‘Highlighting multiple forms of social exclusion: using research to inform policy, practice and public discourse’
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sunderland
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Human Society: Sociology
Summary of the impact
This case study brings together research focused on the ways in which
social groups defined by a range of marginalized identities are excluded
from participation in economic and social opportunities, particularly in
the North East of England. The research has informed public discussions of
inclusion and policy debate at the national and European level and has
influenced approaches and practices of a number of partner organisations
in their attempts to facilitate social inclusion.
The research is part of a broad programme of projects examining relations
between socio- cultural identities and patterns, processes and experiences
of social exclusion. These themes are examined across the distinct, yet
related, policy fields of education, youth work, technology and public
service provision through the following projects:
Socio-cultural and learning experiences of working class students in
ESRC/TLRP research (2006-2008) led by Prof. Gill Crozier (University of
Sunderland, now at Roehampton) and Prof. Diane Reay (University of
Cambridge) with Dr. John Clayton (then Research Associate, University of
Sunderland). All staff worked on the project for its duration.The research
compared experiences of working class students in different types of HE
institution and aimed to find out whether students felt the need to change
to progress or resisted pressures to do so and how this impacted on their
learning. Key findings:
- Structural inequalities between institutions enhance or undermine
students' learner identities and dispositions towards learning.
- Working class student experiences are marked by competing demands
within and outside of University
Just B Me Black Youth project evaluation, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
In 2009 the University was commissioned by the Scotswood Area Strategy
(SAS) in Newcastle, to conduct an independent assessment of the Just `B'
Me black youth project. Dr. John Clayton was the sole researcher. The
evaluation addressed geographical context, the role of management, youth
work practice, outcomes and future directions. Key findings:
- Work both inside and outside of the local school provides positive
activities, learning experiences and empowerment opportunities.
- This project has facilitated solidarity-building across the black
community, but has begun to move beyond this.
Evaluation of Digital Inclusion Activities in Sunderland
Project (2008-2009), co-sponsored by the Department for Communities and
Local Government (DCLG) and Sunderland Digital Challenge, assessed the
extent to which Sunderland has transformed itself into a digitally enabled
and digitally inclusive city. This included strategic analysis, impact on
socio-economic data, questionnaires conducted in socially excluded
neighbourhoods and interviews with respondents. PI was Dr. Stephen J.
Macdonald and Dr. John Clayton was the Research Associate. Both staff were
based at the University of Sunderland and worked on the project for its
duration. Key findings:
- Knowledge of overarching digital inclusion programmes is low. However,
awareness of specific digital inclusion initiatives is greater and is
growing and experiences are largely positive.
- Confidence and experience of technology as well as specific benefits
are strongly influenced by occupation and disability.
Impact of Cuts to public service provision in the North East of
Study (2010-2012) tracking the impacts of the comprehensive spending
review and changes to funding on partner agencies to the Department of
Social Sciences. Led by Prof. Catherine Donovan with co-researchers Dr.
John Clayton, and Jacqui Merchant, both senior lecturers at the University
of Sunderland, all staff worked on the project for its duration. This
included a survey of agencies as well as interviews with service providers
and users. Key findings:
- Reduced funding, planning and budgeting, reduction of staff numbers and
ability to refer service users on all adversely effected — especially for
- Despite resourcefulness, this has resulted in the further
marginalization of already marginalized groups and an emotional toll on
staff and service users.
References to the research
1. Reay, D., Crozier G. & Clayton, J. (2010) `Fitting in' or
`standing out': working class students in Higher Education, British
Educational Research Journal, 36, 1: 107-124. DOI:
This article was `Highly commended' by the British Educational Research
Journal in their 2011 annual prize awards.
2. Reay, D. Crozier, G. & Clayton, J. (2009) Strangers in paradise?
Working class students in elite universities, Sociology, 43, 6:
1103-1121. DOI: 10.1177/0038038509345700.
3. Clayton, J. (2009) Just `B' Me youth project: independent
evaluation. Sunderland: University of Sunderland. (Supplied on
request from HEI)
4. Clayton, J. and Macdonald, S. J. (2013) The limits of technology:
social class, occupation and digital inclusion in the city of Sunderland,
England, Information, Communication and Society, DOI:
5. Macdonald, S.J. and Clayton, J. (2012) Back to the Future: Disability
and the Digital Divide, Disability and Society. DOI:
6. Donovan, C., Clayton, J. and Merchant, J. (2012) Localism or
Pulling the Plug on Public Services: Consequences of Austerity for the
Third Sector in the North East (Sunderland: University of
Sunderland). (Supplied on request from HEI)
Grant funding was received to complete Socio-cultural and learning
experiences of working class students in Higher Education project.
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council's Teaching and Learning
Research Programme (£168,813) grant ref: ESRC RES-139- 25-0208.
Details of the impact
Collectively the body of research has informed the evidence base for
policymakers at regional and national level as well as public discussion
about different forms of social inclusion. It has also aided individual
partner organisations to secure external funding and to adopt new
In terms of public discussion, the project examining social class and
higher education has been subject to significant coverage and debate
through popular media. Key findings were reported by the Times Higher
Education supplement (Attwood, 15/05/08)  and members of the project
team have opened these issues up to wider audiences by appearing on
`Thinking Allowed' on BBC Radio 4 (03/03/10) . The findings have also
been used in commentaries on the inequalities within the British education
system, for example, Chakrabortty, (2011) in The Guardian . The
digital inclusion project received regional coverage including a
discussion piece by Sunderland Software City , an organisation
supporting the development of the software industry, ICT employment and
digital literacy. This piece also includes recognition from the Portfolio
Holder for Resources at Sunderland City Council who commented on the value
of the project for judging the success of digital inclusion initiatives in
the city, indicating that it was a `good example of how the digital age is
having an impact across Sunderland."
The social class and higher education project has contributed towards UK
HE policy debates around widening participation. The interim report of the
`National Strategy for Access and Student Success' published by the
Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE) (2013) , includes this
research in discussion of student success and senses of belonging in HE.
References also feature in the Department of Business Innovation and
Skills' (BIS) Research Paper `Understanding Higher Education in Further
Education Colleges' (2012)  which considers why working class
students may be deterred from specific HE institutions. In the `Response
to the social mobility commission' from the UK Commission for
Employment and Skills (2008)  the research contributes to the evidence
base around unequal experiences of HE and the importance of supporting
students in accessing opportunities at university. Other policy related
citations include the RSA's examination of the social class gap in
educational achievement (2010)  which uses the research to argue for
the need for policy innovation.
On the basis of expertise developed through the digital inclusion
project, Dr. Clayton was commissioned by the Institute of Prospective
Technologies at the European Commission to conduct an `Exhaustive Locality
Mapping' of organisations in Sunderland  which facilitate access to
ICT. This has led to the design of a typology of ICT actors for use in a
major survey mapping of e-Inclusion actors and their impact across Europe
(MIREIA). This has therefore aided the development of a process led by the
EC, which looks to monitor and improve levels of ICT access across the EU.
The digital inclusion project has also been considered by the UK
Government with regard to digital inclusion policy . A representative
of the Cabinet Office commented on the questions it raises around why
socially excluded communities may not engage successfully with digital
Following the evaluation work for the Just B Me youth project, the youth
group were able to use the study as evidence of good practice, which
enabled it to attract 3 years funding through the Henry Smith Charity. It
also helped to foster closer collaboration with the City Council.
According to the Chair of the steering group it "...was influential in
brokering discussions between the city council and the youth project
about meeting the needs of BME young people in the west end of Newcastle."
 The evaluation report had a major impact on the approaches of the
Scotswood Area Strategy and its acceptance for a clearer focus on
intercultural youth work. In relation to the `impact of the cuts' project,
partner organisations have fed back on the manner in which the research
findings helped their ability to be more resourceful in coping with
changes in funding. One participating group delivering services to Women
and Girls, have used their experiences expressed through the research to
secure funding from the local PCT and to make the case for how resources
in Newcastle are being allocated in light of austerity. There has also
been an impact on the work of regional third sector agency VONNE who have
indicated that they will now consider the importance of recording and
reporting on the impact of funding cuts on the well being of staff in
local CVS organisations .
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Attwood, R. (2008) `Working class students have the right stuff to
succeed' Times Higher Education (15/05/08)
- Reay, D. `Strangers in Paradise?' BBC 4 Thinking Allowed
- Chakrabortty, A (2011) `More modern, more open, but the posh are back
in charge' The Guardian (01/2/11)
- Sunderland Software City (2010), "Digital success assessed' (http://www.sunderlandsoftwarecity.com/news/2010/11/12/42-digital-success-assessed.html)
National Strategy for Access and Student Success — Interim Report
- BIS (2012) Research Paper no. 69: Understanding Higher Education
in Further Education Colleges
- Response to social mobility commission from the UK Commission for
Employment and Skills
- Perry, E. and Francis, B. (2010) Social Class Gap for Educational
Achievement: a review of the literature (London: RSA).
- Coordinator (2013) European Commission — written response concerning
impact of Sunderland Evaluation on MIREIA framework developed by the
JCR-IPTS at the European Commission (Supplied on request from HEI).
- Senior Policy Advisor, Government Digital Service, Cabinet Office -
written response regarding digital inclusion evaluation project
(Supplied on request from HEI).
- Chair of Just B Me steering group — response regarding evaluations
report (Supplied on request from HEI).
- Chief Executive, VONNE — written response concerning impact of impact
of the Cuts' research (Supplied on request from HEI).