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Real needs or real life?: responding to the rise of ‘vulnerability’ in universities Kathryn Ecclestone Professor of Education University of Sheffield.

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Presentation on theme: "Real needs or real life?: responding to the rise of ‘vulnerability’ in universities Kathryn Ecclestone Professor of Education University of Sheffield."— Presentation transcript:

1 Real needs or real life?: responding to the rise of ‘vulnerability’ in universities Kathryn Ecclestone Professor of Education University of Sheffield

2 An age of vulnerability/the ‘vulnerability zeitgeist’? vulnerable children, at risk students students with fragile identities stressed, anxious, depressed students young people with an ‘exhausted learning identity’ the disaffected, disengaged and hard to reach low self esteemers people with fractured and fragmented lives and complex needs children from ‘troubled families’, children with troubling behaviour


4 A ‘sociological imagination’ combining history, sociology and psychology to understand – how ‘private troubles’ become ‘public issues’ – the ‘varieties of men and women that come to prevail’ in a particular society at a particular period the nature of the phenomenon, its manifestations, effects on institutional culture, structures, processes real needs, new social construction of real life? how do universities respond? How should they respond?

5 Pupils' wellbeing neglected in pursuit of exam success, charity chief warns January 2011 School lessons in self-control ‘are as important as numeracy’ May 2009 Mental problems among young ‘twice 1930s level’ June 2007 Wellbeing: a poor state of mind March 2009 Labour's answer to school discipline: Teach lessons in 'happiness and emotional wellbeing‘ September 2007

6 Kid-life crisis February 2002 Can children as young as three be depressed? September 2010 Children’s depression stores up trouble for the future if untreated December 2009 Child mental health problems 'to double' January 2009 More children are suffering from mental health problems, says report April 2008 Early help 'key to tackling mental health problems‘ February 2011

7 family breakdown too much freedom too much restriction materialism obesity tests, exams high stakes investment in education fears about global warming fear of adults lack of discipline in schools disrespectful and poor teachers too much subject teaching


9 Psychological constructs of emotional well- being resilience managing your emotions stoicism optimism empathy altruism low impulsivity deferred gratification self esteem mindfulness being in the moment

10 Institutional responses more formal specialist support diffuse specialist support through more lay experts – peer and self help – generic, universal interventions SEAL in schools transition workshops addressing procrastination/perfectionism/exam anxiety sessions

11 Examples of outcomes: Primary I can change the way I feel by reflecting on my experiences and reviewing the way I think about them Secondary I can see the world from other people’s point of view, can feel the same emotion as they are feeling, and take account of their intentions, preferences and beliefs

12 Workshops to develop PERMA Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement

13 Embedding psychological support in universities ‘Beat the January blues’ (Counselling services advertisement – Birmingham University website 2014) There’s nothing she won’t do to help and support you…she’ll always go the extra mile (Most inspirational lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University poster 2013) Welcome to the first session of your doctorate course. I know that many of you will be feeling anxious, wondering what you’ve let yourself in for, but I want to reassure you that you’re not alone in those feelings, and that we will support you every step of the way…. But it’s also going to be really exciting; you’ll learn new things, be challenged…..” (Induction session, a university not far from here….October 2013)

14 In ….Health Care, some people in the caring role at work can mean they are always seen in this role… and so it can become hard to attend to their own needs and feelings which may go unmet…. [in their work] students are faced, sometimes on a daily basis, with loss …and this can make it doubly hard if they are dealing with their own losses, such as a relationship ending or bereavement…. The pressures of life in schools dealing with the issues of young people can make considerable emotional and physical demands… Students…in the disciplines of Psychology, Sociology, or the Expressive Arts may find themselves re-examining areas of their lives which have previously seemed unproblematic to them….. Edge Hill University counselling services website, 2007

15 Unwieldy briefs..... research shows that attainment levels can be associated with the quality of the assignment brief: students report that unclear and unwieldy briefs produce learner anxiety: students spend days trying to decode the brief rather than getting down to the assignment (Institute for Learning Enhancement, University of Wolverhampton)







22 10 ways to combat Keynote Presentation Anxiety Disorder Are you happy ? Do our ‘study day vulnerability’ quiz Do you have low self-esteem or are you a narcissist ? What are your emotional barriers to learning? Is your child going to university? 6 easy ways to stay sane

23 Popular magazines Marie Claire (with picture of Kate Perry looking winsomely beautiful and aloof) – Katie Perry: vulnerable, open and honest Loaded – Are you a sex addict? Women’s Fitness – Beat stress in 6 minutes! Good Housekeeping – Your health targets: boost energy, sleep better, lift your mood Closer – I married the man I met in sex addiction therapy

24 Cultural therapeutic narratives emotional experiences are ‘baggage’ and barriers to life and learning more people are emotionally vulnerable than ever: ‘we all have “issues” many people are ‘in denial’ about the effects of their emotions on themselves and others therapeutic insights explain our unconscious motives and commitments medical and therapeutic science help us understand and manage responses to and feelings about everyday experiences we need support to express, discuss and manage our feelings ‘appropriately’ there are activities that develop emotional well-being for everyone emotional well-ness, positive mental health, healthy relationships, educational and life success are intertwined

25 Effects/causes a self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘need’ – JS Mill – ‘ask yourself if you are happy and you cease to be so’…. ask yourself if you are vulnerable and you become so? a bottomless pit of support blurring boundaries between real need and real life, external help and deflection of responsibility diverting resources for those most in need demand for support intertwined with student satisfaction, universities’ reputation for support and achievement more subtle changes to culture and goals of university – soften feedback, reduce challenge – regard students (and colleagues?) through lens of vulnerability some students more than others, but all students too….

26 And so? explore manifestations and effects of vulnerability zeitgeist on: institutional responses in different parts of uni culture and ethos professional roles understand perceptions amongst different groups – support and medical services staff, academics, NUS, student body etc

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