BERA/SAGE Award 2011

SAGE and BERA once again teamed up to award the BERA SAGE Practitioner of the Year Award for 2011. For the fifth year running the BERA/SAGE awards recognized practitioners who have demonstrated excellence in the application of research in practice, in a school setting and in a 16+ learning environment.Each winner received £500 prize money, plus a selection of SAGE books.
The winners this year were:
  • For the 16 + setting Award – Tess Maginess,  with an educational action research project called Mentalentity, a 3-stage project aiming to engage with rural men about mental health and illness.
  • For the Under 16 setting Award – Dr Karen Majors, with research to find out about the imaginary friends of school aged children and to explore what purposes they served.
The winners were presented with their awards at the annual British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference in London in September. An interview with our winners follows…

Dr Karen Majors

What was your project?
Parents and teachers sometimes show concern when a child has an imaginary friend, and older children tend to keep their imaginary friends a secret. Imaginary companions have been a misunderstood phenomenon.

The aim of my research was to find out about the imaginary friends of school aged children and to explore what purposes they served.

Who was involved in the research and what was your methodology?
Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 2 samples. The first study was  of 5 girls and boys aged between 5 and 10 years of age, with back ground information being provided by parents. The second study involved a sample of 3 girls aged 11 years whose current imaginary friends were unknown to parents. The data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to explore individual and cross case themes.

What were the chief findings?
All children said why their imaginary companions were important and children explained what needs they met. Imaginary companions provided friendship, companionship, playmates, entertainment and wish fulfilment enabling children to overcome times of boredom and loneliness. They enabled some children to express and release upset or angry feelings and supported them when there were problem situations in their lives. I have therefore argued that children’s ability to use their imagination in these ways should be viewed as a strength and should not automatically trigger concern from others.

How do you feel winning the BERA/SAGE award?

I am delighted and honoured to win the BERA SAGE Award. I very much appreciate the interest shown in this research. Winning the award has increased my motivation to continue!

Tess Maginess

What is your project?

It is an educational action research project called Mentalentity. This is a 3-stage project aiming to engage with rural men about mental health and illness. During the course of the project we made a film, a play and a training resource. Participants were able to gain credit points through Queen’s University’s Open Learning Programme.

Describe what your research project aimed to do

The project aimed to tackle stigma and prejudice about mental distress through ‘hands-on’ action learning projects, devised and developed by the men themselves. That enabled them to discover what their own attitudes were and to learn about the lived experience of mental distress and how they could be more supportive to individuals and families in their own areas.

Where and who were involved in the research?

The research project took place in three contrasting ‘rural’ areas in south west Ulster: Crossmaglen, a remote rural area which has suffered greatly as a consequence of the Troubles, Donaghmore, a small village and Craigavon, a ‘new’ town and its hinterland which has high levels of deprivation. In Crossmaglen, a local men’s group, Menaware, led the project. In Donaghmore a theatre group, BEAM, were the key group and in Craigavon, a group of youth workers, who engage with young men, led the project.

What was your methodology?

We ran the project through a series of informal workshops which enabled the men to reflect on their own attitudes and experience, to meet people who had suffered mental distress and carers and to gain valuable information about the services, statutory and voluntary, available. The workshops also enabled the participants to generate their own ‘product’ which would best express their new learning and promote positive attitudes to mental health and illness.

What were the chief findings?

We discovered that knowledge about mental ill health is still poor, but the men, through their own learning and the creative products they made, were able to dispel many myths and present a more enlightened and compassionate view of mental distress and to convey the range of supports that are available, including support from family, neighbours and community.

How do you feel winning the BERA/SAGE award?

Really delighted and honoured. The award is really a recognition of the fantastic enthusiasm, creativity and integrity of all the men involved, so I am happy to accept it on their behalf.

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