Department of Education

Research student insight

Catherine Simon

Catherine SimonCatherine is studying on the Doctor of Education (EdD) programme and is preparing a thesis titled Understanding the Big Society – exploring the origins of the concept and its relationship to Education.

Prof Hugh Lauder in the Department is supervising her thesis, while other module assignments have been supervised by Prof Roger Dale (University of Bristol), Prof Harry Daniels and Dr David Eddy-Spicer.

Research focus

Catherine began studying at the University of Bath having previously returned from teaching abroad with the Service Children’s Education (SCE) and embarking on a part-time Masters.

This challenging and stimulating move gave me a taste for education policy. On completion, I opted to pursue my interests further and enrolled on the EdD.

The compulsory module on Education policy set her on the path of exploring New Labour’s policy for schools and families, and the influences of neoliberalism and Third Way thinking.

Schools were used to implement a radical policy of social welfare reform, bringing together public services and placing children and families at the centre of policymaking.

So far, research has illustrated the tensions between ‘top down’ centralised policy and ‘bottom up’ responses by schools to local needs seen through the lens of a declinist philosophy. This in turn has highlighted the implications for school leadership in understanding what constitutes the education ‘system’ and in making sense of centralised policy implementation in the local context.

The latest change in government has altered the education landscape still further, placing greater emphasis on decentralisation and localism (demonstrated particularly in the Academies and Free Schools programme).

The Big Society places emphasis on the contributions of communities, private and voluntary organisations and philanthropies to deliver public services, including schooling. The origins of this concept are far from new and I am currently mapping the various strands of influence from biblical notions of community to the writings of Keane on civil society.

Studying at the University of Bath

Catherine lives locally and so has been able to meet with tutors for face-to-face tutorials.

The high standard of academic research at Bath is due in no small part to the quality of its staff. I have found feedback timely, highly supportive, and helpful in sustaining progress and enthusiasm. I always come away from tutorials or seminars with my head buzzing with new ideas!

She has also found the administrative support in the Department to be excellent and supportive.

Gill Brooke-Taylor has my total admiration in keeping so many students on track and making us feel like personal friends. She is such a reassuring presence in the Department.

Catherine has taken full advantage of the Summer Schools, enjoying not only the stimulating programmes of study but meeting with fellow students from all round the globe.

When possible I attend occasional seminars or local lecture series during term time and it has also been a privilege to join in one of the monthly reading groups whenever I am free.

Wider impact

Catherine has already been able to disseminate some of her work from the programme through conferences such as the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) and occasional publications.

My proudest moment so far has been the publishing of a university textbook on New Labour’s Every Child Matters agenda, which began as my assignment for the policy module.

Her research feeds directly into working as a lecturer in Education Studies. Taking the EdD route has enabled her to combine a demanding job with demanding research.

The work has been fascinating and I am grateful that our current Education Secretary gives me plenty of material to work on! I am on the home straight now, so my aim for the next two years is to keep focused on the finishing line, to submit my modest thesis and don red robes.

Further information

If you would like to find out more about Catherine’s research then you can contact her by email:

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