April 26th 2016: Newcastle University is hosting joint BERA and BELMAS event; How to research critical conversations in educational leadership

Newcastle University is hosting joint BERA and BELMAS event on April 26th in which we will ask the question; How to research critical conversations in educational leadership?

For more information on how to contribute and participate click here.

The aim of the event is to define leadership widely then talk about the methods of researching it. We want to explore narrative, auto-ethnography, experiment, testimonial, ethnography, survey and more. Leadership can mean how do you go about getting people to co-create, collaborate? It does mean school effectiveness and headship but it is far far wider than this. How do you take leadership in education in relation to issues such as gender, language, ethnicity, sexuality etc? Leadership means.. pupil voice and more. It means… collaborative working. What does teacher leadership mean? What does it require to take leadership in education outside schools – i.e. rethinking education? It means rethinking the means of leadership – i.e. What is the role of digital technology in leadership? What theory tools are important in thinking about this area?

Singapore Grip

Prof David Leat

In early December 2015, I travelled to Singapore for a 3 day visit to appear in a TV panel discussion on the Future of Learning, recorded by Channel NewsAsia for transmission in January.  This was part of a series to help develop the profile of Newcastle University in Singapore, as the university runs six undergraduate programs there, in a partnership with Singapore Institute of Technology. On learning the names of the other panel members, I was gripped by a little apprehension to be in such company.

For most of my university career, I have been a teacher trainer, higher degree teacher and supervisor and researcher concentrating on securing research income, delivering projects and publishing.  I have done my fair share of professional keynotes and training sessions and had some success with professional publication.  But like many others, the advent of the ‘impact’ agenda as part of the process of having the quality our research evaluated, has spurred my thinking about how we present our ideas and research results to the wider public.  If I am truthful I have tended to shy away from this activity, consoling myself with the feeble notion that the worth of ideas is intrinsic and declares itself.  With such a state of mind, why did I go when it was not essential?  The potential payoff was twofold – first a chance to challenge myself and learn something about influencing public and policy debate with a view to the next Research Excellence Framework, and secondly a chance to catch a little bit of birdwatching in South East Asia.

So here are some reflections:

Can you summarise what you think is important  in a context within 3 or 4 sentences, in a way that an alert lay audience can make sense of.  In your head you have endless arguments, examples, complex concepts, favourite bits of research, jibes etc.?  But can you form that into a coherent message that an audience member can hook into?  You can judge for yourself how I did, if you listen to the recording …


I experienced two media formats, a panel discussion with four other panelists, and series of magazine interviews.  The second is far more comfortable as you get a chance to elaborate and develop points in successive questions.  In the panel format, to a degree you are in competition with the other panelists, partly for air time and partly in arguing your case.  There are many skills to be deployed such as catching the eye of the moderator, waiting for a tiny lull in someone else’s flow and getting in, connecting to what has been said by others, in agreement, disagreement or in terms of causation and, above all, making the audience laugh.

Other panelists

It was intriguing to read their biographies and meet them beforehand.  In my head one of them had a strong institutional line to follow, one had some done some homework (or had it done) so he had some facts to quote and a consistent line of argument, one was a very graceful ‘gymnast’ who could adapt and respond skillfully and one had an amazing CV that seemed impossible in one lifetime and a strong ‘IT’ message.  I had a few ideas about which ideas I could argue against or join in with.  The biggest challenge was the question of ‘coding’ about which there was to be a question.  At least 3 of the others were likely to be very strong advocates of coding, so what could I say that was not ‘anti-coding’ but put it in some fresh perspective?


On news programs and BBC2’s ‘Newsnight’ you do see a range of attire.  As a university representative, shirt, jacket and tie seemed expected and I had been given a university tie to wear.  I am not known for being the sharpest dresser, so should I buy new trousers?  In the end I didn’t – which was fine.  But I had not gone deep enough into my wardrobe deliberations, as after the first section of the program, the assistant floor manager whizzed up to me and asked me to ‘pull my socks up’.  I thought I had done OK so far, but it transpired that this was a literal rather than a metaphorical request as I was exposing a bit of skin between sock and trousers as we were in lounge chairs with no intervening table.  Note to self – long socks next time.


I am not a natural tweeter, and I have my excuses, but if you want to evidence impact then one of the pathways to impact is getting your message out there.  So I will be making a bit of an effort (honestly) as various interviews and the program itself comes out.  Despite suggestions to the contrary I am not going to be glued to my phone when I take the dog out.

And the birdwatching

I managed two trips, a half day to the wetland reserve, Sungei Buloh, on the north of the island and an early morning visit to the Botanical Gardens, which were wonderful and made the trip worthwhile.  I saw a large Monitor lizard swimming, a Stork (Asian Openbill) catch and eat a snake and over 40 species of bird including Brown Shrike, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Arctic Warbler and Oriental Dollarbird.

You can read more about The Future of Learning on our press office website.

Outdated exams are holding children back – not computers in the classroom

A recent report has confirmed that simply increasing the number and use of computers in a school is unlikely to result in significant improvement in “educational outcomes”, including in results for reading, mathematics and science.

The report, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), recommended solutions were fairly predictable and included increasing training for teachers and greater use of innovative teaching methods.

According to Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director for education and skills: “Adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.” We therefore need to get much better at using pedagogies that make the most of technology.

But a significant problem still remains. Even if we combine 21st-century technologies with 21st-century teaching practices we are still stuck with a form of assessment born in the 19th and 20th centuries – the written exam.

Testing the wrong things

Like it or not our national exams continue to dictate children’s “educational outcomes”, the kind of content that is delivered and the skills which pupils are expected to develop. Unfortunately, in many countries these exams do not attempt to assess, evaluate or encourage the development of 21st century skills such as problem solving and critical thinking.

It is easy to understand why the introduction of new technology in the classroom may well have very little, if any, impact on the traditional learning outcomes that are associated with it. For example, if an exam is expected to test a student’s knowledge of a clearly defined subject area which is covered in a single textbook, then having access to the internet in the classroom may well prove to be an unnecessary distraction. Instead, the text book alone may be sufficient.

And if teachers have a proven track record of producing grade A students without using technology, why risk rocking the boat with new technology? Within this outdated assessment framework of examinations there appears to be little incentive for teachers to introduce and use new forms of technology.

The damage being done by a culture of education built around exams is now also being further exacerbated by the OECD itself and its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey and league tables. Member countries now take great pride in being top of the league table. But this means they’re competing with each other to have the most efficient but outdated assessment framework, which is assessing many skills which are slowly becoming redundant.

And this perverse race to the bottom will continue until assessment systems are reformed and begin to focus more on the development of 21st century skills. PISA has already taken an encouraging step in this direction by introducing a test on problem solving; but the traditional tests still dominate much of its analysis.

Unfortunately, an OECD Education Working Paper from 2009 found that while there was much talk about 21st century skills and competencies there were few specific definitions and “virtually no clear formative or summative assessment policies for these skills”. There was also a distinct lack of relevant teacher training programs, which is a real cause for concern.

Bring in the internet

To help drag assessments systems into the 21st century a simple solution is now being proposed by a number of academics such as our colleague Sugata Mitra at Newcastle University and by Eric Mazur at Harvard. Internet-enabled exams involve introducing the internet into the exam hall. The hope is that they could prove to be a catalyst that will encourage the educational system to reform itself from within.

The organisations writing the examinations would have to think differently. If students have access to the internet then they would no longer be able to use the same old standard exam questions. Instead, they would have to think of new, open and challenging questions which would require students to navigate the internet and identify different perspectives and points of view.

The curriculum would also need to change from being one that is based on things that are known, to one based around big questions that do not have an easy answer. Teachers would also have to focus less on the teaching of facts and more on developing children’s searching, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Students would also have to think differently. Remembering facts and figures and passive listening skills would no longer be as important. Instead, the development of 21st century skills would become critical, including skills associated with the effective use of multiple forms of technology.

In 2010, the Danish government began experimenting with internet enabled examinations with initial success. Mark Dawe, the former chief executive of the OCR exam body in the UK, has also suggested that this is a reform whose time has come. Now it is time for others to think the unthinkable and blaze new trails.

Written by:

, Lecturer, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University.

, PhD candidate in Digital Civics, Newcastle University

The education of the heart

By Tran Nhan, Vietnam National University, Hanoi

In this blog post I would like to reflect on my working experience as a part-time Head of English at KOTO Vocational Training Center, Vietnam, a charity organization to train underprivileged youths to work in international hospitality industry. The center is considered the second home of all the youths here, the home where they can feel love, empathy and so much caring to compensate for all the misery they had to suffer during their childhood. The teachers here (both Vietnamese and international volunteers) are normally called “elder sisters/brothers” and we, sisters and brothers, do not just teach them the essential knowledge and skills for hospitality industry but more importantly, we assist them to change their identities from low self-esteem and inefficacy to confidence and success within an 18-month training programme. That seemingly incredible mission has been successfully achieved with the graduation of more than twenty classes so far. The secret behind this success, I firmly believe, lies in the educational philosophy of this center – KNOW ONE TEACH ONE – which reflects the education of the heart and mind mentioned by Sir Ken Robinson, Dalai Lama and Aristotle with his unequivocal saying: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

The educational environment here favors formative assessment.  The teachers have a good understanding of the learners’ living circumstances as well as the affective baggage they may bring to class so that they can be patient, empathetic and wholeheartedly accompany the learners to attainment in their study. Constant verbal feedback is given to the learners both inside and outside class regarding how they progress after each lesson. Weaker learners are boosted by a special tutoring programme with extra support from both Vietnamese and international volunteers. As the learners share the same dormitory, they are assigned to study in pair at home so that they can give and receive mutual support to/from their classmates and the senior learners. Learning and assessment here are similar to what Pryor and Crossouard (2008, p.4) refers to as “an inter-subjective social process, situated in, and accomplished by interaction between students and teachers.”

In this learning environment, more traits of divergent assessment can also be observed. Serious attempts are made at the beginning of the course to establish what the learners already knew, understood or could do via open and explicit dialogues as is mentioned by Pryor and Crossouard (2008, p.4). As most of the learners here start with no English, ‘helping questions’ rather than ‘testing questions,’ have been employed to guide them through the process of constructing new knowledge, correcting mistakes and prompting further engagement. The Know One Teach One culture also indicates that very little explicit ‘teaching’ is found here rather the learners can engage alongside with their “elder sisters and brothers” and peers in carrying out “tasks with high authenticity in the communities of practice in question” (Crossouard, 2009, p.78).

In a nutshell, what I have experienced in KOTO Vocational Training Center is rather contrastive to the traditional form of schools: it favours formative and divergent assessment rather than summative one and a process of co-inquiry rather than measurement (Hargreaves, 2005, p.218). There is a simple truth that I could realize, my heart sings every time I head for the Center.

Author biographical data: Tran Nhan is an IPhD candidate in Education and Communication at School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences, Newcastle University, the United Kingdom. She works as a lecturer of English in the University of Foreign Languages and International Studies, Vietnam National University, Hanoi. Her research interests include assessment in higher education, thinking skills and learner and teacher identity.


Crossouard, B. (2009) ‘A sociocultural reflection on formative assessment and collaborative challenges in the states of Jersey’, Research Papers in Education, Vol. 24 (1), pp. 77-93.

Hargreaves, E. (2005) ‘Assessment for learning? Thinking outside the (black) box’, Cambridge Journal of Education, 35(2), 213–224.

Pryor, J. & Crossouard, B. (2008) ‘A socio-cultural theorisation of formative assessment’, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 34, pp. 1-20.

It takes a village to raise a SOLE

Panel sole nyc 007

SOLE NYC in Harlem has got its work cut out. Simply introducing the concept of self organised learning is a challenge in most schools, but at John B. Russwurm PS 197M they will also be using it to engage particularly hard-to-reach students.

“I didn’t want to do this in a school where everyone was doing ok – I wanted to do it here because I knew it could make a real difference,” says Natalia Arrendondo, who is the driving force behind SOLE NYC and will be overseeing the research into reading comprehension, social skills and how young students navigate Big Questions.

Professor Sugata Mitra officially opened SOLE NYC today (14 October) as the first dedicated American SOLE research lab. It joins five other labs in India and two in the UK that have all been created as part of his 2013 TED Prize wish to build a School in the Cloud.

New York’s schools are the most segregated in the whole of the USA, with students divided not only by race, but also by socio-economic status. SOLE NYC is in a high poverty and low income area, where most families live on well under $25,000 a year.

Most of PS 197M’s students come from less well-off African American families, along with those from Hispanic and Asian backgrounds. “Some kids have difficult home lives,” explains Natalia. “This can have a knock-on effect on behavioural issues and make it difficult for them to engage in class.”

Natalia sees her role as SOLE lab co-ordinator as also part counsellor, trying to talk to the students to see what’s going on and offer a bit of stability in their lives.

This SOLE lab, which is being funded through Newcastle University’s SOLE Central, will cater from Pre K (three to four-year-olds) up to 5th grade (12-13-year-olds) and will be run by a committee made up of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

The design the students decided upon that best reflected their idea of ‘adventure’ for the SOLE lab was a jungle, complete with an animal mural with clouds, monkeys and butterflies hanging down from the ceiling.

The plan is for classrooms to cycle through the SOLE lab so that there is a session happening at all times (4+ sessions a day).

“I feel very lucky that everything has come together in such an amazing way,” says Natalia Arredondo, who is a PhD student at Newcastle University currently living in New York. “I’ve been bowled over by the help the school has provided – custodians, teachers, construction workers and parents have all come together to help, often after school hours. They’ve made it their own project. It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child, but in Harlem it’s taken a village to build this SOLE lab.

“I’m confident about what will happen with the students but what I’m curious about is the teachers, as very few are into inquiry-based learning and it’s very much the opposite of traditional teaching.

“Whether the teachers embrace it or not is crucial and I think this is where the work will need to be done.”

Natalia has already carried out several SOLEs in the school to get the students used to the idea of working in this way and was surprised how quickly they took to it.

PS 197M is a focus school, meaning it has failed to pass state examinations several years running and so becomes the district’s focus, with more support and visits from the superintendent’s office as a result.

Natalia carried out a lot of research and demonstrated in all types of schools in the area before deciding to locate it in Harlem. “Natasha (Spann, the school principal) has a passion for education – she just loves it but is in a difficult spot,” Natalia says. “I wasn’t sure if she’d go for this, as it’s a gamble, but in the end I just put it to her, stepped back, and did as Sugata would, sitting back and just letting it happen.”

Written by Sarah Cossom, Media Relations Manager

Opening up a discussion: Do coaches and mentors make successful educational leaders?

In October 2015, I was fortunate to be able to lead a discussion session at the first ever WomenEd unconference.  WomenEd[1] is a grassroots movement which connects existing and aspiring leaders in education. The group exists to address the fact that even though women dominate the workforce across all sectors of education there still remain gender inequalities, particularly at senior leadership level. My session was entitled ‘Do coaches and mentors make successful educational leaders?’  The session was a learning conversation.  I invited the participants to discuss the fact that many women take roles as mentors or coaches in schools and colleges, playing a key role in facilitating professional development and building learning cultures, but to consider the degree to which acting as a coach or mentor might prepare us for, or dissuade us from, leadership.  While this is an issue of relevance to women in education, it is not exclusively so.  As Teaching Schools and School Direct extend the reach and scale of their combined roles in the ‘self-improving school-led system’ it seems logical that coaching and mentoring activities will expand. When working well both coaching and mentoring draw on, and build up, the cultural competency and linguistic skills of both parties. In terms of impact it is frequently reported that coaches and mentors find the role has a positive impact on their own teaching, but what about its impact on their potential and practice as leaders?

I have a history of research, teaching and school-based CPD in coaching and mentoring, as is evident by other blog posts on this site and elsewhere[2].  While they serve different purposes coaching and mentoring might both provide levers and pathways into good leadership.  However, in relation to the links between coaching and mentoring of teachers (for the development of teaching practices) and educational leadership I have the following concerns;

  • The objectives and practices of coaching and mentoring often get distorted by the performative culture in schools and can fail to have the positive impact that is their potential. In previous work we have explored this through CHAT (Cultural-Historical Activity Theory)[3]. As we wrote in the abstract of the paper, coaching in educational settings is an alluring concept, as it carries associations with life coaching and well-being, sports coaching and achievement and improving educational attainment. Although there are examples of successful deployment in schools, there is also evidence that coaching often struggles to meet expectations. We used socio-cultural theory to explore why coaching does NOT transplant readily to schools, particularly in England, where the object of coaching activity may be in contradiction to the object of dominant activity in schools – meeting examination targets.
  • Coaches and mentors have the opportunity to develop great communication skills. However, this opportunity is not always realised.  Too often these activities are squeezed into very busy working weeks, given inadequate time, or are hijacked (deliberately or inadvertently) by a narrowly-defined target-based sense of professional development.  Developing, practicing and sustaining excellent coaching or mentoring requires a certain language, and a willingness to look beyond the particulars of specific lessons. It requires a more open understanding of a shared process of informed scrutiny than is typically possible in a hurried conversation or one which has overtones of performance management.  The communication skills being rehearsed in coaching or mentoring can become rather diminished.  If they are not, and coaching or mentoring becomes more sophisticated then the participants develop a new language for talking about teaching and learning, linking together critical incidents and whole lesson characteristics (for example), and exploring each-others’ understanding using a broad interactional repertoire which allows for challenge, exploration of ideas and co-construction.  Good coaches and mentors support successful formation of teacher identities that go beyond the requirements to demonstrate a checklist of competencies.  Previous research illustrates these levels of development of both coaching[4] and mentoring[5]. But, even when it works at this level there may still be a problem.  Educational leadership has become a very managerial process – one through which a priority is holding colleagues to account.  The language of exploration and development which might be developed through coaching and mentoring does not always translate easily to accountability regimes.
  • While coaches and mentors may gain real insight into the issues affecting colleagues and learners in their school (and sometimes beyond) this ‘intelligence’ may not then be translated in to leadership. This gap may be caused by the difficulties in resolving activities at different scales.  Coaching and mentoring are typically inter-personal activities, focusing on an individual’s practices, and only the most sophisticated coaching and mentoring successfully relates this too influences of policy or society (at school level or beyond).  Coaching and mentoring can generate the sort of professional knowledge which comes from the ground up or from lateral conversations.  School leaders and managers often deal with top down implementation of the latest national agenda.  Expertise or dilemmas from the classroom or practitioner conversations can easily be squeezed out in this context.  As such, even when coaches or mentors become leaders they may not easily be able to draw on what they learned in that context.
  • Good coaches and mentors can get pigeon holed (or even pigeon hole themselves) and their talents may not be developed in relation to educational leadership. This may be exacerbated by the issues raised above. We have evidence that some coaches would rather let coaching dwindle than let it fall in to the hands of senior leadership.  We also know that if SLT set up coaching programmes they have to work hard to overcome their own tendencies to over-manage it in the direction of the latest school agenda.

So, my questions at this point are framed by a core concern of how we can use the experience of coaching and mentoring for better educational leadership. I believe that coaching and mentoring can provide genuine opportunities for educational development through a focus on pedagogy, learning and learners, colleagues’ professional practices, school and curriculum structures, challenges and opportunities for change and improvement and staff and students’ wellbeing. I am, however, concerned that the vital link to educational leadership is not secure.

Blog by Dr Rachel Lofthouse


[1] www.womened.org

[2] https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/beyond-mentoring-peer-coaching-by-and-for-teachers-can-it-live-up-to-its-promise

[3] Lofthouse, R. & Leat, D. (2013) An Activity Theory Perspective on Peer Coaching. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 2 (1), pp.8-20.

[4] Lofthouse, R., Leat, D & Towler, C. (2010) Improving Teacher Coaching in Schools; A Practical Guide, CfBT Education Trust

[5] Lofthouse, R. & Wright, D.G. (2012) Teacher education lesson observation as boundary crossing. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education 2012, Vol. 1. (3), pp.89-103.

Is research-based classroom practice realistic and is it desirable?

Blog by Dr Rachel Lofthouse

In August 2015 I was invited to make a short presentation at a discussion organised by Optimus Education.  The question was Is research-based classroom practice realistic and is it desirable?

 This blog is the essence of my contribution.  

To consider the question I am going to draw on the work of Martin Hammersley, Jack Whitehead and Gary Thomas, with a little bit of Aristotle and my own thinking thrown in.

Of course the question is actually really complicated. We have to unpack it in order to develop a critical response.

  • What do we mean by research?
  • What kind of research is relevant – which academic disciplines are we drawing from?
  • What does it mean for something to be research-based?
  • Who conducts the research, is it somebody else’s research that I learn from and apply, or is it my research that I conduct in my classroom?
  • What does it mean for something to be realistic – is it to do with funding, opportunity, or priorities? What does it suggest about the teachers’ role, skills and knowledge for them to realistically base their practice on research?
  • And who is to judge what is desirable? What are the outcomes we are aiming for? Do we all share the same goals?

Wikipedia defines research as ‘creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge’. So it’s about knowledge. Are we therefore simply proposing that teachers base their classroom practice on ‘knowledge’? This seems to make sense.

But of course research takes many forms and the type of knowledge generated depends on these forms. Hammersley sees a distinction between scientific research and practical research. Scientific research aims to contribute to a body of knowledge, is judged in terms of evidential validity and is the pursuit of ideas that do not have immediate practical value. Practical research has an immediate audience of practitioners and policy makers, aims to provide knowledge of immediate practical use, and is judged in terms of its relevance and timeliness. Surely we would be most interested in practical research – related to the issues we face in the classroom, providing answers that would be of immediate use. Although it is scientific research that has given us the much hailed insight into cognition and the brain (for example), so we do use both.

Whitehead recognises education research as a formal academic discipline. However, he makes the case that educational researchers generate explanations of their educational influences in their own learning and in the learning of others. He calls these explanations living-educational-theories. Perhaps teachers need living-educational-theories (not research) on which to base their classroom practice?

So – what is my take on whether research-based classroom practice is realistic and desirable?

On a simple level it is not classroom practice we should consider but classroom practices (plural). I propose that we should not worry so much about research-based classroom practice (which could be relatively singular and static), but that we should be concerned about the ongoing development of diverse classroom practices. If we are concerned about the role of research it should be about how it supports each individual teachers’ practice development – something which happens over a career and supports professional changes that ripple beyond their own classroom. How, for example, can research be used to support coaching, mentoring, curriculum design, lesson study or practitioner enquiry as means to develop classroom practices?

We should have an ambition that teachers develop phronesis – practical wisdom wisely used in context, or as Thomas suggests ‘the ability to see the right thing to do in the circumstances’. Imagine an education system in which professionals had the disposition to act truly and justly according to their values and moral stance. It might help us to counter the influences of policy-makers and quangos who determine so much of the daily experience of learners, teachers and school leaders.

So – my question is – how might research contribute to the development of teachers’ phronesis, and as such help them develop practices which are based on their ability to see the right thing to do in the circumstances? This ambition should be both realistic and desirable.

Hammersley, M. (2003) Can and Should Educational Research be Educative? Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 29 (1), pp. 3-25

Thomas, G. (2011) The case: generalisation, theory and phronesis in case study, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 37 (1), pp. 21-35

Whitehead, J. 2015. Educational researchers and their living-educational-theories. BERA. Accessed August 20, 2015, www.bera.ac.uk/blog/educational-researchers-and-their-living-educational-theories

An opportunity for change

Nationally, the speed of change involving education policy is rapid and much of teachers’ and school leaders’ practices is overwhelmingly dominated by externally imposed agendas. Careers of school leaders now seem to hang in the balance as the benchmarks of what is deemed acceptable in terms of school improvement are apparently edged up each year. In the UK, this is referred to as a culture of ‘performativity’ (Ball, 2000). It is used by government to raise standards in schools, which, in turn, are intended to raise the educational achievement of the mass of the population. ‘Performativity’ is a technology of power composed of public league tables, targets and inspection reports that regulate practice (Ball, ibid.). Teachers and school leaders perceive these as high stakes due to the potential for judgements to be made about the quality of teaching or a school’s success (Ball, 2003). It is against this backdrop that aspiring leaders start programmes for the national the National Professional Qualifications for Middle Leadership (NPQML), National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) and National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH). This blog reflects on my role and experiences as Deputy Director of these programmes for a National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) licensee in the North of England.

The purposes and principles of the final assessment process for NPQML, NPQSL and NPQH are to provide a common framework for licensees and assessors throughout England. Competencies and level indicators provide readily recognisable standards for all stakeholders in schools; governors, teachers and parents, and a common language for leadership across the nation. In part at least, they are geared towards the performative education culture. However, the assessment process does include opportunities for more formative opportunities to raise the awareness of participants, their coaches and facilitators with regard to their own agency: what they do and how they act. Going further, it must also address concepts of ‘self’, ‘space’ and ‘time’ if it is to enable shifting leadership practices which demonstrate impact on future leaders’ selves, teams, and student outcomes (Forde et al., 2013).

One way to make sense of these dimensions is through dialogical self theory (DST) (Hermans, 2001)resents the ‘self’ in relation to ‘internal positions’ and ‘external positions’. In the context of the National Professional Qualifications for school leadership and participants’ practical experiences in school, an example of DST might be the relationship between ‘I as a teacher’ (internal position) in relation to ‘my NPQ programme’ (external position). It might also be ‘I as an aspiring leader’ in relation to ‘my NPQ programme’ (external position) or even ‘I as over-worked’ (internal position) in relation to ‘my NPQ programme’ (external position). Other possibilities include ‘I as a teacher’ (internal position) in relation to ‘my in-school coach’, ‘my face-to-face day facilitators’, ‘the online learning environment’ (external positions). For all aspiring school leaders, performativity is perhaps the most significant ‘external position’, in relation to which the potential for their vision of leadership development in relation to participants’ agency might be seriously reduced. That said, the multiple dimensions are limitless and I wonder whether the current assessment provision truly accounts for these factors. In other words, do the means by which we judge capacity to lead acknowledge the widest possible development of agency necessary to fulfil the complex demands of the genuine leadership challenge?

Taken from BERA

Written by Anna Reid, Lecturer in Educational Leadership

Internet learning boosts performance by seven years, Sugata Mitra study finds

Internet learning boosts performance by 7 years, Sugata Mitra finds

Pupils can perform at more than seven years above their expected academic level by using the internet, a pioneering study has concluded.

Professor Sugata Mitra found that eight- and nine-year-olds who were allowed to do online research before answering GCSE questions remembered what they had learned three months later when tested under exam conditions.

Now the Newcastle University academic is giving undergraduate-level exams to 14-year-olds, and has told TES that these students are also achieving results far beyond their chronological age.

Professor Mitra, whose famous Hole in the Wall experiment showed how children in a Delhi slum could learn independently if given access to the internet, argues that his latest work in the UK could challenge the entire exam system. A reliance on testing memory means that other cognitive skills are not being adequately stretched, he believes.

“Why do we have [memory-based] questions like this? Because it’s very convenient for an examiner,” Professor Mitra said, describing assessment in schools and universities as “a bit of a horror story”.

Tests of memory would become increasingly redundant in a world of ubiquitous internet-connected computing power, he added, arguing that the devices used by students would become harder to detect, as they moved from phones to watches and perhaps even smaller gadgets in the future.

Written by Joseph Lee, award-winning freelance education journalist (TES)

The ‘granny cloud’: the network of volunteers helping poorer children learn

Sugata Mitra

Sugata Mitra with children at a hole-in-the-wall project in Delhi in 2011 Photograph: TED

At the School in the Cloud, volunteer ‘grannies’ use Skype to help some of the world’s poorest children teach themselves. Could mainstream education learn from them?

Every week Lorraine Schneiter, a former Open University tutor, sits down in front of her computer, opens up Skype, and calls a group of children in India. And then they chat.

What about? “It depends on them. I have some suggestions up my sleeve but I always try to wait and see what they want to talk about. And then I’m always trying to make sure it’s relevant to their lives. I don’t like the idea of us zooming in from the west and trying to wave some wand over Indian children.”

Lorraine is 53 and has been running the Skype sessions for the last three years as a member of the “granny cloud” – a hundred of so people who have volunteered to talk to, read with, question and encourage schoolchildren via Skype.

Not all the grannies are grannies – Lorraine has only recently become an actual grandmother – and they’re not necessarily women or any particular age, but Suneeta Kulkarni, the research director of the project, tells me that they’ve never been able to shake the name. “We called it something like ‘self-organised mediation environment’but we’ve given up. It never stuck. It is the granny cloud now.”

It’s just one part of a bold education experiment – the “School in the Cloud” – that began in Newcastle and has now gone global. It’s the brainchild of Sugata Mitra, 64-year-old professor of educational technology at the University of Newcastle, who stumbled across what he considered a startling discovery 15 years ago when he was chief scientist at a computer company in Delhi. A theoretical physicist by training, his job was to look at new technologies and one day his boss asked him to investigate public computers. On nothing much more than a whim, he undertook an ad hoc experiment. “I just called my two assistants into his office and said, ‘Let’s make a hole in that wall and stick the computer out there at a height children will be able to use.’ We just pulled out wires from the office network and connected it and pushed it out of the wall. ”

His office bordered a slum. “I had a piece of software which would show me what’s on the screen on that computer. And things just started appearing on it.”

Like what? “Well, first we saw the mouse beginning to move. We said, ‘Oh, so they’ve figured the mouse out.’ Even that was a surprise because these children had never seen a computer before and were mostly illiterate. And then after about an hour they were double-clicking on things. And then a night passed and we came back and found a Word file with someone’s name written on it. And we were like, ‘We haven’t given them a keyboard. How are they typing?’ So we had to go out and see what they were doing. They’d found something called a character map, which is in Word. Most people didn’t even know it’s there. But they’d found it and were using it to type.”

The Times of India wrote a story about the slum kids who’d taught themselves to use computers and Mitra went on to conduct further “hole-in-the-wall” experiments in different areas of India.

A decade later, when the film Slumdog Millionaire was released, he read an interview with author Vikas Swarup, on whose novel the film was based, and discovered that his project had been the inspiration for the self-educated protagonist. Overnight, he became the “slumdog professor” – “though we’ve always said that we weren’t interested in creating slumdog millionaires, we want slumdog Nobel laureates”.

Mitra wanted to test how far he could push the concept, how much children could learn by themselves. “I set myself an impossible target: can Tamil-speaking 12-year-old children in a south Indian village teach themselves biotechnology in English on their own?” When he returned two months later, they told him they’d learned “nothing”. “And then a 12-year-old girl raises her hand and says, ‘Apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes genetic disease, we’ve understood nothing else.’ ”

The group scored an average of 30% in a test he gave them, and after he employed a local young woman to stand behind them and act as a “grandmother”, saying encouraging things, the results went up to 50% – as good as those achieved by a high-performing school in Delhi with a specialist biotech teacher.

As Mitra thought about what was happening, his background in physics informed his ideas. “With the hole-in-the-wall, I’d just watch this trial-and-error process going on with practically illiterate children. So that’s when I began to get a feeling that this is not related to literacy. Then as I went on doing more experiments, it turned out that it wasn’t really related to anything. It seemed to be like random chaotic behaviour that resulted in ordered things in the end. In physics, we call this a self-organising system, like an ant hill.”

In 2010, he gave a TED talk on the subject and in 2013 he won the $1m (£640,000) TED prize to build a “School in the Cloud” and this is where Lorraine Schneiter and her co-grannies come in. Mitra has set up seven so-called Soles in India and the UK – self-organised learning environments – to test the theory that children, in small groups, with access to a computer and a few other conditions, can essentially learn by themselves.

The kind of education that schools offer is completely out of date, in Mitra’s view. “It’s fashionable to say the education system is broken. It’s not broken at all. The Victorian system, which is the model of education used practically everywhere in the world, does exactly what it was designed to do. Which is to have an elite class who will run the show, assisted by an army of clerks for whom a curriculum was designed and who were mass-produced to do their jobs.

“So, it’s not broken, but what it is producing are people who are not needed. You know, an average boy from an average school in a poorer area would go out for a job interview, and the employer says, ‘What can you do well?’ And he’ll say, ‘I have good handwriting, my grammar’s excellent, I can spell properly and I can do arithmetic in my mind.’

“Well, if I was the boss I would think: I don’t care about your handwriting, everything’s done on computers. Grammar is not particularly important, we deal with the Chinese and the Americans who don’t bother about grammar at all, as long as it makes sense. Spelling is corrected by the computer and you don’t need to know anything about arithmetic. In fact the less arithmetic you do in your head the better.”

But then again, I say, if the applicant has got five GCSEs, at least the employer knows they’re able to apply themselves, and that they have a certain intelligence.

“But that’s the only thing that you can derive from five GCSEs. You’re able to work hard, to fit into the system properly. But increasingly inside the modern world, particularly the IT industry, these are not considered as very good traits at all. What you want are people who don’t care about how they dress, don’t care about how they talk, would like to think of things from different angles. These are the guys who do well. So, you’re producing the wrong product. It’s a factory left over from an era that has gone away.”

The world’s education system was designed to man the empire, he argues. The Sole method, or child-directed self-learning, is about acquiring the skills that people need in today’s world: how to research information, evaluate sources, work in teams.

“There already is some sort of collective global consciousness out there,” he says. “One way to put it, which may not be very popular but still, is that perhaps knowing is obsolete. People often think I’m saying that knowledge is obsolete, which I’m not. I’m saying putting knowledge in your head – that’s obsolete, because you can know anything when you need to know it via the internet.”

It’s the kind of statement that’s not without its critics. Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, who has critiqued a tendency to see technology as a kind of “magical thinking” that will cure all ills, tells me that he thinks Sugata Mitra’s Sole project “fits the current enthusiasm for technology applied to children”. He points out that “part of it is dollar-driven. It’s far cheaper for policymakers to organise children around devices and have them learn knowledge and skills informally than to build schools, train and hire teachers, establish a curriculum, hold teachers responsible for what is learned etc.”

It’s a renaissance of the “progressive vision of child-driven learning” that gave birth to alternative schools such as Summerhill, he says. And though he says he can understand the appeal in India and other developing nations, he cautions: “There has been no reliable, independent evaluation of Sole and similar projects yet.”

Even so, enthusiasm for the project continues to grow. Suneeta Kulkarni tells me that she gets inundated with queries. “We have people from all over the world getting in touch with us, it’s become a genuinely worldwide movement. I had someone from Rajasthan this morning and there are now Soles in Colombia, Mexico, Cambodia, Greenland. It’s incredibly diverse.” Their figures show that the Sole toolkit from the School in the Cloud website has been downloaded more than 67,000 times, and more than 10,000 Soles have been set up across five continents, though they don’t have data on how many of these are active.

The “granny cloud” is an essential part of the Sole method. Kulkarni tells me the first volunteers came via a story in the Guardian. There are around 120 “grannies” presently, “and we are always looking for more, we need at least 300 now. The idea is that these volunteers act like grandmothers, which is to say they are warm and friendly and encouraging.

“So much of the internet is in English so if children don’t speak English they don’t have access to this information. We try and simulate the kind of environment where children pick up a language very naturally by telling stories and singing songs, and it’s been critical to the success of what we are trying to do.”

Kulkarni, a retired child psychologist based in Pune, India, is the epitome of this: she is naturally warm and friendly and encouraging even to random journalists who ring her from Britain. And Lorraine Schneiter too, who tells me she learns as much from the children as they do from her. “They’re absolutely wonderful,” she says. “I get as much out of it as they do, if not more.” In three years, she’s seen how their language skills improve and the way they grow in confidence.

Criticism of the project, says Kulkarni, “is from places where what’s available is already good, there are a lot of resources, children are already getting a good education. Whereas in the kind of places we set up Soles there’s nothing. It can make the world of difference. We see it in the command of English, in their confidence, in their aspirations.” And she tells me about Arun Chavan, who as a child participated in one of the original hole-in-the-wall projects and is now at Yale doing a PhD in evolutionary biology.

Later, I get hold of Chavan to ask him about the impact of the hole-in-the-wall project on his educational achievement, and there’s a pause while he thinks about how to answer. “I’ve been asked this before and I’m always really uncomfortable with the idea of this as a hole-in-the-wall to Yale kind of story,” he says. “I feel like some of the most important influences I had were the people I had the opportunity to meet. It opened up my mind to a lot of things.”

It’s not a magic bullet, then? “No, technology is not a magic bullet. I wouldn’t be the only person saying it. But then, when it comes to something as complex as education, nothing is magic.”

Sugata Mitra’s unique approach to education is probably in part due to the fact that he’s not an educationalist. Or at least he wasn’t in a career sense until he moved to Newcastle. He wasn’t even a full-time academic; he wrote papers in his spare time from his job at NIIT, a multinational computer firm. He grew up in a privileged family in Kolkata, studied physics, specialising in battery storage, and came to computers by accident. “The first task I was given by my supervisor as a PhD student was to fix the computer program. And, I still remember I asked him, ‘What’s a computer program?’ And, he said, ‘Read some book and just fix the program, OK?’ And went away. So, I bought myself a book and taught myself how to write programs and I really loved it.”

He’s a believer in the same kind of first principles that he now advocates for children. As a student, he used to do all sorts of experiments on the side. “I remember one was testing out if there’s any truth in astrology.”

But then his unorthodox approach to academia is also evident in other parts of his life. He tells me, as an aside, how he bought “the cheapest house in Newcastle”. How much was the cheapest house in Newcastle? “Forty-five thousand pounds,” he says. It’s in Gateshead, in an area popular with Travellers. He bought it, he says, when he was invited to be a visiting professor at MIT and decided he didn’t want to waste money paying rent if he wasn’t going to be there that often. “And it’s a dream. A house with an upstairs and downstairs and a front and back garden. I find it very convenient and very comfortable. And I really fell in love with that area because it’s so green and wide open.”

Is there a Mrs Mitra?

“Yes, and she lives there.”

She didn’t kick up and say, take me back to Kolkata?

“She did. But we go back every year and there we have a nice big house. And she fell in love with it [the Gateshead house] too. She says it’s like a doll’s house. And I said to the town’s head that when I lived in Jesmond [a middle-class suburb], I noticed that the streets were cleaned and where I’m living now, they’re not. And I said, ‘Don’t you want to do it for poor people? Because I’m not poor at all and I’d like the road to be cleaned.’ So now they clean it very well.”

It’s something of the same spirit that informs his educational experiments. Part of what inspired the hole-in-the-wall project was seeing how quickly his son picked up computer skills at home and thinking how unfair it was that not all children had this chance. And there’s no doubt that a lot of the success of the project is down to Mitra himself. He’s the kind of genuinely charismatic and inspiring teacher that he seems to be trying to demonstrate isn’t needed any more.

Sally Rix, an ex-teacher who’s now researching a PhD on Sole after meeting Mitra when he visited her school, is just one of those he’s inspired: “He’s incredibly passionate about improving learning. I think he just finds it incredibly frustrating that this system that developed in the 19th century is still the prevailing model today. And he’s genuinely curious about everything. I couldn’t name very many people like that. He has this voracious appetite for learning and doing things.”

“He’s quite a charmer,” Lorraine Schneiter tells me, “and it made me quite sceptical at first. I know a lot of teachers have been quite hostile to him, certainly in Britain. But I think it’s because they’re so used to being threatened. They could just imagine someone like Gove saying, ‘OK let’s get rid of half the teachers.’ But it is quite bold and radical and we are all just trying to find our way. It’s fascinating because we really are seeing how some things work and some things don’t. It’s a very experimental approach.

“But I do think he’s right. The world has changed. My father was an airline pilot and he had to be completely retrained to fly a 747, which used computers. It required a completely different approach. The key was to not remember things by heart. They didn’t want you remembering things by heart. The key was to find the information you needed.”

The popularity of Mitra’s approach has provoked a backlash. “He can sometimes be quite deliberately controversial,” says Rix. Particularly with regards to teachers. At one point I say to him that self-learning is all well and good but that a good teacher doesn’t just dole out information. They have all sorts of human qualities that are as important as the quality of the information they’re imparting.

“Yes,” says Mitra. “And there was a time when they used to reduce blood pressure by bloodletting and a very well-trained physician used to come and he was human and warm and he used to explain that he’s going to cut one of your veins and drain the blood out into a bucket until the blood pressure drops. The question is whether we will miss him or not once we have pills.”

It’s arguable whether this is a helpful line of argument, especially given that teachers tend to be the most enthusiastic proponents of the School in the Cloud. The enthusiasm of Amy-Leigh Hope, a design technology teacher at George Stephenson high school in Newcastle, for Mitra’s ideas led to the school getting involved and becoming one of his UK Sole centres. “The reason I went into teaching was because I wanted to inspire children to learn, so I do find it very satisfying,” she says. “The children are in charge of their learning and it’s very engaging. They have to look for the answers. They own the information in a way they don’t when you just tell them the answers.”

Two years ago, I went to see the process in action at her school and I can see what she means. I sat in on an art lesson that Mitra conducted and it was fascinating how the children approached the task so differently. “There’s a painter,” Mitra told them, “and I can barely spell his name. Cézanne. He painted still lifes. Do you know what a still life is? No, well we have to figure this out.”

The rules were that there were no rules, or at least not many of them. “Nobody is going to supervise you. You can walk around as much as you like, you can change groups, but at the end of it, each group will tell us about Cézanne, still lifes, and light and shade.”

With the Sole method, children are set a question and then work in groups to figure it out. I watched as one group of boys typed variations of “Susan” and “Suzanne” into Google for a good 10 minutes. In another group, one of the boys said: “Just go to Wikipedia!” And another told him: “Wikipedia is not true! Do you know that if you sign up, you can edit Wikipedia?” But then, they found the word “chiaroscuro” and started studying images of Cézanne’s paintings. And I watched as they really did look at them. “Look, he uses the light to make this 3D effect,” one of them said. They were examining the evidence and figuring it out for themselves.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t help finding it a bit depressing that the group of girls had written an elaborate “Cézanne” at the top of the sheet of paper that was supposed to display their results and three of them were colouring it in, while just one of them attempted to find out some information at the computer. “It’s conditioning,” Mitra said later when I asked him about it and he pointed out one of the flaws of his own system. “It’s worse in places where girls have been told to be quiet, so they don’t talk. That obviously pulls their results down.”

At the end, the children presented their findings. They were highly variable. The group that had Googled “Suzanne” had struggled to find out very much at all and I couldn’t help thinking that what I was seeing was bright kids thriving and the less bright ones struggling. But given that we all use the internet all the time to find things out, being able to find the right information, and evaluate it, is an undeniable life skill to learn.

Personally, I suspect Arun Chavan is right: there’s probably no magic bullet. I’m not sure the girls in that class were much wiser about Cézanne, but two years on, I’d put a bet on those boys. I thought I understood what chiaroscuro meant but watching them figure it out by themselves made me realise that I did so at only the most superficial level. It turns out that, in some circumstances at least, the kids are pretty good at doing it for themselves.

For more information on becoming a “granny”, click here

This was taken from the Education section of the Guardian

Written by , feature writer of the Observer.

Don’t just send all two-year-olds off to school – involve their families too

The quality of early years education in England has improved, according to a recent report from Ofsted. But while more than 80% of all types of nursery provision is now good or outstanding, not enough of the country’s poorest two-year-olds are taking up their right to free childcare.

All three and four-year-olds in England (and some of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds) are entitled to 15 hours a week of free childcare from all types of nursery education. In 2012, 93% of three-year-olds and 98% of four-year-olds benefitted from some free early education. Around 113,000 two-year-olds (42%) were eligible for 15 hours of free early education, says Ofsted, but did not take up their place.

Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, claims this is because “school nurseries have been colonised by the middle classes”. There are, however, other reasons: nurseries may not have capacity for two-year-olds, the fee that the government pays nurseries for each child may not be cost-effective for the nursery or school, and some nurseries are reportedly declining to accept two-years-olds from poor backgrounds.

We know that policies aimed at helping the disadvantaged can be of greater benefit to the advantaged. However, instead of focusing on the inequalities of access to early years care, we should be looking more at the quality of it. Crucially, families need to be more involved in what their young children are doing at nursery or school.

Here is my coat … is it home time?

In January 2014, in a report for the Sutton Trust charity, prominent early years experts Kathy Sylva, Naomia Eisenstadt and Sandra Mathers recommended that the government delay its expansion of free nursery provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds until it could guarantee access to good quality places. The government did not follow their advice.

Some nurseries are rushing to provide places and parents to fill them. Local authorities are doing their best to train nursery staff in areas such as the north and inner-cities that have been disproportionately hit by council cuts. I would like to be able to comment on how this compares with a national picture but the evidence is not there yet.

My conversations with speech and language therapists and other professionals who regularly visit schools and nurseries providing early years places in the north-east of England make clear that it is not access but quality of provision that is the main area of concern.

Access to places will vary nationally, but in areas of the north, many nurseries have been opening their doors to two-year-olds. But two-year-olds are not the same as three or four-year-olds. They tend not to sit as a group and they do not settle the same way. Staff need to be trained for this age group, especially in good communication. What needs to happen in a room of two-year-olds is therefore very different than for older children. One visiting professional I talked to remembered being followed around by an unhappy two-year-old with his coat. “I want to go home” was the clear message.

High quality pre-school can protect young children’s cognitive and social development. And we know what good early years education needs to include. There would be stable relationships between children and responsive adults who have a focus on play, communication and being physically active in a stimulating environment. There needs to be stable, high-quality staff with good leadership and high ratios between staff and children. And parents have to be involved.

Don’t shut families out

The recent Ofsted report has little to say about the role of parents beyond their choice of settings and their role as “teachers” at home. But families are crucial.

Early years education for disadvantaged children needs a joined-up approach between local authorities, nurseries and schools and other organisations involved in their children’s lives that engages with families and focuses on their strengths. This is an approach that is seen in some children’s centres that are providing places for disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Oaktrees is one such, local-authority run, early-life centre based in North Tyneside that caters for up to 64 children of this age group and their families. They have a “stay and play” approach and parents are asked to stay in the centre when appropriate. Oaktrees told me that they offer other work with the whole family that includes adult learning and family activities such as cooking sessions and access to professional support. Links are made with other organisations such as the Adult Learning Alliance to increase the opportunities open to the families.

There is a shared language for parents and children about “learning journeys”. Noticing that nursery places were not available in other settings when their first intake of two-year-olds was leaving, Oaktrees now takes three and four-year-olds to give more sustained support. Most daycare settings do not have the staffing capacity for such a family-orientated approach that teams up with other community organisations.

Families need an approach that recognises and builds upon their strengths and capabilities. In families with children “succeeding against the odds”, teachers, peers and the wider community need to all be involved in helping the children and their parents. Research has shown that such an integrated community approach to schooling can have a transformative impact on children and families and is highly cost-effective.

Instead of blaming the middle classes for snapping up all the free childcare spots, the early years sector needs time, funding and the policy vision to develop high-quality provision that both involves parents, and works in partnership with other organisations to give them families more support.

Taken from: theconversation.com

Written by Liz Todd, Professor of Educational Inclusion at Newcastle University

Using the physical environment to improve education

It might seem as if buildings, the physical location of education, are of only tangential interest to an education researcher: something that can be left to architects in the same way as the human bodies of teachers remain the preserve of biologists.  However, as I will demonstrate, the settings for education, are linked to the practices and outcomes of teaching and learning, both directly and indirectly.  Importantly, the complexity of the relationship suggests the need for developing shared, cross-disciplinary understandings, rather than the adoption of design recipes or reliance on isolated architectural expertise.  There is evidence of physical environments being drivers and enablers of change, but most convincingly when alterations to the setting are integrated with other developments.   Researchers and practitioners of education, therefore, need to think more about actual and possible spaces and places of education.

A fundamental finding is that quality of physical environment broadly correlates with student outcomes, such as attendance, behaviour and achievement (Durán-Narucki, 2008; Kumar et al., 2008; Woolner et al., 2007).  But this is a correlational, not a simple causal, relationship.  It seems to be more about poor environments having negative effects, as opposed to good environments enhancing learning or teaching.  Indeed, defining a ‘good learning environment’ is problematic because its success depends on what you are trying to achieve, with different sorts of learning making different demands on the setting.  This relationship ranges from the banal observation of different environments for PE, science and music, to the more interesting research finding that traditional classrooms tend to be used for teacher-centred teaching while more collaborative learning, as well as teaching, happens in alternative set-ups (Horne-Martin, 2002;Sigurðardóttir & Hjartson, 2011).

Changing the physical setting can be an important part of educational innovations: supporting initial change, then embedding and sustaining new practices of teaching and learning

The next elements to my argument, though, are to note that space does not determine behaviour, although it may influence, and, in contrast, that people can alter space to try to make it fit their intended behaviour.  Individual teachers do this on a small scale whenever they reshuffle classroom furniture, and there is evidence of innovative and effective schools making active use of their setting, reorganising or adjusting as needed to support their educational endeavours (Uline et al., 2009; Rutter et al., 1979).  Changing the physical setting can be an important part of educational innovations: supporting initial change, then embedding and sustaining new practices of teaching and learning.  This role seems most pronounced when the attempted change integrates alterations across social, organisational and physical elements, with development of timetabling, curriculum, staffing and space, for example, pursued as a coherent whole, not as fragmented initiatives.

These sorts of multi-strand changes seem to benefit particularly from including the physical setting because changed space is a tangible sign of the more implicit alterations, and also has the power to inspire and support further innovation.  In a school programme we evaluated (Open Futures: see Woolner & Tiplady, 2014), a very visible school garden was co-opted by a languages teacher to support vocabulary learning through labelling the vegetables in French and as a head teacher in another school put it: “If you’ve got that infrastructure, you can use it and you want to use it don’t you?”.

Thus, while professionals from outside education who design educational settings undoubtedly need to understand teaching and learning, it is equally important that educationalists attempting pedagogical innovation or improvement consider how the physical environment is, or could be, involved.


Durán-Narucki, V. (2008). School building condition, school attendance, and academic achievement in New York City public schools: A mediation model. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28(3): 278–286.

Horne-Martin, S. (2002). The classroom environment and its effects on the practice of teachers. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22: 139–156.

Kumar, R., O’Malley, P. M., & Johnston, L. D. (2008). Association between physical environment of second­ary schools and student problem behaviour. Environment and Behavior, 40(4): 455–486.

Rutter, M., Maughan, B., Mortimore, P. & Ouston, J. (1979) Fifteen thousand hours: secondary schools and their effects on children, London: Open Books.

Sigurðardóttir, A.K.&Hjartson,T(2011). School buildings for the 21st century. Some features of new school buildings in Iceland.CEPS Journal, 1(2):25-43.

Uline, C. L., Tschannen-Moran, M., & De Vere Wolsey, T. (2009). The walls still speak: The stories occu­pants tell. Journal of Educational Administration, 47(3): 400–426.

Woolner, P., Hall, E., Wall, K., Higgins, S., & McCaughey, C. (2007). A sound foundation? What we know about the impact of environments on learning and the implications for Building Schools for the Future. Oxford Review of Education, 33(1): 47–70.

Woolner, P. and Tiplady, L. (2014) Adapting School Premises as Part of a Complex Pedagogical Change Programme, ECER, 2 – 5 September, Porto, Portugal.


Taken from BERA

Written by Pamela Woolner, Lecturer in Education