Annual Conference 2019

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Mar 15, 2018

Annual Conference 2019

Annual Conference 2019

10th -11th July 2019, University of Sussex

‘Challenging the Deficit Model across Disciplines’

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.


The call for papers has now closed. We hope to write a special issue proposal based on the contributions to the conference, in collaboration with the Foundation Year Network Journal. More details will be released in due course.

A number of bursaries will be made available to facilitate conference attendance – please email if you are interested in finding out more about these and we will provide further information when it is available.

Please note you must be a member of the Foundation Year Network to attend the FYN annual conference. If you’re not already a member you can register here.

If you’d like more information or have a question not covered on these pages, please contact us via email at

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