expose, provoke, and tear down these systems of illegitimate authority power” (Spooner and McNinch, 2018 p.xxii).



Scholar activist foci – social justice inquiry topics


So what do you ‘do’ your activism about?

I shared a framework which guides my choice of foci for scholar activism – The Equalities Literacy Framework (ELF) which you can get from the references below (Stuart et al., 2019).


This model was developed initially as a theoretical framework to help a participatory research team understand the phenomenon of school drop out. We found, however, that this was also powerful as:

  • A reflexive tool to enable us to understand our educational experiences of privilege and disadvantage and how they shaped our research
  • A dialogical tool to use with young people to help them understand their own educational privilege and disadvantage
  • A workshop tool to help groups of people identify what is happening in their lives
  • An implicit tool for practitioners to hold in mind when working with individuals and groups.

I can provide examples and resources for any of the above if you are interested in knowing more. I now, also use this framework as a tool to guide my activism.


Firstly, the ELF informs me that I must take context seriously – be that global, national, regional, local, community, organizational. Everything happens in a context, and activism is rooted in exploring the oppression and freedom that exists in these contexts.


Secondly, ELF supports me to think about the impact those oppressions and freedoms have on an individual, how it shapes their lived experiences.


Thirdly, we are all positioned by others in society – by friends, family, peers, colleagues, organisations, society, media, the state and so on. This framework reminds us to explore this form of oppression or liberation, to understand who is doing the positioning, who is the target, and how they are positioned.


Next comes consideration of the way in which this positioning happens, whether it is through stereotypes, labelling, silencing, ignoring, willful blindness, othering, social abjection, etcetera. Knowing and naming these processes is key in activism as they are often left out of sight.


People do not float around like debris in their own lives, despite all of the freedoms and oppressions above, we all have agency or choice about what we do. The fourth part of ELF encourages us to identify the positions people adopt in response to this system. People may confirm, rebel, comply, become victims and so on. It is important we do not leave out this stage of analysis, as without it, we risk positioning people as entirely responsible for their own lives (part of the neoliberal project), or entirely without choice in the world (a deterministic perspective).


All these factors lead to a final trajectory, a degree of freedom or oppression and associated outcomes. Working through the five steps above enables me as a researcher and the people I research with to understand how they have come to be who they are and experience what they do. I have found this a potent emancipatory tool when used in dialogue with communities and encourage you to play around with it. It is even useful to help map how free or oppressed you may be as an activist!


Scholar activist approaches – socially just methods


Now we will move on to consider ‘how’ you can work with people in a way that is congruent with the anti-oppressive aims of activism. To epitomize the challenge, I may start by asking: do western, white, male, middle aged scientists really know best? I don’t think so, however, much of the research conducted in the world today is grounded in work by this group of people and the assumptions they held.


‘Medical model’ positivistic research assumptions still dominate and post-positivist methods are often rebuked and challenged. ‘Experts’ are still seen to know best although they may be much removed from the phenomenon they research. These realisations led to Sarah Walker (2003) expressing the “archipelago of human otherness”. On one side of the archipelago are the accepted positions of power of; expert, man, normal, rational free. And these are juxtaposed by the unaccepted positions of; disenfranchised, other, subhuman, irrational, savage, immoral. These words highlight the “predatory relation and longstanding, perverse hierarchy of knowing versus being known” (Fine, 2018, p.81).

Such analyses have led to a wide range of critiques of knowledge creation as:

  • “epistemologies of ignorance” (Mills, 2012)
  • “epistemicide” (De Sousa Santos, 2014)
  • “intellectual colonialism” (Fals Borda and Mora Osejo, 2003)
  • “epistemological exclusion” (Stuart and Shay, 2018).


What alternatives exist then? If we reject these power laden domineering perspectives, how else do we work? Gloria Anzaldua (2012) exhorts us to make use of complex overlaps in knowledge, in the rich ‘borderlands’ between insider and outsider status’. Rather than privileging one position over another we can bring them together in rich intersectional tapestries of knowledge (Hill Collins and Bilge, 2016). Such a ‘decolonisation’ of knowledge (Tuhiwai Smith, 2012) enables us to move towards what Escobar (2018) would call a ‘pluriverse’ where knowledge and action in the world are grounded in multiple pluralistic perspectives.


Seeking different forms of knowledge is now more commonly referred to as a knowledge democracy (Hall and Tandon, 2015), and can be defined as:

  1. acceptance of multiple epistemologies
  2. affirmation that knowledge is created and represented in multiple forms (e.g. text, image, numbers, story, music, drama, poetry, ceremony, etc.)
  3. understanding that knowledge is a tool for taking action to create a more socially just and healthy world and for deepening democracy.


Whilst encouraging us as scholar activists to seek wider knowledge and to build knowledge inclusively, further practical methodological guidance may be helpful.


Activism is not new and has a long global heritage. Leading scholar-activists include:

  • Paulo Friere (1970) Brazil
  • Orlando Fals-Borda (1985) South America
  • John Gaventa (1980) Appalacians
  • Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) Maori
  • Ignacio Martin-Baro (1990) El Salvador
  • Boaventura de Sousa Santis (2014) Brazil


These key figures “all argue for community-based, participatory research by, with, and alongside communities, engaged to contest the hegemonic academic hold on what is read as valid science and to widen the construct of ‘expertise’” (Fine, 2018, p.72). This is because researching with people seeks to remove the power hierarchy existent in traditional research relationships and because it enables greater knowledge democracy.


Participatory Action Research (PAR) becomes a method of choice due to its emancipatory, participatory aims and its focus on achieving social change (alongside other more domesticated forms of action research). PAR is also a method of choice due to its ability to encompass any data collection tool that will lead to the answers its community seeks to find, be it art work, performances, surveys or statistics.


Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is particularly powerful as it has the potential to start young people on their own activist journey, first as agents of change in their own lives, and second as agents of social change. As Cammarota and Fine (2008) state:


YPAR represents a systematic way to engage young people in transformational resistance, educational praxis, and critical epistemologies. …YP create their own sense of efficacy in the world and address the social conditions that impede liberation and positive healthy development. Learning to act upon and address oppressive social conditions leads to the acknowledgement of one’s ability to reshape the context of one’s life and thus determine a proactive and empowered sense of self” (Cammarota and Fine, 2008).


There are amazing examples of PAR and YPAR from a leading scholar activist Michelle Fine from the City University of New York. To provide just one powerful example, she has successfully prosecuted the city for providing a sub standard education to Black youth leading to significant reinvestment in their community schools and educational outcomes. The legal case was grounded in stories, pictures and images curated with young people wanting change to happen.


Fine (2019) helpfully defines a set of principles to accompany her activist action research:

  • No research on us without us
  • Design research in solidarity with communities under siege / activists / performance to challenge the dominant lies, creating epistemic justice.
  • Get deep participation by those most marginalised
  • Establish contact zones for epistemic justice – share, gather, hyper privilege the most marginalised forms of knowledge
  • Adopt a critical biofocality to document struggle and unjust privilege across time
  • Use participatory analysis too– use PAR as an epistemology not just a methodology
  • Generate materials for policy, organising, teaching, popular education, performance, to expand the radical imagination (Fine, 2019).


Tuhiwai-Smith (2018, p.37) writing to support decolonised research with indigenous populations in New Zealand encourages us to question all research proposals to find out:

  • Who is this research for?
  • Who is asking the questions?
  • Who will own it?
  • Who will benefit from it?
  • What does it mean to give consent?
  • How is this organised?
  • How will data be stored?
  • Whose knowledge is it?
  • How is local knowledge acknowledged and protected?
  • Who owns the copyright? (Tuhiwai-Smith, 2018, p.37).


This criticality will be a great support to all research of all types, addressing all issues as it enables us to reveal power within the research process. This is not to make such work appear simple, indeed, participatory research is some of the most challenging work I have ever undertaken. As Fine states;


In each research setting, challenging questions emerge about expertise, objectivity, and validity; sacred silences and suppressed “data”; Whiteness, privilege, and the colonial legacy of social science in communities of colour; the tenuous relation of science and advocacy; the delicacies and ethics of legitimacy; and the vulnerability when academic researchers and community members link arms to cross dangerous power lines” (Fine, 2018a, p.77).


Scholar activist impact – social change towards social justice


We have explored the topics and the power relations we might study as scholar activists, we have started to explore how to research in ways that limit power relations, next we turn to the question of how to achieve social change with the knowledge we generate. Spooner and McNinch encourage us to think beyond our usual confines (such as academic journals):


“We call on scholars to be beyond the audited confines of the academy and to be teacher-researcher-advocates, to assume the responsible long view, to face head-on our own domestication and query the purposes and consequences of knowledge production, consumption, and engagement” (Spooner and McNinch, 2018, p.xxvii).


I felt guilty that I had written so extensively about the social issues young people had experienced without actually doing anything about them. I had not set out to do so, but now felt my career had developed as a result of this work rather than those of the young people I sought to support. This deeply uncomfortable realization emerged when reading Michelle Fine’s book Just Research, where she comments that: “Critical researchers are neither tape recorders nor ventriloquists. And so what do we do with these luscious transcripts scattered around our living room floors?” (Fine, 2018, p.12). I felt I had not done enough with the transcripts I had been privileged enough to collect.


There are (thankfully!) so many possibilities, some small, some large scale, some safe others risky, and all are important and valid forms of scholar activism. It was listening to Michelle Fine at the 2019 Action Research of the Americas conference explain her wide range of activist activities that really enabled me to step further into activism. Consider whether some of the following are possible for you.


Get Story telling – listen to, tell and share stories.

  • Who we are connects us to our causes
  • Find out who people are and what their stories are
  • Find out what matters to people
  • Connect, explore, validate, differentiate
  • Become a community (Dara Frimmer, 2015).


Get writing – find something to say and someone to say it to

  • Letters
  • Newsprint
  • Reports
  • Papers
  • Flyers
  • Leaflets


Get visible – find something to show to someone

  • Posters
  • Exhibitions
  • T-shirts
  • Badges


Get social – join people up for discussions

“Networks are a form of resistance to marginalisation, they join people across borders, they broaden participation, they enable and strengthen collaborations, and they are inherently dynamic and can accommodate diversity” (Tuhiwai Smith, 2018, p.34). These could take the form of:

  • Book clubs
  • Discussion groups
  • Interest groups
  • Rallies
  • Associations
  • Interest groups


Get Online – mainstream your messages and go viral


Get Creative – limited by words? Make something to communicate your message

  • Performances
  • Art work / displays
  • Installations
  • Yarn storming


Get Organised – make your mark by building a community who will be visible

“seek to build a critical social analysis drawing upon, and drawing in more and more people” (Choudry, Hanley and Shragge, 2011). You could do this via:

  • Campaigns
  • Petitions
  • Protests
  • Marches
  • Sit-ins
  • Blockades
  • Legal action


Get Real – model your rejection of dominant ideologies

  • Talk to everyone as an equal
  • Say hello to people often ignored
  • Walk your talk – recycle, reuse
  • Challenge people in conversation
  • Put your views across, hold your line.


And beware that our often activist aims to work from a knowledge democracy can often descend into or diminish into the usual tokenistic approaches, as Affiong Limene Affiong, (2017) states:


  • when imperialism hijacks the struggles and infuses it with cash:
  • mobilisation descends into consultation;
  • organising struggle degenerates into organising conferences;
  • campaigns degenerate into charities;
  • revolution becomes a dirty word, spoken in hush tones and replaced by respectable terms of civil society, democracy and good governance” (Affiong Limene Affiong, 2017, p.5).


That is not to say this work is easy. You may encounter dissent, disagreement, conflict in your community or participatory groups. How you manage that without ‘tidying’ everything away and allowing the more palatable messages to prevail is a challenge I have not yet managed to overcome. Everything you do counts though, so don’t be deterred, do what you can when you can to enable your scholar activism to support a more socially just world.


Your journey to scholar activism


Those of us for whom oppression is still shocking, and privilege a tradition, would do well to learn from colleagues and allies who know well the long march to freedom and justice” (Fine, 2018, p.81).


I conclude by asking you:

Why might you be interested in scholar activism?

What are you passionate about, what social change do you want to support or affect?

How do you think you might generate knowledge to support that change?

What will you do with the knowledge generated, how will you mobilise it?

What are your next steps?



Affiong, A.L. (2017) Introduction, Why the Poor Don’t Rise Up. San Cristobel: AK Press.


Anisur Rahman, M. (1991) The Theoretical Standpoint of PAR, in Orlando Fals-Borda and Mohammed Anisur Rahman (Eds.) Action and Knowledge: Breaking the Monopoly with Participatory Action Research. New York: apex Press.


Anzaldua, G. (2012) Introduction in Gloria Anzaldua Borderland La Frontera, the New Mestiza. 25th Edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.


Camarota, J., Fine, M. (2008) Revolutionizing Education. YPAR in Motion. New York: Routledge.


Choudry, A., Hanlye, J., Shragge, E. (2011) Organise! Oakland, CA: PM Press.


Derber, C. (2017) Welcome to the Revolution. Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in perilous times. London: Routledge.


Escobar, A. (2018). Designs for the Pluriverse. New York: Duke University Press.


Fals Borda, O., Moro-Osejo, L.E. (2003) Context and Diffusion of Knowledge: A Critique of Eurocentrism, Action Research 1 (1): 29–37. doi:10.1177/14767503030011003.


Fine, M. (1991) Framing Drop outs: Notes on the Politics of an urban Public High School. Albany: State University of New York Press.


Fine, M. (2018a) Just Research in Contentious Times. Widening the Methodological Imagination. New York: Teachers University Press.


Fine, M. (2018b) Accumulation and its Dis’(sed) Contents: The Politics of Evidence in the Struggle for Public Education in Spooner, M., McNinch, J. (Eds.) (2018) Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education. Saskatchewan: University of Regina Press.


Fordham, S. (1996) Blacked Out: Dilemmas on Race, Identity and Success at Capital High. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Frimmer, D. (2015) Inspiring Social Change Through Community Organising. TEDxUCLA. Accessed at


Hall, B., Tandon, R. (2015) Are We Killing Knowledge Systems? Knowledge, Democracy, andTransformations. Accessed September 2018.


Hill Collins, P. Bilge, S. (2016) Intersectionality. Bristol: Policy Press.


Maynard, L., Stuart, K. (2018) Empowerment and Agency a Critical Framework for Practice. London: Routledge.


Mills, C. (2012) White Ignorance. In S. Sullivan and N. Tuana (Eds.) Race and epistemologies of ignorance, (pp.13-38). Albany NY: State University of New York Press.


Spooner and McNinch (2018) Preface in Spooner, M., McNinch, J. (Eds.) (2018) Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education. Saskatchewan: University of Regina Press.


Stuart, K., Shay, M. (2018) Epistemological Exclusion, in Educational Research in the Age of the Anthropocene: Chronology, Context and Contestability, In Vicente Reyes, Jennifer Charteris, Adele Nye & Sofia Marvopoulo (Eds), Educational Research in the Age of the Anthropocene. pp.188-210. Hershey, PA, United States: IGI Global.


Stuart, K. et al., (2019) An Equalities Literacy Framework for Practitioners Working with Children, Young People and Families through Action Research, Educational Action Research,


Stuart, K. (2019) Challenging Neoliberal Discourses as ‘nasty little theories’: Co-Creation in Higher Education, Journal of Youth Voices in Education, 1(2), pp.59-70.




Solorzano, D., Delgado-Bernal, D. (2001) Examining transformational resistance through a ciritcal race and Latcrit theory framework, Urban Education, 36(3), pp.308-42.


Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2012) Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous People’s. London: Zed Books.


Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2018) The Art of the Impossible – Defining and Measuring Indigenous Research, in Spooner, M., McNinch, J. (Eds.) (2018) Dissident Knowledge in Higher Education. Saskatchewan: University of Regina Press.




Carlisle Equality Group and the Fight Inequality Alliance International Day of Action

Today we took action along with thousands of other activists and campaigners internationally to raise awareness of inequality issues.

The Carlisle Equality Group are newly founded by the University of Cumbria and Carlisle One World Center to tackle local inequality.

Today we set up a stall in Carlisle City Centre full of flyers, statistics, books and activities to raise awareness. It was great to chat to people about their experiences of inequality and hear the frustration at it and sense of bewilderment at what to do about it.

After the stall we joined Sustainable Carlisle’s monthly discussion group to talk inequality. It was a rich discussion generating great ideas to promote the issues locally.

Surprising how similar the issues are in raising awareness of inequality as climate issues.

– Lots of people are unaware of the issues

– Lots of people believe there is no issue, following right wing press

– Those that acknowledge it are too overwhelmed to do anything about it

– However in the climate debate the victims, animals are seen as innocent victims whereas the victims of inequality, the poor are somehow seen to deserve what they get and be vilified for their poverty.

This all produces a complicity with the system. We need a new narrative, a new story as George Monbiot would call it, to get us out of this capitalist, extravtivist, neoliberal, inequitable mess.

It’s been wonderful to spend a day discussing what this alternative might be and how to bring it about.

Drop me a line to join us at an open monthly Carlisle Equality Group :

Check out the University of Cumbria events pages too for two talks on inequality – 27th Jan and 11th March.

Carlisle Equality Group

We thought you, your organisation, colleagues or the people you support might be interested in this new Carlisle focussed group.


Who are Carlisle Equality Group?

The Carlisle Equality Group welcomes anyone along who is interested in working towards greater equality and social justice in the area. We have a broad range of members and concerns reflecting the wide range of economic, material, social, educational and health inequalities in this area. The group has been convened by Professor Kaz Stuart from the University of Cumbria and Adrienne Gill from the Carlisle One World Centre and is a collaborative and cooperative endeavour with the members equally deciding on events and activities. The group is affiliated to the Equality Trust and works towards equitable social change in the Carlisle area. More can be found about the Equality Trust here:


What is the Inequality Awareness Event?

On the 18th of January the Carlisle Equality Group are running an inequality awareness event. We will have an interactive stand in the market place in Carlisle displaying key statistics and infographics about inequality and providing engaging activities about inequality for families to take part in. The stand will be open from 10am till 12pm in showing support for the Fight Inequality Alliance international event that day. More can be found about the FIA here:

Please join us to:

·   Understand how inequality impacts on us all

·   Hear more about this local group

·   Connect with local people interested in the same issues

·   Find support for an inequality you may be experiencing

·   Find out how you can support a more equitable society.

What can I do?

We would be very grateful if you could come along to support on the day, send us any leaflets you may have that we could give out (to the address below), email us any statistics about inequality you are aware of in your area to add to the display, send on to your members and contacts.


You may also be interested in these other events:


Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor: Determinants of Social and Health Outcomes

Join us for Professor Kaz Stuart’s inaugural professorial lecture on the wide range of factors that lead to inequitable outcomes for our children and young people.

27th January at 4.30pm in the University of Cumbria, Fusehill Street, Learning Gateway Lecture Theatre.

To register for this event please contact:


How Social Mobility Is and Isn’t Working: The Carlisle Story ; 
Join us to hear from Wanda Wyporska, Director of The Equality Trust explain how social mobility is failing in society today, particularly in Carlisle.

11th March, 4.30pm in the University of Cumbria, Fusehill Street, Learning Gateway Lecture Theatre.

To register for this event please register here: 


Carlisle Equality Group Next Open Meeting: 2nd March 2020 5pm in Skiddaw Building First Floor Room 5 (SKF05).

Have we abandoned young people?

Two reports within a very short space of time, both illustrating that we have forsaken young people.

The Children’s Commissioner for England very recently published ‘Bleak Houses’. They found that:

  • 12,000 children live in temporary accommodation
  • 90,000 children are sofa surfing
  • 585,000 children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Local Authorities have resorted to using old office blocks, bed and breakfast accommodation and even shipping containers to house children. Shocking and intolerable.

The report can be accessed here:

This week the Children’s Society published its latest edition of its Good Childhood Report – showing that our children are not getting a good enough childhood. They found that; “Since 2009 children and young people have become increasingly unhappy. Based on the latest figures we estimate a quarter of a million children are unhappy with their lives, with factors like friends, school and appearance all playing a role”.

You can access that report here:

Whilst adults obsess about the impact that a no deal Brexit and the current political leadership may have on our lives, we are overlooking the much more profound impact the current austerity, inequality and political situation is having on children and young people. Apparently the state cannot afford to meet these need now, but all epidemiological, sociological and longitudinal data shows these issues will worsen and compound over time, costing more in the future.

I believe that society will not be able to bear the costs of hundreds of thousands of unhappy children whose basic needs are not being met as they mature. Time for us all to consider what needs to change to support everyone in our society and what our individual role in that might be.

We are only all as well as the rest of our family and community.


Upstream issues for downstream folk

I have been mulling over various social and health inequality issues recently, mostly prompted by a literature review I wrote on a range of youth issues.

What struck me was how similar the risk and protective factors were across a wide sweep of issues – homelessness, drug and alcohol use, self-harming, depression, living in care – the list goes on. As does the list of risk factors.

It really stood out to me that all these issues are so very interconnect, or intersectional as posh researchers like to say – as the web of risk and protective factors are so similar.

No wonder then, I wondered, that services often fail, We are trying to tackle one or a few risk factors at once rather than dealing with them all at once. Despite the best efforts of holistic, child-centred and integrated care, services usually pick and choose what to deal with and have practice thresholds preventing them from addressing it all.

A further issue is that these are all downstream issues, for the downstream and insignificant people. What matters and what will make a difference is tackling the upstream issue that only important people get to deal with. And by that I mean poverty. Most, if not all, social and health inequalities are worsened by income and wealth inequality. And yet no one does anything about it. No one even talks about it much these days. We seem to have become completely blind and immured to poverty.

My next challenge is to work out what I might do to play my part in highlighting and tackling this prime issue, the single issue that really can transform a wide range of risk factors and inequitable outcomes later downstream.

Perhaps this is the major social issue that the rich can pay their way out of? If only they were willing to.

I’d welcome any ideas anyone else has too…..??


shopping business money pay
Photo by Pixabay on

Barnardo’s ‘Child in Cumbria’ Summit 17 – you said we did meet.

Barnardos Summit 17 – After the ‘Being in Child in Cumbria’ – You Said we Did


The Being a Child in Cumbria research designed, conducted and analysed by Barnardos was a significant piece of research. Over 6000 children and young people responded to the survey providing Cumbria with a comprehensive overview of the thoughts and feelings of Cumbrian children about living in Cumbria. The findings were also analysed through the lens of deprivation giving insight into the differences wealth and poverty can make to a child’s experience of living in the same county. If you have not seen the research then check out these you tube films about them:


So one year on, had anyone done anything differently as a result of this research – yes they have.


The conference kicked off with the theme of Giants – as this had been a giant survey. The lyrics of the Take That song ‘We are Giant’s set the tone for the day, as the children and young people involved, practitioners, leaders and managers all trying to make a difference are giants among us.


The issues that face children and young people were represented as boulders that the BFG’s (big friendly giants) among us would need to destroy or navigate. The aspirations of the children and young people were captured as dream jars – something we need to navigate towards single-mindedly.


The day celebrated a range of amazing achievements.


Copeland started the programme and really set the tone for the day. They have created a range of initiatives as a result of this research. One of these is setting up a food bank service that between 70 and 90people access each month – giving away a total of 3 tonnes of food per month.

The Connected Communities team from UCLAN got involved with Copeland and worked with 24 super heros from Mirehouse, aged 10-11 years old and 14 ‘Girls Gang’ community volunteers from Woodhouse, aged 11-12 years old. These young people conducted a range of research projects using creative methods and developed and delivered community development projects.


As a result of this work, Copeland now have a Children’s Charter that ensures that Copeland:

HearChildren’s Voices

Work with School Councils

Keep Children Safe

Change People’s Attitudes about Children

Support Children’s Health


A new project is about to start, connecting young people to older generations in the Youth Connectors scheme.

Copeland are really showing how to listen to what children and young people say, and how to work with children and young people in every strategic decision – taking the seeds from the research and growing great practice from it.


A striking theme from the research was children’s sense of loss after a bereavement. As a result of this, a Children and Young People’s Bereavement Network (CYPBANG) was set up. They have created a website resource that will be launched in June across Cumbria to support children to deal with grief and bereavement.

Child Bereavement UK picked up on this theme and showcased some of the resources they have to support children, parents and schools dealing with this difficult issue.


The Barnardo’s Youth Steering Group had also picked up on this issue and had created a leaflet about coping with pet loss that will soon be in all vetinarian surgeries. An excellent example of young people leading important practical changes.

Next up were Red Boxes team and Period Poverty North Cumbria, both leading crucial initiatives to get sanitary protection into primary, secondary, further education and higher education establishments. This will support the 1 in 10 young women who cannot afford sanitary protection, 49% of whom therefore miss at least one day of school a month.


Cumbria Children in Care Council shared their youth forum work with the participants and showed a film the group had made of their experiences of living in care. This gave a further example of positive outcomes from youth participation / youth voice.


What else?

Well alongside these amazing examples from practice, the participants also got to take part in some amazing activities. We made our own dream jars, took part in the ‘My Time’ team’s decision making exercise, pledged to use youth voice in our own work and identified our own ‘boulders’. And then there was the showcase of stands and lunchtime networking.

Much excellent work is underway, and it is not enough. There are many things to improve for young people and solving those problems is important. And we must remain focussed on the skills of children and young people to sort these issues for themselves. We must remain asset-balanced as well as participatory. And, we can’t forget the societal issues – the policies and laws, expectations and norms – that keep some people living in adverse situations, in poverty. So along with dealing with these issues I hope we also work to challenge poverty at the highest levels. To that end, please come to the Equalities Group Cumbria on the 28th May 2019 – University of Cumbria.

Screenshot 2019-03-23 19.01.39

Amazing event – thank you to Julie Fletcher of Barnardos, to the youth steering group who designed the day and to all the other ‘Giants’ of Cumbria who make such a different to children and young people.

Great North Children’s Research Community

The conference took place in the ‘Life’ centre in Newcastle, a spectacular new build hospital, science museum and event venue. The theme was Child Health Research Across Organisational Boundaries.

There was a wealth of early career researchers, young researchers, and old hands at the conference all engaging in discussions about child health outcomes.

Several themes repeatedly emerged and are worth reflecting on:

  1. Working across organisational boundaries (boundary spanning) is never going to be easy and takes focus, effort and time. That said, it is very possible, as illustrated by Carol Ewing outlining the Greater Manchester model. All the effort is worthwhile for more streamlined services to children and more effective use of resources. Nina Modi also gave insights of how to get out of our organisational silos to support children better with internationally connected research.
  2. People live in very difficult life circumstances created by inequitable structures. These need to be addressed. Just one example of this was brought to life by Professor Greta Defeyter’s research on holiday hunger and its impact on health outcomes. I think we need to do all we can (publish, petition, protest) about these structures in order to get them to change as individuals and as a collective.
  3. Whilst we work on the structural issues we also need to support people in the moment, in those dire life circumstances. Front line practice is needed – more of what we know works, and more innovation. These services / interventions need to be owned by the people and developed with the people that will use them (co-ownership and co-production).
  4. We need to develop the evidence that these work through proportionate evaluation – that is, using the right tool, with the right community and intervention, and collecting the right amount of data for the balance of stakeholder needs as Stuart Logan eloquently pointed out. This should also be owned by the people it affected and conducted by them – as illustrated by the work of the Young People’s Action Group North East – YPAGne.
  5. Spend time with amazing people, doing amazing things, debate and discuss, re-energise and re-focus – we all have the power to change the world, and we all need support to do so.

It was fantastic to also share my work on strengths-based / asset-based practice. I covered the need for a fully integrated approach that goes beyond ideology and tokenistic use of the terms to a fully holistic approach at all levels of intervention and indeed organisational life. I also presented the case for an asset-balanced approach as it would be as inappropriate to completely ignore need as it is to completely ignore strengths. I really enjoyed some great conversations with colleagues following this and am looking forward to working with Niina Kolehmainen on this area.

Thanks GNCRC for an inspiring day – looking forward to working with you more.