The local matters: Working with teachers to rethink the poverty and achievement gap discourse




subjectivation, teacher/activist researcher collaboration, poverty discourses, achievement gap, principled resistance


This paper is concerned with the current achievement gap policy agenda and associated material and discursive power that shape teachers’ work in schools with high child poverty rates. More specifically, it explores how a university/school research collaboration – Local Matters – can disturb such forms of subjectivation by enabling educators to resist such policy agendas/discourses by drawing on locally contextualized knowledge and place-based evidence. Based on fieldwork undertaken over the past three years at more than 40 schools with 84 teachers across five Local Authority regions in Northern England, we provide a critical discourse analysis of a series of semi structured interviews and focus group activities of those who participated in the project. Based on an interdiscursive and linguistic analysis of the data we show how educators wrestle with the tensions between attempting to enact a social justice, collaborative and a democratic pedagogic approach and dealing with policy requirements that focus on the achievement gap problem and associated ‘what works’ discourse solution. Through the enactment of the program we show how educators, in collaboration with activist researchers, can develop forms of principled resistance that shake up and unsettle dominant forms of child poverty practice and discourses in schools.


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Author Biographies

Carl Emery, University of Manchester

Carl Emery is a lecturer in education and Research Fellow for Social Responsibility at the University of Manchester. He leads the Power, Poverty and Place Research Group and teaches the Social Justice and From the Global to the Local undergraduate and postgraduate units. His work is interested in the intersection between poverty, mental health, and education with an emphasis on language and identity, through a critical discourse analysis approach. His work has appeared in Education Policy Analysis Archives, Cambridge Journal of Education, British Education Research Journal and The SAGE Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies.

Louisa Dawes, University of Manchester

Louisa Dawes is a senior lecturer and doctoral student at the University of Manchester. She teaches on several initial teacher training programmes as well as undergraduate and postgraduate course units on social justice including the course From the Global to the Local. Her doctoral research uses a critical discourse analysis approach to illuminate how teachers in high-poverty contexts articulate their pedagogic identities and emotions. Her work has appeared in International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education.

Carlo Raffo, University of Manchester

Carlo Raffo is professor of urban education at the University of Manchester. He teaches on the MA (International) Education programme and various other undergraduate and postgraduate units. His work is interested in multidisciplinary approaches to exploring the intersection between poverty and education with a theoretical emphasis based on Dewey’s metaphysical ideas of transactionalism. He has led research projects funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Economic Social Research Council and is currently principal investigator on an Educational Endowment Fund literature review project focused socio-economic disadvantage and educational attainment His work has appeared in British Journal of Sociology of Education, Oxford Review of Education, and The Curriculum Journal.




How to Cite

Emery, C., Dawes, L., & Raffo, C. (2022). The local matters: Working with teachers to rethink the poverty and achievement gap discourse. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 30, (122).



Educational Policies and Equity