‘Challenging the Deficit Model across Disciplines’: Call for Papers

We are inviting submissions for the two-day Foundation Year Network Annual Conference, hosted by the University of Sussex on the 10th and 11th July 2019.

Much recent research in transitional pedagogies has sought to critique the ‘deficit model’ of learning which begins from the assumption that students lack certain skills, proficiencies, knowledge, and/or cultural capital, and that the task of educators is to remedy that deficit.

Such an assumption, we might argue, is hard-wired into the admissions processes that many FY programmes employ, for example in their use of differential entry tariffs and/or tests in English and Maths.  Similarly, ‘deficit approaches’ are often implicit in the ways we approach the teaching of ‘basic skills’ and the introduction of ‘foundational knowledge’ into the FY curriculum – most obviously perhaps in the teaching of mathematics and science, but no less clearly in the pedagogy we adopt in many ‘study skills’ modules too.

This model, however, tends to individualise lack of achievement in learners and to overlook the influence of institutional, cultural or socio-economic factors.  Put more bluntly, we might argue that it is the system which has failed FY learners as much as the learners who have failed the system.

Students particularly impacted by this model include:

  • Those who have done ‘the wrong’ syllabus (e.g. BTEC students in STEM subjects)
  • Those with Additional Learning Needs (ALNs)
  • Those for whom English is an additional language (EAL)
  • Those who have not followed a ‘traditional’ or ‘complete’ educational pathway

There is a tendency to conceptualise the needs of these students as a barrier to be overcome rather than a resource to be drawn upon, and thus a source of exclusion rather than inclusion. The increased incidence of students with ALNs on foundation courses clearly renders this model particularly problematic in the context of foundation pedagogy, but it is important to recognise that the negative effects of the deficit model potentially affect all foundation learners.

We seek to encourage critical engagement with the deficit model and its pernicious tendency to unwittingly underpin our practice and rear its head in students’ self-perceptions, as well as its diffusion among the widening participation, student transitions and teaching and learning literatures. We invite contributions which critically examine the deficit model and its effects upon educators and learners and/or which offer strategies for a more inclusive pedagogy, across the disciplines, when working with very diverse groups of FY students.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

  • What is the deficit model? Is it inherent in higher educational practice?
  • What does the deficit model mean in different disciplines and institutional contexts?
  • How do foundation students negotiate their identities against this background?  
  • How can we (students and practitioners) resist the deficit model’s effects and affects in terms both of programme design and classroom practice?
  • What other model(s) of learning can we draw on in order to supplant the deficit model?
  • How can we capitalise upon the different – and sometimes unexpected – strengths and resources which all our learners routinely bring to the learning environment?
  • Case studies of good programme and module design, and/or of good classroom practice, which enables effective learning among socially, culturally and educationally diverse groups of students.


We are keen for the two days to include a range of activities. Alongside standard paper presentations, our call for papers encourages five-minute ‘lightning’ papers (PechaKucha); workshops, roundtables or 5-minute poster presentations and other creative approaches to knowledge sharing and active learning. We also welcome proposals for full panels consisting of three related papers.

Abstracts of 250 words, as well as full author details (name, position, contact details and institutional affiliation(s)), should be submitted by 31 January 2019. Abstracts should be submitted to fynannualconf@sussex.ac.uk. Contributors will be notified of the outcome by 5 April 2019.

The Event

The event will be held at The University of Sussex Conference Centre. Tickets cost £35.00 per day to attend. Lunch, refreshments, Wi-Fi and free parking are included.

Accommodation will be available on campus, at £55 per person, per night plus £5 booking fee (en-suite, includes breakfast).  Booking will be available early in 2019. Sussex also recommends the Jurys Inn hotel (delegate rate £92 per night) and there is a large amount of accommodation locally via Airbnb.

The University of Sussex is pleased to host a free Wine Reception for delegates on the night of the 10th, followed by dinner at the Institute of Development Studies. This will comprise of a choice of 11 three-course set menus (chosen in advance) for £18.50 plus the cost of wine/ drinks. Booking will again be available early in 2019.

We hope to write a special issue proposal based on the contributions to the conference, in collaboration with the Foundation Year Network Journal.

If you have any questions regarding the event, please contact fynannualconf@gmail.com

Local Organising Committee

Wendy Ashall

Carole Becker

Annie Bresh

Mark Clark

Wendy Garnham

Jackie Grant

Jill Kirby

Fawzia Mazanderani

Ronan McKinney

Graeme Pedlingham

Susan Robbins

Lorraine Smith

Debbie Sperring

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