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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Greater entitlement to free school meals would reduce stigma, shame ­– and hunger

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 5 June 2017

Rebecca O’Connell, Julia Brannen and Abigail Knight
The Conservative Manifesto proposes to end free school meals for all at key stage 1 and instead offer primary children free breakfast. What impact would this have?
For more than a century the UK government has provided free school meals (FSM) to children whose education might otherwise suffer. Today, school meals are a particular priority for children’s wellbeing, especially for the nearly 4 million children living in poverty. This is because of rising food prices, reduced household incomes – particularly for families with children – and cuts to the welfare benefit system. Recent research suggests that young people are not benefiting fully from free school meals because of issues of eligibility, adequacy and delivery.
Our ongoing study of 45 young people aged 11-15 and their parents in low income (more…)

Migration stories: views from the inside

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 3 September 2015

Julia Brannen.
Being a migrant is a process and not simply a status. Migrants are more than cheap labour; they also have family lives. Fathers and Sons: Generations, Families and Migration is based on an Economic and Social Research Council study of fatherhood in three generations of men: grandfathers, fathers and sons conducted at the UCL Institute of Education in 2009-12. It includes grandfathers who migrated to Britain in the mid 1900s and Polish fathers who came to the UK in the 2000s.
Lives change over time and how migrants view their lives changes also. On the one hand, the lives of these migrants were tough: the Irish and the Polish men worked in manual jobs in the UK, many in the harsh, precarious and dangerous conditions of the construction industry. On the other hand, both groups looked back on their lives as successful. These stories challenge the popular view that migration is problematic and necessarily a social problem and bear witness to the significant contribution that migration brings to a society over the long term.
The Irish grandfathers who remained in the same industry for the rest of their working lives measured their success in (more…)

Sons can offer positive role models for their fathers too

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 18 June 2013

Julia Brannen
It goes without saying that fathers are important figures in children’s lives and can act as significant role models. But can sons also be role models for their fathers?  
For children are active agents in the socialisation process in terms of responding to the conditions of their upbringing, but also in acting upon them (Brannen et al 2000).
Sons aged 5 to 17 engage in a wide range of activities with their fathers, both individually and also as a family. Research shows that father-son activities are typically centred around doing ‘boys things’, like watching sports on TV and playing football (Brannen et al 2012).
But wanting to spend more time with their dads is a major theme in interviews we have conducted with boys about their fathers. It seems that one of the major constraints upon fatherhood is employment (Mooney el 2013). This is a matter which younger boys (as opposed to the teenagers) are concerned about. While some sons (with fathers in middle class high paid jobs) aspire to jobs like those of their fathers, primarily to achieve a similar life style, with high pay, more often they hold no such ambitions for themselves, mentioning things that they dislike about their dads’ jobs, in particular the long hours, the stress, the travel, the administration, and ‘too many meetings’.
Children today are quick to welcome the monetary fruits that accrue from their parents’ employment, in particular its consumption benefits. Yet the younger boys are also critical of the toll work takes on their fathers and in particular the time dads spend away from them.
Younger boys describe dads coming home after a long day as ‘grouchy’ and too tired to play with them. Several of the sons of Polish migrants in my research told us they felt their dads worked too much and too hard, and that as a result they, the sons, were missing out.  Thirteen year old Lucjan, for example, thought his dad, a construction worker, must work hard in his job because ‘when he gets back he has a shower and goes to bed’. Feliks, aged ten, similarly talked of his dad going to bed before him.
Older boys, on the other hand, were more accepting.  Seventeen year old Steve’s dad travelled extensively in his job as a manager in a large business.  When he was growing up, Steve said he simply took it for granted that `dad’s not there, and your mum is, to support you.’   Now, even when his dad was not away and worked at home, he shut himself up in his office. Nevertheless Steve considered that they have enough ‘father-son time’.
Rory, aged eight, the son of a banker, was very ‘annoyed’ about his dad having to stay late at work for meetings and returned to the subject several times in his interview, expressing real concern for his father’s welfare.
Thus generational transmission in the form of role models is not all one way. Children can offer positive role models for their fathers through their expressed concern for their parents’ welfare.
To strengthen the role models that men can offer the next generation requires taking notice of what children have to say.  That these matters are cause for public concern is suggested by the fact that children are concerned about their parents.
This will require better joined up thinking between policies for children and those for adults.  In terms of parents,  public and workplace policies need strengthening rather than weakening, in particular the  greater regulation of employment conditions, including working hours and time flexibility, in order to accommodate  fathers as well as mothers.

Julia Brannen, Valerie Wigfall and Ann Mooney (2012) Sons’ Perspectives on Time with Dads. Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung Heft 1-2012, S. 25-41
Ann Mooney  Julia Brannen, Valerie Wigfall a & Violetta Parutis (2013) The impact of employment on fatherhood across family generations
in white British, Polish and Irish origin families Community, Work & Family 1-18, iFirst Article http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ccwf20
Brannen, J, Heptinstall, E and Bhopal, K (2000) Connecting Children: Care and
Family Life in Later Childhood, London: Falmer

Material is based on an ESRC study Fathers over the generations in white British, Polish and Irish origin families (2009-2012). It included the youngest generation (boys aged 5-17) as well as their fathers and grandfathers. http://www.ioe.ac.uk/research/16157.html

Professor Julia Brannen is Professor of Sociology of the Family. She has an international reputation for her work on family life, work-life issues, intergenerational relations and for her expertise in mixed methods, biographical approaches and cross national research.

The point is, Minister, the poorest children do not have enough of the right foods to keep them healthy

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 25 January 2013

Rebecca O’Connell and Julia Brannen
“There should be no such thing as an underfed school child: an underfed child is a disgrace and a danger to the state” (Maud Pember Reeves, 1913).
One hundred years after the publication of Maud Pember Reeves’ well known study of food poverty in Lambeth the problem of want among plenty is as pervasive as ever.
Public health minister Anna Soubry claims it is easy to identify the poorest people in society by their weight and that poorer children are “ironically” more likely to be obese. Ms Soubry is right to link the issues of food, health and poverty. She is also correct in suggesting that over the last century what it means to be a malnourished child has changed in some important ways. The most alarming fact is not the supposed paradox that the poorest children are more likely to be overweight, however; given the easy availability of high fat and high sugar fast and convenience foods it should come as no surprise that the obesogenic environment we live in is reflected in the bodies of our children.
What is really shocking is the shameful response of successive governments to this problem: in 2013 children from the poorest households still do not have enough of the right foods to eat to ensure good health. Blaming parents and “TV dinners” reveals a failure to engage constructively with the evidence about children, food and poverty. At the heart of the problem, as much research has shown, are the issues of food availability and social inequality.
Analysis of data from the Millennium Cohort Study has investigated factors associated with childhood overweight and obesity (PDF). A number of significant factors have been identified, including relationships with maternal overweight, lack of breastfeeding and lack of exercise. At age 5, children living in a family with a lower household income, and/or having a mother with a lower level of education, were at greater risk of being overweight.
Researchers have shown that, even with optimal nutritional knowledge, choosing a healthy diet on a low food budget is difficult (PDF). As analysis of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey conducted by Antonia Simon and Charlie Owen at the Thomas Coram Research Unit shows, children in families where the household is in the highest socio-economic group have a higher nutritional score (i.e. healthier diet) and consume more portions of combined fruit and vegetables than children in families in households from lower socio-economic groups. With widening income disparity in Austerity Britain and “the end of cheap food”, these effects are doubtless being exacerbated.
Policy makers have not seen redistribution of wealth to be part of the solution. Equally, big food business, representing one of our currently few successful industries in Britain, wields its power internationally and in policy-making circles at home. It is therefore unsurprising that the government finds it preferable to regulate parents rather than the food industry. Those organisations, such as Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign and the Children’s Food Trust, which are doing their best to safeguard children’s interests in this climate, deserve our support. Nevertheless, the slowness of government to take responsibility for the wellbeing of its most vulnerable citizens, as disgraceful and dangerous as it was a century ago, has to be addressed.
Dr Rebecca O¹Connell and Professor Julia Brannen are researchers at Thomas Coram Research Unit. Rebecca is also co-convenor of the British Sociological Association Food Study Group, which holds hour long seminars and longer, themed, events throughout the UK. The aim is to provide a forum for stimulating debate amongst academics, practitioners and others interested or involved in social science research on food, diet and eating.
Its next event, held at the University of Westminster, is a seminar by Professor Rose Barbour (Open University): “Food for thought: Some tensions between sociology and health promotion in relation to obesity”. Further details can be found here: http://www.britsoc.co.uk/study-groups/foodscoff-(scottish-colloquium-on-food-and-feeding).aspx