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Institute of Education

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Q&A with Professor Stephen Ball

1  What is your role and what does it involve?
I was until recently Karl Mannheim Professor of Sociology of Education. This involved leadership of the sociology section at IOE and the fostering of sociology of education research. I stepped down from that position in 2015 to work part-time as Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology of Education. My time is now devoted to working with research students, research and occasional teaching, and currently a lot of writing. I am finishing one book based on two recently completed research studies and another exploring the educational relevance of Michel Foucault (French social theorist). I am also very involved with activities at The British Academy to which I was elected as a Fellow in 2006.

2  How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined the IOE in 2001 and prior to that I was at King’s College London for 15 years, and before that at the University of Sussex, where I did my MA and PhD (both in sociology) before getting my first job there as Lecturer in Education.

3  What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your students about the subject you teach?
My students constantly remind me of the critical possibilities that sociology offers – the possibility to see the world differently, to realise that things are not as necessary as all that, to understand our contingency and revocability. One of the most exciting things about teaching is when you can see students shuffling off ideas and assumptions that they had previously taken for granted and beginning to see themselves and the future differently.

4  What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I guess I am proud of my track record of ESRC project work over 25 years but also that several of my past research students are now professors!

5  Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.
I am currently working with my colleagues Carolina Junemann and Diego Santori to complete a book based on our research on global education policy networks. The research focused on India and four African countries and looked in particular at the growth of low-fee private schools in these countries and how this growth has been facilitated, fostered and funded by international edu-businesses, venture philanthropists and private equity investors. Looking at these facilitators and funders we are able to show the way that ideas, initiatives, policies and money move around the world to have effects in terms of education policy and practice in diverse locations.

6  What would surprise people to know about you?
I love to ride horses, not so much in England, too much emphasis on rules and style, but in Latin America – riding on the Argentinian Pampas has been one of my great experiences!

7  What other piece of research outside of your own subject area interests you?
I think research in ornithology on bird migration patterns and habits is fascinating. In particular, the navigational skills of some birds that travel huge distances to return to the same spot year after year, and the distances covered by some, like swifts (who sleep while they fly) is staggering.