Author Archives: Sheffield Institute of Education

Flouting the rules on Covid-19: Things the Government could learn from schools about behaviour management

With ‘lockdown’ well-established, no-one can be in doubt about Government rules and guidelines.  However, only recently the BBC News reported anti-social behaviour being on the increase. There will be those who always misbehave, however, daily I see larger than permitted groups of, I am sure, ‘normally law-abiding citizens’ gathered, playing, or simply enjoying the recent sunshine. This is particularly concerning given the volume of media reminders.

After 35 years in teaching, behaviour support and consultancy and then teacher training, not to mention five years as a Magistrate, I cannot help but reflect on what might be learned from behaviour approaches in schools and the experience of teachers and specialists.

All schools have behaviour strategies based on clear rules and routines, using rewards and sanctions, to encourage behavioural responsibility in children. Crucially they also recognise how individuals and groups are thinking and feeling about their experiences. The work of not-for-profit group Trauma Informed Schools, promotes the role of on the ‘emotionally available adult’, often a teacher, supporting children in making good choices: the footballer Ian Wright’s recent tearful reminiscences on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs programme about his teacher Mr Pigden were a poignant example of this.

So, what can current leaders learn from ‘child behaviour experts’ to influence normally ‘law-abiding’ adults seen flouting the rules? We need rules and regulations to establish appropriate and acceptable ways for us to act and respond to each other. However, there is tremendous individual variation in social norm compliance. Some people would never push in a queue, or act unfairly, whereas others do not think twice in this period of stringent restrictions?

There are helpful theories which form the basis of most school approaches. The American psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner believed in reinforcement, with behaviour dependent on the consequences of previous actions. With negative consequences there is a higher chance the action will not be repeated. A current consequence of transgression is a fine, but perhaps not high enough to provide a sufficient deterrent?

Lev Vygotsky, on the other hand, believed our childhood environment influences us that we learn from ‘more knowledgeable members of the culture’. Perhaps the government should be targeting the better-behaved ‘knowledgeable others’ as potential thought leaders, including making greater use of messages making ‘not staying at home’ socially unacceptable. This might include using humour as Miranda Hart does in one of BBC’s current public information clips.

I see powerful arguments for a ‘blended’ approach’ with a rigorously-enforced sanctions and strategies to engage communities and to motivate them to make positive choices for the good of all.  There are signs of improvement and of greater cooperation, but not yet enough.

These are difficult times, particularly with certain prescribed behaviours increasingly appearing to be accepted and perhaps seen to be condoned by those in power? There are also those current very grey areas around personal decision making and perceived injustices that I’m sure we talk about?

However, those still in doubt about the need for culture change, in addition to sanctions, might heed the words of Shaun Sawyer, Chief Constable Devon & Cornwall at the commencement of lockdown:

“If a £60 ticket makes you do something and 684 people dying yesterday didn’t, then I think you’ve got to take a good look at yourself as to whether you’ve realised the seriousness and significance of where we are.”

Written by Mark Heaton , Principal Lecturer at the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University

Covid-19 and the Battle for the Control of Teaching

Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, there has been a strong wave of public support for key workers and this has included teachers; for example, they are explicitly mentioned on the front page of the clap for our carers website. However there are widely differing views about the crucial role of schools and teachers in enabling the economy to begin to return to something like normal. On one side the right wing press – and the Education Secretary – cleverly placed this as a call to the ‘duty’ of teachers, positioning ‘hero’ teachers in opposition to the teacher unions. On the other, many parents are concerned about the safety of schools for their children. Other UK nations – not to mention some English LAs – take the view that it is unsafe to open schools so soon, as we can see. Meanwhile, the Children’s Commissioner argues that disadvantaged children need to return to school quickly.

Whatever emerges in the short term, I want to focus on a wider set of issues that link to these differing views, all of which relate to longstanding concerns about the primary purposes of schooling and policy responses.

Firstly, the decision to award GCSE, A Level and end of Primary SATs grades without testing highlights a key issue: England’s testing-heavy education system. As our research shows, preparation for SATs takes up a huge proportion of time at the upper primary age, and the results are treated with suspicion by secondary schools which retest children as soon as they arrive in Y7. If we can do without SATs this year, then the case becomes stronger for fewer high-stakes national tests, with alternatives such as sample-based testing to judge school performance.

Secondly, and most importantly in the immediate aftermath, is the already apparent increase in inequality. In its most visceral form, the loss of free school meals and botched provision of replacement vouchers has laid bare the poverty many of our children are living in; and a recent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report has demonstrated the difference in educational experiences under lockdown between the most and least advantaged. There are particular issues facing those students transitioning between education phases. Policy makers will need to prioritise addressing this: Education Policy Institute (EPI) research provides some useful policy suggestions including doubling pupil premium and supporting one to one and small group tuition.

Thirdly, the argument about returning to school demonstrates that schools are about more than formal education and creating a skilled workforce. Current UK government policy favours (in England) a test-based, strongly subject-focused curriculum and accountability system, as a colleague and I discussed in an article comparing the manifestos of the main parties at the recent election. However, Covid-19 highlights the wider role of schools, in relation to social, mental and physical health as noted by the Children’s Commissioner, well beyond preparation for exams. In the coming months, schools will be required to deal with these issues, and government will need to respond.

I conclude with three inter-related approaches that government should consider, to address the issues raised in this brief piece. Firstly, to address widening educational equalities the EPI suggestions on pupil support should be considered. Secondly, specific resourcing of child social and health support should be put in place. Thirdly, as we move into the next phase of the crisis, this resource needs to be effectively linked to schools, which will rapidly be placed in the front line of public policy responses to the effects of Covid-19 on children and young people.

Written by Professor Mike Coldwell , Head of Contract Research & Knowledge Transfer, Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University

Thinking about NQTs in the Covid Era

Covid-19 has brought such a range of challenges for everyone working in the education sector. This includes an important group who are feeling very vulnerable right now – those who are about to become Newly Qualified Teachers.

We all know that education is going to be one of the most important features of the rebuilding (and maybe even to some extent reimagining) of our communities and society going forward. It is therefore more important than ever that we look after those who represent such an important part of the teaching profession’s future.

The good news is that from my recent experience, this incoming set of NQTs are already stepping up in preparation for their important role. Some are serving the school communities they belong to by supporting with remote learning or for example volunteering help with free school meal deliveries often whilst juggling a range of other commitments. All are seizing the opportunity to really look after their own professional development by combining the work set by their ITE providers with a more personalised approach that focuses on their individual priorities.

However, they are also very worried about the time they are missing in the classroom and the impact this may have on their confidence and competence in September. We do need to take their fears seriously. The final third of a PGCE year is typically mainly spent in school and is usually a huge growth point in the making of a new teacher. The absence of this is bound to be severely felt and we need to be mindful of this when supporting and adjusting our expectations for teachers taking up their first jobs next year.

In my experience, however, the anxiety they are experiencing right now is being channelled in positive and useful ways. I have been so impressed with how seriously they are taking the challenge of maximising the time they have between being so suddenly and traumatically disrupted from the school-based element of their ITE and when they will be back in the classroom.

The fact that lockdown is happening during the period of ITE where accelerated growth usually happens on final school placement does not mean that they are still not able to continue to develop while a step removed. Taking time to really stand back and reflect and use the range of tools available to analyse teaching and learning with forensic detail may prove to be extremely beneficial when they do return to the classroom.

Many are availing themselves of the tremendous online CPD being made available by organisations like the Chartered College of Teaching and the Teacher Development Trust. To do this alongside scrutinization of online teaching for pupils in the form of (for example) the Oak Academy could be so beneficial. The ability to really study how others make complex concepts accessible and meaningful to pupils at different stages is a great benefit and is likely to prove so useful in the future. Bringing together thinking about the bigger picture of what teachers are there to do for their learners with studying micro-moments of practice is such a supportive process for new teachers.

Come September it is very likely that all in school – from new teachers to senior leaders will inevitably be rightly focused on very practical issues. Establishing new socially distanced routines, relationships and ways of working with pupils who have had a long period away from school will be top priority. For some children these will include circumstances involving a range of trauma. Addressing these challenges will be ‘all hands-on deck’ in this endeavour. If this is done in a culture of teamwork and mutual support, my prediction is that this will make a conducive and supportive context for new entrants to the profession. To get through this initial period in a spirit of support and pragmatism seems sensible.

As things settle to a new normal the foundation of principled reflection on and analysis of practice that has been established during this strange period, we are living through will hopefully really benefit new teachers. To optimise these benefits, it will be important for mentors and school leaders to support their NQTs to link this learning to their new and current experience in the classroom.

Written by Professor Samantha Twiselton OBE, Director of Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University

05 Nov 2019; Turning the tide of BAME experiences: A call for waves not ripples

The recent report published by the EHRC1 (2019) ‘Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged’ has once again illuminated issues of racial discrimination in HE, ranging from explicit mistreatment to micro-aggressions. This is now a familiar story that recounts the negative experiences of BAME2 students in universities across the country. The EHRC (2019) study found that a quarter of ethnic minority students had experienced racial harassment since the start of their course. Similar studies conducted by the Office for Students (OfS, 2019) and the National Union of Students (NUS, 2019) highlight the prevalence of these issues and the desperate need for change. This coupled with the growing media interest in racism in universities has rightly amplified the issue of BAME experiences in HE, such as the recent Guardian (2019) article covering the controversy over the ‘Insider-Outsider’ report (Akel, 2019) that explored BAME student experiences at Goldsmiths. The bottom line is, this issue isn’t going away, and nor should it.

Many of the issues highlighted by recent publications are reflected in my (Amira) own research, which explored female BAME students’ perceptions of whether postgraduate education was for them. I worked with five final-year students using walking interviews around their university campus to reveal how these women experienced university spaces, and how that experience influenced their engagement with HE. My results revealed participants’ dispirited attitudes towards continuing in academia, with many expressing feelings of disillusionment with their undergraduate experiences, anxieties around the quality of education and support and a lack of BAME role models in the institution. Interestingly, the main conclusion drawn from my results was that students’ perceptions of PG education were not only negatively influenced by experiences of marginalisation and bias at undergraduate level, but were also deeply engrained by the time students entered their final year.

By placing myself metaphorically and literally into the spaces these women inhabited at the university through the walking interviews, I was able to understand how their response was to seek out peripheral spaces, which they could occupy under their own terms. They adopted transactional approaches with the university environment, with little sense of belonging. Simply put, the participants did not trust their institution to give them a fair deal. This lack of trust expressed by the participants in their institution and the staff was in fact the most striking finding of my (Amira) research. It led to participants censoring their true identities; “playing the game” and keeping their heads down as they felt that drawing attention to themselves came with risks. For these students, academia is a game in which the odds are stacked against them, so they opt to play from the side-lines. The result is that we all lose.

Something can and must be done – but what? There is now, of course, a wealth of literature (e.g. Smith, 2017; Austen et al, 2017; Miller, 2016) which sets out clear recommendations and practical steps that institutions can implement and indeed, may already be doing. These include:

– decolonising the curriculum by reviewing course content and teaching materials so that they reflect the diversity of knowledge that exists. This includes teaching research methods that are more inclusive such as the walking interviews I (Amira) used for my own research;

– implementing blind marking to address unconscious bias. This was raised by most of the participants in my study as an important way to build trust in the institution. For example, one student felt she had been disadvantaged because of her “ethnic sounding name”.

Measures beyond the curriculum also need to be taken. Mentors, allies and role models are crucial. But these roles should not be disproportionally placed on BAME staff and students. Instead, as Miller (2016) advocates, there should be a sense of ‘shared ownership’. Allyship calls for a willingness to show up and critically think about the ways in which we are complicit, either directly or unwittingly, in disadvantaging people of colour (Abdi, 2019). To be allies, staff need breathing space to listen, learn, act and listen again. I (Lisa) am afraid of getting it wrong, accidentally offending or appearing (and feeling) awkward. I know that some conversations will be difficult, but they are critical to the process of growing and learning. It will be worth it.

I (Amira) have had good experiences which have enabled me to successfully complete my studies and experience a safe space where I felt my voice was heard, respected and appreciated. This interaction with just one or two lecturers restored my faith that academics do care. The truth is that positive experiences are as potent as negative ones. There is power in reaching out and taking action. However, staff need to be given the time and space to do so, just as institutions need to make structural changes. Research has shown that pockets of change are already occurring across faculties, student unions and universities across the country, with varying levels of success. However, the startling figures discussed at the beginning of this blog indicate that there is a lot more work to do. For radical change to occur, we need waves not ripples.


  1. We note that this study has been heavily criticised for the inclusion of anti-white prejudice in the authors’ definition of racial harassment at universities.
  2. We acknowledge the limitations of using homogenising terms such as BAME/BME which mask differences between ethnic groups.

Author bios

Amira Samatar is a PhD student at the SIoE and recipient of a vice-chancellor’s scholarship. Her research explores female BAME students’ experiences through the academic pipeline.

Dr Lisa McGrath is a senior lecturer in the SIoE. Her research focuses on academic writing development and genre pedagogy. She supervised Amira’s MA dissertation on female BAME perceptions of postgraduate education.

International Quality Icons: The Case of Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse has been an international cultural icon for over ninety years. His image has been the trademark of the Disney Corporation since 1928 and the translation of his name is an global byword for fun ( Микки Маус, 米老鼠 , ميكي ماوس ).

Inexplicably, since the nineteen seventies, “Mickey Mouse” has also been a slang expression for poor quality goods, counterfeit, triviality and amateurishness. Margaret Thatcher once disparaged the European Parliament as a “Mickey-Mouse Parliament”. Urban dictionary has many similar examples including entries referring to individuals, jobs and organizations.

About eighteen months ago, Pok Wong, a 29-year-old student from Hong Kong reached for the expression when she came to evaluate her BA in International Business Strategy from Anglia Ruskin University. Although she graduated in 2013 with a First-class degree, she characterized Anglia Ruskin’s offer as a “Mickey-Mouse course”. Her complaint was that the institutions prospectus “fraudulently misrepresented” the business course and “exaggerated the prospects of a career”.

Nothing much may have come from the evaluation had Pok Wong confined it to an Anglia Ruskin feedback form. However, Ms Wong sued. The County Court of Central London ruled against her and awarded the University £13,700 to cover their legal costs. She had had her day in court, an appearance on the BBC’s Daily Politics, and considerable national and international social media coverage. She then disappeared for a while.

I’d come across the “Mickey Mouse” bon mot in education a couple of times before. A university I visited in 2009 had moved from their ‘old system’ of calculating a degree classification to a new one which didn’t factor a student’s lowest marks into the overall average. The idea behind the ‘new system’ was to better-reflect student successes by producing more 2:1s and Firsts, and was thus good for the international market. Unfortunately, the new system was referred to as “Mickey Mouse” – at least until the quality team cracked down on the phrase as being inappropriate.

I’d seen another application of the phrase in the early-2000s with courses designed to recruit students from overseas. Business School degrees, to give an illustrative case, have strict requirements to ensure students can cope with the academic language used in the course input and assessments, but a hurdle to recruitment. It was possible to repackage courses aimed at home students to add “International” to the title as in “International Golf Course Management”; to lower English language requirements; and (the key point) to run a parallel cohort of international students on different lines to the regular Golf Course Management BA.  The practice was quickly denounced as “Mickey Mouse” and the parallel international offers were confined to nineteenth-hole reminiscences.

The phrase was picked up again by the press last week when talking about the government’s review of FE and HE education. Philip Auger doesn’t use “Mickey Mouse” in his Review of Post-18 Education and Funding (May 2019) but the headline writers do. Auger says, “We make recommendations intended to encourage universities to bear down on low value degrees and to incentivise them to increase the provision of courses better aligned with the economy’s needs.” The Daily Mail summarizes thus: “Universities offering so-called Mickey Mouse courses could have their fees slashed from £9,250 to £7,500”.

We might dismiss the use of the phrase as simply a lazy way of referring to things we don’t happen to like. But issues of facilitating grade inflation, lessening learning objectives, reducing contact time, and lowering entry requirements are behaviours we ought to be on the watch for and are right to satirize. When the watch hasn’t been effective enough the courses are called “Mickey Mouse”.

These issues are connected to, but distinct from, value-for-money and the distinct value of Education. Many students may not be able to articulate fully how a quality education is related to value for money. Universities can help with that. For international students, I feel we have a responsibility to make the UK HE’s international offer both first class on its own terms, value for money, and of international, internationalist value.

I’d almost forgotten Pok Wong when this weekend she returned to the headlines. The news is a shock. Anglia Ruskin University’s insurers have settled out of court with her and handed their International Business Strategy alumnus just over £60,000. We have to rely on press reports for any information about the updated story as it’s out of court; however, it seems to have been £15,000 in damages and £46,000 in legal fees. We also have no information about the reasoning behind the settlement. The university does not seem to have approved, or approved of, the insurer’s move.

An editorial in the Telegraph did welcomed this weekend’s result: universities must be clearer about their offer and their ability to deliver it or find themselves in court. That’s business, nationally and internationally.

We can leave the last word to Pok Wong, the international business student. She told the BBC in 2018,

“They think we’re international students [and] we come here to pay our money for a piece of paper, for the degree. But actually, we care about the quality, we care about how much we could learn.”

We care about the quality; we care about how much we learn.

I do like Mickey Mouse. And I’m sorry his name is linked with poor quality goods, counterfeit, triviality and amateurishness. To make something positive of this cultural icon’s negative connotations, curriculum designers could re-claim him as a Quality Icon: as a desk-top reminder to strenuously avoid having his name linked with UK HE and their own course offer.

Written by John Wigglesworth  , Principal Lecturer in the Department of Education, Childhood and Inclusion and edited by  Dr Iain Garner, Head of the Department of Education, Childhood and Inclusion.

Trends in Education, Effectiveness and Internationalization

It was snowing when we arrived. Thank goodness. Mid-February can be grey in Moscow and a fresh layer of snow refreshes both the Soviet-era apartment blocks and adds sparkle to the Orthodox domes above the Kremlin. You don’t want to travel to Russia without finding icicles, fur hats and clouds of condensed breath mixed with the marketplace shouts. Best to acknowledge the stereo-types before challenging them.

We’d been invited to speak at the “Trends in Education: How to measure the effectiveness of Educational Institutions” conference at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. MSSES is a young (founded 1995), internationally-oriented institute and was an early-adopter in Russia of the Bologna processes and structures. It offers Masters level programmes to students across the post-Soviet space in partnership with similar universities in Europe and America. As you can imagine, in the current geo-political climate, MSSES has challenges with its international offer. Academics from Sheffield Hallam University have been presenting at their conference for several years and we were all happy to spend three days with Russian academics engaging with the transformations at all levels of Russian education.

Sue O’Brien talked about the changes in UK teacher education policy, alongside the proposed reforms to the quality assurance of schools via the Ofsted framework. Both aspects drew interest: of course, the proposed shift from the focus on data was well received and, not surprisingly, the various routes into teaching were confusing and particularly difficult to translate! But of particular interest was the assessment of teachers, Russian colleagues having recently undergone new requirements for the assessment and testing of qualified, experienced teachers which has proved to be highly controversial.

Sally Pearse talked about Quality in Early Childhood Education in England and the issues of data taking priority over pedagogy. Sally also gave a Master Class on the role of Early Years Teachers in England and this session generated a great deal of discussion with Russian early years teachers as there were a number of comparisons to be drawn with issues of status and funding.

John Wrigglesworth gave a workshop on Quality and Accreditation in Academic English Pedagogy: an international reflection. The workshop built on a previous research project with the Turkish ministry of education and another with the British Council (in Kursk). It also covered the vexed question of English becoming the international academic lingua franca and how scholars around the world can communicate their ideas within a globalized community.

In sharing experiences about the problems of education policy, quality assurance measures, and academic communication we found a growing shared experience within the international teaching profession.

The conference was, therefore, a great opportunity to work with colleagues trying to harmonize the Russian education system and the International one. As part of our Transforming Lives Strategy, Sheffield Hallam University has global strand:

“We will extend and deepen our global engagement – linking Sheffield to the world and the world to Sheffield. We will work with like-minded partners locally and globally to enhance our impact and reach.”

Like another knotty problem of the day, global engagement can be seen in soft and hard forms. Soft forms include fostering an enriched student experience, conducting research between and across cultures, and enrolling lots of full-fee paying students. Hard forms bring into focus issues of deep-seated political misunderstandings and even conflict, bureaucratic mismatch and inertia, and the ethical difficulties of facilitating the participation of groups who cannot pay Western education prices.

Back in Sheffield, we return to the hard challenges of moving the partnership from the conference floor to the university’s boardroom.

Sheffield has just had the warmest February on record. But this morning (10th March) there’s a fresh fall of snow. Maybe it’s not going to be so difficult to link Sheffield to the world and the world to Sheffield.

Written by Sue O’Brien, Sally Pearse and John Wrigglesworth

Postgraduate Research Culture at SIoE: What does it look like?

There are more than a few debates about what precisely constitutes a ‘positive research culture’.

PGR students Arwa Omar and Ruth Squire, 2nd and 1st year PHD students in SIoE respectively and student representatives for the Institutes PhD students, looked at the importance of research culture at SHU for postgraduates following discussions in their regular PG Rep meetings.

Both have had positive experiences of research culture at Sheffield Hallam University but wanted to explore what that meant for them and fellow PGR’s, draw attention to what already exists and challenge colleagues to consider where PGR’s fit in their understanding of research culture.

‘It’s something we are asked about in the PRES and, however cynical we might be about another HE metric, with good reason. Both of us can see the benefits of the research environment we have engaged with for our development and for our research. But we feel it works best when the culture and experience for PGRs isn’t isolated from the wider research culture. It’s about creating a vibrant and inclusive undergraduate, postgraduate and professional research community.

Currently, the institute offers several opportunities for PGRs to be part of the wider research community, with events that bring together researchers and academics at different stages of their careers. Last year, SIoE hosted the annual Doctoral Research Conference, which brought together researchers and academics from Sheffield Hallam and neighbouring institutions (including members of the White Rose DTP) to discuss their latest research and to celebrate their achievements. The conference served as a platform to share current research at the SIoE as well as other regional institutions. Importantly, though designed with Doctoral researchers in mind and providing them a platform to share their research, academic staff also attended as presenters and colleagues. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Many attendees said that they found the opportunity to listen to other researchers at different stages of their doctorates and careers helpful for their own study and felt reassured that their journeys were not that different. They valued the networking opportunities, and the wide variety of topics covered during the presentations – including research methodology, ethics and analysis. Most importantly, and what we think is a core component of a positive research culture, many praised the informal and supportive environment of the conference. This year’s conference will take place on 30th November 2019 and we hope will continue to be valuable for all involved.

We are both regular attendees at a seminar series aimed at PGRs, where researchers at every stage present their work and enable us keep up to date with what colleagues are working on. The SIoE also has (at least!) two research groups (the Language and Literacy Education Research Group and The Practice, Innovation and the Professional Learning Research Group) as well as special interest groups (SIGs) which PGRs have been invited to participate in and we believe will offer greater opportunities for us to develop and share.

As researchers whose work also extends into departments beyond education, we also take advantage of opportunities that span disciplines and fields of expertise, including the CRESR seminar series and the university-wide SHU Creating Knowledge Conference. Events like this provide an avenue for students to present their work to a wider audience and offer new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations. PGRs also have distinct opportunities to come together as a research community, such as through the SHU Postgraduate Student Conference; this year’s event is on ‘Invisibility: The Absent, the Unseen, and the Forgotten’. The Sheffield Institute for Policy Studies (SIPS) also hosts a PGR poster competition, which we will both be presenting at this year.

Finally, SIoE researchers also have an opportunity to engage with professionals through events like the Festival of Education, which gives us a chance to celebrate and promote the region as a centre of innovation in educational research and practice.

Importantly though, there is no one type of event that creates a positive research culture for us or the wider university. It’s an ongoing relationship that makes sure PGRs are included, valued for their contributions and supported to make them. We are a diverse group, with different research interests, goals and skills, and commitments outside of study. That means that communicating events in good time, with opportunities outside of usual working hours, a variety of types of engagement and just keeping us ‘in the loop’ really matters. The events that we have identified here as full-time PGRs are important for us but, as reps, we also want to have a research culture that works for all of us.

So, we’d like to ask you, the reader, what research culture means to you? Is it different for PGRs? What have we missed and how can the institute help grow and sustain it? You can also join us to discuss this on 14th May to discuss this issue at our PGR forum.’

Written by Arwa Omar and Ruth Squire, PhD students in SIoE

Tackling the teacher recruitment crisis: Retention as recruitment

There is a crisis in teaching. The equation is fairly simple: Not enough people are coming into the profession to meet the growing number of pupils – and too many are leaving.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) new Recruitment and Retention Strategy, published today (28 January 2019) faces the issue head on with clear priorities and a commitment to work with the profession to deliver the strategy. Sheffield Hallam (through Sheffield Institute of Education and our South Yorkshire Futures programme) has been working closely with DfE to look at the issue on a regional level – and we are referenced in the report (page 34) for the successful pilot we have been running.

The focus for this issue, justifiably, is often on the literal starting point for the teaching profession: recruitment, recruiting trainees is undoubtedly challenging. They have diverse needs, backgrounds and experiences, and therefore need individualised, clear advice and support.

So in thinking about this issue I’ve decided to disrupt the order slightly by starting from the other end of the journey, or the other ‘R’: Retention.

The number leaving in the first year after qualifying has remained reasonably steady over the last five years at around 15 per cent – but the numbers who leave in years two, three, four and five continues to increase. Within three years of training more than a quarter have left the profession. This reaches almost one third by year five.

It’s no great leap to understand that if we get retention right, then recruitment will follow. Satisfied, fulfilled teachers will attract more to the profession than, I would argue, any number of golden hellos. Clearly there is value in focusing on retention as a platform to support recruitment – but it goes much further than that. We have a moral imperative to get this right.

Making a difference

Teachers come into the profession to make a difference. To transform lives. To give something back. But this shouldn’t be at any cost – and certainly shouldn’t be at personal cost. To find out a bit more about what encourages or stops applicants from joining the professions, we carried out a piece of research through South Yorkshire Futures. The results were instructive and revealing.

Amongst the data, the most eye-catching was this: Our research revealed that it is family friends, family members and even teachers of the potential applicants who are most often cited as the people who discouraged them from joining the profession.

As a result, we’ve taken a lead in our region to look closer at his issue to see how we can change this perception. This includes having conversations about how well we look after our teachers and asking important questions to help inform our approach.

 What are teachers’ experiences of being in a school? Are our schools great places to work?

These might seem like simple questions – but ultimately, the responses provide us with a defining narrative. It is the experience of the teachers which will determine if they stay in the profession, gain the satisfaction and rewards they anticipated at the start of their journey, and subsequently become the advocates of the profession that we so clearly need.

 Centre stage

I’m very fortunate in my role. I get to visit schools across South Yorkshire and meet inspirational leaders and teachers who clearly love their job. They care about the young people they teach, they know what makes them tick and they know how to motivate and excite them. You can see how much satisfaction they get from knowing that what they do on a daily basis is having a positive and lasting impact. These are everyday people who every day make a genuine difference to our young people.

With this in mind, for our recruitment campaign this year, we took a very different approach. For the first time we put teachers centre stage (quite literally) to tell their honest and compelling stories. The teachers, at various stages of their careers, spoke to future teachers about why they do their job, what gets them out of bed in the morning and what the profession has given to them. You could have heard a pin drop when they spoke.

Therefore if we want to recruit more teachers, we have to face the fact that it is teachers themselves who are the best, or worst, friend of the recruitment campaign, depending on their experience. They are our voice, our narrators, our critics, our advocates – and they all have a powerful story to tell.


We may all have different views about what makes a great place to work – but we all want to work in a great place. We all want to work in an environment where we feel that we belong, where we have the support that we need, that our contribution matters and where positive supportive relationships are nurtured – so that’s where we’re starting.

So we’re not starting with outcomes, we’re starting with the place. We’re looking at what that place has to offer the teacher. And we’re looking at what support there is in that place (and whether it is the right support).

 Great teachers

Great teachers transform lives – and every child deserves a great teacher. But this won’t be the case until we have begun to properly address the retention challenge. To do this, we must keep asking ourselves the difficult but simple questions: Are we offering the best environments in which to work? Are we meeting the needs of all our teachers?

Once we start to genuinely listen to the answers to these questions and begin to translate them in to actions and behaviours, we might start to see a workforce that feels more valued, motivated and excited – and I believe could result in a profound positive shift in recruitment and retention as a whole.

Sue O’Brien is teacher recruitment and retention lead for South Yorkshire Futures

Uniformed or Uninformed?

Before Christmas I watched the short BBC 2 series “School” ( ). Of course TV programmes are made to grab headlines and increase ratings, so it’s not surprising that most of what was shown depicted “problems”, but even so, I was routinely horrified in at least 4 out of the 6 episodes to see the lengths the school staff went to, and the time they spent, keeping students out of lessons and preventing them from learning on the basis that they were not wearing the correct uniform, or not wearing it ‘properly’.

Last night I watched the second in the BBC 2 series “Back in time for school” ( ). This episode depicts schooling from a little before WW1 to the end of WW2. I was struck, not for the first time, by how little school had changed from the 1902 Balfour Education Act until certainly when I was at school in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, and indeed in my experience when I was teaching in schools in the early 2000’s. One of the things that hadn’t changed was the emphasis on uniform, and one of the students in last night’s programme commented himself how similar it still is today in his school. In the 1920’s school it was said that pupils might be “thumped, smacked or caned” for failure to comply with uniform.

So in the early 20th century corporal punishment was used to enforce uniform and in the early 21st century exclusion from learning is used to enforce uniform: uniform must surely, therefore, be incredibly important for academic success.

But why do schools place such emphasis on uniform? What is the justification for preventing students from attending classes because their tie is not properly knotted or their shoe laces are the wrong colour (both examples from “School” episode 1)?

We often hear the argument that wearing a uniform prevents bullying based on fashion garments, but this isn’t my experience either as a student or as a teacher, and literature doesn’t support this very well either, with some studies directly contradicting it (e.g. Sherwin, 2015). This argument is sometimes “strengthened” by the claim that uniform is cheaper than fashion clothing and is therefore beneficial to ensure that the socio-economically disadvantaged are not as visible to their peers, but this is not widely supported and again some studies directly contradict (e.g. Brunsma, 2007). The UK Government website even acknowledges that uniform is often too expensive with advice for how to take action if you are being forced to buy uniform from only one supplier and therefore unable to find the best prices.

Other popular arguments are that uniform creates a sense of belonging, that it teaches the students self-discipline and that it makes students ‘ready to learn’, but it’s a struggle to find much evidence-based research to support these claims. (Although it’s interesting that a Google search for “school uniform improves learning” brings up a Guardian article about Devon school boys wearing skirts in the heatwave because their school refused to allow them to wear shorts instead of their heavy tartan trousers … surely no one can be expected to learn effectively if sweating profusely in heavy tartan and temperatures of 30 degrees plus?)

It occurs to me that, in a society which continually shouts loudly about how much diversity is to be celebrated, many young people spend the first 16 years of their lives being told that they have to be the same: how ironic!

Of course, I’m not saying that there cannot ever be any justification for uniform, but crucially I can’t locate any reliable and well-supported evidence that uniform improves learning and achievement, still less anything to suggest that the improvements in learning and achievement are so great that they justify keeping students out of the classroom when uniform is not being worn.

This all leaves me wondering whether the promotion of school uniform is simply uninformed?

Dave Darwent is a Senior Lecturer and E:Learning Technologist at Sheffield Institute of Education 

Are you being reasonable?

This Blog entry was inspired by the collaboration between Dave and Luke which resulted in some spectacularly positive student feedback, the majority of which came from autistic students – and much of which was spontaneous from the students themselves. Over coffee Dave and Luke discussed how the use of technology might not only go some way towards providing equitable provision within student feedback – but also the possibility that by not offering it as an option we might be putting some students at an unfair disadvantage. We concluded that the coffee and chat were lovely – and that we needed to do something more formal about the latter.

In 2010 the UK Government set out an amalgamation of discrimination laws to create The Equality Act as a single piece of anti-discriminatory legislation. One of the areas that is covered by the Act is the requirement for public bodies which provide a service to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that persons with a disability are not at an unfair disadvantage as a result of their disability. Sounds fairly straightforward, yes? No one reading this, I suspect, would think that they might be breaking the law, sometimes on a day-to-day basis – right? No one reading this would willingly, and knowingly put their disabled students at an unfair disadvantage – right? Quite aside from the ethical side to supporting students to the best of one’s ability and the pedagogical elements of good teaching practice, teaching staff would (presumably) want to ensure that they operated within the laws of the land while going about their daily business. The following is (almost embarrassingly) simplistic – and yet serves to highlight just how discriminatory – and unreasonable – we might actually be.

Screencast-o-matic ( is free, simple to use, and could possibly be utilised to avoid unfair discrimination. If you already use it, then share with a colleague – if not, then perhaps you might not be as reasonable as you previously thought! Take the following (fictitious) case study:

Kim is an autistic student with difficulties in processing the written word. She submits work on Black Board as per her university’s regulations, and she is given formative feedback with comments on her script. Compared to students without similar processing difficulties it takes Kim significantly longer to understand her feedback – sometimes as much as three times longer.

Is Kim at a disadvantage as a result of her disability?


Kim is an autistic student with difficulties in processing the written word. She submits work on Black Board as per her university’s regulations, and she is given formative feedback via a recording of her tutor’s narrative feedback in line with her written script using screencast-o-matic. She can see her own work, the grade descriptors (marking rubric), and follow the tutor’s verbal comments in line with the recording. Her processing issues no longer apply, and she can utilise the feedback in the same length of time as her peers.

Is Kim any longer at a disadvantage?

Are you using this kind of feedback as an option for students? Are you being reasonable?

One concern of identifying something as simple as using software to reduce the potential of discrimination is the fear of being patronising to colleagues; however, as one of the two authors of this Blog entry (no prizes for guessing which one) is a Senior lecturer in Autism and is only recently making use of screencast-o-matic (to the great delight of his students) despite being very aware of the legislation – having been on the Government working party for what was previously the Disability Discrimination Act – we are confident that one of us (ok – it’s Luke) is probably the lowest common denominator amongst colleagues – so we are willing to take that risk! And if Luke can be taught how to use the software within a matter of about ten minutes, then it won’t pose a problem for others. The other author (Dave) has already taught and supported a great many SIoE colleagues in using Screencasting for feedback (and for other things too) and will be only too delighted to help more colleagues with this. Luke and Dave have written a case study, which is available on the staff intranet pages if you want to read more detail of Luke’s real students’ feedback and progress as a result of his use of screencast feedback. Other colleagues have used screencast feedback for other reasons and all colleagues are encouraged to share their uses with others.

Disability discrimination can take so many varied forms – and yet our Duty is to pre-empt as much as possible in order to ensure Equality whenever we can. Our argument is that by not providing this kind of visual feedback as an option we could potentially be doing some of our students a disservice.

Luke Beardon is a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Institute of Education

Dave Darwent is a Senior Lecturer and E-Learning Technologist at Sheffield Institute of Education