Before joining Christ Church I was a primary school teacher in schools in Kent and for most of my career at the University I have worked in the field of Initial Teacher Education, most particularly as subject leader for Primary History. However, in more recent years I have worked in non-teaching degrees, particularly in Education Studies, where as well as supervising dissertations, I lead courses on education and politics, the history of education and representations of education in film.
Research and knowledge exchange
My doctoral thesis centred on representations of education in popular culture, particularly Hollywood movies. I explored whether movies challenged or helped maintain neoliberal visions of education, concluding that cultural tools are key ways in which the status quo is reinforced and enhanced.
During my doctoral studies I also examined the impact of free market policies in education and I am very interested in issues regarding inequality and social justice.
As part of my work within the faculty I have been involved in several major knowledge exchange projects, the most significant was the TDA Primary Languages project which involved student teacher exchanges with four countries in Europe. As part of this I travelled extensively to visit our partner institutions and their schools. I also led on the school element of the €1.8m Dover Bronze Age Boat Project with Canterbury Archaeological Trust. This involved promoting historical and inter-cultural understanding in Channel schools in the UK, France and Belgium.
Teaching and subject expertise
My teaching expertise lies within politics, history and education in popular culture. I seek to challenge students as to the interplay between ideology and education, using examples from history and the present day to explore how education has been both well served and highly damaged by political interference.
I am passionate about teaching creative and evidence-based history in schools. I encourage all my students to use genuine historical sources with children, so that pupils can take on the role of the historian. I am also a member of the Historical Association.
I have successfully supervised hundreds of students through masters level projects and undergraduate dissertations.
I have also significant experience of working with school staff in professional development activities. This includes supporting headteachers via coaching and mentoring.
During my time at the University I have been heavily involved in working with external partners and have been the University’s representative on a number of organisations. For example, I am currently a Trustee of Aquila, the Canterbury Diocesan Multi-Academy Trust - I have also represented the University at the Diocesan Board of Education. I am also a Trustee of Dover Christ Church Academy, the University’s sponsored secondary school.
I have represented the University at external events such as the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers. I have also acted as an External Examiner or an external panellist at other Universities.
During my time at the University I have travelled to numerous countries to develop international partnerships and to explore education in different national contexts, these include: Finland, India, Sweden, Germany and France.
Publications and research outputs
For seven years I led the PGCE Primary (Full-time) and with two other programme directors I published ‘Succeeding on your PGCE’ a book offering advice and guidance to prospective and current PGCE students. As well as this and other publications, I have written numerous articles for professional magazines, respected educational blogs and for The Conversation, the on-line international newspaper written by academics.
I have also presented at numerous internal and external conferences. Themes include: History Teacher Education, capitalism & education and cultural representations of education.
Birrell, G & Green, M (2015) The First Cross Channel Ferry: The Dover Bronze Age Boat, Primary History, Vol.71, pp40-46
Birrell, G & Austin, R (2014) Shouldn’t Teachers be Political? Chapter in Sangster M (Ed) Challenging Perceptions in Primary Education, London: Bloomsbury
Birrell, G, Taylor, H & Ward H (2010) Succeeding on your Primary PGCE, Sage: London