Discourses of Ability We Live By

In some of my work I’ve argued that unless we engage more with progressive conceptualisations of academic ability overall, the concept will, by default, continue to be overly-determined by a narrowly-conceived measure of particular cognitive skills (https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/a-new-direction-for-gifted-education-studies). To this end, I presented a paper recently at the European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA) Annual Life History and Biography Network Conference, entitled ‘Differing Discourses of Ability We Live By’. This drew on life history narratives to better understand the long-term impact, over the lifecourse, of having failed the 11+ examination taken by some adults in the last year of their primary schooling in England.

Part of my paper, utilising Foucault, focused on how psychological measures such as this and related discourses carry huge authority. The power invested in these discourses then leads to the shaping of academic identities in ways that are surely not warranted by the measures themselves (not to mention issues of socio-cultural bias, unfair access to preparation for tests and yearly variants in cut-off levels for grammar schools determined by fluctuations in the birth cohort). I was interested both in the impact of these dominant discourses of high ability, but also in what might be the potential counter-discourses that individuals draw on. In some of the life histories the 11+ was indeed a momentous event, for some both an ending – of a hoped for education and family aspirations – as much as a beginning of what was then to follow. For all it was a significant turning point in life, but a further interpretation of the life histories is that such failure can set up an ongoing present – one participant speaking about how they were ‘still failing the 11+’ much later in life when something did not work out.

An apparent counter-discourse was that of ‘emotional intelligence’. Recourse to discourses of affect to counter discourses based on cognitive aspects of ability alone were welcome, especially in the form of ‘EQ’, which so closely resembles the altogether more troubling, if largely discredited, ‘IQ’. Life history work itself enabled participants to explore multiple understandings of ability beyond the one dominant discourse and in this sense gave voice to frustrations. However, not withstanding this, there was much evidence of the onerous lifelong impact that resulted from having failed this one examination at such a young age. By not focusing attention on those that fail, and instead talking up the opportunities afforded to the few disadvantaged pupils who pass, we refuse to adequately acknowledge and reflect on such debilitating lifelong ramifications.

The Life History and Biography Network (LHBN) of ESREA is a space and community of researchers that I have for some years now drawn much from – in terms of both the affective and the cognitive dimensions. It is a celebration of European research in this field, with scholars hailing from all parts of the continent and beyond. My paper was presented in a session with colleagues from Italy, who (having presented both in English and French) commented that in Italy such testing and sorting of children so young would be unthinkable and simply not countenanced. It is always sobering to reflect on our own educational values and practices in a cross-cultural light and be reminded that what may at times appear inevitable is in fact highly contingent on a host of specific historical and cultural conditions.

I have argued elsewhere that we need an enriched, varied set of discourses about ability and perhaps even a more nuanced language. In this paper however, it was not necessary to follow this logic as what was being argued – and what appeared so obvious to my European colleagues – was simply that in seeking and hearing the life histories of those failed by this national test at the age of 11, we ourselves cannot fail but to apprehend the ongoing danger inherent in using narrow measures of ability to do far more work than they should ever have been called on to do. Our collective failure to provide challenging, engaging, relevant schooling for all, is turned into the personal failing of a proportion of eleven year old children. Given what we now know about the lack of impact on social mobility, the bias towards those who are coached and the harsh justice of any arbitrary cut-off score, the fact that a new round of grammar schools is once more on the horizon is testament to what happens in education when we divorce affect from cognition, and facts from values.

Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith is Research Excellence Academy Fellow in the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. She was previously Senior Research Fellow at the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, University of Warwick. Her research is mainly situated within the sociology of education and she works in a social justice and education cluster.  She is author of a book entitled Families, Education and Giftedness: Case Studies in the Construction of High Achievement (with Professor Jim Campbell). Previous conference presentations at ESREA have resulted in book chapters for Constructing Narratives of Continuity and Change (Eds. Reid, H. and West, L., Routledge) and Stories that Make a Difference (Eds. Formenti, L. and West, L., Pensa Multimedia), available at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Laura_Mazzoli_Smith/publications

The Politics of the Canon: An exploration of the factors influencing teachers’ text choices for the new GCSE specification in English Literature

As English teachers in England are aware, the new GCSE specifications which will be examined for the first time in Summer 2017 mark a significant departure from previous practice in terms of curriculum and assessment.  Terminal, closed book examinations, the removal of controlled assessment and an increased emphasis on 19th Century writing, combined with changes to accountability measures, make for a challenging set of circumstances for English teachers.  I had long been interested in the debate about whether or not the canon of literature we teach is contingent upon societal, economic and political values, or whether it arises simply because of a texts’ aesthetic qualities.  When this debate is placed within the highly charged current educational context of Conservative reforms and austerity, interesting questions are raised about how teachers’ behaviours, values, priorities and decisions about what to teach are affected by these challenging circumstances.

In order to investigate these decisions during my Masters dissertation, I surveyed over 130 English teachers about their text choices for the new GCSE Literature Specification, as well as interviewing local Heads of Department.  Whilst the question of which texts we teach may be seen primarily as one about the academic and cultural value of one text over another, pragmatic challenges faced by schools mean that the curriculum may be devised more as a result of practical factors such as the availability of texts, logistical expediency, budgetary demands and time constraints as well as finding texts which are seen as engaging and relevant to our students.  All of these factors emerged as significant for teachers when making curricular and pedagogic decisions, but what was arguably more interesting were tropes in the language which teachers used to describe their decision making in light of curricular reform.

A particularly rich seam was the assumption of mutual exclusivity.  I noticed how often teachers couched the choices which they were faced with as an “either/or” decision.  In addition to this, I noticed that this choice was couched between what can be broadly aligned with the debate between teaching knowledge and teaching skills.  Terms such as “remembering” and “rote learning” are pitted against phrases like “exploring” “enjoying” and “engaging with” texts.

Another theme to emerge from my analysis of teachers responses was that of teachers’ beliefs about representation.  I was interested in the ways these beliefs corresponded with academic and epistemological debate about the canon particularly in light of ideas about social justice.  Many teachers decried the new specifications as “pale, male and stale”, simultaneously lamenting the more traditional literary content which would not necessarily “engage students”.  Paradoxically however, despite lamenting the more traditional nature of the choices available, the most popular text choices tended to be those mainstays of the traditional canon, with more diverse choices remaining less popular.

Is it easier to teach students when they are reading texts which are ‘relevant’ to their lives?

Furthermore, the question of relevance became a pertinent one in my data.  Was it the case that teachers believe that texts ought to be relevant to students’ lives as a matter of principle, or did relevance function as a more pragmatic criteria?  Is it easier to teach students when they are reading texts which are ‘relevant’ to their lives?   And should the criteria of relevant and engaging apply to content and curriculum, or to the pedagogical methods employed to deliver this content?  There were also, some would argue, pernicious assumptions, that certain literary knowledge was not necessary for particular cohorts of students who might require “more functional language”.

As a classroom teacher myself, I am sympathetic to the challenges teachers face in preparing students for these new examinations.  However, these demands must be balanced against the laudable aim of allowing all students access to powerful literary knowledge, which English teachers know to be transformative and liberating.  The problem is that pragmatic factors often mean that teachers are forced to act in a way which does not correspond with their beliefs, (what Ball terms “values schizophrenia”) and that teachers currently work within a performative culture in which they feel that they face a mutually exclusive choice between knowledge and skills, rather than an optimistic belief that students can be taught powerful literary knowledge which they can then explore, engage with and enjoy.  If these barriers of performativity and pragmatic constraints were reduced then teachers could find a way through this new and challenging territory.

Taken from the BERA blogs.


Ball, S. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), pp.215-228.

Young, M., Lambert, D., Roberts, C. and Roberts, M. (2014). Knowledge and the future school. London:  Bloomsbury.



Anne Clough studied English Language and Literature at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with a First Class Honours degree in 2006.  She then trained as a secondary English teacher and has taught for 9 years in the North East of England. She is now Head of English at St Mary’s Catholic School in Newcastle.  She recently graduated from her MEd in Practitioner Enquiry from the University of Newcastle, where she was the winner of the 2016 Marie Butterworth Prize for Excellence for her Masters Dissertation.  Her interests are epistemology and the relationship between curriculum and assessment.

Entrepreneurial Competences for School Leadership Teams

Sue Robson, Rene Koglbauer, Ulrike Thomas and Anna Reid from CfLAT and North Leadership Centre, Newcastle University, led an Erasmus+ project ‘Entrepreneurial Competences for School Leadership Teams’ (2014-2016). The project aimed to identify successful entrepreneurial competences from the business world and adapt them to school leadership contexts. Our partners included edEUcation ltd, the European School Heads Association, the Universities of Jyväskylä, Finland and Primorska in Slovenia, and the Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania.

Partners worked with schools across Europe to design a programme to enhance the entrepreneurial competences of schools leadership teams (SLTs) and help them to lead and manage schools in a rapidly changing educational environment. The programme includes five modules:

  • Conducting a professional enquiry
  • Strategic Thinking and Visioning
  • Team Building, Personnel Management and Development
  • Communication and Negotiation Skills
  • Financial Resource Mobilisation and Optimisation

The modules and associated resources are free to download from the project website http://www.ec4slt.com.

This blog discusses our work with three schools in the northeast of England that have developed an entrepreneurial model of collaborative school leadership.



Dame Dorothy Primary School: Iain Williamson, headteacher

Springwell Village Primary School: Louse Wiegand, headteacher

St John Boste RC Primary School: Denise Cushlow, headteacher



In 2012 the local authority support for school improvement in Sunderland came to an end. Schools faced the challenge to ensure that the critical professional friendship that helped leaders to evaluate their schools’ performance, identify priorities for improvement and plan effective change should continue. This challenge led the three headteachers to explore a collaborative model as a strategic solution to support improvement in their schools.

The process began in 2013. It involved putting in place a strategic plan for distributed leadership in each of the schools. This began with self-assessment of each school and critically evaluating the other schools. One SLT played the role of the inspection team to assess the performance of the partner school. The third school chaired a meeting between the school and its ‘inspection team’.

The ability to deliver meaningful and thought provoking feedback in a professional and sensitive way is a crucial skill for leaders

senior leadership teams, staff and governors at all three schools

In a retrospective examination of the triad process, interviews with leaders, teaching staff, governors and administrative staff gathered their perceptions of the process. Evidence was also drawn from OFSTED inspection reports.

The SLTs reflect on the process evaluating whether a collaborative leadership model could utilise the leadership strengths across the partnership to contribute to the improvement of all three primary schools.

Evidence drawn from OFSTED inspection reports, data on pupil performance and awards received by each of the schools indicates significant improvements in all three schools.

An OFSTED inspection report for St John Boste School (2016) noted that the ‘dedicated and committed leadership is effective and has led to improvements in the school. Accurate evaluation of strengths and weaknesses in pupils’ performance and the quality of teaching, learning and assessment and action taken promptly to address concerns has led to improved pupil outcomes’. The Ofsted report also noted benefits to governors of the triad model:

Leaders work collaboratively with those from two other schools to share practice. This ‘triad’ enables governors to attend training and share expertise with other governing bodies.

Data from interviews held with leaders, teachers, governors and administrative staff indicate their positive perceptions of the process:

Louise Wiegand noted an initial concern regarding SLT development:

My SLT needed further development in the strategic skills needed to lead long-term meaningful change – where were those meaningful opportunities to come from?

The answer lay in sharing expertise, with SLTs and other staff members worked together across the schools.

The Premises Manager and SLT member at Dame Dorothy commented:

I liked the idea of working with others. If I get the chance to pass on good knowledge or good practice then this is something I am eager to do.

Iain Williamson noted the development of his SLT through their involvement in the triad:

I believe my SLT were the most established of the schools at the formation of the triad but they lacked confidence. Working alongside colleagues who shared similar fears but hadn’t been allowed the opportunities they had gone through gave them a sense of value in the roles they performed. It was at this point that they started to see themselves as I did – as leaders.

Denise Cushlow is very positive about the model. She reflects:

 As we met towards the end of the first year to evaluate the triad and the impact it had had, it was clear that it was something that would continue to grow and develop. Realising the positive impact it had had on us as leaders and on our SLTs inspired us to consider ways in which other members of our teams could benefit and grow.

The Triad partnership has also extended to including the pupils at the three schools who now regularly meet and undertake activities together. These activities are not just ‘fun’ but focus on learning from each other. Recently, for example, the School Council at Dame Dorothy worked together with the other Triad schools in order to ‘share our ideas to improve our schools.’ (School Council Newsletter). One example of the impact of this was outlined by the children:

We visited Springwell Primary School; at Springwell we learned about young leaders which is also used in our school. We heard that they linked their young leaders to an anti-bullying scheme. So since we were given a silver award in anti-bullying we thought it was a good idea to follow.

Although the development of SLTs was the initial focus, the Triad collaborative model has established a life force and energy that cascades into many aspects of school life. Subject leaders, classroom teachers, governors, office and premises staff and pupils have all become part of the network of support. The challenge is now to sustain this energy and allow it to grow further.

Improving Mentoring Practices through Collaborative Conversations


Mentoring beginning teachers is often highlighted as good practice. In this article, Rachel Lofthouse examines the role and processes.

Providing a mentor for beginning teachers means giving them support and ensuring that they build up their professional capacity, knowledge and skills. A mentor is usually a colleague with relevant, school-specific experience. Mentoring also bridges the transition between initial teacher education and full employment. In some situations, mentors make judgements or provide evidence that the new teacher has demonstrated required professional competencies.

While national and cultural expectations of mentoring vary, engaging in mentoring conversations is common. However, in most educational contexts there is limited time for teachers’ professional development. It is therefore critical that where time is assigned for mentoring the professional dialogue is engaging and productive.

‘Targets’ (usually about teaching and learning) are a common part of mentoring or coaching conversations: deliberating over what targets should be prioritised, making targets realistic and measurable, evaluating progress towards them and providing feedback prior to setting new ones can become an all-consuming activity. Add in workload pressures, anxieties about being judged or having to make judgements, and the mentoring conversations can become restrictive. They can go one of two ways: some people experience them as having high stakes, others feel they become relatively superficial.

How can we ensure that mentoring enables genuine learning processes?

Mentoring conversations can be a transformative space where important aspects of professional practice are debated and emerging professional identities, both as a new teacher and a mentor, can be constructed. Creating a genuinely valuable mentoring experience is possible, and much of it comes through conversation.

Trust seems critical, but cannot be assumed. Opportunities to explore problems without fear of punitive judgement need to be created. Respect for the value of the combined expertise offered by the unique mentoring partnership needs to be felt. Even the newest teachers have something to offer their mentor, so mentoring can be a two-way dialogue.

Lessons from research can help teachers conduct better mentoring conversations. Following a UK research project on teacher coaching, we began to understand professional dialogue through what we called coaching dimensions:

First, there is a need to ‘stimulate’. Good mentors know how to initiate thoughtful reflections and stimulate decisions with their mentee. But they also know when hold back and let the beginning teacher take the initiative. They are aware of how to collect and use available learning tools. Some use videos of lessons (their own and their mentees’); some make lesson observation notes focused on agreed aspects of the lesson; sometimes the beginning teacher creates a professional learning journal from which points for discussion are identified.

Secondly, mentors need to ‘scaffold’ the discussion. They can, for example, use critical moments in teaching and learning – or the lesson as a whole – to help the beginning teacher discuss broader themes about teaching and learning, or explore the ‘big ideas’ about relationships between school, individuals and society.

Finally, it is important to ‘sustain’ the learning conversation. Good mentors become aware of their tone of voice, keeping it neutral and curious to encourage open discussions. They create opportunities for their mentee to think back, think ahead and think laterally. The conversation is also sustained through finding meaning and value in it. The mentor and the beginning teacher need to work together to create a dynamic conversation in which there are opportunities to share problems, to pose and respond to questions, to extend thinking, to build solutions.

Mentoring can form part of the social glue between colleagues. It should support the emergence of a network of strong professional relationships which empower the new teacher to play an active role and to meet the needs of the school community. Conversations have a significant role in realising this potential.

Dr RACHEL LOFTHOUSE is Senior Lecturer in Education in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. She is also partnership development director for the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT). She has a specific interest in professional learning for teachers and educators, based on innovative pedagogies and curriculum design and practices for coaching and mentoring. You can follow her on Twitter @DrRLofthouse

Taken from the School Education Gateway blog.

Democracy through Pedagogy: the Mantle of the Expert in Initial Teacher Education

In his powerful speech at the Cambridge Primary Review Trust’s (CPRT) conference in November last year, Robin Alexander suggested, in relation to recent electoral outcomes in the UK and the US, that discourses of hatred and derision might be interpreted as ‘education’s failure’. Soon after the CPRT conference, Primary PGCE and School Direct students at Newcastle University were offered two days of training on the Mantle of the Expert. In ‘Mantle’, which was initially developed by Dorothy Heathcote, imaginary contexts for cross-curriculum learning are created through drama and enquiry. In this process pupils take on the role of a team of experts, charged with a specific project outcome (Taylor, 2016). As an HE Initial Teacher Education provider we aim to empower our students critically with a range of pedagogical strategies, including those which are innovative, and we regard Mantle as a powerful and potentially transformative approach. Tim Taylor has provided workshops for our ITE students in Mantle of the Expert for a number of years. However, this year the module was offered at St John’s Primary School in Newcastle, which was recently awarded Mantle of the Expert Training School status.

Mantle has enabled colleagues to make the curriculum meaningful

St John’s is situated in one of the country’s most disadvantagedwards. Many of its pupils live in extreme poverty, and many of them have English as an Additional Language. Despite these challenges and ‘low starting points’, Ofsted has judged pupils’ achievements close to national averages, and described the curriculum at St John’s as of ‘very high quality’. Both the head teacher, Tracey Caffrey, and Ofsted ascribe this to the use of Mantle of the Expert. Children’s enjoyment and sense of responsibility and engagement is palpable, and they are not only keen to talk about their learning, but able to do so with confidence and eloquence. Again, Tracey Caffrey attributes this to the impact of Mantle since its whole-school introduction seven years ago, and the extent to which Mantle has enabled colleagues to make the curriculum meaningful. Mantle at St John’s offers what Smyth and Wrigley (2013) would describe as ‘rich teaching’. St John’s is thus a very powerful context in which to introduce our students to Mantle.

During one of the sessions, Tim worked with a large group of Year 4-6 pupils and 12 student teachers, creating the context of a nineteenth century mine, in which the pupils first took on the task of inspecting the occurrence of child labour, and then the role of miners. The amount of deep learning about Victorian times and social justice that had taken place by the end of the afternoon was profound: it was in the faces and words of the pupils who had ‘lived’ the drama, and in those of our student teachers who had seen the transformation in the pupils. It was on our side too, with the recognition of what can be achieved in Teacher Education when innovative pedagogy is integrated within a university/school partnership and theory and practice become one.

There could, of course, be various explanations for the impact of Mantle: although the experience of a nineteenth century mine was clearly fictional, the events were, it could be argued, real in the cognitive and emotional experience of the pupils. It did not seem unlikely that some of the pupils’ questions related to their own life experiences, and it may be the opportunity to discuss such experiences in a fictional context, which adds to the power of Mantle. On the other hand, as Tracey Caffrey suggested, it may be the opportunity to have experiences that participants would not normally have, which is at the root of the Mantle’s transformative potential. There is a definite need for research into the reasons why, the extent to which, and the circumstances in which Mantle is effective.

It is clear, however, that creating such learning experiences for student teachers is, to return to Alexander’s speech, ‘education in spite of policy’, and provides hope. There is hope for democracy and education in pedagogies such as Mantle, plenty of hope for schools like St John’s, and hope for HE Initial Teacher Education providers, as long as we are able to introduce our students to examples of transformative pedagogy.


SMYTH, J. & WRIGLEY, T. 2013. Living on the Edge – Rethinking Poverty, Class and Schooling, New York, Peter Lang.

TAYLOR, T. 2016. A Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert: A Transformative Approach to Education, Norwich, Singular Publishing Limited

Dr Hanneke Jones was born in the Netherlands, but her interest in a career in education was first sparked when she visited schools in Yorkshire’s West Riding. She trained as a teacher at the Hervormde Pedagogische Akademie in Amsterdam, which was largely founded on the principles of the French educator Célestin Freinet. After her return to the UK, Hanneke worked in primary education in Northumberland before taking up her position as a teacher educator at Newcastle University. Her PhD focused on creative thinking in the Community of Enquiry, and her research interests lie in creativity, dialogue, social justice and comparative education.

Taken from the BERA Blogs.

Standards in ITT mentoring: there to be embraced

Ever worked with a teacher trainee mentor who is not up for it? Or, even worse, is not up to it? They might be the colleague with a light timetable that year, or who is looking for professional experience at the cost of their mentee’s development, the class teacher with whom the trainee happens to share a class, or the steadfast acculturator who allows little room for innovation. Even if these mentors do have the requisite people-skills, knowledge, and expertise they can be easily undermined; lacking time, resources, kudos. The mentee can prove a challenge; more often than not it is the system and the implicit expectations therein that sabotage the process. No wonder some claim “school-based mentoring has …failed to realise its full potential” (Hobson and Malderez, 2013).

My thinking in relation to mentoring in the current ITT context was developed when I completed a Master’s module at Newcastle University on improving coaching and mentoring. Since then, the National Standards for school-based initial teacher training (ITT) mentors (2016), a – swiftly expedited – outcome of the Carter Review for ITT (2015) were published. These are a workable set of recommendations with a broad consultation (42 different institutions and groups are acknowledged), poised to create new norms in the field of teacher mentoring: a counter to ‘the way things are done’ and a chance for consistent quality across the myriad routes into teaching. Inevitably, as ITT transitions to a school-led system, we draw finer limits on our knowledge base. It’s a big effort for school-based mentors to extend their workload to keeping up with the latest innovations or research. Furthermore, the bizarre and inconsistent recruitment allocations have led to a new atmosphere of competition among educators who previously collaborated. With former partners now battling it out for the sparse (and getting sparser) numbers of new teachers and their fees, the Standards have the potential to impart cohesion to the diverging ITT Mentor community.

It is not just mentees and mentors who would benefit from a positive outlook. The Standards have it right then when they state that better mentoring can lead to “improved outcomes for children”. It is the “moral imperative” (Timperley, on behalf of the AISTL in Australia (2015) which surely should underline any work in schools, in this case alongside trainee success and wellbeing.

This document places the four brief Standards outside normal performative measures in school (they are non-statutory and merely recommended to Ofsted), lending them a flimsiness. This is surprising given the fullness of the consultation and the holistic intention. But it does represent a so-called “structuration”, a conduit to new norms through repeated practice which can calcify in social arena (Giddens, 1984). It needs the ITT community to start acting on them.

Make no mistake: the standards are welcome and I applaud that they sit outside performative structures. Who knows? This may help to foster compassion and dialogue rather than obsessions with quantitative data and graded lessons. We would do well to work up the practicalities together and learn from home and abroad (such as guidance for professional conversations from Timperley, (2015), international studies on mentoring from Pennanen et. al. (2015), who draw on Kemmis’ work on Theories of Practice Architecture, established frameworks for coaching and mentoring as proposed by CUREE, 2005; and the school guide for coaching offered by Lofthouse, Leat & Towler, 2010) to improve mentoring as a whole. School-based ITT tutors would surely welcome some solidarity where they now shoulder a new level of responsibility and professionalism as the duty of conferring QTS passes to them and the critical eye of Ofsted examines NQT provision

The Standards reify the notion that ITT Mentoring is a skilled “profession within a profession” (Lofthouse & Hall, 2013). Let’s not leave them to be misinterpreted, misappropriated, or ignored. In taking the standards seriously, others will follow. No more will we ever ‘default’ to a mentor, but we can select, train and resource those who have the ability and the disposition.


Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Ruth Magee teaches French and German in a secondary school in the North East. She is part of the core Teaching School team for her school’s alliance and leads on Training Development, Subject Knowledge Enhancement and their Primary School Direct. Before teaching Ruth managed regional enrichment and CPD programmes for modern foreign language teaching; she has produced MFL resources for primary and secondary.

Contact: Ruth is on twitter @routesaroo (intermittently but will respond!).

Taken from the BERA website.

CfLaT Newsletter – January 2017

CfLaT Headlines

  • Rachel Lofthouse was invited to give a key-note at the annual UCET Conference in November 2016. Her theme was ‘“I’ll get by with a little help from my friends”: opportunities for collaborative teacher learning in Initial Teach-er Education and beyond’. She drew on a number of CfLaT projects and initiatives to develop the theme. Two blogs based on the lec-ture can be found on the ECLS Education blog https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/education/
  • Karen Laing has won an ESRC IAA Knowledge Exchange award which enables her to spend a day a week working with Wallsend Action for Youth developing a theory of change for their work, and exploring how Universities and partners can work together effectively to make a difference in our local communities.
  • Joana Almeida from Portugal is a new re-search associate in CfLaT. She is working with Sue Robson on an Erasmus+ project about internationalisation practices in Newcastle University, University of Bologna (Italy) and the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium).
  • CfLaT also has a visiting researcher, Larissa Negris de Souza, coming from Brazil for 3 months from February to work with Pam Woolner on school space.
    Laura Mazzoli Smith has a journal article coming out in Russian. She was invited to a conference at Samara University, Russia, in November 2016 entitled ‘Giftedness as a Phantom in Social Expectations.’ and was then invited to submit her full paper to a journal.



Higher education internationalisation is more than mobility – if universities are to become truly ‘international’ they have to start ‘at home’. This is the motto of ATIAH, a new Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership be-tween three leading European universities: Newcastle University, KU Leuven and Università di Bologna.
Over the next 2 years the consortium will be working together to develop a set of innovative resources and tools for internationalisation at home, including:

  • An audit tool for universities seeking to review their current practice
  • An online toolkit for an ‘internationalising university experience’ module
  • A framework for evidencing good practice internationalisation

The resources are aimed at educators, students, staff development and profes-sional service units, and those in a leadership position in higher education institu-tions in Europe and beyond.

As internationalisation efforts remain largely market-driven and recruitment-focused, the partnership will move towards a more values-based and ethical ap-proach to internationalisation in higher education.

For more information and up-dates, contact Alina.Schartner@ncl.ac.uk


We have three important announcements:

1. On 14th March there is a ‘Learning City’ invitation event at Newcastle University – there are still some places available for colleagues within and beyond Newcastle University, so please get in touch if you’d like an invitation to this free event;

2. We have nearly finished editing our groundbreaking ‘Guide to Community Curriculum Making’ – copies will be available very soon – http://www.ncl.ac.uk/cflat/publications/cflatguides.htm;

3. We have funds for a scoping exercise for a dedicated PBL facility at the university, aimed at both school groups and university needs, so we are inter-ested in views from the university and outside.

Contact Ulrike Thomas (U.Thomas@ncl.ac.uk) or David Leat (David.Leat@ncl.ac.uk) if you want to know more about any or all of these announcements.



Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding be-tween Newcastle University and Baoding Education Bureau in May, René Koglbauer and Anna Reid returned to the region in December to deliver a leadership training programme for 70 headteachers.

The participants thoroughly engaged with the interactive approach of the workshops; the two-day workshop was concluded by a joint plenary to explore further development needs for a potential programme in Newcastle.

While Anna stayed in the region to de-liver a keynote on English language teaching and to be a member of the judging panel for the regional English language teacher competition, René travelled to our partner institution, Xia-men University, to present on ECLS’ activities and programmes.

During this 24-hour stop in Xiamen, future leadership programme opportunities were also discussed with the International Office. The intention is to replicate last summer’s Xiamen Leader-ship and Management Summer School here at Newcastle University.
For more information, contact: rene.koglbauer@ncl.ac.uk or anna.reid@ncl.ac.uk



Robin Humphrey was a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Naresuan University, in November, 2016, where he is part of a doctoral collaboration funded by a Royal Thai doctoral scholarship and a British Council Newton Fund award.

The PhD student, Damrong Tumthong, is evaluating a Thai government scheme to provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged young people, and he has started his fieldwork in the poorest region of Thailand, in the north east of the country. Damrong has already spent six months at Newcastle University under Robin’s supervision, and will spend another six months here once he has finished his fieldwork.

During Robin’s visit to Naresuan, a key strategic partner with Newcastle, he gave a public lecture about his work on building interdisciplinary and cross cultural research teams, and contributed to advisory sessions for some of the university’s social science doctoral researchers.

For more information, contact: robin.humphrey@ncl.ac.uk

CfLaT ‘working together’ at Civic Centre event


CfLaT members were at out in force at a recent event at Newcastle Civic Centre, ’Working Together: Bringing About Change’.

The aim was to showcase social science research based on partnerships with those beyond the University, giving everyone chance to mingle and develop new partner-ships. There was a CfLaT stall and stalls show-casing Heather Smith’s ROMtels project and Lydia Wysocki’s research use of comics. David Leat and Ulrike Thomas gave a talk about their successful collaboration with Seven Stories.



Liz Todd, Karen Laing and Laura Mazzoli Smith have recently concluded a study looking at chil-dren’s out of school activities and the relationship with attainment.

Findings included:

– Differences in take-up of activities based on socioeconomic status
– Differences in the take-up of private tuition based on ethnicity
– Participation in after school clubs increased with age, but there was similar take-up by children of different socioeconomic back-grounds
– Participation in out of school activities was associated with a range of positive outcomes. Organised physical activities were associated with higher attainment and better social, emotional and behavioural outcomes at age 11.
– After school club attendance was associated with positive academic and social outcomes for disadvantaged children in particular. School staff, parents and pupils identified a wide range of perceived benefits from taking part in after school clubs covering academic as well as social and emotional outcomes.

This research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has been presented at a number of conferences and seminars, and the team have been invited to present at EARLI in the summer as part of a symposium on addressing disadvantage.

Further information about the study can be found at

What is LTHE..?


It is hard to believe that we have already worked with more than 100 academic colleagues from Kazakhstan and found ourselves welcoming the fifth cohort onto the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (LTHE) programme in November 2016.
Yet again, colleagues from CfLaT and the North Leadership Centre came together to deliver a range of workshops and social events, designed to provide a variety of cultural and intellectual experiences, upon which colleagues can draw to enhance the quality of learning and teaching in their respective universities.

In addition to a collective post created for the Education @Newcastle University blog during Dr Rachel Lofthouse’s session on academic writing (see below for the link), Associate Professor Roza Zhussupova from the Eurasian National University, Almaty, was keen to capture the impact of the programme on her professional learning. It makes for an interesting read!

Collective blog post: https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/education/2016/11/15/travelling-to-the-uk-from-kazakhstan-learning-from-a-study-visit/

Blog post by Professor Roza Zhussupova: https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/education/2016/12/07/what-is-lthe-and-what-is-its-contribution-to-learning/
For more information, contact: rene.koglbauer@ncl.ac.uk

FaSMEd launches toolkit for Formative Assess-ment in Science and Mathematics


At the end of our three year EU funded FP7 development project, FaSMEd partners met with key invited guests from research, policy and practice for the FaSMEd International Conference and Final Meeting on the 1st and 2nd November 2016 at Maynooth University, Ireland. This represented a significant international community of experience, expertise and practice in science and mathematics education with specific knowledge of digital technologies and Formative Assessment.

The conference shared many of the outcomes of the FaSMEd project and facilitated discussions around raising achievement in mathematics and science education with a focus on implications for future research, policy and practice.

Each partner produced a research poster and these were displayed and used as a focus of discussion throughout the conference (copies of these posters can be downloaded at: https://research.ncl.ac.uk/fasmed/deliverables/ ).

At the end of the day we also took the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of FaSMEd and the extreme-ly productive working relationships we have established with each other and with our teachers and students in schools over the life of the project – a big thank you to all those involved!

Following our final meeting and conference, FaSMEd launched our online toolkit to support teachers, as well as teacher educators, stakeholders and other interested parties, in using technology for formative assessment in mathematics and science education.

The website is primarily in English but you will also find materials in all partner languages (English, German, Italian, French, Norwegian and Dutch) under the heading “Tools for Formative Assessment”.

The FaSMEd Toolkit homepage gives an overview of the project, along with an introduc-tory short film that includes various discussions between researchers and teachers, scenes from FaSMEd project meetings, lessons, classroom discussions, the use of different technologies and tools as well as interviews. Sub-sections include information on formative assessment, professional development materials and a range of tools for formative assessment, including teacher guides and downloadable classroom materials.

The toolkit can be found at: www.fasmed.eu Please take a look!

2016 Marie Butterworth Prize for Excellence in Practitioner Enquiry


Anne Clough has won the 2016 Marie Butterworth Prize for Excellence in Practitioner Enquiry.  Marie Butterworth was a keen advocate of teacher research, an active participant in a number of ECLS research projects, a CfLaT research fellow and a local deputy head teacher.  ECLS is making this award in her memory to celebrate her enthusiasm and achievements.  Anne was a part-time Masters student whose dissertation related to the choices that English teachers made related to texts to be taught at GCSE and what the significance of their choices were.

She was presented with her award at a CfLaT research tea on 25th January 2017, during which she shared her motivation for the research and her findings.  We were pleased to welcome Steve Jones, Marie’s husband to this event and he was able to talk about how Marie had faced similar decisions as a former Head of English.  Laura Mazzoli Smith, Anne’s supervisor was also present. Anne’s work has relevance due to the current curriculum reform at secondary level in England. During the course of her research Anne gathered questionnaire responses from over 100 English teachers (making good use of twitter to elicit respondents) and undertook interviews with local Heads of English.  Her findings exposed nuances in decision making, but also exposed tensions, for example the restrictions imposed by the current austerity measures as they affect schools and how the curriculum is resourced, and the influence of pragmatic decision making around time and money.

The decisions that were being made about texts to be taught by the subject community enabled her to reflect on questions of cultural and gender representation (of authors and characters), how teachers balanced the risks of teaching new texts compared with the familiarity they had with existing ones, the question of the value given to texts which were considered to have relevance to children’s lives compared to how literature might extend their awareness beyond their own direct experiences.  Her dissertation work was the culmination of meaningful participation in practitioner enquiry throughout her M.Ed degree, and the award is a reflection of Anne’s innovation, attention to detail and reflective and analytical approach.

Anne has recently been appointed as Head of English at St Mary’s Catholic School in Longbenton, Newcastle.  She is using her research in support of the decision making she undertakes in her role, as well as the support and encouragement she can offer colleagues facing curricular and pedagogic decisions.

Developing critical perspectives of pedagogy: the role of Teaching Thinking

Our Secondary Core and School Direct PGCE and Employer-based PGCE students (based at Newcastle SCITT) started their new term with a busy period at both university and in school.  One aspect of this was the two day conference on Teaching Thinking Skills, which is the taught basis of a Masters module.   Here the students were introduced to thinking skills, metacognitive talk & lesson study, and they will follow this up using Lesson Study to co-plan, teach, observe and co-enquire into this pedagogic approach in their placement schools, as described in a previous blog post. The focus on teaching thinking skills builds on the legacy of former work by tutors and school teachers in the North East of England, in the late 90s and early 2000s which resulted in the ‘Thinking through …’ series of books.


During the conference students had keynote lectures provided by ECLS colleagues Professor David Leat and Dr Rachel Lofthouse and Kirsty Tate (Assistant Headteacher from Park View School), and were also introduced to Project-based learning by a group of their fellow School Direct PGCE students.

In between these session were six workshops.  Each one designed to ‘model’ popular strategies for teaching thinking skills. Each strategy was be briefly modelled so that students could gain an appreciation of Thinking Skills pedagogies from learners’ perspectives. This was followed by discussion which allowed them to think about which approaches they want to plan for in their own subjects and phase for their later lesson study.   Workshops were well received by the students, as one of our Employer-based PGCE students stated, “The sessions on Thinking Skills were very engaging and highly insightful.”  What a relief to know that the legacy of the original research and development work from well over a decade ago lives on! Details of some of the six approaches modelled in the workshops are given below.

Mysteries (Kim Cowie)

Mysteries give students an opportunity to develop thinking skills and work collaboratively. They require students to link information logically into cause and effect and justify their decisions.  They encourage substantive conversations and can create cognitive dissonance which while it can frustrate usually sparks enjoyment and creativity as students start to ‘argue’ and hypothesise’ – great fun as a student and as a teacher!

Living Graphs & Fortune Lines (Jon Haines)

Visualising thinking, and working collaboratively, to plot less conventional information, such as non-dated events, emotions and observations on paper, required trainee teachers to communicate effectively, justify, argue and reason to support their decisions and choices. Within minutes of reading through the statements for the first task, substantive conversation, contextualisation and linking to the real world were all evident alongside an increased depth of engagement and discussion that anyone may have predicted based upon the subject matter!

Map from Memory (Lynne Kay)

The Map from Memory strategy required students to work on their memory, by providing a context in which they became more aware of their memorisation techniques, worked out how to develop some specific strategies, with a view to becoming more effective learners and readers. Students worked in groups of four and tried to memorise chunks of visual information. Individuals came out in turn to look at the map and commit this information to memory before passing it onto others in the group as accurately as possible. In reflecting back, groups discussed some of the skills underpinning a successful approach to interpreting text or diagrams or both. It helped to raise awareness of what is involved in enabling learners to arrive at a ‘global’ or ‘gist’ understanding, establishing the ‘big picture’, and how the ‘big picture’ can help to interpret the meaning of parts of it. Adapting the strategy to different subjects and how it could be used in different ways was also discussed.

Audience and purpose (Roger Knill)

This technique focusses on developing pupil ability to justify choices to meet changing situations. It is a life skill in that it mimics the evolving choices we all make with a range of options but variable demands. How do we choose what to wear when surveying the weather on a daily basis? It teaches pupils that we can make decisions to create valid answers but also that it is a real skill to select different responses when the occasion demands. It is highly adaptable to all subject areas in school – from identifying the appropriate quotes from a novel to exemplify different themes within literature or selecting which equipment to conduct a range of experiments on a fine system in biology. Choosing only 6 options from about c.20-30 possibilities means that pupils can juggle a manageable amount of information and the layered decision making encourages substantive conversation, compromise and justification of conclusions. Great preparation for subsequent writing!

Odd One Out and Symbolic Stories (Rachel Lofthouse)

In this workshop students were first asked to scrutinise three photographs of classrooms, generating responses to the question: which this the Odd One Out and why?  It is a very flexible technique and can be used as a quick starter or plenary, as well as a more substantial activity.  We then practiced Symbolic Stories. An extract of text was read to the students and they individually interpreted this drawing symbols and pictures. Once they had done this they retold the story to a partner, giving an opportunity for them to fill in gaps for each other, compare how they each used symbols for different ideas, and opening up subject related themes through discussion.

Most likely (Steve Humble)

Predicting requires students to state from observations and previous knowledge what is ‘most likely’.  It requires them to look for patterns and trends. With a good prediction activity a teacher needs to clearly define what the prediction is to be about and to identify attributes that help inform the prediction. So a prediction activity is different from a guess because a guess is based solely on experiences that are recalled from the past. Guesses may lead to inaccurate predictions if they fail to be substantiated by data collected over time by the student. Mostly likely activities require students to use their existing knowledge to inform future thinking.


Reflection on a presentation at Harvard

I participated in the 21st Century Academic Forum Conference which was held at Harvard on 27-29 September 2016 and I gave a presentation entitled, “A Study of Vietnamese International Undergraduate Students’ Psychological, Sociocultural and Academic Adjustment at a Thai university”.


On the first day of the conference, I also attended a workshop on the topic, “Social Innovation based on Collective Intelligence Workshop” led by Professor Hideyuki Horii of the University of Tokyo. The goal of this workshop was to create ideas of social innovation based on collective intelligence. It seemed that the workshop was run to break the ice because all the attendees were required to join and complete the task in groups. The activities were great and because all the attendees started to talk, introduced themselves and helped each other to complete the assign tasks. It was fun and a great start.


On the second day, I presented my work. There were several benefits in presenting my work at this international conference.

Firstly, presenting my work at a conference gave me an opportunity to practice my presentation skills. It helped me develop the expertise needed to discuss my research in a clear and meaningful way. I learnt to answer questions raised by the audiences (who may or may not be familiar with my field of research) which would help me in other endeavours such as the dissertation defence (just be prepared!).

Secondly, at the conference, I had an opportunity to meet researchers with similar interests, giving me the opportunity to discuss my research and learnt valuable information from people working with similar techniques, populations, or statistics. Comments from other researchers provided new insight and perspectives about my work.


Thirdly, since it was an international conference, I had an opportunity to meet researchers and educators from over the world, which was a great opportunity to make connections.

Last but not least, I also learnt things outside my field since this international conference supports the expansion of research exploring interrelationships among the disciplines.

By Nattaya Srisakda, Year4 IphD student

What is LTHE and what is its contribution to learning?


Dr Roza Flurovna Zhussupova, Associate Professor of Pedagogy at the Eurasian National University, Astana, was one of twenty-five academics who participated in the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education programme (LTHE) from 9-17 November 2016.  LTHE is hosted and facilitated by staff from ECLS and managed through the Newcastle University North Leadership Centre.  In this blog post, Roza reflects on the aims of the programme and its impact on her professional practice.

The aims of this programme were to enhance university teachers’ pedagogical specialties in the field of modern teaching and learning technologies in order to increase the competitiveness of the higher education system in Kazakhstan.  Moreover, the LTHE programme was designed by using the principles of blended learning in order to maximize the flexibility and accessibility of our learning opportunities. We were asked to reflect on our learning in conjunction with digital resources on Moodle.

During this programme we experienced very significant lectures and sessions, such as Principles and Practice of Teaching in Groups presenting by Dr Richard Parker and Mr Dave Lumsdon, and Writing Skills for Academics conducting by Dr Rachel Lofthouse.  During these creative sessions we considered scenarios in an organized manner using discussion and resource investigation techniques, developed the use of research and ICT skills, analysed and discussed research information using a variety of models to feedback, developed skills in group working by managing group meetings and recording them using a scribe to note all actions and decisions.  We discussed a good way to engage students, peers, policy makers and public in academic writing. We were introduced how to use the SOLO taxonomy to develop better writing.  On the top of it we wrote a blog post.

The most esteemed session was Preparing to Lecture and Interactive Learning delivering by Dr Anna Reid who gave us practical experience of very useful and important activities as “Seating for Behaviour” and “Soldiers’ Lines”. Dr Reid taught me how to develop analytical habits while preparing to lectures, how to organize discussions while lecturing and adapt problem tasks to situations. I highly appreciate her new view on the expansion of students’ intellectual abilities. Dr Anna Reid is an excellent lecturer and has inspired me to continue learning and teaching with an open and positive mind in my country.

Project Supervision was presented by Dr Pam Woolner. Here, we considered the general requirements of supervision, including opportunities for participants, highlighting the aims and processes of supervision within institutions or disciplines. The main activity was group discussions of real life supervising scenarios. One of the techniques discussed in this module was Project Management used as a Tool for Learning. The task to prepare a template for an educational project charter was an additional experience in my project work.

On-line learning was demonstrated by Ms Eleanor Gordon intending to develop the ability to apply the latest information technologies in professional activity for teachers. She showed how to use information and communication technologies in modern educational practice, which become commonplace entities in all aspects of life. Additionally, she introduced us using Twitter, OneNote, Workspaces, Mind42 and Word Press that have fundamentally changed my practices and procedures of the teaching process.

As a result of the programme I can conclude that I now know and understand the main conceptions and issues in the range of learnt teaching modules, in order to develop self-analysis and self-assessment. This programme has definitely given me knowledge in innovative and contemporary teaching methods and approaches in higher education so that I can improve the quality of teaching practice in my university. I am determined to take forward ideas of online teaching, microteaching, interactive lecturing, and professional development into my teaching.

On behalf of the group I am very thankful to everybody from ECLS and the North Leadership Centre for your knowledge and support.  As a representative of the Theory and Practice of Foreign Languages Department within the Faculty of Philology, I enjoyed the LTHE programme immensely and hope for close co-operation in the future.

Travelling to the UK from Kazakhstan: learning from a study visit


During November 2016 a fifth cohort of academic colleagues from universities across Kazakhstan took part in the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education programme at Newcastle University.  The programme was hosted and facilitated by staff from ECLS and managed through the North Leadership Centre.  Our visitors had a busy schedule of taught sessions and workshops during which they were offered insights in to a wide range of academic practices.  At the same time the visitors experienced British life – both in Newcastle and further afield.

We asked them to reflect on why they were here.  What were they hoping to learn more about? Why did this matter to them? What first impressions did they have?

Here are some of their responses …

Cultural experiences – academic and beyond

We see Education as a constantly developing, renewing process, though our basis is in Kazakhstan a traditional one. Teaching and learning in different countries can have similarities and differences at the same time. In order to develop and to improve education teachers share their experience.

Let’s first of all discuss the similarity of the ways of teaching.  Almost all the teachers use such methods as group work, role play, communicative approach, non-verbal communication and others. As far as the differences are concerned in Kazakhstan we still have a traditional system of education. We consider that learning styles of students in our country differ from British ones (independent work of students, project work). In addition, communication is more formal than in Britain. Even writing a blog is unusual for us. However, changing our experiences is a significant way to develop and to improve the process education.


Professional learning-improving own knowledge and skills

The North Leadership Centre at Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences ‘Learning and Teaching in Higher Education’ (LTHE) programme is an essential thing for us, those who are in teaching. We have had a very great experience here, and would like to emphasize the following aspects which we want to improve and study more. Firstly, co-teaching and academic culture impressed us and it would be nice to use it in our practical work at home. The second thing that made us think about was a different view on working in small groups. Can we ask you a question: How long did the process of improving group work take you? And what are the criteria of assessment of group work? We are underway, but still have some difficulties with organizing it during workshops and lecturing. Thirdly, unfortunately, we haven’t got accustomed to feedback, it’s challenging but, it would be appropriate to use this practice in all levels.


Developing students experience – innovative technologies and e-learning

In a global world education becomes international as well. Students from developing countries should be a part of a global community and able to study online. In order to promote this idea, we need IT services support and updated curriculums.  In Kazakhstan we are on the way of this process. For example we have distance teaching and learning as well as newly updated masters programs including disciplines to be studied online.

Innovative technologies let students participate in global e-conferences, blogs, forums and different on-line courses. All these contemporary opportunities let students gain optional education, support long-life learning and self-development for future carrier.

The LTHE programme is helping us as teachers to be trained to get practical skills on e-learning and innovative technologies in order to deliver them at the domestic universities to improve the situation locally and help students to gain the necessary skills.


Learning from and through collaboration

Following on from the LTHE programme we propose the following ways of learning from and through collaboration to support and promote teachers’ and students’ professional, educational and cultural development. Collaboration gives both as for teachers and students a splendid opportunity to grow and improve themselves and their endeavour.   After such global collaboration they become specialists who can work successfully not only in own country but also abroad.

  • New forms of education through collaboration between KZ and UK
  • Sharing professional experiences and skills
  • Exploring intercultural and academic communication
  • Developing professional abilities
  • Acquiring new ICT
  • Learning new trends in pedagogical and psychological knowledge
  • Digital literacy Teacher (online teaching, e-learning, forums. Blogs, networks, conferences, etc.)
  • Languages Practices from collaborative study
  • Students and Teachers Academic Mobility


To draw this blog to a close we asked the programme leader Dr Anna Reid to reflect on the initial impressions formed by the cohort and considered above:

‘The opportunity to work with colleagues from universities in Kazakhstan is special.  There is so much that we can learn with and from each other.  Two weeks is hardly long enough!  I am hoping to receive e-mails in the coming days and months sharing how the theories and practices developed in Newcastle have been translated to the Kazakh context.  That is the aim of the LTHE programme and it is proof of its overall success.’

“I’ll get by with a little help from my friends” (part 2). A different type of ‘safe space’; creating collaborative learning experiences for PGCE students.

Over the last few months there has been considerable debate regarding the establishment of ‘safe-space’ on university campuses around the world, with the anxiety expressed that they act to shut down free speech.  In a world apparently dominated by post-factual political rhetoric the need for debate and the interrogation of diverse views seems more important than ever.  This is well exemplified by the columnist Timothy Garton Ash.  So, I guess putting the phrase ‘safe space’ in a blog post could be considered attention seeking. Actually it is not. It is a phrase which has emerged from a series of research projects in which I have been capturing views of a new and established teachers and lecturers, from primary, secondary, Further and Higher Education settings about practices and environments in which they experience professional learning.

The significance of ‘safe-space’ is evident in my last blog post, in which I concluded with the question, How do we create modern day collaborative learning experiences in which our student teachers will experience solidarity with each other and with the learners, will be given permission to be productively creative and do so in a safe space in which each of them can become the best teacher they can be?   This post picks up the theme where I left off, and also draws on the keynote I gave at the UCET annual conference.


The focus for this second post is the link between opportunities to learn collaboratively and learning as ‘conceptual change’.  Whilst I have frequently in the last 15 or so years described learning as change to my PGCE and Masters students it is only recently that I have come across the idea of conceptual change. For this I thank Peter Davies at Birmingham University for creating a team of researchers from three universities. So Peter and I, along with Celia Greenway (also of Birmingham University) and Dan Davis and several of his colleagues (of Cardiff Metropolitan University) are exploring student teachers experiences’ of their own learning to teach using ‘conceptual change’ as our theoretical basis. In essence conceptual change is the experience which we go through when we have to consciously rework and reframe an idea or understanding that we have previously accepted. This idea has been particularly well demonstrated in children’s learning of scientific phenomena. Take for example the fact that typically children conceptualise the world as flat because that corresponds with their early experience of it. Developing an understanding that the world is actually a globe requires a reworking of the flat earth construct. This is known as conceptual change.

In our current recent research we are trying to determine the nature of conceptual change in learning to teach and some of the factors that might promote this change. Without attending to the entire research findings there are some key aspects to note and one of those is that the phenomena of learning to teach is essentially a complicated one. Part of the complication is that student teachers are not inexperienced in the phenomenon of teaching, indeed they have had years of experiencing teachers and teaching through being taught. For many this leads to a naïve, but possibly strongly held, conception of what it means to learn and act as a teacher. Because it is a strongly held conception student teachers may be resistant to more systematic scrutiny of the phenomenon of themselves learning to teach.  And of course this is doubly complicated because the phenomena in which they are immersed, rather than being something which they can simply be instructed in from neutral territory, is an experiential learning phenomena in which they participate. So whilst we may understand the need for a conceptual shift or change during a period of training or education for student teachers this may be a difficult thing to make happen.

This is where collaboration comes in.  In our research we have been interviewing students at different stages of their initial teacher education to try to reveal the dimensions of learning that they experience in learning to teach. Using analytical methods appropriate to conceptual change theory it has been possible to identify several key dimensions of learning to teach. Amongst others these include the contexts in which learning happens and the various modes of learning as described by the student teachers. And what we find in analysis of their interviews is that the student teachers highlight interactions with others, but just like other identifiable dimension there is variance evident in in these descriptions.  So learning to teach from and with others is evident and this typically include one or more of the school mentors, other colleagues in school, the University tutor and their peers.  These ‘others’ have the potential to create a social context for learning.  Our analysis of these descriptions has resulted in three broad categories:

  • that of recipient of learning from another
  • that of a lone enquirer capable of seeking out opportunities evidence and advice but typically doing it individually
  • and finally that of co-constructor.

It is this latter group who talk about their learning as a collaborative process. Our analysis of the interviews and combination of the dimensions of learning is leading us to conceptualise patterns of conceptual change experienced by student teachers and to recognise affordances and constraints in this learning. So, for example it is clear, for those people who we describe as co-constructors that they link collaboration and their own learning. It is also clear in the ways that they describe these experiences that sometimes collaboration happens by chance and sometimes it happens by design.  This research is ongoing, but even at this early stage it is worth reflecting on.

I am going to do so by focusing on one aspect of my role, as a teacher educator in initial teacher education, through which I and my colleagues apply curriculum and pedagogic decision-making. Sometimes a core aim is to enable student teachers the chance to learn through collaboration by our design. While this might seem an entirely logical approach, it is clear that for many student teachers now genuine opportunities to work collaboratively on real workplace related tasks has become limited. In other words they are not there by design.  At this point I think I should re-iterate my view of collaboration (rather than co-operation), as highlighted in the first blog post. I am drawing on the definition of collaboration which was used in a piece of research that Ulrike Thomas and I undertook a couple of years ago.

‘Collaboration is an action noun describing the act of working with one or more other people on a joint project. It can be conceptualised as ‘united labour’ and might result in something which has been created or enabled by the participants’ combined effort.’

To briefly illustrate this here are two such ITE design decisions that we have made over the years at Newcastle University.

Enhancing mentoring through the use of video

We have been interested in mechanisms through which to enhance the mentoring experience and whilst we know from the research cited above that mentoring is not necessarily experienced as collaboration there are some means by which this can be promoted. Altering some of the power structures within a student and mentor relationship can aid the experience of collaboration, and this can be altered through the use of appropriate tools, such as video. As we demonstrated in earlier research this can help the mentor and student teacher work in more co- constructive fashion as the student teachers gain insight into themselves as teachers rather than simply await feedback from others.  As a result video can help them to build more open and confident relationship, thus supporting collaboration. Our current cohort of secondary PGCE students (including School Direct) and Employment-based PGCE students (whose QTS training provider is Newcastle SCITT) are being introduced to VEO as one possible tool for enabling video to enhance mentoring as a more collaborative learning experience.

Embedding Lesson Study in the curriculum

As part of our Secondary and Employer-based PGCEs we also use lesson study as a means to ensure that all student teachers experiences peer-collaboration.  Lesson study is the practice-based learning element of an M.level module which invites students to develop critical perspectives on teaching thinking skills.  During a two day conference they are introduced to thinking skills, metacognitive talk & lesson study.  They use Lesson Study to co-plan, teach, observe and co-enquire into this pedagogic approach in their placement schools.  This is frequently conducted between subject areas.   Students then jointly present their learning outcomes to peers & individually write a reflective commentary. Last year James Rivett, an MFL PGCE student who had worked in partnership with a science student went on to publish a blog post in which he described the experience as one which went beyond ticking boxes to something which felt real and enabled a deeper process of learning. We are looking forward to our 140 students having similar experiences in January and February next year.

In the evidence of student teachers and mentors experiences related to the above examples there is a resonance with the definition of collaboration as an experience of united labour from which something of value is created or enabled by combined effort.  They bring me back to the concept of ‘safe space’. For me it is critical that university teacher educators are proactive in answering the question, How do we create modern day collaborative learning experiences in which our student teachers will experience solidarity with each other and with the learners, will be given permission to be productively creative and do so in a safe space in which each of them can become the best teacher they can be?  This is because it seems that for some student teachers, at least, collaboration enables them to experience learning as change. At Newcastle University we hope to continue to design experiences that allow this to happen.  It is only by achieving this that we will achieve our goal of ‘Inspiring teachers; changing lives and building futures’.

Written by Dr Rachel LofthouseHead of Education, Newcastle University.

Pedagogic research methods: An analysis of the methodological traditions in the UK and Netherlands

This study was inspired as a response to an Erasmus Mobility Grant to the Netherlands. Anecdotal conversations with colleagues there led to a discussion about the different approaches being taken in conducting pedagogical research in the UK and the Netherlands. In order to ascertain if these impressions of different epistemological and ontological stances were borne out by evidence, a content analysis of three higher education pedagogic journals was undertaken. The analysis addressed the main research question: ‘To what extent are the methodological positions in pedagogic research different in the UK and Netherlands?’ The initial focus was on assessment research in Higher Education, but this was extended to pedagogic research in Higher Education to obtain enough studies to draw inferences from. The journals analysed were ‘Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education’ (2014-2016), ‘Studies in Higher Education’ (2012-2016) and ‘European Journal of Teacher Education’ (2006 – 2016). The journals chosen all had an international scope and were happy to accept both empirical qualitative and quantitative research. The research reported was then categorised as using qualitative, quantitative or mixed- methods. The type/s of data analysis were also used to indicate the approach that had been taken. Studies that compared a number of countries including the UK or the Netherlands were also counted. The analysis could have been strengthened with the use of peer-debriefing (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Arguably the type of data collected and reported shaped the interpretations of reliability and validity and can therefore be used as a shorthand for understanding how reality is understood.

The findings (see Table 1 below) indicated that social reality is interpreted in different ways by pedagogic researchers in the Netherlands and the UK.

Table 1: Analysis of research methods and data collection in the UK and Netherlands

Journal Qualitative Quantitative Mixed methods
  UK Nlands UK Nlands UK Nlands
Assessment and

Evaluation in

Higher Education

17 0 8 1 13 1
Studies in Higher


6 0 8 12 5 3
European Journal of

Teacher Education

30 11 4 11 9 13
Total 53 11 20 24 27 17

Table 1 indicates that the UK conducts more qualitative research than the Netherlands. The findings may also suggest that qualitative research is more likely to be conducted in the Netherlands alongside quantitative research in mixed methods studies. The findings although preliminary and relatively small in scope do suggest that there are methodological differences in the types of approaches that are used by the two countries. A more in-depth analysis of the articles indicates differences in approaches to reliability and validity, for example the emphasis in many Dutch articles was on inter-rater reliability, whereas UK articles may have focused on validity in terms of credibility and transferability.

A comparison of the two countries in terms of the history of the development of pedagogical research, political drivers and differences in culture with regards to research by and with practitioners may be useful avenues to explore in explaining these differences. This is supported by the work of Dutch researchers such as Luneberg et al., (2007) and Ten Dam & Volman (2001). However, perhaps most significantly the findings show that the two countries have much to learn from each other. The different strengths that the two countries bring in terms of data analysis could be utilised in building very strong, comparative pedagogical research. It is also an exciting opportunity to collaborate and engage in dialogue about our understanding of validity and reliability and creating new interpretations of these.


Lincoln, Y.S. & Guba, E.G. (1985) Naturalistic Inquiry, Beverley Hills, CA: Sage.

Lunenberg, M., Ponte, P. & Van de ven, P-H. (2007) Why Shouldn’t Teachers and Teacher Educators Conduct Research on their Own Practices?  An Epistemological Exploration, European Educational Research Journal, Vol 6, (1) pp. 13-24

Ten Dam, G. & Volman, M (2001) The leeway of qualitative educational research: A case study, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Vol 14 (6), pp. 757-769

Written by:


Sam Shields is a Lecturer in Education in Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. She is interested in pedagogic research particularly focusing on assessment, research methods and research cultures.

Taken from the BERA blogs.

“I’ll get by with a little help from my friends”: Learning from the past to understand the significance of opportunities for collaborative teacher learning in ITE

This blog post is drawn from part of a key note that I gave at the UCET (University Council for the Education of Teachers) Annual Conference in November 2016.  I chose to draw on the lyrics of John Lennon for my theme, because while each student teacher has to demonstrate individual competence against Teacher Standards (thus gaining QTS) and submits their own work for Masters level assessment (for the award of PGCE), we know that for many of them the opportunities to learn from and with others is critical in their professional and academic development.  In my keynote I considered the significance of learning through collaboration from initial teacher education, through to career long learning, and indeed our own opportunity as teacher educators for learning through collaboration.

I am drawing on the definition of collaboration which was used in a piece of research that Ulrike Thomas and I undertook a couple of years ago.

‘Collaboration is an action noun describing the act of working with one or more other people on a joint project. It can be conceptualised as ‘united labour’ and might result in something which has been created or enabled by the participants’ combined effort.’

In this blog post I will focus on Initial Teacher Education but with a twist. I am interested in what we can learn from the past, and I will draw on three narrative accounts to illustrate this.  We go back several decades in each case.

In the first story there was a young enthusiastic secondary history student teacher. She was studying at Sheffield University. One day at the start of the session her tutor arrives and tells the PGCE group that they have two hours before a minibus is collecting them to go to school to teach a large group of pupils about the Crimean war. By the time they had been dropped off at the school they were armed and ready. There was history, there was drama and of course some imaginary horses. A couple of decades later this was recounted as a particularly memorable early professional learning experience.

Our second story stars an equally young and enthusiastic PGCE primary student teacher. She attended Charlotte Mason College and on this occasion she was taken out of the Lake District to Manchester alongside her peers. On arrival they staged a school take-over. The student teachers were now in charge. They had to quickly orientate themselves to a new and unknown school and then in groups of five or six they had to work as a team to teach a primary class for three days. What this student teacher remembers are the resulting role-plays, simulations and debates about local issues.  Pupils and student teachers were engaged in an immersive learning scenario and there wasn’t a text book or standardised summative assessment that could help them. Twenty-five years later this school take-over is considered to have been a high impact experience for professional learning.

Both of these stories were shared during a small focus group I was conducting for a piece of research on the relationships between developing educational practices and professional learning. Both of the focus group participants are now teacher educators, and indeed hold senior roles in their respective institutions.  With their permission I can share their identities. It was Kerry Jordan-Daus, now of Canterbury Christ Church University who led the charge in the Crimean War episode, and Sam Twisleton of Sheffield Hallam University who was jointly responsible for the school take-over.  They have clearly never looked back.

Kerry Jordan-Daus

During our focus group we analysed what had made these events stand out in long careers of professional learning.  Kerry believed that there was significance in the “Safety in numbers, which allowed [the student teachers] to be creative, to take risks.” She stated that “Collectively we were experts;

some of us knew something about the Crimean War, some of us were drama queens.  We pooled our knowledge and did something incredibly exciting.” Sam reflected on how “We were working intensively together, we were all in there”.  She went on talk about the importance of “observing each other informally, stopping to talk about what we were doing as the learning unfolded.  This allowed us to get inside the teachable moments, creating a dialogic creative context based on a lot of peer constructed learning.” 

Sam Twisleton

So, what about my memories of PGCE? Well, I am sure it would no longer be the ‘done thing’ for my tutor (then David Leat) to arrive at a school with a spiral notebook to observe my lesson and ask afterwards if I’d like the notes ripped out for their later reference. I have a folder in my attic with these and other artefacts from my PGCE and there are no tracking documents, no standards referenced reports and no action plans.  I do however have very strong memories of problem solving lessons with David, indeed at one point a piece of turf from his garden was drying out on his log burner to simulate desertification for a lesson I was due to teach. Some of my most lasting memories of learning during my PGCE, like Sam and Kerry’s, include those associated with collaboration, with tutors, mentors and peers.

The Geography PGCE cohort of 1990-1, Newcastle University, with our tutor David Leat.

So, by luck, design and desire people like Sam, Kerry and I now have a responsibility for today’s student teachers. Unlike us they are exposed to QTS standards, target setting, the implications of OFSTED, new and not fully tested routes into teaching, and other controls on the ITE system.  Add to that the fact that in any mixed group some are sitting on generous bursaries and others are scraping by. How do we, in this complex and in many ways fractured initial teacher education sector, ensure that our current student teachers learn from the sorts of experiences that Kerry and Sam suggest had so much impact on power? How do we create modern day collaborative learning experiences in which our student teachers will experience solidarity with each other and with the learners, will be given permission to be productively creative and do so in a safe space in which each of them can become the best teacher they can be?

Some of our current Newcastle University PGCE students

In a subsequent blog post I will start to address this question, illustrating how we support student teachers to learn through productive collaborative learning opportunities. You might ask why this matters when it is the individual who is awarded the professional qualification and has to stand on their own feet in their classrooms as teachers.  Well, I will address that too. It’s not just about adding a social experience to build in more fun, but because learning as a social practice can make a world of difference in challenging contexts like the teaching profession.

Written by Dr Rachel LofthouseHead of Education, Newcastle University.