School of Education

Social Justice, Inclusion and Diversity in Education (SJIDE)

Welcome to the landing page of the Social Justice, Inclusion and Diversity in Education (SJIDE) research focus area (RFA). On our web page you will find tabs to enable you to look at current research projects; researchers working within the focus area; grants and awards obtained by our researchers; publications associated with the focus area; and news and events.

Contact us

The convenor of the RFA is Associate Professor Jenene Burke.

What we do

This Research Focus Area (RFA) will undertake research and scholarly engagement with social justice in education within the broad themes of equity, diversity, opportunity, regionality and wellbeing across an extensive range of learning contexts. Educational issues pertaining to diverse learners and those considered marginalised from educational opportunities on the basis of ‘difference’ - such as ethnicity, gender, class, culture, sexual identity and orientation, social background, geographical location including international locations, age and dis/ability - are of interest in this research theme. Research will be carried out in all sectors of formal education as well as non-formal education settings. An array of theoretical and research methodologies will be employed.

Research students

Karen Felstead

Young mothers: Discursive constructions of their lives and identities

Through a post-structuralist lens, Karen draws on Foucauldian concepts of discourse, power/knowledge and governmentality to examine how young mothers are discursively constructed in the social world. The normalising effects of the dominant discourses about young mothers are contrasted with the counter discourses identified in the young mothers’ narratives.

Wendy Holcombe

Reframing inclusion through the lens of educational permaculture.

Through an investigation of teacher perspectives and practices, Wendy explores the elements, processes and culture that contribute to the experience of classroom inclusion. Reframing the teacher’s role as an ongoing designer, this study is focused on generating a model for developing inclusion within the classroom ecosystem based on analogy with the principles and practices of permaculture.

Boli Li

Approaches to learning: Perceptions of Chinese international undergraduates and their lecturers in Australian universities

Boli is exploring the perceptions of Chinese international undergraduates and their lecturers regarding their approaches to learning in Australian universities. Based on empirical study on Chinese students’ learning and teaching, she aims to establish a framework for internationalised learning and teaching with Chinese students in Australian universities.

Tania McMullen (School of Arts)

ADHD: The experiences of children, parents and teachers in the educational context

Tania is examining, through narrative inquiry, the schooling experiences of ADHD through the lenses of a small group of Victorian secondary school students, their parents and teachers. Her study examines the concept of inclusive education as it relates to ADHD, and seeks to investigate why some educational experiences are more positive than others.

Gerry Skene

Teaching with difference: Barriers and enablers for teachers with impairments in professional roles

Gerry is investigating, through narrative inquiry, the experiences of teachers who have identified as having an impairment. His study, through the lens of the social model of disability, seeks to recognise teachers with impairments as ‘culturally relevant educators’ and has evoked the question: Is it time for a shift away from teaching about disability to a nuance of teaching with disability?

Peter Smith

Peter is a PhD candidate with disability who is studying the barriers to a person with disability completing a higher degree by research qualification at an Australian university. He is passionate in his belief in social justice, inclusion and diversity. He believes in doing what he can to raise awareness of the life of people with disability.

Alison Watson

Educating the vulnerable: Is the support there for early childhood educators? 

Alison's PhD research is an interpretive case study using qualitative methodology. It explores early childhood educator perspectives of vulnerable children, the translation of early childhood professional learning/development into practice, and the pedagogical support offered by early childhood educators to vulnerable children.

Recent PhD completions

Dr Amy Claughton

Special needs, special play? Examining the agency of children with impairments in play-based learning in a special school

Play is an inherent part of childhood, often cast as an innate behaviour of children. Over the years, play has been scrutinised by theorists, researchers and educators alike in their attempts to understand how children engage in play, its role in development and how to identify, define and measure play. For children with impairments, play is frequently subjected to surveillance and compared to that of children whose development is considered typical.

This thesis interrogates the play-based learning experiences of five children who attended a special educational school in rural Victoria, Australia. It examines their experiences and how teacher actions and responses enabled and supported their engagement in play-based learning.

The theoretical framework for this study draws on critical ethnography underpinned by disability studies. Disability studies recognises the social model of disability, in which disability is a social construction. Using this model, impairment is distinct and separate from disability. Socially constructed barriers that confront children in their play are identified as being created by attitudes, structures and environments (Bishop et al., 1999). These barriers are overlaid by the psycho-emotional dimensions of disability (C. Thomas, 1999) in an effort to represent the experiences of children as shaped by the actions and responses of others. This thesis introduces a new analytic tool, the learning portal framework, which provides a platform through which teacher actions and responses are analysed to understand children’s access to play-based learning.

The findings of this study indicate that children with impairments play in complex and nuanced ways. They show purpose in their play, are able to self-initiate, and independently investigate play-based learning experiences. Adult actions and responses often enable children with impairments to engage in play by offering opportunities and pathways for exploration. Indirect adult facilitation in play supports children’s ability to act in play with individuality and determination.

Supervisors: Assoc Prof Jenene Burke; Dr Genee Marks


Dr Moya Elvey

Implementing inclusion : classroom journeys

This study interrogates the professional experiences, attitudes and pedagogical choices of eight classroom teachers in regular schools and inquires into their impact on the development of inclusive teaching practices. Approached from the perspective of an experienced teaching practitioner, the study responds to the call for an increased focus on the role of classroom teachers in implementing inclusion in schools. The study is underpinned by a theoretical stance that promotes the value of inclusive education through a human rights, access and equity framework. It advocates for the importance of overcoming the discriminatory practices that marginalise some students. Consistent with a qualitative, ethnographic methodology, observations and interviews with practicing teachers provide insights into the factors that encourage, and sometimes discourage, the enactment of inclusive pedagogies. The literature on inclusive education provides guidance throughout the data collection and analysis process. This includes frameworks designed by other researchers that outline and define inclusive teaching strategies. The study exposes the pivotal role that ongoing teacher professional learning, along with strategic guidance and support from colleagues and school leaders, plays in enhancing teacher capacity and positive attitudes towards student diversity. It also uncovers evidence that when medical reports and pressure from ‘others’ such as health professionals, encourage teachers to focus on student ‘deficits’ and ‘problems’, they are more likely to seek out and adopt strategies that marginalise and set some students apart from their peers. A fundamental finding of this study is that when teachers and their school leaders focus on developing understanding about ‘effective’ pedagogies - on quality education for all - responsive, inclusive, student-centred teaching approaches often become embedded in their everyday classroom practice.

Supervisors: Assoc Prof Jenene Burke; Dr Genee Marks


Dr Grant Meredith

Managed Identities: How do Australian university students who stutter negotiate their studies?

Previous social research focused on people who stutter has problematised and largely ignored the experiences of university students who stutter, relying heavily upon surveys of teachers and peers while almost ignoring the authentic voices of students who stutter. Using a novel bricolage approach incorporating autoethnography, this project posed the question: “How do students who stutter negotiate their university experiences in Australia?” In 2008, a unique, web-based audit of 39 Australian public universities concluded that little publicly accessible information about stuttering support services was available for prospective university students. In many ways, stuttering is absent from disability classifications and service systems in higher education. An online survey of 102 Australian university students who stutter, and follow-up individual interviews with 15 students, revealed how these students manage their social identities from enrolment through to graduation. Only a minority of students reported ever formally disclosing their functional impairment to university support services or academic staff. This meant they rejected and/or avoided the disability label and associated stigma. The students were found to exercise a high degree of individual agency and creativity throughout their university journey. Many employed ‘concessional bargaining’ techniques to effectively navigate the oral assessment requirements during their degrees. Analysis of the interview and survey data is interspersed with critical self-reflection by the author – as a university lecturer who himself stutters. This thesis makes a significant contribution to shaping our understanding of the social identities and trajectories of university students who stutter. These students have been recast as positive, purposeful, resourceful and creative agents whose actions can be largely understood from a social model of disability. A series of recommendations for supporting and teaching these students are made to key stakeholders in higher education.


Dr Kimberley Pappaluca

Voices from the margins: A critical ethnography of conflict in female friendship in a regional Australian school

The way that interpersonal conflict is displayed and navigated is informed by broader discourses about the nature of gender roles, gender expectations, and understandings of what it means to be a girl in regional Australia. This research explores the role of conflict in everyday school interactions for the female students of one regional secondary school in the state of Victoria, Australia. For these female students, the nature of their interpersonal conflict was either widely discussed and scrutinised by teachers, adults and other students, or ignored and silenced by the same groups. For the young women of Rural Valley, their experience of conflict is intrinsically tied to the cultural spaces and places they occupy. In this thesis, young women’s voices and experiences of conflict in a regional secondary school are considered through a critical perspective situated within critical theory. A critical ethnography has been conducted drawing upon the notion of horizontal violence to develop understandings of the nature of conflict as experienced by young women from regional Australia. In order to illuminate the lived experiences of conflict for young women, narrative portraiture is used as a representational method to deconstruct traditional views of ethnographic writing. In doing so, this research provides a counter-narrative to dominant discourses about how young women experience and manage conflict and how they navigate their relationships when conflict arises. This research is significant because it challenges stereotypical notions of what conflict means to young girls in a regional secondary school context. The findings of this study highlight that young women use group-specific strategies to negotiate friendships and confront structural inequalities of a hegemonic education system. This research ultimately advocates for understandings of conflict that move away from deficit discourses to advance discussions concerned with the gendered nature of violence within Australian society.

Supervisors: Assoc Prof Jenene Burke / Dr Sharon McDonough