Funded PhD Opportunity Embracing the cultural and linguistic capital of newcomer pupils in Northern Irish schools

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Education


Currently, the views on the education of newcomer or ethnic minority children in Northern Irish schools tend to come from a deficit perspective. Many of these pupils arrive with a poor understanding of our school system, little or no English and so insufficient language skills to participate fully in the curriculum and the pressure to address their underachievement* falls on teachers and teaching assistants who are being asked to ensure these pupils’ achievement is on a par with their English-speaking peers. However, ethnic minority children also arrive in Northern Irish schools with a wide variety of ‘funds of knowledge’ (Gonzalez, Moll and Amanti, 2005), that is, a range of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Many of them hear or use at least one language that is not English in the home, this is usually accompanied by an awareness of a culture that is different to that of their monolingual English-speaking peers (Bailey and Marsden, 2017, 283).

Research within a UK context has focused on the potential benefits of integration of heritage culture and language in highly multilingual contexts or classrooms, but research into heritage language and culture being used in schools with a monolingual English majority, situated within a largely monolingual and monocultural society such as Northern Ireland is sparse (Bailey and Marsden, 2017). Cummins (2014, 9) suggests that ‘drawing on the home languages and cultural insight of children who use English as an Additional Language (EAL) may have important academic and social benefits in contexts where monolingualism is the norm’. Furthermore, he suggests that school efforts to support these pupils ‘are likely to be futile if they exclude issues of identity from their analyses of the causes of pupils’ academic challenges and from recommendations for change’ (ibid). Conteh (2012) concurs that currently home languages and culture are seen as a hindrance to accessing the curriculum or as ‘informal and ‘separate’ learning.

This project aims to go beneath the surface of schools in Northern Ireland to explore the ways in which newcomer or ethnic minority children and their linguistic and cultural capital are acknowledged or used in the education system and how these pupils are supported to access the curriculum.

Adopting an ethnographic case study design, the successful candidate will need to address to what extent and in what ways pupils’ heritage culture and language are acknowledged and used in Northern Irish schools. S/he will also need to explore

1.) perceptions of teachers, pupils, teaching assistants and parents around inclusion, provision of support, access to the curriculum;

2.) how these factors impact on ethnic minority pupils’ well being, educational attainment and general school experience. In addition, how these factors impact on the school ethos and the learning of home pupils will be explored.

It is envisaged that this project will investigate, in the Northern Irish school context:

Ethnic minority pupils’ linguistic and cultural resource

Models of support

School experience

Linguistic, school, societal benefits

Proficiency in English,

educational attainment

Home language and culture awareness

Language awareness

Bi/multicultural identity

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES



    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
31st March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Dr Barbara Skinner

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #238624 when applying for this PhD opportunity