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Joanna Merrett with Professor Li Li and Professor Anna Mountford-Zimdars.

Student from the Graduate School of Education wins this years Hutton Prize for Excellence

Joanna Merrett, postgraduate student in the Graduate School of Education, has won this year’s Hutton Prize for Excellence for her dissertation on Understanding Home Educators Experience of Exam Cancellations and Teacher Assessed Grades 2020-21.

Her dissertation was chosen because she is giving a voice to a group that is not usually given a voice to: The group of those who electively home-educate. While it is a legally permissible choice to home-educate, policy makers generally make it an uncomfortable choice that individual parents have to pay for and face obstacles with exercising their legal rights.

Joanna’s dissertation demonstrated though that this choice is not only ‘not desired’ by policy makers but that policy makers don’t have this group of elective home-educators on their radar when making decisions.

Joanna summarises her dissertation as follows: “By looking at the financial, practical and systematic disadvantage caused by the teacher assessment policy following exam cancellations I recognised that sharing research findings with government policy makers and alternative education communities could be the way to make a significant impact in this underrepresented and misunderstood area of education. I hope that this kind of research can continue to contribute to the ways in which public officials can build best practice and good governance, based on research that holds close to the Hutton Prize principles of excellence in ethical research.”

The Hutton Prize for Excellence is awarded annually to undergraduate or postgraduate students in the College of Social Sciences and Internal Studies and the Business School, and seeks to reward, encourage and inspire those who put ethical conduct and transparency at the forefront of government, business and the professions. The prize consists of one Troy ounce of gold formed into a medal, and is awarded following scrupulous assessment by the committee, who determine which dissertation best meets the ethics and good governance criteria.

Joanna was supervised by Anna Mountford-Zimdars, who said “Joanna has undertaken exceptional and ambitious academic work. She was uniquely placed to conduct her original research in a dual role as a graduate student at the University of Exeter and working independently with the home-education community. Her ethical approach to research meant she co-created questions and shared findings with those in the elective home-education community throughout the research process. Her findings showed extremely worrying policy failings regarding support – or rather, lack of support – for this group of young people, many of whom reported through the research high numbers of young people with special educational needs. For example, the policy of teacher-predicted grades replacing examinations during the pandemic simply ‘forgot’ that any electively home-educated young person would lose the opportunity to take GCSEs or A-level examinations and thus progress in education – this group really was ‘missing’ from policy making. Joanna’s academic as well as her work meeting with policy makers and raising awareness of the issue were important contributing factors to achieving greater salience for this group in policy making and inclusion in the second year of the teacher-predicted grades policy.

It has been an absolute delight to support Joanne on this academic and impact journey. I am pleased we have had promising discussions with our talented colleagues in IIB how we can build on this existing research and continue developing research and impact work in this field.”

Associate Dean for Global in the College of Social Sciences and International Studies, Professor Li Li, said “the Hutton Prize of Excellence is to recognise and encourage the next generation of young professionals to put ethical conduct at the forefront of business, government, and the professional practices. Joanna’s project is just such an example. Her dissertation offers outstanding contributions and implications for ethical practice and there is clear evidence of the impact of the research on policy-making in both domestic and international contexts. I hope there will be more student projects that demonstrate, propose and promote high standards of ethical conduct for the tangible benefit of society.”

Joanna also added “I am delighted that my work has been recognised as research that promotes and demonstrates a commitment to ethical behaviour and the pursuit of fairness and justice and I am truly honoured to win the Hutton Prize for Excellence, it is such significant recognition of my work at Exeter University. I am most grateful to Professor Anna Mountford-Zimdars who had the foresight and open mindedness to begin to look into impacts of home education during Covid and who recognised my potential and provided me with trust, guidance, understanding and encouragement. I also want to thank Dr Harriet Pattison for her kind support, critiquing and commenting on my work, mostly I am grateful for the support of the home educators that came forward in their hundreds to support the research.”

Date: 21 July 2022