CfLaT Newsletter – January 2017

CfLaT Headlines

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



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

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

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

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

For more information and up-dates, contact


We have three important announcements:

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

2. We have nearly finished editing our groundbreaking ‘Guide to Community Curriculum Making’ – copies will be available very soon –;

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

Contact Ulrike Thomas ( or David Leat ( if you want to know more about any or all of these announcements.



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

For more information, contact:

CfLaT ‘working together’ at Civic Centre event


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

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



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

Findings included:

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

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

Further information about the study can be found at

What is LTHE..?


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

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

Collective blog post:

Blog post by Professor Roza Zhussupova:
For more information, contact:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The toolkit can be found at: Please take a look!

What is LTHE and what is its contribution to learning?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here are some of their responses …

Cultural experiences – academic and beyond

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

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


Professional learning-improving own knowledge and skills

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


Developing students experience – innovative technologies and e-learning

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

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

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


Learning from and through collaboration

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Jordan-Daus

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

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

Sam Twisleton

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

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

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

Some of our current Newcastle University PGCE students

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

Written by Dr Rachel LofthouseHead of Education, Newcastle University.

From private conversations to public dialogue reflections on a European research workshop

ecer group

The scene

Picture the scene; it was a sunny August Friday afternoon on the last day of a four day European conference in Dublin. We found our session venue and we organised ourselves and our resources for our workshop. Writing the conference abstract in January seemed a very long time ago, but we had spent some time since then re-visiting our understanding of our proposition which we had articulated as follows:

Visual models can be used as tools because they have the potential to facilitate effective research and practice partnership.

In our workshop we wanted to unpack this idea and create a space in which we could explore it further with the participants.  So, we went armed with three examples from our own work, each one illustrating a different type of use, as well as a suite of other models on posters that we were offering as stimulus.  We overcame the two problems which beset us; firstly finding that the posters had got jammed inside the cardboard tube which needed to be attacked with scissors to allow them to be levered out, and secondly realising that the scheduling of the session meant that some potential participants were already on their way to Dublin airport.  On the flip side we were grateful for the 1970s classroom with breezeblock walls on which we could blu-tac our posters with gusto (we had feared one of the pristine new seminar rooms), and we welcomed our session chair (ex-CfLaT colleague Elaine Hall) and our small band of enthusiastic workshop participants.

The idea

So, what do we mean by our proposition? In recent years CfLaT researchers have developed a range of visual methods to aid participation in research and our workshop extended this theme.  It came about because we each had found ourselves planning or reviewing a number of our research projects which to some extent relied on partnership working, and recognising that in some of them visual representations of ideas played a key role.  We consider these to be models – in the sense that the visual representations offered a way to demonstrate key concepts, allowing us to work out and share ideas that were relevant to specific contexts but could also articulate more generalizable ideas. However we also recognised that the models were rarely static but instead were active in the partnerships; they acted as tools.  Our initially reflections on our experiences were grounded in theory. We suggest that tools used or created within of research partnerships are able to perform epistemic functions and having catalytic qualities. In other words they act as part of the knowledge-transfer and knowledge-building aspects of research in partnerships.  They also can function as boundary objects supporting boundary crossing within research partnerships. This can be quite literal – they can physically be passed between participants whose experiences on either side of boundaries might otherwise be difficult to connect and learn from (e.g. the boundary between academic researchers and young people in their communities). During our conversations we started to develop our own conceptual lens which was built on our recent experiences.

Unpacking our thinking

We see research partnerships as sites for learning, in that they can provide opportunities for reciprocal learning, which is a way of enacting partnership. Our experience suggests that using and developing models has many potential benefits to aid partnership. These benefits include; encouraging reflexivity and criticality, adding a dynamic to dialogue, enabling mapping of experiences, providing a relational platform and acting as a visual mediation of encounters. We argue that models as tools to aid research partnerships are primarily used in three different ways, and it was this that we explored in our ECER workshop.

Firstly we consider models as tools for Application.  We expressed this as applying a model to make existing theories more accessible to the participants of research and practice partnerships. The model could be inputted into the research and practice partnership at any stage, perhaps helping to create a framework for research design, or acting with explanatory power. We illustrated this through a HASS faculty PVC-funded research project in which A practice development led model for individual professional learning and institutional growth developed through Rachel’s PhD is being applied to research focus groups. In these settings it acts as a tool to stimulate debate, support reviews of current practice, and enable new learning and opportunities for practice development.

Secondly we consider models as tools for Elaboration. In our experience models can be generated and / or adapted as an inherent and developmental part of the research and practice process to scaffold learning within the partnership. We used Theory of Change as our illustration, which Karen has significant experience of. These models provide a way of encourage research partners to take an active role in conceptualising approaches to evaluation (for example of educational interventions or programmes). Developing a collaborative theory of change helps to focus participants’ thinking to reveal what might be in the black box of systems change, from inception, through to implementation and evaluation of outcomes.  The process also provides a focus for dialogue and a vehicle for exposing contradiction and building consensus in partnerships.

Finally we consider models as tools for Creation. Creating new models as an outcome of research partnerships helps to synthesise and conceptualise emerging learning, allowing research partners to engage in theorising, verification and knowledge-construction allowing the development of theorised practice. To illustrate this we used the Collaborative action research model which resulted from partnership work between Rachel and independent speech and language therapists to develop a new inter-professional coaching approach.


Moving forward

So, following our workshop where are we now? Well it was reassuring that we were not laughed out of Dublin-town – while we had a small audience they each actively engaged with our ideas and started to interrogate them from early on the workshop.  Luckily we had 90 minutes in which discussion could flow – a definite advantage of a workshop format over a conference paper. Each participant offered some personal insight, and in doing so revealed that they had not thought about models in the way that we had.  So we at least felt we were offering them something new to take away, and indeed they offered reflections on what this might be – whether it was related to their current research or indeed their teaching partnerships.  We were able to rehearse our ideas, both in our preparation for the workshop and in its execution. Taking an idea from a relatively private space to public scrutiny can generate anxiety, but also creates an opportunity for reflection, sense-making and further learning.  The advantage of working together meant that one of us was able to take notes while the other focused on facilitating conversation – and soon we will find time to review what emerged and was noteworthy.  Thus we have new ideas which we will take back into our own research or practice partnerships, and we also have a sense of the degree to which our thinking about models as tools to support research partnerships is valid.  Plans for publication will ensue.

Written by Dr Rachel LofthouseHead of Education and Karen LaingCfLaT Senior Research Associate, Newcastle University.

References for the 3 models:

Practice development led model for individual professional learning and institutional growth

Theory of Change

Collaborative action research model


Learning outdoors in school grounds

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


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

Re-thinking teaching and learning

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

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


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

Teacher development and learning

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

BREXIT – initial thoughts on effects on our schools

Alea iacta est, the die is cast! With 5am last Friday morning it was obvious that a majority (51.9%) of the UK electorate had voted for BREXIT. By lunchtime it was clear what BREXIT means for the leadership of the country as well as the conservative party: change. Change is approached differently by all of us, some of us are anxious and some are embracing change and try to see the opportunities change will bring. However, considering BREXIT there are so many unknowns; some of us might still be hoping that the European Union might offer the new prime minister a better REMAIN deal, an option that has been particularly featured in some of the German speaking press. We won’t know immediately what this change called “BREXIT” means. We have entered a period of waiting, and a period of leadership discussion. The optimist in me is looking forward to a more factual, scientific and less emotional debate in preparing for the negotiations with the EU when the UK government finally decides to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Considering these future negotiations, education, without doubt, might not be on the highest of the agenda. Chris Husbands opened his BERA blog last week with the words that the EU referendum “has nothing to do with education – certainly not with schools”. In the course of his blog, Husbands makes a strong argument why the referendum does actually have to do with education but doesn’t refer back to schools. As an educator, teacher trainer and someone who has been working on teacher supply policy over the past five years, I would argue that BREXIT is likely to have quite a bit of an impact on our schools.

Teacher supply, and the lack of it in some subjects, has been part of the education debate in this country for at least 20 years. Through the freedom of movement arrangements within the European Union it has been possible for the Department for Education to rely on teachers from European countries to fill some of these vacant posts. In fact, we even welcomed them by accepting their European teacher qualifications and attributed them the status of “Qualified Teacher”.

These teachers are not just a solution to the staffing problem but they are also an invaluable asset to the school and its community; they bring a new perspective, new culture, new approaches and often alternative ways of working and thinking to the community. At a time where ‘otherness’ is leading to anxiety and fear in our society, it is our moral responsibility as educators and policy makers to ensure that our learners are actively engaging with people from different nations, cultures and customs. Yes, one might argue that this might not be of such an importance when we have disconnected ourselves from the European Union, I would argue that it will be much more important, as we won’t be automatically part of it. We will have to negotiate partnerships for ourselves rather than being part of a European Union scheme, such as Comenius or Erasmus+.

Erasmus+, and previously Comenius, have enabled school leaders to have access to additional funds to motivate, engage and most importantly develop their young learners as well as accomplish innovative school improvement initiatives. One headteacher reported to me that he received over €490k by applying successfully to different EU schemes over an eight-year period.

And then there are those educational activities that I would argue are vital for a child’s development, i.e. trips and exchange programmes to European Union countries. Yes, some might argue school trips in recent years have declined anyway – but this is not due to the European Union, this is a purely UK self-inflicted decrease by constantly increasing the red tape and highlighting the risks rather than the opportunities of such mobility programmes. Practical schemes such as the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) have not just reduced the costs of international trips but ensured that our pupils and teachers are able to access adequate medical care while travelling within the EU zone.

All these are examples of how the UK has benefitted from being part of the European Union. Yes, the die is cast! However, this does not mean that all is lost for the country, its partnership with the European Union as well as for education and schools more specifically. It is now essential that we all, politicians, experts, embassy representatives, school and business leaders, unions, subject associations and parents work closely together to identify ways forward in a partnership with the European Union in order to ensure that this BREXIT referendum outcome does not negatively affect our next generation – a generation that would have so much more wished to be part of a united Europe than a potentially isolated and de-united (Great) Britain.

Taken from BERA


Husbands, Chris (2016): Yesterdays and tomorrows: what the referendum says about education. BERA Blog, Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Written by:

René Koglbauer

René Koglbauer is Senior Lecturer in Educational Leadership and Director of the North Leadership Centre at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. René is currently also acting head of the school. René is President of the Association for Language Learning and Director of Network for Languages North East. He is member of a number of regional, national and international policy groups. René represents the UK at the International German Teacher Association and is chair of a number of competition and teacher award panels. Prior to his university appointment, René held a number of roles in secondary education in the UK, Hungary, Russia and his country of origin, Austria.

René can be contacted by email or via twitter @Rene_Koglbauer

For more information see:

The Three Doctors

According to Wikipedia ‘The Three Doctors’ is the first serial of the tenth season of Doctor Who, first broadcast from 30 December 1972 to 20 January 1973. It featured the first three Doctors which made it the first Doctor Who story in which an earlier incarnation of the Doctor returns to the show.’  Now, 43 years later we offer a new narrative of the Three Doctors, and we are celebrating ‘the power of three’.  In the last twelve months we (three Education colleagues from CfLaT in ECLS) have been successfully completed our PhDs by publication.  Despite the fact that at many times in the past our achievements have felt like remote and impractical goals, we can now proudly add ‘Dr’ to our name.  In universities many academics only start their careers after they have been awarded PhDs, but in schools like ours this is not always the case.  There are legitimate reasons to recruit lecturers and researchers with professional knowledge and skills-sets and allow them to build academic interests and trajectories once in post.  We are pleased to be able to point to each other and share the fact that this can be done!

So what does our work for PhDs for publication consist of?  Well each of us has a unique publication profile, and this is what we drew upon to write the final doctoral statements and to engage in examination by viva.  Collectively our PhDs include 23 publications in total, published over 20 years (if counted back to back).  Of these there are 20 peer-reviewed articles (in 11 different journals), 3 chapters or book contributions, and 3 research reports.  Alongside single-authored publications we have had the privilege of working with 15 co-authors, 11 of whom are (or were) ECLS colleagues and 4 of whom were partners from other universities and professional colleagues. Those numbers are one way to illustrate the range, depth and reach of our work.  What follows are three paragraphs which describe what our work is about.  You can find out more about the publications by accessing our staff profiles.

jill C edited jpeg

Dr Jill Clark – The journey of researching on to researching with – theoretical and methodological challenges with educational research

In my thesis I discussed the structural (and challenging) issues of arranging participatory research whilst recognising the value of it. In practice, as researchers, we are constrained (to a greater or lesser extent) by the needs of funders, and commissioners.

Throughout my work, I have been developing ideas on how visual methods in particular can be participatory and why visual research methods work based on the ideas of participation. In my thesis I suggest that we can manage a research encounter with reference to visual methods and the added value that this can bring to participatory research. I first raised the question of whether certain methods are more appropriate to particular groups of participants and whether there is a benefit to using a range of methods over attempting to identify one successful method. What I have learnt is that participatory research it is not simply a matter of grafting a few new techniques onto a ‘traditional’ research process.

In my thesis I articulated the benefits that visual methods in addition to participatory research can bring. The argument is based on the premise that by being participatory and inclusive we can seek the views of as wide a range of participants as possible. I agree with other researchers that participatory methods can produce ‘better’ knowledge than other techniques. By using visual methods then we are able to ask things in a different way, thus generating a combination of views from many different people. This in turn can generate different types of knowledge, leading to a more complete research process and therefore the research as a whole is better.

RL Oct 2015

Dr Rachel Lofthouse – Metamorphosis and meaning: developing exemplary knowledge for teacher education

I have used my PhD to answer two core questions: 1) How has my practice as a university-based teacher educator shaped my understanding of professional learning? 2) How has my scholarship led to the creation of models of professional learning and how might these models be of value in practice?

During the period of research, and with an accelerating pace, teacher educators have been forced to rapidly adapt to new policy initiatives for teacher ‘training’ and professional development in England. This coincides with a time when schools are dealing with ever-increasing demands to ‘perform’ in relation pupil attainment. This socio-cultural backdrop creates new dependencies, for example raising the demands on those within and joining the teaching profession to create a ‘self-improving school led system’. It opens up opportunities for professional learning, but also creates tensions as activity systems collide.  The publications of this PhD represent a variety of lived experiences of educational practice – either mine or teachers’.  My research and experience has contributed the development of models of professional learning which have evolved through the duration of my critical reflection on my publications and current research and practice.  This leads me to propose a practice development led model for individual professional learning and institutional growth, the metamorphosis of which is articulated through the doctoral statement.


Dr Maria Mroz – Recognition and support of children with speech, language and communication needs: knowledge, policy and practice.

The thesis considers how teachers firstly recognise and then support children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and secondly how specific activities provided by the university might enable mentors to support trainee teachers’ understanding of language development. It discusses how the three elements of: teacher knowledge of language development, the reality of practice and the impact of policy might influence the identification and support of pupils with SLCN. The thesis uses a variety of research methods including interview, questionnaire and desk-based research.

Teachers wish to identify and support children with SLCN but need further training and assistance to do this due to both the heterogeneous nature of the group and the complexity of the teacher role. Teacher knowledge of language development is shaped by their interactions between their personal understanding of teaching and learning, the practice in their environment, the pupils they teach and the policies they work within (Day et al., 2006), all of which can impact upon their capacity to identify and support children with SLCN. Finally University and school partnerships have the potential to develop students’ knowledge language development although a number of factors need to be addressed to ensure greater realisation.

‘Teaching maths for mastery in ITE: Raise the water, raise the boats’

In December staff from ITE providers gathered in London for the ‘Teaching Mathematics for Mastery’ conference, jointly organised by the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT).

Speakers from NCETM presented information on what trainee teachers need to know and understand about teaching for mastery, while ITE providers’ shared approaches for embedding teaching for mastery within ITE programmes.  The role of Maths Hubs working in partnership with ITE providers was also presented.

The mastery of mathematics is the desired outcome for all pupils, so that learners develop a deep, long-term, secure and adaptable understanding of the subject.

This is in line with the vision of the 2014 national curriculum for mathematics with the aims that all pupils:

  • become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics, including through varied and frequent practice with increasingly complex problems over time, so that pupils develop conceptual understanding and the ability to recall and apply knowledge rapidly and accurately.
  • reason mathematically by following a line of enquiry, conjecturing relationships and generalisations, and developing an argument, justification or proof using mathematical language.
  • can solve problems by applying their mathematics to a variety of routine and non-routine problems with increasing sophistication, including breaking down problems into a series of simpler steps and persevering in seeking solutions.

The expectation is that the majority of pupils will move through the national curriculum programmes of study at broadly the same pace but those who are not sufficiently fluent with earlier material should consolidate their understanding, including through additional practice, before moving on.

The content and principles underpinning the new mathematics curriculum reflect those found in high performing education systems internationally, particularly those of east and south-east Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea and

China. Though there are many differences between the education systems of England and those of east and south-east Asia, the suggestion is that we learn from the mastery approach to teaching commonly followed in these countries.

Principles of Teaching Maths for Mastery

The approach based on mastery is characterised by certain principles:

  • The use of mathematical representations that expose the underlying structure of the mathematics;
  • Children are helped to make sense of concepts and achieve fluency through carefully structured questions, exercises and problems that use conceptual and procedural variation to provide ‘intelligent practice’, which develops conceptual understanding and procedural fluency in parallel;
  • Whole class discussion, precise questioning and intelligent practice, are blended, where necessary, with individual support.

Pupils will have developed mastery when they demonstrate:

  • procedural fluency, factual knowledge and conceptual understanding (rapid and accurate recall and application of facts and concepts)
  • a growing confidence to reason mathematically
  • the ability to apply mathematics to solve problems, to conjecture and to test hypotheses.

There’s nothing particularly new about this but the widespread use of the word ‘mastery’ in relation to mathematics teaching and mathematics learning is relatively new.  Some of the implications of implementing and embedding teaching for mastery approaches to teaching mathematics are also new and have required some schools and ITE providers to make changes to their practice.

Reviewing Practice – Meeting the needs of all pupils

One of the changes requires a shift away from labelling pupils as ‘high ability’ or ‘low ability’.  NCETM’s Director, Charlie Stripp states, “it may well be the case that one of the most common ways we use differentiation in primary school mathematics… has had, and continues to have, a very negative effect on the mathematical attainment of our children at primary school and throughout their education.”

Standard approaches to differentiation commonly used in primary school maths lessons involve some children being identified as ‘mathematically weak’ and being taught a reduced curriculum with ‘easier’ work to do, whilst others are identified as ‘mathematically able’ and given extension tasks.  Stripp argues that terms such as ‘weaker’ and ‘able’ are subjective, and imply that children’s ability in maths is fixed and this may be very damaging in several ways:

For the children identified as ‘mathematically weak’:

  1. They are aware that they are being given less-demanding tasks, and this helps to fix them in a negative ‘I’m no good at maths’ mindset that will blight their mathematical futures.
  2. Because they are missing out on some of the curriculum, their access to the knowledge and understanding they need to make progress is restricted, so they get further and further behind, which reinforces their negative view of maths and their sense of exclusion.
  3. Being challenged (at a level appropriate to the individual) is a vital part of learning. With low challenge, children can get used to not thinking hard about ideas and persevering to achieve success.

For the children identified as ‘mathematically able’:

  1. Extension work, unless very skilfully managed, can encourage the idea that success in maths is like a race, with a constant need to rush ahead, or it can involve unfocused investigative work that contributes little to pupils’ understanding. This means extension work can often result in superficial learning. Secure progress in learning maths is based on developing procedural fluency and a deep understanding of concepts in parallel, enabling connections to be made between mathematical ideas. Without deep learning that develops both of these aspects, progress cannot be sustained.
  2. Being identified as ‘able’ can limit pupils’ future progress by making them unwilling to tackle maths they find demanding because they don’t want to challenge their perception of themselves as being ‘clever’ and therefore finding maths easy.

In the mastery approach teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in mathematics.  The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace. Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention. The use of whole class teaching is a move away from giving pupils different tasks. Teachers who employ a mastery approach to teaching mathematics do not differentiate their maths teaching by restricting the mathematics that ‘weaker’ children experience, whilst encouraging ‘able’ children to ‘get ahead’ through extension tasks. Instead, teachers employing a mastery approach expose almost all of the children to the same curriculum content at the same pace, providing differentiation by offering rapid support and intervention to address each individual pupil’s needs. Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge, and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up.  This requires time for the teacher to think carefully about the concepts – to choose questions for conceptual reasons and carefully prepare models and representations which support generalisation.

In the early primary years, the amount of mathematical topics handled in class is reduced, but more time is spent dealing with each topic, so that early understanding is cemented. Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.  Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.

Implications for ITE Providers

The widespread implementation of mastery within ITE will bring with it challenges that providers will need to overcome.  These include the need to develop providers’ and partnership schools’ understanding of the principles of mastery.

There exist influences within Primary Education that shape teachers’ current practice which may need to be challenged.  The way in which the National Numeracy Strategy was interpreted by some led to many schools rigidly teaching one hour maths lessons, utilising a 3-part lesson structure.  Often lessons consist of teacher explanation followed by pupil practice (completing worksheets containing routine problems).  There is often a low level of teacher-pupil interaction within the lesson.  A further challenge is that teachers are familiar with assessment through levels (and sub levels) and are not yet certain of assessment without levels.

Trainee teachers will need opportunities to embed the principles of mastery, but schools may resist this.  The challenge is to change established attitudes held by teachers, to enable them and trainees to teach in a mastery way, even though many have not experienced mastery.  Some school-based trainers may also have fixed ability thinking and practices.  This mindset will also need to be challenged.  Solutions to these challenges may include continuing professional development in the form of school-based training for mentors, ‘Teaching for Mastery’ events and involvement in Maths Hub projects.  In the North East region, Maths Hubs include the Great North Maths Hub and the Archimedes NE Maths Hub.

For further information follow the link to:

A presentation to teachers on teaching for mastery by Debbie Morgan NCETM Director for Primary, December 2015


‘I don’t need the British to communicate in English’. Social connectedness and the international student experience

The ‘international student experience’ is of increasing interest to researchers, educators and policy-makers alike. Social connectedness has been found to be key to the quality of this experience, both in terms of student wellbeing and adjustment to new academic and sociocultural environments (Ward et al., 2001). International students typically lack familiar social support structures in the host country, making the formation of social ties a paramount objective for this group. Study abroad is therefore, first and foremost, a social experience.

there is overwhelming evidence that international students, across different locations, struggle to instigate and maintain meaningful contact with local people

Research suggests that international students typically form social ties with three distinct groups: co-nationals, host nationals, and other international students (Hendrickson et al., 2011, Schartner, 2015). Of these, social contact with host nationals, or ‘local people’, is often seen as especially desirable, both by researchers and students themselves, not least for the perceived benefits in terms of linguistic and cultural learning. However, there is overwhelming evidence that international students, across different locations, struggle to instigate and maintain meaningful contact with local people, often despite their best efforts. Seventy per cent of postgraduate students surveyed by UKCISA in 2004 reported not having any British friends at all. Where host contact does occur, this tends to be limited to functional and formulaic encounters. As one student in my own research put it, ‘It’s just the lady I meet in Tesco or the cab driver’ (Schartner, 2015). In light of these findings, some speak of a ‘ghettoization’ of international students on our campuses (Deardorff, 2009), while others fear that lack of host contact may lead to feelings of disillusionment and disenchantment among this group (Brown, 2009).

But is ‘host’ necessarily ‘best’? There is now increasing evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, that friendships with ‘comparable others’ (i.e. peers also going through the study abroad experience) can enable international students to have a positive experience independent of the host society. These ‘international communities of practice’ (Montgomery & McDowell, 2009) have been found to not only augment students’ sense of wellbeing and belonging, but also to boost their academic performance (Young et al., 2013). Likewise, research has shown that social ties with co-nationals, whether face-to-face or via social media, are of vital importance to international students’ wellbeing (Schartner, 2015). Nonetheless, these bonds are often discouraged or sneered at, to the point that students feel they ought to avoid any contact with their compatriots during their time abroad.

Contact with host nationals appears to be no longer the single most important factor for achieving integration with the host environment

So should host universities advocate international and co-national ties as a valuable alternative to host contact? I would dare to answer this question with a tentative yes. Contact with host nationals appears to be no longer the single most important factor for achieving integration with the host environment. Instead, international students seem to obtain the most effective support from their sojourning peers, including opportunities to develop their language skills. As one of my students recently put it, ‘I don’t need the British to communicate in English’.

International students arguably want to belong, but whether this must necessarily mean ‘fitting in’ with host nationals is doubtful. This raises the question whose need it is to achieve integration with hosts. One wonders whether it is in fact the institutional endeavour to achieve ‘internationalisation at home’ that drives and perpetuates the notion that host is best.

Contact with ‘home’ students and the local community at large should of course be encouraged wherever possible, but the number of British friends may not be the best, or only, indicator for the quality of international students’ social experience at UK universities. Perhaps it is time to call for a more holistic and inclusive understanding of social integration, one that acknowledges the multilingual and multicultural reality international students encounter at our universities.


Brown, L. (2009). A failure of communication on the cross-cultural campus.Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(4), 439- 454.

Deardorff, D. K. (2009). Connecting international and domestic students. In M. Andrade & N. Evans (Eds.), International students: Strengthening a critical resource. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Hendrickson, B., Rosen, D., & Aune, K. (2011). An analysis of friendship networks, social connectedness, homesickness, and satisfaction levels of international students. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(3), 281–295.

Montgomery, C., & McDowell, L. (2009). Social networks and the international student experience: A community of practice? Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(4), 455–466.

Schartner, A. (2015). ‘You cannot talk with all of the strangers in a pub.’ A longitudinal case study of international postgraduate students’ social ties at a British University. Higher Education, 69(2), 225-241.

UKCOSA (2004), Broadening Our Horizons: International Students in UK Universities and Colleges, UKCOSA: London.

Ward, C., Bochner, S., & Furnham, A. (2001). The psychology of culture shock(2nd Ed.). Hove: Routledge.

Young, T. J., Sercombe, P. G., Sachdev, I., Naeb, R., & Author, (2013). Success factors for international postgraduate students’ adjustment: Exploring the roles of intercultural competence, language proficiency, social contact and social support. European Journal of Higher Education, 3, 151-171.

Taken from: BERA

Written by Alina Schartner, Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University


Hello and welcome to the Education blog from the School of ECLS, Newcastle University.


The staff and students in Education conduct research in a range of areas, and this blog offers them opportunities to share this informally.  If you read on you will see contributions from research staff such as those in our research centres, reflections on our taught programmes from both students and staff, and posts from our students and visitors on learning that goes well beyond the university itself.  If you would like to contribute a blog post please contact your programme leader.  We look forward to continuing to build this blog as a living archive of educationally interesting posts.