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Dr Amber Fensham-Smith

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Professional biography

Dr Amber Fensham-Smith is a Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies. Prior to her appointment at the Open University in 2020, Amber held lectureships at the University of Bedfordshire (2016-2020) and contributed to teaching in the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University (2013-2016).  She holds a BA in Sociology (first class) from the University of Durham, an MSc in Social Science Research Methods from the University of Bristol, and a PhD in Education from Cardiff University.

Research interests

Amber’s research interests and expertise lie in the field of alternative education and informal learning. She has convened the BERA Alternative Education SIG since 2017. Her ESRC funded doctorate explored the role of new technologies and learning communities and knowledge networks in UK home-education. This was a novel mixed method study that involved 242 families across England, Scotland, and Wales (available here).  Prior to the completion of her PhD, Amber was commissioned by the Welsh Government and the ESRC to conduct a mixed-method research project on engaging Gypsy and Traveller Families in education. Subsequent community projects have used participatory methodologies (e.g. Photovoice) as a means to co-produce and empower children and young people to enact educational change.

Graduate research supervision

Amber welcomes queries from potential doctoral students in the field of alternative education studies and community-based learning, including:  

  • Home education: self-managed, informal, and non-formal learning  
  • Democratic schooling, consent-based pedagogies, and children’s voice
  • Alternative provision settings, youth transitions and family engagement

Teaching interests

Amber begun teaching in Higher Education in 2013. Her commitment to teaching excellence, innovative assessment and substantial contributions to new course design and employability are recognised through Fellowship status of the Higher Education Authority.

She currently co-chairs the level 2 module ‘Exploring Childhood and Youth Studies’ (E232) and is a module team member of: ‘An introduction to Childhood and Youth Studies and Psychology’ (E104 – level 1 open access module in production) and ‘Contemporary Research with Children and Young People’ (E320- level 3 module in production).

 Amber is passionate about extending opportunities for co-production and partnerships between students and staff. She is the student voice and wellbeing pathway lead for the childhood and youth studies programme and plays an active role in the School's student voice and wellbeing group.

Impact and engagement

Amber is committed to knowledge exchange activities that foster connections between independent researchers and practitioners working, within and outside, of the academy. She regularly authors blogs, hosts podcasts and chairs public facing research events.  In 2021, Amber was invited to give oral evidence to the Education Committee’s Home Education Inquiry. Her work and recommendations for involving children and young people in policymaking was reflected in the Education Committee’s Strengthening Home Education Report

  • Peer reviewer: British Educational Research Journal, Journal of Education Studies & Educational Review
  • 2018- BBC Look North News

External collaborations

Amber regularly collaborates with charities and researchers at The University of Exeter, University of Brighton, Liverpool Hope University, and the University of Bath.

Memberships & affliations: 

British Educational Research Association

International Centre for Home Education Research

Publications

Invisible pedagogies in home education: Freedom, power and control (2021-06)
Fensham-Smith, Amber Joy
Journal of Pedagogy, 12(1) (pp. 5-27)


Becoming a Home-Educator in a Networked World: Towards the Democratisation of Education Alternatives? (2019-08-18)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 8(1) (pp. 27-57)


Introduction (2021-06-14)
Wearmouth, Janice and Fensham-Smith, Amber
In: Wearmouth, Janice and Lindley, Karen eds. Bringing the Curriculum to Life: Engaging Learners in the English Education System (pp. 1-9)
ISBN : 335249876 | Publisher : Open University Press McGraw Hill | Published : London


Alternative Education: The Rise in Elective Home Education: Issues Related to Recognition, Collaboration and Successful Partnerships (2021-06-14)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In: Wearmouth, Janice and Lindley, Karen eds. Bringing the Curriculum to Life: Engaging Learners in the English Education System (pp. 43-62)
ISBN : 335249876 | Publisher : Open University Press, McGraw Hill | Published : London


A systematic review of methods in UK home education studies: recommendations for development and practice (2019)
Flack, Zoe M. and Fensham-Smith, Amber J.
In : University of Brighton Second Education Research and Enterprise Conference (14 Jun 2019, Brighton)


Becoming a home-educator in a networked world (2018)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : British Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2018 (11-13 Sep 2018, Newcastle)


Becoming a home-educator in a networked world: towards the democratisation of education alternatives? (2018)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : Researching for Social Justice and Educational Improvement, BERA English in Education Special Interest Group (21 Jun 2018, University of Bedfordshire)


Breaking Badman: online networks and the making of new divisions in a landscape of home-education practice (2017)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : British Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2017 (5-7 Sep 2017, University of Sussex, Brighton)


Social action and the making of new divisions in a landscape of home-education practice (2017)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : STORIES Conference 2017 (15 Mar 2017, Oxford)


New technologies, knowledge networks and communities in home education (2015)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : The European Conference on Education (ECE) 2015 (1-5 Jul 2015, Brighton)


Home education: networks and communities (2015)
Fensham-Smith, Amber J
In : WISERD Annual Conference, Cardiff University (30 of Jun 2015, Cardiff)


Representations of Home Education: challenging misrecognition (2014)
Fensham-Smith, Amber J
In : British Educational Research Association: Early Career Researchers Conference, The Institute of Education (2014, London)


A systematic review of methodologies in UK Home Education studies: Recommendations for development and practice
Fensham-Smith, Amber and Flack, Zoe
In : BERA conference 2020 (8-10 Sep 2020 (conference cancelled), University of Liverpool)


Using Photovoice to Elevate Children’s Participation in Home Education Research: Opportunities, Challenges and Unanswered Questions
Flack, Zoe and Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : Educational Research (Re)connecting Communities, ECER (25-28 Aug 2020 - Cancelled, University of Glasgow)


Elective Home Education in a post-pandemic world: why more needs to be done for our growing number of home-schooled children (2021-07-24)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
The International Public Policy Observatory - IPPO


Partnership building and representing the voices of electively home educated children and young people in policymaking [Written Evidence HED0917] (2021-01-26)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
Department of Education, Select Commitee Home Education Inquiry, United Kingdom.


Towards co-operative working in alternative education (2020-05-22)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
The Freedom to Learn Project, Phoenix Education Trust


What are the issues in rethinking fieldwork-practically, theoretically, ethically? (2020-05-12)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
The Open University


Should we really call this home schooling? Reflections from the research field (2020-05-06)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
BERA


Gypsy and Traveller Education: Engaging Gypsy and Traveller Families - A Research Report (2014-11-25)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
Welsh Government Social Research, Welsh Government.