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Language stigma, standards and surveillance in US/UK schools

This project, led by Dr Ian Cushing, will examine racialised and classed language policing in schools, drawing traces and contact points between the UK and the US in terms of policy histories, deeply-embedded structures and contemporary practices.

A body of research has explored the various ways that the language of teachers and children in schools is controlled, regulated and placed under surveillance. These processes of language policing occur under a range of formal and informal language policies, including school-produced ‘slang bans’, ‘word jails’ and ‘standard English only’ rules, and government-produced teacher performance standards, language tests and curricula frameworks. They are typically driven by ideological, racialised and classed notions of stigma, standards, discipline and compliance, which reproduce the ideas that schools are spaces where teachers and young people must conform with White, middle-class ways of talking and communicating. These are not ‘new’ ideas but are the very foundations on which education and schooling are built. However, recent policy reforms over the last decade in the UK and the USA represent a re-emphasis on such language ideologies, with existing research showing how such policies serve to further disadvantage minoritised communities.

Although UK-US work has been ongoing in parallel, very few attempts have been made to draw contact points and overlap between the two countries. This project seeks to address this gap, investigating the historical, experiential and policy connections between the UK and the USA in relation to language policing in schools, with impact and engagement activity geared around linguistic justice and the challenging of intersectional language stigma. The research will centre around fieldwork in London and New York City, including:

  • Archival work at the British and Foreign School Society archive, housed at Brunel University London
  • Archival work at Gottesman Library at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York
  • Focus groups and in-depth interviews with pre/in-service teachers and school management in London and New York

The research will lead to a number of outputs:

  • A genealogy of racialised and classed language policing in US-UK education policy
  • Workshops with teachers based at Brunel University London and Teachers College, Columbia University
  • A special issue on language stigma and policing across US and UK contexts
  • Contributing towards a REF Impact Case Study
  • Policy engagement work with Ofsted


Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Ian Cushing

Related Research Group(s)

children in classroom

Pedagogy, Policy and Professional Education - Focusing on pedagogy, policy and professional education, including the education of teachers.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 16/01/2024