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?

A new direction for gifted education studies?

Research on ‘giftedness’ and ‘gifted education’ often feels like a marginalised endeavour, one which is quite rightly viewed by many as elitist. We have ample evidence to demonstrate that those with the most cultural capital are also those most likely to appear on registers of gifted and talented pupils (Campbell et al 2007), despite a National Strategy (1997-2011) designed in large part to disrupt this pattern of cultural reproduction. Why then do we continue to label individual students as ‘gifted and talented’? The terminology of giftedness has no agreed definition (Freeman 1998), was not recommended by the Select Committee (1999) advising the New Labour government, and essentialises ability in a particularly unhelpful way, carrying overtones of something bestowed on a lucky few. Why are we seemingly trapped in an essentialist logic of natural difference, despite a professional community ambivalent to such practices at best and resistant at worst (Radnor et al 2007), and a wealth of educational research based on a social justice agenda providing ample critiques (e.g. Borland 2005).

There are a variety of possible reasons why we are where we are, but I have suggested that the theoretical and disciplinary divide in research in the field contributes to the lack of progress (Mazzoli Smith 2014). Whilst sociological work on giftedness has done much to critique the normative thinking in educational and differential psychology, its impact only goes so far. Tending to adopt a constructivist stance, sociological approaches are largely conceived around critiques of the construct of giftedness rather than the lived experiences of pupils, parents and teachers. Meanwhile the research base on which the testing and identification movement rests tends to be the preserve of psychologists of education and/or those who advocate on behalf of ‘gifted pupils’. This body of scholarship uses largely empiricist methods and tends to hold to a positivist worldview, often invoking arguments which link gifted youth to future national prosperity (e.g. Eyre 2011). I see little dialogue between the approaches and few studies which fall outside of their parameters.

It is this impasse between the main bodies of research on giftedness, which I argue contributes to the entrenchment of the status quo. Engagement with the more progressive aspects of the field, focused on contexts that foster optimal development for all learners, rather than colluding with the practicies of elitism, may constitute a step away from them (Mazzoli Smith and Campbell 2016). A greater number of educational researchers could support the growing calls to dispense with such anachronistic terminology and the practice of individual labelling (e.g. Matthews and Dai 2014). A wider set of research methods could give voice to a wider range of stakeholders on these issues, not least students themselves. This in turn would enable a more nuanced understanding of the place of values and beliefs in embedding practices which differentiate (Mazzoli Smith and Campbell 2012). To my mind such understanding is crucial for progress, since what is needed is the kind of research impact that not only changes policy and practice in this area, but discourses and cultures around giftedness too.

My research has yielded narratives about being labelled ‘gifted and talented’ which, analysed on a number of different levels, reveal deeply felt, normative, contradictory and contingent beliefs and values which cannot be adequately explained through either a constructivist or an individualistic lens. To bring such patterns into view requires a wider set of research methods than are currently the norm in this area. A more diverse body of research could also play its part in mitigating the increasingly instrumental discourses of individual achievement which continue to assail the educational landscape, through recourse to a broader and richer dialogue about human flourishing. By remaining a marginal endeavour however, the field is polarised around particular arguments, which limit the tools we give ourselves to effect a much needed sea change in this area. As Michael Apple (1996) says, we should invest in a process of participation in the creation of meanings and values and nowhere is this more needed that in the field of gifted education studies.

Taken from BERA

Written by Laura Mazzoli Smith who is currently a member of the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching at Newcastle University, where her research interests are in the areas of social justice, widening participation and access to HE, out-of-school learning, and the potential of narrative and life story research to reveal and disrupt deficit discourses in education.


Apple, M. W. (1996). Cultural politics and education. The John Dewey lecture series. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Borland, J. H. (2005). Gifted education without gifted children: The case for no conception of giftedness. In R. J. Sternberg and J. E. Davidson (Eds.)Conceptions of Giftedness (2nd ed), 1 – 19. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Campbell, R. J., Muijs, R. D., Neelands, J. G. A., Robinson, W., Eyre, D. and Hewston, R. (2007). The social origins of students identified as gifted and talented in England: a geo‐demographic analysis. Oxford Review of Education, 33(1), 103-120.

Eyre, D. (2011). Room at the top: Inclusive education for high performance. Policy Exchange.

Freeman, J. (1998). Educating the very able: Current international research.London: The Stationery Office.

Matthews, D. J. and Dai, D. Y. (2014). Gifted Education: changing conceptions, emphases and practice. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 24(4), 335-353.

Mazzoli Smith, L. and Campbell, R. J. (2016). So-called giftedness and teacher education: issues of equity and inclusion. Teachers and Teaching, 22(2), 1-13.

Mazzoli Smith, L. (2014). Extending sociological theorising on high ability: the significance of values and lived experience. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 24(4), 354-371.

Mazzoli Smith, L. and Campbell, R. J. (2012) Families, education and giftedness: case studies in the construction of high achievement. Rotterdam and New York: Sense.

Radnor, H., Koshy, V. & Taylor, A. (2007). Gifts, talents and meritocracy.Journal of Educational Policy, 22(3), 283-299.

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.

Ferryhill Changing Relations Project; Taking Responsibility

Lisa Davis, Director Changing Relations
Dr Rachel Lofthouse, ECLS

Introduction: Developing a co-produced curriculum

Changing Relations – a social enterprise that uses the arts and creative methods to achieve social transformation around gender equality and healthy relationships – recently undertook a project with Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College.  The project aimed to explore ways of addressing concerns held by the senior leadership team about risk-taking behaviour amongst the student population. The Deputy Headteacher Tim Pinkney was particularly keen to see peer learning enshrined in any intervention planned. After negotiations between Changing Relations and the school leadership and wellbeing team the decision was made to place student leadership at the heart of the curriculum project.

A student Steering Group was thus selected who highlighted to Lisa Davis, the Director of Changing Relations, the issues related to sex and relationships that most concerned them.  It was clear that the students felt that many of these issues were not currently being addressed within the delivery of the curriculum. From these early discussions, a residential was planned, in which the young people were given the opportunity to explore issues ranging from sexism to sexting, sexual consent, sexual exploitation, homophobia and healthy relationships. Their engagement and learning was supported by the involvement of Relate North East, the Rape and Sexual Assault Counselling Centre for Durham and Darlington, DISC, Wear Valley Women’s Aid and Durham Police in addition to Changing Relations. With local artists, including film-maker Rupert Ludlow, also present, the young people further selected the topic that resonated most with them – sexting – and began the work of creating plot and characters for a film that would be used to stimulate discussion around this topic with their peers at school.

In addition to making the film, the young people were involved in planning, researching and designing a booklet for their peers about who to go to for specific sex and relationships concerns, from coming out to seeking support in the wake of sexual assault. Alongside Lisa Davis they also planned and co-facilitated an off-timetable Big Learning Day for their peers, meeting each week for several months to pull all of the strands of the project together.  In order to contribute to the evaluation of the project a number of focus groups were held with students at Ferryhill.  These were facilitated by Rachel Lofthouse from ECLS.  Two of the focus groups were held with student leaders from Years 9 and 10 (the steering group).

Taking responsibility through student leadership

It is clear that a successful aspect of this project was the long term involvement of the student leaders from Years 9 and 10 who took significant responsibility for shaping the project, planning the Big Learning Days and creating the new learning resources.  The Year 10 student leaders stated that this had been no mean feat, but recognised that they had “had to work as a team” and were impressed that “it all came together like a jigsaw”.  In the same focus group the students stated that they had valued “being treated like an adult, being challenged to consider their own ideas and comfortable giving opinions”.

The student leaders group was not selected purely from the school’s ‘go to’ students, but deliberately included students considered to be at risk by the school pastoral staff.  This was illustrated by one of the Year 10 student leaders who said “I wanted to be involved because it sounded important, sounded interesting, and it is close to my heart through personal experience.”

The inclusion of a weekend residential was valued by the student leaders, allowing an immersive and relatively intense learning experience which set the scene for their role in the wider project.  This was recognised by the Year 10 student leaders who said that “the residential was fun and interesting, we made films, it was hard work, it was jam packed with lots of info; it was intense.”  The Year 9 student leaders stated that the experience as a whole “was a big commitment but we enjoyed it – it was fun.”  The year 10 student leaders stated that “this was a different experience, it makes things more interesting, we met people from outside of schools; we were taking responsibility and representing the school at formal meetings.”

For most of the students planning an event and working for a sustained period with outside experts was a unique experience and one which they highly valued, “we got more out of it than we expected” (Year 9 student leaders). It is probable that the depth of their resulting knowledge exceeded those of the rest of the students in Years 9 and 8 for whom the Big Learning Days were planned.  This was in part reflected in their abilities to articulate key ideas in the focus groups, with the Year 9 student leaders recognising the quality of their learning about “the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and where you can go for health advice.”  Their greater insight provided the trigger for them from thinking “what’s the harm?” (for example of sexting) to “realising we did not want it to happen to other students” (Year 9 student leaders).

Making the video

Planning, making and showing the video was highly rated by the student leaders, and its authenticity has already been noted above as critical in its impact.  The Year 10 student leaders stated “it was our idea to do a film – we thought about the topic and how to do it, we developed the storyline”. The Year 9 student leaders thought that as “young people we could make the video better, we made sure it was a relevant topic choice, and we were the same age as the audience, so people respect it more”, and this perspective mirrors that of the student participants given above.  Making the video provided another opportunity for the student leaders to engage with an outside expert – in this case a film maker, who again was recognised for his major contribution.  It was also important to the student leaders that the video had a genuine audience, partly in being used to introduce the Big Learning Days themselves, but also in being posted on the school website.  The fact that the school organised a premier to which parents were invited and that this was featured in the local press was significant.  The student leaders felt proud of their work and the value of it in the local school community and beyond.  The Year 9 student leaders stated that they “would like to take it to other schools”.  This has some value – but perhaps overlooks quite how important the fact that the video was very much school-situated was.  It would be interesting to see whether its impact was similar with a different population of students.

The Big Learning Days

The student leaders’ roles in planning and co-facilitating the Big Learning Days was significant in terms of their own development.  They said that they had learned a lot from “having to lead sessions, making the powerpoint, presenting it and doing the activities with the students” (Year 10 student leaders).  Without doubt they were proud of their contribution and felt that it was critical in the success of the days, “it was powerful that pupils were speaking to pupils – they were more open to asking questions” (Year 9 student leaders).

Conclusion – what can we learn?

The student leaders acted as a significant bridge between the expertise offered by the outside agencies related to the desired curriculum content and felt needs of the wider student cohort (made up of their peers).  The student leaders’ involvement at all stages greatly supported the planning and facilitation of the project. They were responsible for the development of real and locally situated authentic products of the planning phase (the video and booklet) which were actively used as learning resources to support the teaching and learning phase, and indeed outlive that episode as a longer term resource.  The Big Learning Days also created a platform (with a deadline) for the student leaders to deliver the outputs of their own learning and planning.  This focus provided a real event in which the student leaders’ own learning became purposeful and visible – they had indeed ‘taken responsibility’ and certainly lived up to it.

Authentic Professional Learning in the school workplace. A Leadership Perspective.

Stefan McElwee             George Stephenson High School

It is a widely held belief amongst professionals in a wide spectrum of professions that we continue to learn during our working lives. Learning is a continual process of development linked to professional and social context, both within and outside of the workplace environment.  It might be viewed that this is a challenging assertion which stimulates further investigation within the busy school environment.  Can we assume teachers learn or do we need to investigate carefully what conditions exist or can be created to facilitate authentic professional learning?

This blog summarises the thinking and feelings of a Leadership team in a secondary school in Newcastle-upon Tyne on professional learning. As an Assistant Head Teacher with a responsibility for learning in school, I wanted to probe the subject further. The rest of the team agreed and so we read. The reading process alone was wholesome as our agendas often focus on the routine or strategic management of the day to day operational material which demands much of our time.  Through reading academic research findings on the subject we uncovered a stimulus, a developing need to reflect on this important, yet often neglected subject.

The first challenge was to establish the clear difference between the traditional didactic delivery of content which is common in CPD environments, and the potential to create alternative environments in the workplace that allow authentic professional learning to flourish. The work of Ann Webster-Wright (2009) summarises this distinction and argues for a conceptual change towards a new form of professional learning based on two decades of research across professions.  This article was introduced to me through my participation in modules related to coaching and mentoring for teacher development, in the School of ECLS, at Newcastle University.

As a leadership team, our conversations quickly turned to our “performativity” agenda, and our role in ensuring professional standards, accountability of practice and the creation and monitoring of measurable outcomes. Our ownership of “knowledge” linked to standards inevitably influences what we determine to be of value and justifiable to learn for teachers and other colleagues in our school context.  We feel these pressures place a huge constraint on learning – both that of teachers and our schools’ students. The uncertainty and pace of educational reform produces a high-stakes environment in which colleagues often tell us they have no time to learn.  The challenge for us was fairly clear in our discussions. We want to devolve this knowledge ownership and to provide an infrastructure for teachers to take ownership of their own learning in an environment which supports authentic professional learning.

This key aim led our thinking to the consideration of the contextual factors that make our school a unique place of learning for those operating within it. We have considered the importance of context to the learning of our pupils for years but have never really reflected on it for the learning potential of our staff.  How well do we create and support a learning culture in our school?  We feel we are establishing an environment supportive of authentic learning as established through research findings. We strongly believe in communities of enquiry. Our staff learn together in collaborative groups where teacher talk draws on critical reflection based on experience. We are comfortable and confident in our teachers as participants and not spectators in the learning process. Much of what staff tell us reflects the notion that teacher ownership of a hunch or problem is essential to actively engage professionals in working on genuine problems.  We discussed the crucial component of ensuring our teachers have time to reflect on their problem-solving to transform experience into learning.

We feel strongly that our action research cycles meet many of the criteria of authentic professional learning, but there are areas we need to probe further. Our thinking takes us towards the purpose of learning. Should it be represented in activities that are amenable to outcomes?  What do we count as legitimate knowledge? Do teachers have a say in this and how do we justify our decisions in a standards-driven framework?

We have concluded that teacher ownership of learning is a key component, some needs to be negotiated yes, but authentic learning challenges leadership structures to consider the “lived experience” of our colleagues. The social complexity of their position in the workplace potentially drives their assumptions of practice and how they “feel” about their own learning.  We are considering sociocultural factors very carefully. Our follow-up work will now focus on establishing how we can involve our teachers in the learning process and how we can further exploit the supportive contextual factors that have allowed the first tentative steps in authentic professional learning to occur in our school.


Webster-Wright Anne, Reframing Professional Development Through Understanding Authentic Professional Learning. Review of Educational Research. 2009 79: 702   published 25 February 2009.

Stefan McElwee is Assistant Headteacher and George Stephenson High School which is a Teaching School with both ECLS and CfLaT (Newcastle University) as strategic partners.  Stefan is currently completing the M.Ed in Practitioner Enquiry (Leadership) programme at Newcastle University.

Going beyond the information given


During November 2015, twenty-five academic colleagues from universities across Kazakhstan undertook a study visit to Newcastle University.  The visit was hosted and facilitated by staff from ECLS and managed through the North Leadership Centre.  Our visitors had a busy schedule of taught sessions and workshops during which they were offered insights in to a wide range of academic practices.  At the same time, the visitors experienced British life – both in Newcastle and further afield.  Every day was an opportunity for learning, but what have they learned and what difference will it make in their own work and in development of Higher Education in Kazakhstan?  One session was about blogging for academic development and communication.  Here in their own words is a blog post written collaboratively in that session. Writing in English they reflected on their experiences and possible outcomes, helping us make sense of how they are “going beyond the information given”.

Professional development


Meiramgul Mukhambetova, Aizhan Mamyrbekova, Gulsara Turguntayeva, Saltanat Nyshanova, Gulsim Tulepova

In education the term professional development can be used in reference to a wide variety of specialized training. To be professionally developed teachers should improve their professional knowledge, skills, competence and creative activity. In practice professional development for educators encompasses an extremely broad range of topics and formats. It would be helpful, for example, to work with colleagues in professional learning communities to develop teaching skills. This might help us to develop collaborative courses that are taught by teams of two or more teachers. We would like opportunities to be professionally developed to increase our teaching skills by using different types of learning technologies. All of the aspects which we learned about in Newcastle, such as constructivism, critical thinking, working in small groups, microteaching and online learning are priorities for our professional development. Our learning will have an impact on our own students’ learning and future success. To succeed we should improve our professional development step by step.


Microteaching 3 Nov 15 - 2

Dana Jantemirova, Bibenur Baidalinova, Galiya Suleimenova, Laura Butabayeva

Today I want to tell you about my microteaching experience at Newcastle University. It was amazing!  Many thanks to our tutors: Anna Reid and Alina Schartner

And what is microteaching you ask me?

Microteaching required us to present to our colleagues a short episode of a lesson of our choice.

We discovered that it is an excellent way to understand your teaching techniques not only “inside” but more important “outside”. Microteaching pushed us to leave our comfort zone because our everyday practice means the interaction with our students a lot and we cannot observe ourselves. In this case it is possible to improve our teaching practical skills.


How does it work?

Colleagues gather in one small group and one of them presents the short episode of his lecture or seminar (or something else) and during the lesson colleagues behave as students.  The group then all evaluate his style of lesson, his techniques of teaching. In this way we improve our interactive skills.

How can it be used in our future?

We should share the experience for improving the teaching quality of our colleagues.

At the end, we understood that using microteaching experience will be useful for our colleagues to improve their interactive practical skills, interpersonal relationships and making their lessons more effective.


Gulshat Abugaliyeva, Laura Oilybayeva, Marianna Dyachuk, Aliya Seraliyeva

Assessment is used to know what the student’s skill level is in the subject. It also helps the teacher decide how to explain the material more efficiently.

There are many aims of assessment:

  • selection
  • motivation
  • improvement the process of education
  • feedback
  • control

We believe that assessment must be clear and give understanding for all students.

Summative and formative assessment are often referred to in a learning context as assessment of learning and assessment for learning respectively. Assessment of learning is generally summative in nature and intended to measure learning outcomes and report those outcomes to students, parents and administrators. Assessment of learning generally occurs at the conclusion of a class, course, semester or academic year. Assessment for learning is generally formative in nature and is used by teachers to consider approaches to teaching and next steps for individual learners and the class.


Formative assessment is generally carried out throughout a course or project. In an educational setting, formative assessment might be by a teacher or the learner, providing feedback on a student’s work and would not necessarily be used for grading purposes. The formative assessments aim to see if the students understand the instruction before doing a summative assessment. A common form of formative assessment is diagnostic assessment. Diagnostic assessment measures a student’s current knowledge and skills for the purpose of identifying a suitable program of learning. Self-assessment is a form of diagnostic assessment which involves students assessing themselves.

Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course or project. In an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to assign students a course grade. The summative assessments are made to summarize what the students have learned, to know if they understand well. This type of assessment is graded and often counts, it can be in form of tests, final exams, projects, etc. Assessments are important because they decide if the student passed or failed the class. If teachers only do summative assessments, the learners will know how well they have done too late. The importance of pre-assessment is to know what the skill levels of a student are before giving further instructions. Giving a lot of feedback and encouraging are other practices.

When we come back to Kazakhstan we will use all of information which we learned in Newcastle University. We are interested an assessment and mainly formative assessment. Before doing any work (task) with students we give them criteria of assessment. Formative assessment will helps us to improve motivation for learning the subject and to use it in future.

Online learning: taking the borders away make learning everlasting


Aidar Aitkulov, Khamit Sarsenbayev, Beibyt Temirbekov, Murajan Aslanov, Zukhra Abdrakhmanova, Tatyana Kim

The session was devoted to online learning which was presented by “Queen of Moodle” in Newcastle University – Eleanor Gordon. The first thing she asked us to do was to name the online tools we work with. The point is that most of the participants are not acquainted with online tools which may be used for both learning and teaching. Then we were given the challenge to find the information about different online tools we are not familiar with. They were chosen by Eleanor and also it was her initiative to form the groups we were going to work in.  For example: Onenote, Mind42, Twitter, Wikispace, WordPress, Moodle. We found it interesting that we were allowed to use GOOGLE.


Having discovered the information we were able to share it and discuss in special chats which are still in our online profiles. And also we took part in an online forum.  We came to conclusion that different online tools are used for different aims: either you use it for communicating with your peers or students. The discussion occurred about the advantages and disadvantages of online learning.

One part of the participants spoke about the following advantages:

  • It may saves time to get to your teacher or students
  • It helps to cover the wider number of students, much more than a room may include
  • It is more interesting for students to use up-to-date electronic tools
  • They may navigate on both computers and mobile devices anywhere and anytime

The second one had these arguments:

  • Online learning and teaching takes time
  • It is impossible to concentrate on one theme
  • If there is no electricity then online learning is over.
  • Is harmful for our eyesight
  • No communication face to face without seeing the emotions and the language of the body
  • Students may cheat


Some items were really controversial. And the discussion was really hot.  We discussed how to transfer these tools into our own teaching contexts. We aim to implement at least one online tool in our teaching. And so there are still many things to ponder over. There are the things that may “surprise, confuse and inspire” us. And it is only your choice either use it or not.  We hope that this session will be a kind of beginning of taking the borders away to teach and learn.

Peer observation


Aktorgyn Agisbayeva, Gulzhanat Baigudanova, Ainura Amirova, Ulbossyn Kanseitova, Aigul Uteshkaliyeva, Gulnar Mukusheva

Peer observation is a process of teaching which mutually enhances the quality of teaching. It is cyclical, reciprocal and iterative process. We will consider this using the following questions such as who, why, what and how. To support peer observation a short workshop should be scheduled before the paired members of staff undertake observation to discuss demands, areas and methods of observation and teaching.

  • Who should participate in the observation? We believe that senior and junior staff and also the head of the department should be involved.
  • Why use peer observation? It is for own professional development and giving feedback (self-analysis, analysis of observer and some evaluations of the head of the department).
  • How should observation be done? It should be taken into consideration post observation discussion for observer and for teacher. Both of them should have the plan: the teacher should have the lesson plan and observer should have observation plan. All of these things under the discussion should have the exact criteria of observation.
  • What should be observed? Contemporary methods of teaching any subject and also improvement of students’ knowledge.
  • When should observation happen? Peer observation must be done according to the schedule. The scheme operates for all teaching staff (both on full and part time students) other than those on probation for whom arrangements for observing and evaluating teaching process.

We would like to say that using peer observation is necessary and useful for members of the department. We’ve come to the conclusion that there needs to be a mutual understanding and trust between peers.


The themes that the course participants have reflected upon above provide an indication of the areas of professional and pedagogic practice that they feel they have scope to develop in Kazakhstan.  We wish the participants well in their ongoing work and look forward to meeting more of their colleagues later this term.


Growth of private tuition tells story of mounting pressure on parents

Our recent research found that 5% of seven-year-olds and 22% of 11-year-olds were receiving extra academic tuition outside of regular school hours. This suggests mounting pressure is being put on parents to make sure their children “perform”, comparable to the performance pressures on schools to achieve good exam results.

We analysed data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking 19,000 children born in 2000 through childhood (so far at age three, five, seven and 11) and plans to continue to adulthood. We looked at the children’s out of school activity, at how it changed during primary school and at patterns of activity for children from different backgrounds. The sample we looked at contained about 11,000 children from a white background and about 2,000 from an ethnic minority background – similar proportions to those in the wider population.

Jump in private tuition

Our findings on the extent of children having private tuition, presented at the British Education Research Association conference in September, seem to be quite a lot higher than previous estimates – although of course we are rarely comparing the same groups of children. A paper by education researcher Judith Ireson found that of 3,000 children aged 10-18, 27% had a private tutor. It was only when she got to children aged 11 to 16-years-old living in London that the figures became as high as 40%.

What seems to shock about our figures is that at such a young age, seven years old, 5% of children are having tutoring of some kind. And substantial proportions of children at age 11 are having tutoring, either for English, maths or school entrance. This varied for different ethnic groups, but over 40% of children identifying as Indian, Black, and other (which includes Chinese) had some kind of tutoring.

What we don’t yet have is data on how to interpret these figures. Over the past ten years we have seen the “scholarisation of childhood”, through which parents face enormous pressure to use whatever resources available to them – including tutoring – to make effective choices about their children’s schooling.

Sometimes schools and parents can struggle to engage with each other. In this context, some parents give up and take their own action. This raises questions about the extent to which schools alone are responsible for their exam results – whether good or bad. But we do not know yet how effective private tuition is and how it might influence exam results.

Tough choices

Our research also found that extra tuition was most common among children whose mothers had a postgraduate degree – 30% – and least common among children whose mothers had no formal qualifications, though it was still relatively high at 19%. This suggests that parents with all types of educational backgrounds put an importance on education.

Our finding that music lessons were taken by 43% of children whose mothers had a postgraduate degree, but only 6% of children whose mothers had no qualifications, could lead us to speculate that less educated parents are choosing extra tuition rather than music lessons. But this would be conjecture and more research is needed to interpret this.

There was other good news in our research: most children (78%) help with chores at home, and 53% several times a week. One in ten children aged 11 have commitments at home, caring for elderly, sick or disabled family members at least once a week. It is not easy to find comparative historical figures for the same age – but one in ten seems much higher than other estimates.

What’s clear overall is that there is unequal access to out of school activities. The expense of the school day is shocking. At Newcastle University we are also carrying out an evaluation of Child North East’s work in schools to poverty proof the school day.

They have found that regular costs such as the cost of uniform, trips, homework, swimming lessons and badges, and pressure to collect charity money stigmatise children and parents. In one school, the holiday drama club costs £100 and so excludes a significant proportion of children. The cost of the end of school prom ranges from £250 to £1,000 per child – but students and parents feel pressured not to miss out.

The next phase of our research will be to look at whether there is an association between different after-school activities and educational attainment at age 11.

Written by: Professor of Educational Inclusion, 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.

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.

Three women and a camera

Developing a coaching partnership that crosses professional boundaries

Education conference season in September 2015 seemed more frenzied than even as ECER and BERA took many of us away from our desks for two subsequent weeks.  Researchers from CfLaT http://www.ncl.ac.uk/cflat/ gave many papers and workshops in both Budapest and Belfast, this blog is about just one of them and its back story.

Picture three women; Jo, Bib and Rachel.  If you saw us in a coffee shop or pub you would see us in animated conversation.  We might even be old school friends.  You might overhear us talking about our children and husbands or our holidays.  We would probably look like we had been chatting all day as we popped in and out of shops and impersonated ‘ladies who lunch’.  But this impression would ignore the real reasons for our conversations, and the shared passions that have brought us together.

What has this got to do with conference season?  Well we three women shared a conference presentation, the very last paper of the very last session, in the most distant seminar room of BERA 2015 in Belfast.  Our paper was entitled ‘Sustaining change through inter-professional coaching; developing communication-rich pedagogies’ and through it we explained how and why we had come to work together and what outcomes we are now able to identify.

So – a little background.  Jo and Bib are independent Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs), working in Derby. Their aim is to develop an evidence based model of support that enables the workforce in nurseries and primary schools to maximise the skills of all children who experience communication difficulties.  They have written about this work on the BERA blog https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/the-potential-of-inter-professional-learning-in-supporting-children-with-speech-language-and-communication-needs.  I (Rachel) am a teacher educator and researcher at Newcastle University. My research and teaching expertise is in teacher coaching and mentoring, including the use of video.  I have also written about this for the BERA blog https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/beyond-mentoring-peer-coaching-by-and-for-teachers-can-it-live-up-to-its-promise.   We have been working together for about two years (in part funded by a Newcastle University business development voucher) to develop a model of video-based specialist coaching for workplace learning through which Jo and Bib (as SLTs). We have worked with teachers and teaching assistants in a primary school (3-11 yrs) and a pre-school nursery (3-4 yrs) located in multi-cultural and multi-lingual communities in the East Midlands, UK.  In these settings 85% of the children are learning English as an additional language to their home language.  The coaching is designed to support the teachers’ and teaching assistants’ professional development to create communication-rich pedagogies, drawing on the research and practice evidence offered to them through the coaching.

The coaching approach was informed by models of teacher coaching (Lofthouse et. al., 2010) http://www.ncl.ac.uk/cflat/news/documents/5414_CfT_FINALWeb.pdf and video interaction guidance (Kennedy et al., 2009), and was rooted in learning which made deliberate and explicit work processes, learning activities and learning processes Eraut (2007).  It made deliberate use of video to allow the speech and language therapists to engage teachers and teaching assistants in conversation about their own classroom practices. Video is proving to be a great tool for professional development. Its value is described here  http://ipda.org.uk/thinking-beyond-the-toolkit-using-video-for-professional-learning-and-development/. We developed the coaching approach through collaborative action research as our combined motivations and work drove us to improve the practice through adopting an inquiry stance with a ‘continual process of making current arrangements problematic’ and assumed ‘that part of the work of practitioners individually and collectively is to participate in educational and social change’ (Cochran-Smith and Lytle 2009, 121).

At the same time we wanted to make sense of the role of the inter-professional coaching in shaping practices in the school and its impact on professional development.  We used a Theory of Change approach as a structure of two interview cycles, enabling multiple voices to inform both the development and evaluation of the intervention.  This ‘Mental model’ of Theory of Change privileges the knowledge & experience of stakeholders (school leaders and practitioners) who have their own ideas about how things will work. This approach is outlined as a case study in this CFLAT guide http://www.ncl.ac.uk/cflat/publications/documents/theoryofchangeguide.pdf.

So what have we learned?  Well at this point I hand over to those we interviewed. Amongst their comments we discovered that the coaching helped to build professional confidence,

“The discussion with the SLTs about my video clips was very reassuring. They found things I do well which I see as natural.  They asked me questions about my practice, they focused my attention on things I had noticed and gave me advice. This worked because the video coaching came at the end of the audit and training process, so I had got to know them and felt comfortable with them. I trusted them and accepted their feedback.  I feel more confident and reflective.” Nursery teaching assistant

We also found that video was significant in enhancing the coaching conversations,

“Although video was initially an uncomfortable experience through watching myself I noticed many of my own teaching and learning communication behaviours. I realised I needed to stop answering for children and also to give more thinking time.  I questioned the concept of ‘pace’. The coaching raised my awareness of the significance of the elements of the SLC training in my classroom.” Primary teacher

In terms of the development of the schools as learning organisations engagement of staff in coaching helped to change the culture in the settings,  

“There has been a definite shift from individual specialist coaching to staff coaching culture.  The setting is open plan and I now notice teachers and teaching assistants commenting to each other while they are working with the children, referring to commonly understood concepts which support SLC.  Because they are more informed their conversations with parents about SLC are more meaningful.”  Nursery headteacher

It also supported strategic capacity building

“While some impacts have been diluted by staff maternity and promotions to other schools the teachers who have been coached and remain in post are being given strategic roles in school to support NQTs or lead key stages, with an explicit intention to focus on communication-rich pedagogies with new colleagues.  This is being deliberately linked to a renewed whole-school focus on literary.” Primary headteacher

So, what can we conclude from this small scale development and research?  There is evidence here that specialist coaching can play a significant part in creating bespoke professional training. Coaching can create a neutral, non-judgmental space in which teachers’ own interactional practices can be exposed and made open to co-construction based on the relationship between pedagogic and communication knowledge and skills. The coaching approach formed a key component of an ecology for focused professional development, providing participants with common understandings, a shared language, a willingness to share ideas, and to be more open to self-evaluation and critique.   It also provided some of the ‘triggers’ and ‘glue’ which supported access to, and learning from, other CPD and the development of new leadership and support roles.

What next?  Well, that depends on spreading the good news, and also on developing strategies and structures that can fund the co-operation through coaching between speech and language specialists and the teachers and teaching assistants that can learn so much by working with them.

Blog by Dr Rachel Lofthouse

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

Applying Intelligence to Teacher Education

I was motivated to write this blog after Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, gave a speech about teacher recruitment and training at the Festival of Education, at Wellington College on the 18th June 2015  News reports focused on his attribution of blame to the media for putting off prospective teachers (hard on the tail of Nicky Morgan who has reached the same conclusion), while the assembled twitterati were evidently underwhelmed by his self-professed trumpet blowing about his own remarkable teaching. His speech was actually about was the crisis in teacher recruitment. Of particular significance was the worry that some schools are now out of the loop and no longer deemed appropriate for teaching placements, and that those same schools find recruiting teachers a challenge. As Wilshaw said ‘The prospect of the most successful schools cherry-picking the brightest and best for themselves, creating a polarised system between the strongest and weakest schools, has become a reality.’ Dr Mary Bousted (general secretary of the ATL) tweeted that Wilshaw was ‘spot on about teacher training crisis’ which really was an interesting moment of convergence.

structural changes at this scale can prevent us from looking hard at the details of practice

So, in the spirit of seeking out alternatives for a better future I returned to my blog written as part of a series published by the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal, written in the form of research-informed messages for the new government. My blog was a plea – a call to arms, a challenge to plan initial teacher education differently. Policy developments have sent schools and universities along journeys of structural change from HEI / school partnerships for teacher education to school-led provision for teacher training. But structural changes at this scale can prevent us from looking hard at the details of practice, as we become so busy re-organising (rather than reconceptualising) existing programmes, budgets and roles. In prioritising schools as providers of workplace learning we have affected the experiences of, and infrastructure for, teacher training. In the current system new teachers are immediately exposed to the performative culture of schools, having their individual successes and failures measured and graded from the moment they arrive, and becoming acutely aware of the relentless ‘standards agenda’. Prioritising teaching placements in the most successful schools reinforces this agenda, and convinces some prospective teachers that some places are much safer career destinations than others. As Wilshaw said in his speech ‘Unsurprisingly, the majority opt for a well-performing school in a nice area.’

We can rake over the irony of this statement, or we can look ahead. Wilshaw suggests ‘national service teachers, contracted directly with government and then deployed to a disadvantaged area’ and ‘more flexibility when deciding which schools can lead teacher training’. I suggest we need to focus on reducing the significant anxiety that many prospective and qualified teachers feel about training and working in more challenging contexts. I fear that student teachers are rarely encouraged to innovate and many simply learn how to survive. Instead of new teachers being a source of inspiration and innovation they adopt normative practices, and their potential and energy is not garnered for their individual benefit or that of the schools. In the worst cases, instead of building the necessary professional capacity to work flexibly to meet ever changing demands of the job, they become less resilient to the stresses of the job.

So, looking for a solution, my NISR blog was called ‘ProjectTeach – applying intelligence to teacher education’. It was a flight of fancy, but not fanciful, painting a picture of a different approach, with new pedagogic models of teacher education that have the capacity to change the professional outcomes. Through PROJECT-TEACH intelligent thinking would be applied to teacher training, drawing on the principles of successful learning organisations, coaching and project-based learning. I suggest that student teachers should be educated not only individually but also in teams which tackle real-life workplace challenges through projects based on research, development and practice. The teams would be supported by co-coaches who enable their team to develop collaborative, empowering and supportive relationships, as well as the knowledge and skills required for them to tackle the genuine challenges of teaching. The responsibility for the professional learning of all student teachers in a team becomes a collective one; each team is aiming for the best possible outcomes in terms of professional learning, pupil outcomes, and school development.

If we are to crack the recruitment crisis we need to make initial teacher education irresistible

Much successful adult learning is social and contextualised, and PROJECT-TEACH would enable new teachers to develop skills and knowledge through collaboration on authentic and rich learning tasks set in the realities of the full range of schools. The project briefs would be planned by drawing on the combined expertise of the professional and academic co-coaches who would design them to meet the ambitions of the host schools as well as to take account of the development stage of the new teachers. The Teacher Standards would develop significance in terms of long-term occupational capacity, rather than simply as a checklist of time and context limited competencies. If we are to crack the recruitment crisis we need to make initial teacher education irresistible – the best learning experience one can imagine, one which reinforces aspirant teachers sense of vocation rather than diminishes their sense of efficacy. We need new ideas – for now ProjectTeach is mine.

RACHEL LOFTHOUSE is the Head of Teacher Learning and Development for the Education section of 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. She has co-authored a successful book, published by Optimus, called Developing Outstanding Teaching and Learning (now in its second edition), which supports teachers and school leaders in improving pedagogy. She also writes regularly for professional publications and websites. Rachel is currently working with a range of educational practitioners, including those interested in community curriculum development and professional coaching for speech and language support in multicultural early years and primary settings. Through these diverse roles she supports individuals to make a positive impact on the educational outcomes for their own learners and communities.

Taken from BERA

Written by Rachel Lofthouse, Head of Teacher Learning and Development (Education Section)

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

‘Turning Schools Inside Out’: Developing Curriculum with Community Partners

In this blog I will be arguing that it would be extremely beneficial for many schools to engage in community curriculum making (CCM) whereby some of the curriculum is developed with community partners using community resources. It is notoriously difficult to define community, but suffice to say that such an approach would strongly feature the immediate locality but not be confined to it.

The Education Reform Act (1988) established in England that schools should follow a National Curriculum which lays out what subject knowledge and skills should be taught to school pupils. When first introduced, it was characterised by input regulation, in that copious content was specified as the chosen method of government control over schools. Successive reviews have chipped away at this content, and the preferred method of government control has become examination targets, or output regulation. There is a parallel context in the US where the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act imperatives work through state departments of education then down to districts and onto schools, creating strong pressures to teach to the test.

this is a very introverted system which determines curriculum, pedagogy and assessment strictly within the confines of the recognised education ‘industry’ following the policy lead of national government.

Anderson-Butcher et al. (p.161 ) critique the resultant school improvement process as follows ‘ … walled-in improvement planning reflects traditional thinking about schools as stand-alone institutions focused exclusively on young people’s learning and academic achievement, and also reinforces the idea that educators are the school improvement experts’. They argue that resources, opportunities and assets are ‘walled out’, creating an unnecessary gulf between in-school learning and out-of-school learning. In their view this is a very introverted system which determines curriculum, pedagogy and assessment strictly within the confines of the recognised education ‘industry’ following the policy lead of national government.

However it is increasingly argued (e.g. by the Cambridge Primary Review) that schools need greater freedom to offer a curriculum that is locally developed to reflect local resources, opportunities, issues and needs for a proportion of the school week.

The advantages

One of the early advantages one might expect from CCM is interest and engagement. Much CCM work would naturally be issues focused, either national/global issues in local context such as an ageing population or substantial local issues. Evidence from the Royal Society of Arts and our own local evidence in North East England is that primary and secondary students find such work compelling, especially when it brings them into contact with local residents and adults other than teachers.

At a time when many young people have vulnerable identities with regard to sexuality, appearance, personal finance and ethnicity a CCM approach can provide very valuable raw material in terms of role models and experience

A second major advantage is that CCM projects and enquiries have the potential to help students build more complex identities. Generally identity is multi-faceted (albeit with a core), has individual as well as social dimensions, and is dynamic as it is being constantly updated. At a time when many young people have vulnerable identities with regard to sexuality, appearance, personal finance and ethnicity a CCM approach can provide very valuable raw material in terms of role models and experience. At a more basic level students would get to meet a far wider range of people if their school is outward facing. So meeting a dietician, a curator, a care worker, a sound engineer, an allotment holder, a fashion buyer, a joiner or a university researcher can all add to an early store social capital, as well as create insights into working and volunteering worlds and career opportunities. A third advantage is that via CCM, students can undertake commissions for community partners, working to a brief, which gives meaning to their work. This counters the problem that school work only produced for one’s teacher to mark, grade and provide feedback/target can very easily lose any meaning beyond compliance. Furthermore such community or even school briefs can lead to a wide spectrum of project products including reports, displays, films, cartoons, events, plans, food, gadgets, webpages, guides and menus.   Although there is no clinching evidence, a compelling argument can be made that such approaches could have wider social leverage through encouraging more informed labour market choices, widening participation and greater social justice. These issues are significant research agendas.

Whilst many schools, particularly primaries, do use local issues and resources, so much is possible if schools open their curriculum development processes to community partners. For this to happen there is the need for mediators to help schools with process and for a very different model of accountability where much is devolved to the local level.

David Leat, Professor of Curriculum Innovation, Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT), School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University. David is the Executive Director of the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT) at Newcastle University and Professor of Curriculum Innovation. His 13 year geography school teaching career took him round the country, before becoming the geography teacher trainer at Newcastle from 1989 to 2000 and subsequently a researcher.

His research interests started with teaching thinking skills. In subsequent projects, he has been involved in research on Learning2Learn, metacognition and teacher coaching. Between 2001 and 2004, David worked on secondment for a government school improvement strategy, where he wrote many teacher development modules, including Big Concepts, Thinking Skills, Reflection and Coaching.

His current projects revolve around Inquiry/Project Based Curriculum and Community Curriculum Making, in which schools, teachers, students and school partners have far more control over and responsibility for the curriculum. David has worked with Professor Sugata Mitra on both Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) and Skype Grannies/Seniors.

Taken from BERA

Written by David Leat, Professor of Curriculum Innovation