Engagement fellow blog

Claire (L) and Fatima

A warm welcome to the Repair-Ed Engagement Fellows!

12 March 2024, Alice Willatt (Repair-Ed Research Fellow)

March has been an exciting month for the Repair-Ed project as we have welcomed Engagement Fellows, Fatima Mohamed Ali and Claire Neaves, onto the project team. Over the next five months, we will be collaborating with Fatima and Claire to co-design our participatory methods, strengthen our partnerships with primary schools across Bristol and build a community of practice.

Fatima is a former primary teacher and curriculum lead, and recently took up a post as a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of West England. She also brings experience in her role as a Commissioner for Education on the Bristol’s mayoral Commission on Race Equality. Claire brings experience as a lead for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across a Multi-Academy Trust, and as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator. She has experience across all phases of education and is a trustee for the MaternityTeacher PaternityTeacher project.

Last week we all travelled up to Oxford University for our first day together on the Repair-Ed project. We took a tour of the campus (see pics!), discussed our plans for collaborating together, and shared our aspirations for the project. During the day I (Alice) also sat down with Claire and Fatima to learn more about their backgrounds and what excites them most about working on a project about Reparative Futures of Education in Bristol.

Let’s meet the Engagement Fellows

Alice: Could you tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to be involved in the Repair-Ed project?

Claire: I’ve worked in Bristol for around 15 years now, so I’m really invested in Bristol as a city. I moved here to start my teaching career and since then I’ve worked in primary, secondary, special and mainstream education. In my role as a Trust leader for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, a lot of my work was focused on the themes of the Repair-Ed project. I met Arathi at the Southwest Anti-Racist Education Forum where she presented the project and I thought it sounded really interesting. She introduced me to the idea of the Engagement Fellowship and I just thought, actually this sounds incredible. When I read the project outline, it just represented everything that I believe about education, the injustice in education and the huge inequity in Education in Bristol in particular. It’s really exciting to be part of exploring that together.

Fatima: Similarly to Claire, I’ve worked in Bristol schools for coming up to 10 years now. I wasn’t born in Bristol, I moved here when I was 10, but I have grown up here. I have been through the Bristol schooling system myself, from primary, secondary and sixth form, through to university where I did my teacher training. I have seen and experienced the inequalities of the schooling system as a child and a young person. So, I have grown up in the city and, as a teacher, seen the other side of it, which has really pushed me to want to make material change. So, this project is really exciting. When I heard about the opportunity to be involved as an Engagement Fellow, I jumped at the chance!

Alice: What’s most exciting about being part of the Repair-Ed project?

Fatima: For me it’s being able to be part of the conversations that will go on to influence the shape and action of the project and to be able to bring that perspective of practitioners, with experience in classrooms, schools, and leadership. That’s what I will be able to bring to the table in terms of my role on the project. What I am most excited and enthused by is the potential of the project, to see it take shape, and the idea of the directions it can go in. It’s like nothing I have ever worked on before.

Claire: This fellowship represents me dipping my toe into academia after 15 years in schools and it’s really exciting to be involved right from the start, shaping the project. All of my contact with researchers from universities while I have been in schools has been as a participant, so it’s really exciting to be able to shape the work. The part I am most excited about, beyond the potential of where this could go, is the collaboration and participatory methods. I did a lot of student voice work when I was in schools and a lot of work around developing wider stakeholder voice of school communities. I’m really interested in how we shape our understanding of educational injustices and imaginings of reparative futures in Bristol through communities being more involved. Also, how we look at collaboration and participation… not just in a way that’s paying lip service, but that involves having children and stakeholders actively involved.

Alice: Can you say a bit more why the participatory aspects of the project are important to you?

Claire: It’s people getting to tell their own stories. This is what’s at the heart of Repair-Ed for me, especially when you think about Bristol and the things that get said about certain communities and certain mythologies that are built up around certain areas. Who gets a voice, and who doesn’t? There are so many communities that don’t get that voice, and this very much feels like giving that voice back, and not just adults in those communities but young people and children.

Fatima: Yes, building on that, I guess research with communities can be really extractive. When it’s more participatory, if it’s about collaborating and co-creating something together, hopefully everyone involved will gain much more.

Alice: What do you hope to contribute as an Engagement Fellow?

Fatima: I would really like it to be something that works for schools and works for the project, something that works in a practical way. I hope I am able to contribute to conversations around educational injustice and its repair, to the focus on re-imaging the school system, which is really, really huge. I’m keen to help think about the beginning steps and the starting point into those conversations.

Claire: For me it’s about taking all these really big ideas, and that ideological stance around what education should be, and thinking about how you synthesise that into planning for the future, taking something really huge and thinking about concrete next steps.

We’d like to thank the Oxford SSD Engagement Fellowship Fund for sponsoring Fatima and Claire’s participation in the Repair-Ed Project.