Learning outdoors in school grounds

Perhaps it’s the onset of summer weather, or the fact that the school term feels different after the exams and tests are over, but whatever the reason there has been a renewed interest in learning outdoors recently, as illustrated by a recent Guardian feature.  On a serious and really critical note what this article demonstrates is the potential for learning outdoors to boost children’s wellbeing.  In addition England’s largest outdoor learning project conducted by Plymouth University recently revealed that children are more motivated to learn when outside.  It is unusual to start an ECLS blog citing research from another university, but the interest generated by this research (as evidenced on twitter) prompted us to publish an evaluation of a particular outdoor learning project conducted by CfLaT on outdoor learning in school grounds.  You can access this report here.


The CfLaT report “Creative Partnerships: Creating purpose, permission and passion for outdoor learning in school grounds” is based on evidence from four primary and first schools in North-East England, Farne Primary School and St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School (both in Newcastle) and Stobhillgate First School and Tweedmouth West First School (both in Northumberland). Each school used the opportunities offered by Creative Partnerships to develop learning experiences in their school grounds during 2010 and 2011. The motivations for initiating the work; the nature of learning; the use of the school environment and the relationships were unique to each school, as were the physical, cognitive and affective outcomes. This blog outlines core themes that emerged across the schools and their outdoor learning activities.  You can read all about it in the report.

Re-thinking teaching and learning

The outdoor learning projects provided an impetus for a reconsideration of the processes of teaching and learning. The Creative Partnerships projects focusing on the outdoor environment certainly offered opportunities for fun and memorable learning experiences, but the impact went deeper than this. Teachers and co-ordinators recognised that they had the chance to develop alternative approaches and to explore alternative perspectives on both pedagogy and the curriculum. One way of understanding this is through the distinction between convergent and divergent teaching. Much of the teaching and learning developed through these case study projects could be described as divergent. Divergent teaching is contingent and cannot be planned fully in advance. It does not rely on a ‘script’, but instead requires a degree of risk taking and thinking on one’s feet. In these examples it was clear that teaching staff and creative practitioners had responded to the pupils’ interests and actions. The collaborative relationship between teachers and creative practitioners supported this; allowing more child initiated learning and an approach which encouraged experiential learning.

In September 2001, Estyn (the Welsh equivalent to Ofsted) produced an evaluation report on the national foundation stage initiative for greater outdoor learning. Like the more recent Plymouth University report Estyn’s findings had resonance for us. For example Estyn stated that, ‘In most cases, children benefit from their time outdoors. They display high levels of engagement and enjoyment and their knowledge and understanding of the world and physical development improve. A majority of practitioners also say that children’s behaviour, physical fitness and stamina improve’ (Estyn, 2011, p5). The Estyn report recognises that opportunities to enhance learning outcomes linked to creativity had not been fully realised in their sample of outdoor learning, and the four Creative Partnership schools provided illustrative examples of how this might be achieved.


Lawrence Stenhouse (1975) was unequivocal in rejecting a view of teaching and learning which stated that the only way to organize the curriculum was to divide teaching programmes into pre-specified outcomes in terms of measurable changes in student behaviour. He argued for the transformation of the teacher–pupil relationship.  In such a transformation there has to be a redrawing of roles, responsibilities and power implying a less authoritarian structure.  Such a transition can be recognised in the four case study schools,  with the introduction of creative practitioners as ‘experts’ and evidence of teachers learning skills alongside pupils, of pupils learning from pupils and opportunities for family involvement in learning activities.   There was also evidence that teachers welcomed the opportunities for their pupils to surprise them, and celebrated both the intended and unintended learning outcomes and consequences.

Teacher development and learning

The same could be said of the development of teaching staff.  In each case the co-ordinators were able to identify tangible, but not always planned for, staff development outcomes.  The teachers themselves had overcome some of their anxieties about ‘letting go’ and enjoyed the chance to work across year groups, to take alternative roles in supporting and engaging in learning, and to draw on the expertise of practitioners who reciprocated by drawing out their expertise as teachers. Traditionally schools and teachers find change difficult (Tyack & Cuban, 1995, Leat, 1999) especially in the direction of more innovative pedagogies.  Substantial pedagogic innovation usually requires some behavioural change in teaching and therefore also changes in thinking and in beliefs about pupils, learning or teaching – and perhaps all three.  There is good evidence that the Creative Partnerships projects created the space and permission for some of these changes to start to occur.  In this environment teachers and pupils responded positively to what they recognised as more fluid teaching approaches, often driven by the ‘natural’ processes adopted by practitioners based on craft skills, experimentation, or exploration of ideas, environments and techniques.  Leadership, effective co-ordination and permissions were all critical.  This was also a conclusion reached by Estyn (2001) who found that the ‘vision of leaders and their commitment to making the best use of outdoor learning are key factors’ (p5).  Where scepticism of the value of outdoor learning was found in the Welsh sample the outdoor environment was not used well enough.  One of the significant characteristics of the Creative Partnerships sample in this report was that such scepticism (if it had existed) had been largely overcome and thus real progress was made in developing appropriate teaching and learning in the enhanced outdoor areas of each school.

In Timperley et al.’s (2007) ‘best evidence synthesis’ study of effective professional development (as measured by student outcomes), one of the most important factors implicated in teacher learning was the challenge to the existing beliefs that are embedded in the everyday discourse of some schools, usually that certain groups of students could not learn as well as other groups.  There was evidence from the schools that transferring learning to the outdoor environment, and taking alternative approaches to planning, enacting and valuing learning had allowed some teachers’ assumptions to be challenged.  In this environment each school had evolved as a community; with new elements of school improvement planning being developed and plans being made for further innovative approaches. The experience of Creative Partnership projects had helped each school to recognise that the value in innovation is not simply in adopting one new approach after another.  They have learned that they can enrich the curriculum through exploiting multiple opportunities for learning, extending relationships for learning and recognising a very wide range of outcomes of learning.

Written by Lucy Tiplady, CfLaT Research Associate, Newcastle University and
Dr Rachel LofthouseHead of Education, Newcastle University.


Estyn (2011) Outdoor learning: an evaluation of learning in the outdoors for children under five in the Foundation Phase – September 2011

Stenhouse, L. (1975) An Introduction to curriculum research and development, London: Heinneman.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H. and  Fung, I. (2007) Teacher Professional Development and Learning, Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES), Auckland: Ministry of Education.

Tiplady, L. & Lofthouse, R. (2011) Creative Partnerships: Creating purpose, permission and passion for outdoor learning in school grounds. Research Centre for Learning and Teaching, Newcastle University, UK.

Tyack, D. & Cuban, L. (1995) Tinkering towards Utopia, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

CERA-UK Conference 2016

From 24 June to 25 June 2016, I attended an annual conference held by Institute of Education, UCL, called CERA-UK Conference 2016, and presented the draft findings of my doctoral research in Session D – Higher Educational issues. And the title of my presentation is “Internationalisation strategies and the international students’ experiences: two approaches of internationalisation of higher education (IHE) in universities of the UK and China”.


I received many useful feedbacks and suggestions from this presentation experience. To be more specific, I received critiques on “sampling” issues and realised the necessity of further declaring the criteria and considerations of choosing participants in my study. Also, I had a further discussion on the IHE framework with audiences during the “Question and comments” part of my presentation.

Also, at the end of each session, there was a panel discussion. And all presenters in that session were sitting in the front, answering more questions and discussing any other related topics in details. In the session D I was presenting, the key topics also covered “intercultural perspectives”, which is another key issue involved in my own project. Although the research context of Prof. Dervin and Harkonen’s study is different from mine, I still learnt a lot from listening to their presentations and the discussing with them in the panel discussion.


Also, as an international conference looking at educational issues and relationships in both China and the UK, there were several keynotes that intensively looking at globalising issues. For example, Simon Marginson from UCL gave a Keynote speech “Towards future world society: Some thoughts about China-UK relations in education and research”. In the keynote, he suggested that in every country, the approach to internationalisation is shaped by historical, cultural and political-economic factors. And he further suggested that more needs to be done in the UK to develop internationalisation on a world-wide scale and practice the China-UK engagement, thus to make the transition from the imperial past to relations of global equals within the unity in diversity of world society. His speech broadened my research horizon, as I am only focusing on “institutional level” of IHE. As a result, for further revising work on my literature review, I would like to consider the IHE issues within a broader background.

In addition, it was really an enjoyable and inspiring conference, and a good chance to get connections with other international scholars, either from the Britain, China or worldwide. For instance, during this conference, I met the Minister-Counsellor Shen Yang, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China TBC, Department for Education, UK, who gave the opening speech. And I got to know more Chinese scholars who are doing educational research in the UK, such as Yongcan Liu, University of Cambridge, who gave a keynote speech named “Dynamic Assessment for the Language Development of Disadvantaged Migrant Children with EAL”.

About the blogger

Written by Coco Lu LIU, 4th years PhD candidate in Applied Linguistics and Education in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University.

The Case for a Community Curriculum Making

Picture the scene, it is Monday afternoon and twenty 14 year olds are listening with rapt attention to a group of elderly men and women.  Some are writing furiously while others are using their mobile phones to record what is being said.  Back at school with the guidance of their teacher the students will spend the week crafting beautiful stories. The spelling and punctuation will be accurate, the presentation stunning.  On Friday, the students will revisit their new friends and present them with their Story. There will be tears on both sides and teachers and care workers will look on with pleasure as they see the generations collide in an exquisite display of affection and understanding.


This is CCM in action and is a real example taken from Park View School; I could give you many others.  The students are Year 9, the teacher is Alison Moore.  Alison has planned everything meticulously. She has talked to the care home manager and the residents.  She has briefed the students and worked with them to plan how they will conduct their interviews and the importance of listening with respect and understanding and of course of being dressed smartly.  She has discussed with the students how they might present their finished work and has helped them plan their return visit.

Alison has planned for all eventualities however, she could not have anticipated how emotionally engaged the students would become and how their desire to represent the lives of the residents would drive their desire to ensure that they produced beautiful, meaningful and honest work.  Nor could she have anticipated the emotions that would overwhelm both residents and students when the stories were presented framed and gift wrapped.  There were laughter and joy but also tears and sadness for a life once lived but now gone. Rarely do young and old have the opportunity to share something so powerful.


Such an experience enriches the lives of both young and old and is at the very heart of why CCM is so important.  If we wish our communities and our young people to grow and prosper to be compassionate and kind we must make this part of the way we organise our schools and plan our education.  This is how we build social capital and never has that been so important. Building social capital is absolutely critical in our increasingly complex and chaotic world, a world in which young people and their families are faced with evermore challenging economic and social circumstances. At Park View 26% (and rising) of our school population are Pupil Premium and increasing numbers of them are ‘Looked After’. Yet hidden behind these statistics is a darker story, the families who do not qualify for Pupil Premium but are struggling to cope with the demands of daily life and the many young people and their carers facing the catastrophic fallout from declining mental health.

Ron Berger (The Ethics of Excellence) talks about the need for authentic audiences to inspire young people to create beautiful work, which is what Alison enabled.  Keri Facer (Learning Futures) talks of the need for schools to really be the centre of their communities and Mick Waters (Thinking allowed on Schooling) tells us that it is social capital that will rescue children and their families from poverty not ‘intervention and catch-up’. Waters passionately believes that schools should give young people the skills and the courage to network to challenge themselves to meet their aspirations.  They need to be able to be able to present themselves with skill and confidence.  They need to experience the richness of their cultural heritage, just as their ‘better off’ peers do.  Money and connections may not buy happiness but it at least makes prosperity more likely.


I would like to say that the scene I painted in the opening paragraphs was the everyday story of Park View.  It is not.  You will find examples of such richness throughout the year as teachers fight to preserve the joy in learning, but general such experiences take place at the end of the Summer Term in ‘Enrichment Week’.  They do not inform the mainstream curriculum which is increasingly constrained and restricted by a government hell bent on returning to the 1950’s.  The teaching profession must stand against this and CCM is a powerful method of reasserting our independence and our commitment to nurturing creative and compassionate young people.  If we choose to accept this ‘Impossible Mission’ I have no doubt that together schools and their communities can build a fairer society in which all are valued and all can succeed.   The case for ‘Community Curriculum Making’ has never been so strong.

Written by Kim Cowie
May 2016 – Park View School
Kim Cowie has recently been appointed as Lecturer in Education specialising in Professional Learning and will join the ECLS team in September 2016. 

Whole-class I-R-F: Confronting the ‘Pseudo-differentiation’ Issue

The practice of ‘differentiation’ in a whole-class setting is an established concept and regarded as being an essential feature of effective pedagogy. As Kerry (2002, p.82) points out:

“This skill operates in a context of challenge and support for the pupils to bring out the best learning in each individual, and that learning has to be set against a context of cognitive demand.”

It is difficult to disagree here since intellectual dissonance is an essential precursor for cognitive development.

My recent doctoral research included a consideration of ‘differentiation’ during whole-class questioning, a process commonly referred to as I-R-F (Initiation-Response-Feedback). There appears to be a general consensus amongst teachers (and Ofsted) that ‘effective’ differentiation involves matching up the cognitive demands of the question with the ability of the student selected. This philosophy appears logical, yet there is an inherent problem; a question may be appropriate for the selected student but what about the rest of the class? As an NQT insightfully remarked, “you can’t ask 30 questions to 30 kids, because that would take too long.

Okay, this may be rather simplistic and there may be some other students in the class with similar ability, but point made; for the majority of the class, the question will be either too easy or too hard. However, that is not to say that authentic whole-class differentiation is not possible during I-R-F routines. My rationale is based on two essential pre-requisites:

  • The question needs to be ‘referential’

Display (closed) questions generally cannot be differentiated on a conceptual level. For example, in History, when asking “What were the five different stages of the Black Death?” the students will know either all, some or none of the stages. However, this does not represent a conceptual differentiation since the question is based purely on re-call or memory skills. Conversely, referential (open-ended) questions allow all students in the class to formulate a response in line with their ability; potentially, a range of answers is possible from basic and simplistic to complex and sophisticated. An example of this type of question might be, “How can we link the Treaty of Versailles to the cause of World War Two?” However, I should add that, in terms of cognitive development, there is a caveat to this.

  • Students need access to additional support

Whilst referential questions may at least allow students the opportunity to function at the appropriate conceptual level, this alone will not instigate cognitive change since students will simply produce what they are already capable of at that point (as in differentiation by ‘outcome’). So how do we ‘move’ students onto the next ‘cerebral’ level?

Not surprisingly, this issue immediately brings into play Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), defined by Adey and Shayer (1994, p.119) as “the extra intellectual power that is available to a child through social interaction with adults or peers.” Traditionally, during I-R-F routines, this “extra intellectual power” mostly comes from the child passively observing other teacher-student interactions and answering the occasional question. Yet one must question how effective this random and chaotic process is in helping students to successfully negotiate their own specific ‘zone’.

An alternative is to use peer collaboration or ‘Talking Partners’ (Clarke, 2005, p.54) which allows students the opportunity to jointly construct and rehearse a mediated response to the teacher’s question. As a student succinctly remarked, “If none of you know the answer, then you can just put together the knowledge you know and build an answer from that.” Thus the “extra intellectual power” can be arrived at through a customised process of co-construction, where students can challenge their own and their partners’ thinking in a private, ‘risk-taking’ environment away from the torment of whole-class scrutiny and accountability. Even if this process malfunctions, the teacher still has the last word!

Whilst there is still a place for the use of display questions, there needs to be a much greater degree of authentic differentiation during whole-class I-R-F to meet the conceptual needs of students. However, this will require an epistemological shift from the ‘status quo’ of teacher-dominated behaviourist practice towards a position more concomitant with social constructivism, where there is a much greater degree of student autonomy. With the unrelenting ‘standards’ agenda currently prevailing, this is probably unlikely, but one can hope.

Taken from BERA


Adey, P. and Shayer, M., 1994. REALLY RAISING STANDARDS: Cognitive intervention and academic achievement: Routledge.

Clarke, S., 2005. Formative Assessment in Action: Weaving the elements together: Hodder Murray.

Kerry, T., 2002. Learning Objectives, Task Setting and Differentiation: London, Nelson Thornes.


Dr David Brand recently retired as an Assistant Head at a secondary school in the North-east of England, teaching Mathematics for over 31 years. He recently completed a Doctorate in Education at Newcastle University. His doctoral research centred on whole-class I-R-F (Initiation-Response-Feedback) and how to improve teachers’ ‘Interactional Questioning Competence’ (IQC), with a particular focus on developing a greater degree of student autonomy during such routines.

My journey to India

The experience I had with ‘The Future of Learning’ module with Professor Mitra and Dr Stanfield instigated my enthusiasm to conduct my educational research around the Self Organised Learning Environment approach. This stimulated my visit to India as I wanted to see how the Self- Organised Learning Environment approach works in a developing country context where the availability of qualified teachers and quality education continues to be a problem.

On the 6th March, I set off on my journey from Newcastle Airport terminal at 1pm.  Having left Newcastle snowing that morning, I was looking forward to a warm weather ahead. I arrived in Delhi the next day and this was the beginning of my mysterious journey to the School in the Cloud in Kiageria Village, Chandrakona in West Bengal. After an internal flight to Calcutta and a four-hour car journey, I arrived at the village of Kiageria.  I spent the next few days acclimatising myself with the environment and trying to build a relationship with the children and the people I lived with as I observed Self- Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) big questions sessions and Granny Cloud Sessions.


For my dissertation research, I looked at the children’s perspectives of the minimally- invasive learning approach. I collected data through conducting focus groups and interviews with the children and the Lab facilitators and I also met with parents at their homes within the village. In addition, I visited the local school, Bala High School which was 3 km away.  This is where the majority of the children in the village attended school. By immersing myself in the environment and blending well with the community, I learnt a lot about the Bengali culture and language which enhanced my awareness and sensitivity towards a different cultural background. I also realised how quickly I could adjust to any environment. This a strength I had never known about myself before!

I had a rewarding experience in the Lab as I saw how the School in the Cloud was being used as a research facility as well as a facility to obtain new knowledge in a world where children have very limited opportunities. I also had a first-hand experience of how poor people in remote areas in West Bengal live during my stay in the village. By the time I successfully completed my task, the children had become so attached to me that it was an emotional moment for all when I had to leave. I certainly felt that time had rushed far too quickly and that I had not had enough time to see more of this beautiful country.


A Self- reflective journey

On my return journey, my flights were delayed both in Delhi and Dubai and I ended up spending 18 hours on transit. I therefore had plenty of time to reflect on the journey I had been on! My journey to Kolkata, my journey to the village, the time I spent in the village, trying Bengali cuisines, my journey on a train to Agra from Delhi and visiting the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, the Agra Fort, the Itmad-ud-Daulah tomb and the beautiful Taj Mahal.  I simply had the most memorable experience of my life!

About Khadija

Khadija is a postgraduate taught masters’ student in International Development and Education in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University.  You can read her blogs at https://khadeijablog.wordpress.com/

An experience of a lifetime: a self-reflective journey to India

Why further education?

Coming to the end of my undergraduate studies in 2015 I had an open mind about where I wanted to go. Was it into a job? Was it further studies? The truth is I didn’t know. Looking at further study I knew I had to choose a course that would challenge me because I have the habit of staying within my comfort zone.  The MA International Development and Education (IDE) course stood out to me because I wanted a course in education from an international developmental perspective and the opportunity to do placement, and see it for myself was important.

The first six months of the course was a real eye opener. IDE brings people together people from all corners of the world where opinions are different and our backgrounds, feelings and stand points have been shaped by our experiences in life. The real difference at Master’s is the level of critical thinking that’s expected from students. The criticality element takes a while to get used to, I think being critical and criticising can get mixed up and there’s a fine line in academia.


My journey to India

Having never been out of Europe, there was really never any doubt that I had to go somewhere far away. India was the perfect choice and I was lucky to be sharing it with other students on our course. Believe it or not, I’m quite the unorganised person, however when it came to planning India I think I organised as much as I could, even though it didn’t always go to plan.

On the 16th February, I set off on my journey from the Newcastle Airport terminal at 6am in the morning. Flying via Paris at -2 degrees I was looking forward to getting to nice warm New Delhi Airport. It was an interesting first journey to my hotel where my driver was literally falling asleep, I was glad to make it alive! I met Celete, Paulina and Steph from my course the next day at the airport and so my journey began. We threw ourselves in the deep end, using the Delhi metro straight away even though we were all jet lagged. We went to Old Delhi during our first weekend, a real eye opener on the sheer amount of people in India.

I started my placement at a school in Lajpat Nagar which is a public private partnership (PPP) between a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the UK and the local government in the district. A lot of time spent in university you’re learning and questioning other people’s experiences through their books or discussions and here I am seeing it for myself. For the first few days, I got used to my surroundings observing classes and talking to teachers moving on to delivering a project for the placement part of my time, part of a wider project involving a school in the UK also. One of favourite parts was the community visit where we got to see where some of the children who attended the school lived.

During my third week, we did so much in terms of visiting different school’s government and low-cost private schools (LCPS). We visited a community organisation and two LCPS in rural Mewat in Haryana, seeing a different side to what we had for most of our time in Delhi. These opportunities gave me a chance to get data for dissertation also giving me first-hand experience of collecting data in unique contexts. We met and spoke with so many different people who were very welcoming and open to helping us.

In between all of this made time to go sightseeing. Every weekend we flew to a different place, Jaipur, Varanasi and Agra however when we came back into New Delhi airport, it always felt like we were home.


A self-reflective Journey

I had expectations of India and it didn’t disappoint. I had so many different experiences in India but what was most enjoyable was going on a journey with Celete, Paulina and Steph. I don’t think it would have been as easy, or I would have done everything I did if I went alone. When the others finally left the same day I was travelling home, I had a little tear.

It took 20 hours all in to travel back to the UK and I thought a lot about the journey I had been on. From my first time on the Delhi Metro, walking up the Amer Fort in Jaipur, seeing sunrise on the Ganges, Varanasi and seeing the beautiful Taj Mahal, Agra to my time spent in schools in Delhi, Gurgaon and our trip to rural low cost private schools in Mewat. I simply have had the best experience of my life.

This time last year I had no idea I would be in India and honestly didn’t know where I wanted to go. I’m so glad I did it and would do it again in a heartbeat.

About the blogger

Darren is studying a postgraduate taught masters in International Development and Education in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University.  You can read his blogs at www.darrenirvine.wordpress.com.

Questioning professional learning

There are so many devilish temptations when offered an open brief for an educational blog post in May 2016.  I could try to right some policy wrongs, perhaps by offering a critique of the hastily written and ill-informed White Paper. I could propose a more lucid and coherent approach for organising teacher training because, from where I am standing, it couldn’t get much more chaotic. I could lament the experiences of family and friends whose own children are exposed by the debacle that is this year’s SATs. Alternatively I could celebrate the good stuff. I could reflect on the contact I have had with people interested in our new Lecturer in Education posts, and how each conversation or email opens up another imagined future of what skills, interests and experiences each candidate could bring to our Newcastle University staff and offer our students.  I could share the annual irony of the wonderful weather breaking to coincide with the national season of intense exam revision. The list of potential topics is enough to create writer’s block. On this occasion my decision has been refined because unlike most other blogs I contribute to I do at least have a sense of the readership, so I am able to choose something to write about which I believe is highly relevant to you as school leaders; and in that context I have chosen to write about teachers’ professional learning. It may not be as obviously topical or as politically fraught as any of the possibilities above, but it has a perpetual resonance, and carries the allure of something that school leaders can conceptualise and act upon.

Having left secondary teaching to join the PGCE team at Newcastle University 16 years ago much of the school landscape I now experience feels like unfamiliar territory. My current role as the Head of Education and my family life mean I do not reside in the stereotypical ivory tower and am never more than a few footsteps away from the realities through the school gate.  In our brave new educational world there are certainly an ever expanding range of outcome measures and political ideals that are deemed to need the might of school management applied to them, and as a result there is a burgeoning of new leadership titles and roles.  Despite these changes there remains a constant, perhaps increasingly significant, leadership responsibility of supporting and enabling the professional learning of teachers.  As a university-based teacher educator it would not be unusual for school-based colleagues to assume that I mean professional learning opportunities offered by university provision and qualifications.  I do believe that PGCE, Masters and Doctoral courses offer unique spaces for new and established professional educators to learn about, reflect on and develop their work. Indeed I am humbled by the fact that our programmes continue to attract part-time students many of whom are full-time teachers and school leaders. However as a practitioner and researcher my interests in the last decade have often coalesced around professional learning in and for the workplace. It is that which I want to focus on.  This is also timely because one aspect of the white paper I am trying to believe will make a positive difference is the fact that ‘a new standard for teachers’ professional development.’ My hope (perhaps naïve) is that this will offer a genuine chance for the profession to reframe the opportunities for teacher learning. My fear is that this will simply be a vehicle for more off the shelf, commercially-led, training packages.

In my recently completed PhD I developed a ‘practice development-led model for individual professional learning and institutional growth’. The model itself represents an ideal, but is also a tool through which those responsible for teachers’ learning can reflect on their own workplace practices.   My assertion is that a core role of any Headteacher and senior leadership team is to ensure that their school becomes a productive learning organisation in which their staff have genuine and transformative learning opportunities. I have evidence that many professional learning opportunities can be derived from cycles of practice development, such as offered through structured coaching, lesson study and action enquiry.  The difficulty can be in ensuring that this learning then sustains positive change, that improved practice is embedded (not discarded for the next teaching fad), and that it accumulates into enriched conditions for further professional learning.  So in the spirit of the model here are some questions to ask yourself, your leadership teams and your staff.

Firstly think about how well teachers are supported to learn through practice development:

  • Are both the vehicle for and objective of professional learning the development of educational practices?
  • Does this offer a chance for teachers to deliberately focus on the details, characteristics and outcomes of practice through engagement in cycles of action such as coaching, lesson study or action enquiry?
  • Is collaboration with others encouraged and capitalized on such that educational power can be derived from a genuine sense of solidarity?

Now consider whether your teachers are encouraged to develop democratic (rather than managerial) professionalism and whether their learning allows them to offer you a critical perspective (not the same as being a constant critic).

  • To what extent is teachers’ professional learning through and for practice development based in articulated values and critical enquiry?
  • Does it allows teachers to relate their practice to their values, or does it fall into the trap of expecting them to uncritically adopt new workplace procedures?

Finally think about how productively you are helping create opportunities through linking learning which goes on at both individual and organisational levels.

  • How does your teachers’ learning improve the potential for institutional growth and have you fallen into the trap of assuming that this is automatic?
  • How conscious is the integration of the individual’s growth with the school’s supporting infrastructure?
  • Is the flow of professional learning, from foundations to outcomes, reciprocal and cumulative, in that as professional learning is generated and the conditions supporting it are enhanced more professional learning can be sustained; for wider and deeper impact on practice?

So my challenge to school leaders of the North East (and beyond) is to consider these questions in order to better gauge how successfully you are enabling desirable professional learning that impacts on the quality of practice and thus has positive repercussions on students’ learning outcomes and experiences.  Think about the attributes of your school as a workplace and whether they guarantee an environment in which teachers continue to learn.  And while you do that please remember that ‘training’ is only part of learning, and that not everything that has been learned can be ‘measured’, and sometimes being so busy monitoring our teachers stops us from recognising nuanced and sometimes unpredicted learning and practice development that is so wonderful we should be celebrating it.

Taken from Schools North East

RL Oct 2015

Dr Rachel Lofthouse, Head of Education, Newcastle University. 

Follow @DrRLofthouse on Twitter!

Gifted children in Africa’s urban slums are a precious and untapped resource

We all know that it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor. You can still be gifted. Opportunity is the key. Through opportunity you can overcome difficulty and reach your full potential. But is this true in the developing world?

Over a number of years a team at Newcastle University has been searching for the most appropriate ways to identify children in poor areas of sub-Saharan Africa’s cities who, given the “opportunity” and additional support, could become catalysts of social change through influencing their peers and communities. If children from very poor areas are to be given a chance to contribute to their societies, and thus to economic development and growth, then identifying these possible “life changers” could be key.

Economic growth is necessary for development. But growth is very reliant on the cognitive skills of the population. This is why human capital is key to a nation’s success. For Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, the modern era is the “age of human capital”. For Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessman,

school policy can, if effective in raising cognitive skills, be an important force in economic development.

For countries to benefit from exceptional human capital the current state of education worldwide needs to be improved. But the focus needs to be on “quality”, not “quantity”. This is because “quality” schooling is what encourages knowledge and cognitive skills that stimulate economic growth.

Why identifying giftedness is important

It is generally agreed that the identification of giftedness should be led by multiple methods, informants and criteria. But with different ideas about what the term means and its measurement, how does one go about identifying children in places such as poor areas of Africa’s cities who could contribute to their nation’s development if given the opportunity?

The research from Newcastle University used a combination of ideas from some of the main exponents in gifted education and multiple intelligences. These included Renzulli’s “three ring concept”, Sternberg’s “triarchic theory of intelligence” and Gardner’s “multiple intelligences”.

The research project took place in 17 government school in a very poor area of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Teachers and parents were interviewed. More than 1,800 children sat tests (including mathematics, Kiswahili, reading and a non-verbal matrix reasoning test) and children and teachers nominated three gifted children in their class. The teachers provided reasons why they’d made their choices.

Children identified as gifted – gaining a very high score and nominated by at least one other method – had their creativity, motivation and commitment investigated. The results indicate that some of the cleverest, most creative and committed children you are ever likely to meet live in these slum areas.

It may seem obvious. Yet some believe that children who are first-generation learners with illiterate parents are simply not capable of greatness. This became evident at the beginning of the research. When the team explained what the research was about, teachers as well as district education officers said:

Why the slums of Dar es Salaam? You won’t find any gifted children there.

When told his daughter had performed really well in all the tasks one parent shook his head in disbelief and said:

She can’t be gifted. We are poor. Only the rich are gifted.

An untapped resource

Too few development experts believe that part of the solution to poverty can come from the poor themselves. Yet in the slums of Dar es Salaam children of high ability wait to be discovered, their contribution to economic growth and development wasted because no-one believes they are there. Children don’t know what they can achieve.

Here lies an untapped resource. Sadly, most of the head teachers reported that the primary school children under their care would not attend government secondary schools. In general, they believed the children would become market sellers and petty traders, just like their parents.

International aid has been flowing into Africa for the past 50 years. Donors from around the world give government schools – including those in Tanzania – desks, chairs, books and other resources. The belief is that all children will benefit. So let that continue.

But how about a small amount of funding heading the way of those children who can be identified as life changers with the tenacity, determination and ability to make a difference for their own countries.

An overview of our research can be seen in the TEDx Newcastle video “Slum Super Stars – African talented children alleviating poverty”. ‪‬‬‬

Taken from theconversation.com

Written by Mathematics Education Primary and Secondary PGCE, Newcastle University

Some thoughts on the purpose of education

The UK is a divided society and many current educational systems maintain inequality and rivalry. Intergroup tensions underpin international conflict. Instead of prioritising competition and achievement, should cooperation and understanding be at the heart of education?

Education as currently conceptualised and operationalised in the UK clearly doesn’t engage, include or provide meaningful educational opportunities for all young people.

We are a society that resolutely groups and classifies people. In relation to the current impact and outcomes of education, grouping and classification can be self-perpetuating and socially harmful.

Wilkinson and Pickett’s (2010) study showed that the size of the ‘gap’ between the wealth of the richest and poorest in society is strongly related to educational outcomes and social well-being, and low family income has been found to be causally related to children’s well-being and educational development (Cooper & Stewart, 2013).

The recent survey by CPAG (2015) estimated that 3.7 million children were living in poverty. It also happens that children eligible for free school meals are 4 times more likely to be excluded from school than those who pay for their meals. Excluding children already at risk because of poverty is adding insult to injury.

educational systems also mimic and perpetuate socio-economic stratifications

Whilst socio-economic disadvantage can be self-perpetuating, educational systems also mimic and perpetuate socio-economic stratifications. Thus, the ‘ability’ grouping of children in school is clearly of little advantage to any but disadvantages many, as well as creating groups that are hard to motivate and teach. Just labelling groups, can adversely affect teachers’ expectations (Gibbs & Elliott, 2015; Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968).

However, it is also important to consider the effects being put in a group. Tajfel (see Tajfel, 1982) showed how being arbitrarily placed in a group generated behaviours favouring in-group members. More recent studies have shown how beliefs about social groups, become essentialised and prejudicial. In schools this is becoming a major issue with respect to children’s behaviour. Guidance for schools (DfE & DoH, 2015) now locates problematic behaviour within the province of ‘mental health’. Thus teachers may more readily judge challenging behaviour as a sign of mental ill-health (and thereby not the responsibility of school staff) and young people become fearful of being labelled ‘mental’.

Whilst the studies of intergroup processes did not, for Tajfel, leave much scope for optimism, the future does not need to be bleak. Cooperative working can reduce conflict. In dialogic teaching, for example, the collaborative and critical interactions generated between teacher and students, and between students, can have profound positive social and educational effects (Mercer & Howe, 2012). Thus, if members of differing groups are encouraged and enabled to interact with each other greater mutual understanding and respect can follow. More than ever we need greater understanding and acceptance of difference within our society, between nations and toward those who migrate in fear of their lives.

Education fails if it does not engage and motivate learners and provide them with understanding and skills that enable them to contribute as creative social beings now and in the future. At the moment education systems are not fit for that purpose.

We should ask if we want educational systems to perpetuate social and economic inequalities. It is possible for schools to engender understanding and tolerance, include all children and enable them to learn together. Today education segregates and divides. It is clear we don’t need more inter-group antipathy. We could choose to have different purposes and outcomes.


Cooper, K., & Stewart, K. (2013). Does Money Affect Children’s Outcomes?: A Systematic Review: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

CPAG. (2015). Child poverty facts and figure.   Retrieved 13/01/2016, fromhttp://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures

DfE, & DoH. (2015). Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years. London: Department for Education.

Gibbs, S., & Elliott, J. (2015). The differential effects of labelling: how do “dyslexia’ and “reading difficulties’ affect teachers’ beliefs. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 30(3), 323-337. doi: 10.1080/08856257.2015.1022999

Mercer, N., & Howe, C. (2012). Explaining the dialogic processes of teaching and learning: The value and potential of sociocultural theory. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 1(1), 12-21. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lcsi.2012.03.001

Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. The Urban Review, 3(1), 16-20. doi: 10.1007/BF02322211

Tajfel, H. (1982). Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilkinson, R., & Pickett, K. (2010). The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone: Penguin UK.

Taken from BERA

Simon Gibbs is currently Reader in Educational Psychology in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University. He has worked in education for more than 40 years starting as a maths teacher. He then retrained and worked as an Educational Psychologist in the NE of England. Since 2007 he has been Director of Training in Educational Psychology at Newcastle University. His research is preoccupied with the psychology of education and teachers’ beliefs in their efficacy. Prompted by increasing concerns about the ‘medicalisation of childhood’ and the faltering progress of inclusive education, he has most recently been conducting investigations into the effects of labels (such as ‘Dyslexia’ and ‘ADHD’) on teachers’ expectations. He is married and lives in North Yorkshire.

The Education Endowment Foundation

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)  was set up in the last few years in the UK to fund randomised controlled trials of intervention to tackle the “attainment gap” – that is the gap between children with and without socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Over 1.4 million (21%) children aged 4-15 are eligible for free school meals in this country. They will start primary school behind their better-off classmates – and this attainment gap will increase throughout their schooling. The attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is particularly stark compared with other OECD countries.

Young people with poor educational attainment are much more likely to end up not in education, employment or training (NEET). So the aim is to test out interventions and then introduce them into all schools. They do this by making information available to those responsible for providing service in schools and encouraging them to make the best evidence based decisions.

‌One of the main focuses of the EEF is literacy and more recently they have become interested in language development in the early years. They have produced summaries of the interventions that have been looked into – including parenting interventions, meta-cognition and self-regulation, digital technology, homework etc.

They have also produced a specific summary related to oral language interventions of direct relevance to everyone involved in the Action.

But the evidence does not speak for itself. It needs to be made available and relevant for different contexts and THEN it needs to be implemented. Again the EEF, recognising this, have come up with a new “Advocacy” scheme whereby interventions that they recommend are then rolled out in schools.

For this, they are focusing on the North East of England. We put in a bid to them to support such activity across 175 schools in the Teesside area – just south of Newcastle. They liked our bid and today we went for an interview with the EEF at the local Durham University to see whether they would support us. We do not know the answer yet and I will keep viewers of this blog up to date on how we get on. I am pathologically optimistic as ever.

The key thing here is that while bringing together and reviewing the evidence is key start to the process it is only that. The real challenge is meaningful translation.

James Law
Professor of Speech and Language Science, Newcastle University

COST Action IS1406 Chair.

This is taken from the COST Action IS1406 website.

Reflections on the Internationalisation seminar with the Pontificia Catolica Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS, 4th April 2016)

led by Sue Robson and Alina Schartner and Prof Marilia Morosini and Ana Wertheimer

My undergraduate degree in Spanish with French, here at Newcastle University included an element of Latin American literature and linguistics, and more recently I have come to understand this part of the world through hobbies and friendships with Latin American anthropologists in Newcastle and cultural events organised by Vamos. I try to transmit my enthusiasm to my students in my Spanish language classes. I aim to model how deeply meaningful intercultural learning can take place without physical mobility if one takes up the opportunities available.

As a University teacher and PhD student, the work of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire has been influential on my work, particularly his emphasis on the role of critical thinking in liberating us from oppression, and the view of this as the first step towards transformative social action. Freire’s statement that there is no such thing as a value free education reminds us that the dominant approach we observe today isn’t value free, it’s just driven by values that few educators share. For Freire education is a force of either liberation, or domestication, a distinction which underpins the two discourses around Internationalisation identified today as the Global Graduate / Global Citizen. The former emphasises the need to prepare students for the global labour market, whist the second is a lot broader and sees students as activists engaged in the struggle for a more just society. The former does not involve changing the status quo: students are prepared for the existing world order; whilst the second developing awareness of the power mechanisms perpetuate inequality, with a view to transforming societies for the common good. The direction in which I would like to steer my students then is more in line with Global Citizenship.


In both Brazil and the UK, Internationalisation is caught up in other sweeping changes to Higher Education. In Brazil this seems to be as a result of radical new legislation to promote the Democratization of Higher Education, similar to UK Widening Participation initiatives, and the expansion of the Brazilian private sector. Currently England and Wales are adjusting to major changes in funding sources, and the rapid expansion of free market economics, bringing with them managerialism, corporatisation and ‘student as customer’ approach. To my mind, the public /private sector tensions evident in Brazil are played out to some degree in the UK’s division of red brick versus new universities.

The approach to Internationalisation at both CUPU and Newcastle University was described as ‘symbolic’ with reference to Bartell’s (2003) continuum adapted by Robson and Turner (2007), whilst staff were concerned to move towards ‘transformative’ Internationalisation. In both contexts Internationalisation is associated predominantly with mobility – outward for Brazil and inward for Newcastle, reflecting dominant trends of south to north flows. Going abroad is highly prized in Brazil and associated with high status, and students are selective about where they want to go. Seminar participants today stressed the need to promote Internationalisation as a holistic institution-wide process. In both institutions staff engagement is patchy and may vary across disciplines.

Significant concern was expressed for the ‘home’ student experience of Internationalisation. In the UK these students are often portrayed as passive, xenophobic and parochial, rather than as individuals with particular histories and experiences which might affect their uptake of the opportunities Internationalisation offers them. In fact, Democratization and Widening Participation bring issues of race and social class and to the fore in Higher Education today presenting a very diverse classroom mix in both countries. The profile of ‘home’ students is varied: some are part-time working students, some are mature students, some have dependents, in Brazil some are living in dangerous areas and need to be home early. These factors may influence an individual’s past attitudes to and ability to engage with Internationalisation, particularly when it is mainly associated with physical mobility. The seminar agreed that the menu of opportunities should be enhanced and on a practical note Skype contacts for language learning between students from the two institutions was arranged.


The concept of ‘culture’ is often used in the analysis of student integration issues, yet used sloppily it can be unhelpful. ‘Culture’ is too often equated with national culture, and negatively with difference, conflict, distance etc. A broader interpretation of ‘culture’ and a look at other barriers to integration might lead to greater cohesion for all students. In the UK it is often assumed that ‘home’ students are in a position of power due to English being their ‘native’ language, and for their presumed familiarity with the Higher Education system, yet the reality is more complex. ‘Home’ student- international student relations look different if viewed in terms of socio-economic status: an internationally mobile, bilingual, fee paying International elite alongside a local, non-mobile working mature student. Values led Internationalisation, linked to social justice and the reduction of prejudice, requires that intercultural be defined as broadly as possible, and all barriers to interaction should addressed.

Student integration at the micro level must also be considered in relation to the wider social context. Firstly, the competitive environment and marketization discourse in Higher Education may encourage more instrumental attitudes to learning, travelling and international engagement in general. Secondly, dominant media discourse around of migration, immigration and war, terrorism may also consciously or subconsciously affect student attitudes to cultural Others. Culturally inclusive pedagogies should equip students with the tools to deconstruct media discourse and identity politics. Seminar participants agreed that   discussing highly sensitive political issues is part of the process of the international ‘becoming’ that the group aspires to for their students, although having staff members willing and able to take on this role may be problematic.

This leads us to ask, how we can enable transformative international experiences for our students when political, economic and media discourses in the sector and beyond seem to conspire against this? How can we ensure that students engage deeply with Internationalisation and don’t simply play the game, tick the boxes, by taking a holiday abroad whilst enhancing their CV, for example? Coming back to Freire, this is a question of values, and value change: an important question for a values-led approach to Internationalisation.


Caroline Burns has a BA (Hons) in Spanish with French from Newcastle University, and a MA in Applied Linguistics (TESOL) from Northumbria University where she has worked as a Lecturer in Languages since 2002. She is currently working towards completion of a Doctorate in Education in ECLS which focuses on the ‘home’ student experience of Internationalisation of Higher Education. Her research interests include Global Citizenship, critical pedagogy and narrative inquiry.


Disruptive thinking from an international perspective on education… in the midst of a learning journey in the UAE

This blog is written by a Secondary PGCE and M.Ed in Practitioner Inquiry alumni whose career pathway has taken him from North East England to the United Arab Emirates. Here he reflects on his career thus far and how his approach and mindset has its roots in his work on the Newcastle University M.Ed programme.

Shaun Robison image for blog

When I first started teaching, I was motivated by the challenge of teaching young people to think critically. I was always passionate about learning about other cultures, people and places and the opportunity to work on a government reform project focused on developing teachers’ pedagogy back in 2008 was too good to turn down. So I took the opportunity and moved to Al Ain, in the United Arab Emirates. Al Ain is the fourth largest city in the United Arab Emirates and has the largest population of Emiratis. I originally planned to stay for a year and return to Newcastle in an expanded role. As part of my role in the project, I was able to complete my dissertation for my M.Ed on ”The Impact of Thinking Skills in a UAE Context”.

Since then, I have worked as a teacher-trainer, school improvement partner, higher education director and project director for a British educational operator and an Indian investment company. I am also the Co-Founder of the UAE Learning Network – the largest network of teachers in the country, a member of the Education Intelligence Group and I served as a panel member on the Education Matters Show for 3 years on Dubai Eye Radio Station. I have worked in the classroom developing teachers’ pedagogy and I have also written government tenders, business plans for large scale education reform projects and new build projects. I take great pride in knowing how a business plan and feasibility study can impact on the outcomes within a classroom and how a teacher can be equipped to deliver an innovative curriculum from a commercial perspective. I call it the physics of education – knowing how all of the parts impact on each other and understanding how to leverage different components to get better outcomes for the children in the classroom.

Aside from my professional life, I have learnt and been immersed in Arabic and Emirati culture. Learning and living with another culture can be incredibly challenging but I have learnt so much about myself and others that I can only say that the experience has been incredibly enriching. My wife and I both completed our PGCE and M.Ed at the same time and we have shared this adventure together here in the UAE.

The international sector should not be looked upon with rose tinted glasses; like everywhere, it has its benefits and its limitations. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly from many angles with respect to international schools so making the decision to teach abroad should not be taken lightly.

I have just recently conducted the first ever UAE Teacher and Educator Survey across the country. The findings have shocked certain sections of the industry here as they challenge the status quo but we have also highlighted the sector’s biggest challenge – retention of teachers. My intention for completing the survey was to give teachers a voice as they are often un-heard and on the fringes of the industry here, as it is purely market-led. I still remember and smile about the activity I did during my PGCE at Walker Technology College to gauge the teacher-voice within the school.  Working with and alongside teachers has been my constant passion since completing my PGCE and M.Ed and at my core, is everything I learnt at Newcastle

As educators, we should not underestimate lived experience. The international sector is awash with opportunities that may offer a glimpse into another world that may change your worldview on education.

Shaun Robison is currently completing his PhD in Education with Newcastle University on “Professional Learning Re-Constructed through Narrative Enquiry in the United Arab Emirates”. He has a passion for professional learning and teacher-training.

You can follow Shaun on twitter @shaun_robison


Let’s say you have the chance to design a University module on learning and teaching; which terms, pedagogues, theories would you include as part of the content? What would your ideal reading list look like? Would you focus on things like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, would you try to include some e-learning, or would you go as far as including anarcho pedagogy?

A few weeks ago, I attended a two-day Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) workshop that was facilitated by Sarah Chesney. Throughout the two day event, I tweeted my thoughts, notes, and opinions using #ilthenu



With interactions like these, Sarah and I started a little joke: #PedagogyBingo was born!





After the workshop finished, Sarah and I stayed in touch on twitter, continued our joke for a bit, but then got serious after the following interaction occurred:


After this, I e-mailed Sarah my thoughts on the project and she responded, quite enthusiastically, that we should make this happen.

Together, we developed an action plan to figure out how we could go about crowdsourcing #PedagogyBingo, and now we need your help!

The concept

The idea we had was to crowdsource key terms that should be included in a perfect learning and teaching module at university. This will happen publically on twitter where (hopefully) lots of people will get involved to share ideas, theories, and resources with us and the rest of the world using #PedagogyBingo.


This is not only a fun activity to do to get some insight into the traditional and novel pedagogies and theories out there, but it will hopefully also be beneficial to us and the larger education community on twitter. Some of the benefits of bringing together twitter experts on the topic include:

  • Discovering new practitioners to follow and grow our own networks
  • Discovering new resources and possibly new/emerging learning and teaching terms
  • We will learn something new about Twitter and crowdsourcing

When the list is compiled and published it will hopefully be a useful resource for:

  • Educational Developers who want to cross check their own key terms with the list
  • Lecturers, tutors and professionals supporting student learning who want to informally develop their practice
  • Applicants for HEA Fellowship who are assembling their claim for recognition
  • Participants on ‘Learning and Teaching in HE’ courses
  • Students studying Education at any level trying to get an overview of important terms, theories, and pedagogies

Taking part

Since this is a crowdsourced effort, this will only work if people take part!

Step 1: Tweet, tweet, tweet about your thoughts and ideas, share theories and resources, and don’t forget to use #PedagogyBingo.

Step 2: ‘Like’ and ‘Retweet’ any tweets that you see in the hashtag. Reply to tweets that you want to respond to and/or add any resources you have on the specific idea expressed in the tweet.

Sarah and I will collate a list of interesting resources, names, theories and share our results in a number of places (primarily over at flourishlearning.co.uk though). We aim to start collating the responses in the week beginning the 10th of April, so there’s lots of time for you to get involved!

(We’re thinking about what to do with this list beyond simply collecting and collating it – there are thoughts and conversations about creating an app, interactive website, or even trying this out in a course at some point!)

Both Sarah and I are really excited about this project, so please help us out in this hopefully valuable and fun activity.


Angelika x

Sarah Chesney is a guest tutor for Newcastle University’s Staff Development Unit. She is one of the ILTHE workshop facilitators and a tutor for CASAP.

Angelika Strohmayer is a PhD student interested in digital technologies, informal critical pedagogy, and participatory research methods and methodologies. She is registered in ECLS but is based in Open Lab, working on various projects related to homelessness, sex work, and informal peer sharing for learning and support. 

Teacher peer coaching; a story of trust, agency and enablers

This blog is a good news story in terms of teacher collaboration from The Hermitage Academy, a North-East Teaching School. The Academy has deliberately and steadily built a culture of teacher collaboration. It is not perfect, but it is tangible. In this blog we focus on the contribution of teacher coaching to the collaborative culture. At Hermitage teacher peer-coaching is in its third year with a coaching development programme running to support each cohort of new coaches and coachees. All participants are volunteers and each coaching partnership involves teachers working across subjects. Our roles (the blog authors, a university-based educational researcher and a senior leader in the school) are to design and facilitate the coaching development programme, to ensure coaching becomes operational in the school and to create meaningful opportunities for formative evaluation and coaching development. Most recently this has been achieved through an interim review to which all current participants contributed. It is this evidence that we draw upon to suggest some of the reasons for the successes so far.

Coaching at Hermitage seems to be a ‘feel good’ activity, and this is not to be sniffed at. Coaching has been established in such a way that it builds on and further enhances the trust that exists between colleagues. This was highlighted by the teachers as a note-worthy characteristic. Megan Tschannen-Moran makes a strong case for trust as critical for building healthy relationships and positive school climates, and suggests that between teachers this can evolve from a stance of ‘empathy and inquiry’. Coaching conversations at Hermitage have been framed around this stance – participants are asked to engage in non-judgemental professional dialogue and appreciate that this may be different from many other episodes of observation and feedback. In their review the teachers stated that they were “not frightened to make mistakes” are willingly “more experimental” and work in a “problem-solving mode, with a focus on teaching and learning and trying to do what is best for the students”.

The coaching relationships produced a growing collective sense of where expertise and areas of interest resided in the staff

In busy school environments it is easy to find reasons not to engage in something new or voluntary, so how coaching feels matters as without enjoyment resistance would develop. In their review teachers reported enjoying building relationships through coaching, getting to know people in other departments and knowing more about their work. Coaches stated that they felt good about having learned more about teaching and learning by acting as a coach and were taking this learning into their own practice. The coaching relationships produced a growing collective sense of where expertise and areas of interest resided in the staff. This is reported as having spin-off benefits, with new and productive collaborations in teaching and learning emerging organically.

At even this basic level it could be said that coaching is contributing to teacher agency. Mark Priestley has written about this in his BERA blog post, reminding us that a focus on the individual capacity of teachers might overlook the significance of the ‘social context for teachers’ professional work’. The teachers were keen to extend this further, by actively bringing coaching participants together more often as a group to share what was being learned and developed in practice. In 2015 The Sutton Trust produced a report called ‘Developing Teachers; Improving professional development for teachers’. One of their conclusions was the significance of collaboration at two levels – between schools in a school-led self-improving system, and also between individual teachers engaging in professional learning activities. Recent research into teachers’ experiences of collaboration(Lofthouse and Thomas, 2015) reveals why collaboration might be so valuable. Collaboration for the development of their teaching practices allowed teachers and student teachers to engage in informed decision-making and to construct a shared understanding of the nature of desired learning outcomes for students and how these might be achieved in their own contexts.

As evidenced in an earlier BERA blog coaching does not always live up to its promise, but so far Hermitage seem to resolving tensions that can exist in managerial systems. In our review we considered the extent to which the practice was supported by enablers for effective professional conversations as described by Helen Timperley. She described the importance of resources, processes, knowledge, relationships and culture in enabling teachers to ‘examine the effectiveness of their practice and be committed to appropriate changes for improvement’. This might best be summed up by a group in our review who stated that the vision for coaching at the school was to create a “collaborative problem-solving culture to enable all teachers and pupils to be successful”.

Taken from BERA

Written by:

Dr RACHEL LOFTHOUSE is the Head of 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. These support her learners in building their workplace expertise while developing critical reflection and their ability to contribute to, and draw productively on, the evidence base for teaching and learning. She works with student teachers and their school-based mentors, fulltime teachers as part-time Master’s students, international postgraduate students and school leaders. Rachel has published in peer-reviewed journals on the subjects of coaching and mentoring, the innovative use of video to support practice development, practitioner enquiry and professional learning. You can find more information here.

You can follow Rachel on twitter @rmlofthouse

Emma Bulmer – Always an English teacher at heart with a specific love for English Language and all things David Crystal. My love of English most definitely stemmed from Anne of Green Gables as a child and it’s fair to say I never looked back. After studying the subject at Newcastle University it has been my pleasure to embark on a career which encourages me to learn and reflect on English and pedagogy every single day. I have just taken on the role of Assistant Vice Principal at the Academy with a responsibility for Teaching and Learning. This has given me the opportunity to work with institutions such as Newcastle University to continue developing programmes like the coaching programme within the school as well as lots of other exciting opportunities.

Thinking about the purpose of education


Recently the UK Government’s Education Select Committee opened an inquiry into the purpose and quality of education in England. Evidence was invited and all 167 written contributions are now published on their website. This blog captures some of the evidence that I submitted.  My first comment was that it is not possible to identify a single purpose of education, as education has many desired outcomes. So of course, the question is a complex one, but as such it is deserving of an inquiry.

Earlier this year I used the same question as part of a Secondary PGCE lecture and the post-it notes that were sent to the front of the room and displayed using the visualiser illustrated the diversity of student teachers’ responses.  When I responded to the select committee I wanted to acknowledge this complexity but also highlight that in my opinion there should be no purpose of education which in itself undermines a determination that education creates positive changes for social justice.  I wanted to stress this because it is so much more than an ideal. It matters for individual pupils and students, their families, their communities and the wider society (national and international).

I believe that social justice through good education means that all children and young people should be able to become enthusiastic and capable learners and that they should experience success based on a curriculum which challenges them but also engages them.  As a parent and educator I want children and young people to develop healthy and affirming relationships with peers and adults that they encounter through education, which means that they should be treated with tolerance, understanding and respect and learn why they should offer the same for others.

Demonstrating learning matters so I would expect that all young people should be able to gain qualifications which are multi-faceted and recognised for their value by employers, education providers and society.  However there is growing evidence of the physical, mental and emotional strain being placed on many students by our current examination systems and the repercussions at school level, so I would also emphasis that children and young people should be taught, learn and assessed in a way that is not detrimental to their mental or physical health.

Fairness matters to children and young people and it is not sufficient to argue that ‘life’s not fair’ when we are considering their experiences and their life chances.  I would hope that all children and young people could state that their education was ‘fair’, that their achievements were deserved and their ability to make their way in life had not been hampered by injustice in their educational offer or experience.  As a response to a fair education it is reasonable that all children and young people should be enabled to make a positive contribution to society and the resources it depends on (environment, economy, community) before they have left formal education in order to develop the traits and skills which will help them to continue to do so into their futures.

One of the roles of universities, through their research, teaching and engagement is, in my opinion, to support the development of education systems which deliberately and continually adapt to ensure social justice.  In the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences we have projects, programmes, colleagues and students who are part of this contribution. The spaces, dialogues and activities that result may not change the world alone, but they do help us to make a difference.

A blog by Dr Rachel Lofthouse