If you had to choose one thing, what would you see as a significant contribution you have made to BSRLM?
Perhaps the most significant thing that we achieved during my term as Chair of BSRLM was to transform Research in Mathematics Education (RME) from an annual in-house publication into an international journal managed by the Society, published by Taylor and Francis, and open to submissions not just from BSRLM members but from researchers worldwide. The intention was to foster interaction with an international community in ways which would provide opportunities and benefits for mathematics education research in Britain. Nevertheless, it was particularly important to maintain a strong connection between RME and research by members of the Society; to ensure this, the journal included a distinctive ‘Current Reports’ section devoted to extended abstracts of research presented by members at recent BSRLM meetings. We also took the opportunity to further link the journal to the Society through establishing the Janet Duffin memorial award and lecture. Over subsequent years I have remained an Advisory Editor of RME, contributing to further refinements and developments.
In what ways have you seen BSRLM grow and change throughout your association with it?
It’s important to say that the core activity of BSRLM – the termly day conference – has proved remarkably resilient and adaptable over the years (and through the pandemic lockdown). Another traditional aspect of BSRLM has been its cooperation with other British mathematics education organisations through the Joint Mathematical Council and BCME. More recent developments have introduced wider forms of cooperation. It has been good to see BSRLM taking advantage of opportunities for further focused meetings – particularly on practitioner research – which have become available through its association with BERA. Another valuable development has been joint conferences with parallel overseas associations; I recall interesting meetings with Nordic and French colleagues. Finally, while the scope of the research presented at BSRLM has broadened considerably over the years, the Society’s name continues to reflect preoccupations of its founding days: should BSRLM be renamed BSRME (in alignment with its journal)?
What are you most concerned about for mathematics education research in the UK?
Over the course of my career, a succession of changes – notably decline of the BEd, reform of the PGCE, promotion of school-centred provision – has reduced the university contribution to teacher education, so eroding the financial base on which most university positions in mathematics education have depended. A shrinking real unit of student resource has only tightened the squeeze. Other developments – notably the extension of part-time master’s level study for teachers, growth in numbers of overseas research students, and increasing attention to mathematics teaching and learning at university level – have been insufficient to compensate. It seems that research output is now diminishing: the most recent national evaluation of research in UK universities, comparing the period from 2014 with that from 2008, reported that “The volume of work on mathematics education appears to have reduced”. That said, the relevance of such research was clear: “Implications for teaching, learning and teacher education were regular concerns within this work.” While research conducted by other parties – such as practitioners and policy organisations – can be valuable, it almost invariably depends – in a range of ways – on a thriving community of university-based researchers; and it provides no substitute for university-based research which is typically more attentive to other relevant work and to cumulative development of the field.
What role can BSRLM play in the context of mathematics education research beyond the UK?
My earlier comments have noted ways in which BSRLM is already playing a role in mathematics education research beyond the UK; in particular, the choice of themes for special issues of RME or for joint meetings with overseas associations provides an opportunity for BSRLM to help shape an international agenda. Moreover, some of BSRLM’s members are based outside the British archipelago – typically having previously worked here or undertaken academic studies or visits here; indeed the introduction of online meetings during the pandemic seems to have boosted participation by such members. All these precedents point to elements which BSRLM might take further in continuing to make valuable contributions beyond the UK. However, given the national context sketched earlier, the priority for BSRLM must be to support the vitality of mathematics education research within the UK. Indeed, an uneven geographical spread of such research across the UK has not escaped its notice: for example, the recent review of BSRLM research reports that less than 2% of UK-affiliated entries in the Proceedings came from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (with 16% of UK population), whereas more than 60% came from the south of England (with 45% of UK population). Equally, BSRLM has already raised the question of how well represented various demographic subgroups are both within its membership and within relevant wider professional communities. Ultimately, pioneering ways of understanding and addressing such imbalances within the UK could provide the basis for a significant BSRLM contribution to mathematics education research beyond the UK.