Author Archives: Sheffield Institute of Education

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

N is also for Naming

About a year ago I joined a local choir, and at my first session I was given a badge with my name on it – not just any old badge, but an individually crafted, hand-decorated small work of art. Everyone else had their own badge too. Having something with my name on that had been created and kept especially for me made me feel I was a valued member of the group. It meant I was held in people’s minds, even when I missed a session.

Now, we’re not suggesting you create a handcrafted name badge for each of your students, but the story illustrates how naming can engender a sense of belonging – a vital factor in motivating students to persevere at university.

Below we look at some tips and challenges when it comes to using students’ names, but first, let’s examine further why names might be important.

‘My name is my identity and must not be lost’  (Lucy Stone)

Naming is a universal practice. Names individualise people, contributing to personal identity, but they also classify them, thus contributing to social identity. Conversely, non-naming (that is, the avoidance of the use of names) could be said to contribute to depersonalisation, as can mis-naming.

‘She had got used to people mispronouncing her name but because she got a chance to say it clearly and the tutor stopped people rushing over it, she has got her identity back.’ (Ashton and Stone, An A-Z of Creative Teaching in Higher Education)

In our A-Z book, one of our characters, Yared, recounts a conversation with a fellow student where the student describes how helpful it was to play a name game at the start of her course and have the tutor spend time on getting the pronunciation right. Names generally are not translatable and honouring the original ways of saying them promotes inclusivity and respect for diversity.

‘Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power.’ (Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit).

In many mythologies, from Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea novels to ancient Egyptian folklore , knowing a thing’s true name bestows power. Similarly so in higher education, where asking for and using students’ names involves trust. When you give someone your name, you do so in the good faith that it matters and that they will at least attempt to remember it. A former colleague used to invite each of her students to share something significant about their name:

“I’m Daian. My mum wanted it pronounced ‘Dey-Anne’ but no one ever did.”

“I’m Reuben, but my friends call me Rubes. It means ‘Behold, a son!’.”

Trusting each other with such personal information, it seemed to me, created its own bond within the group.

Naming can also call a person or a thing into being, as illustrated, for example, by the Maori creation story, where the world is re-created with each telling and re-telling. For a university student who is struggling to make friends, and who may be feeling isolated and lost, hearing their name spoken aloud can recall them into existence and provide a reassuring reminder of their place in the world.

‘Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, And they’re always glad you came’ (‘Cheers’ theme song)

Common sense dictates that you’re more likely to return to a group in which you feel recognised and valued. Creating that environment from the start could not only lead to better attendance and retention on your modules but also provide initial support for students in terms of making social contacts and managing their mental health.

Here are some things you can do to develop such a space.

Be realistic. You can’t learn names in a 200-strong lecture in the same way you can with a smaller group (although you can encourage the students to learn the names of their immediate neighbours). However, even 200-strong cohorts break into smaller groups for seminars and tutorials.

Consider your timetable. If you teach a small number of groups over several sessions then you can build relationships with students, whereas teaching the same session over and over to 8 seminar groups on the trot, while it might save on preparation time, does not allow you much opportunity to recognise or remember individuals. Thoughtful staffing of courses therefore matters.

Use name games. An internet search on this topic will provide a wealth of ideas, and there is a particularly effective one described in our A-Z book. You can also use labels or photographic registers. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can’t remember a name – this makes it ok for others to ask too.

Set up a study buddy system where students are assigned to small groups and take responsibility for helping their fellow members to catch up if they miss a session. This encourages your students to look out for each other. Peer mentoring also helps here.

Comment on who’s missing when you take the registerI know X can’t make it today but what about Y? Has anyone heard from her? Where possible, welcome absentees back into the fold when they return, but avoid divulging personal information (asking publicly ‘How did the op go?’ is not only inappropriate and insensitive but could breach data protection laws).

Go beyond learning names and find out about your students’ interests, needs and goals too.

Asking a student their name, listening to it and using it creates a metaphorical ‘badge’ for that student like the one I was given in my choir. This process acts as a marker of identity, an exchange of trust and respect, a placeholder, a membership signifier and an acknowledgement of individual existence. It humanises what is sometimes in danger of becoming a depersonalised, performatised and marketised experience.

Naming thus has the potential to benefit not only students, but their teachers too and, ultimately one hopes, the academic community and society at large. How many of your students can you name?

Rachel Stone is a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Institute of Education

This blog was originally published on the A-Z of Creative Teaching in Higher Education blog. Follow the blog at @AZofCTinHE

Evidence-Informed Teacher Professional Development

Ahead of the Improving Standards of Teaching Through Continuing Professional Development forum taking place in London on Wednesday 3rd October, Dr Emily Perry, who will be chairing the event, shares her thoughts on how the ‘evidence-informed’ agenda, present across the education system, can be extended to also influence CPD models.

In teaching we have an ongoing move towards an ‘evidence-informed’ system, in which teachers and schools draw on evidence from research to make informed choices about ‘what works’. However, in teacher professional development, we are lagging behind. National and international studies have built up our collective knowledge of effective professional development and the impact that this can have on teachers’ practice, careers and retention in the profession, and the characteristics of effective professional development are well-established enough that the DFE has drawn them together in the CPD Standards.

These lists of characteristics can be helpful as a checklist when planning, evaluating and quality assuring CPD. However, they tend to lack a focus on a vital component of CPD: the facilitators. By facilitators I mean the people who plan, develop and deliver workshops, courses and other CPD activities for teachers. They may be teachers, consultants, academics or combinations of those and other roles. From numerous studies we know that the role of facilitator is complicated. It covers multiple activities including teacher, coach and critical friend and involves tricky balancing acts between supporting teachers as peers while still providing challenge and being a knowledgeable expert.

My own research has confirmed this complexity, showing that facilitators acknowledge but don’t appear to struggle with these potentially competing roles. They describe facilitation as including teaching and being more than teaching. Working with experienced teachers is substantially different from working with children (or with inexperienced teachers), and facilitation often includes modelling of teaching approaches, and using active learning with lots of teacher talk.

These approaches reflect the evidence around effective professional development.  But while facilitators use their knowledge and experience of teaching and of facilitation, they rarely draw on the evidence about professional development itself. For example, they don’t often appear to consider the evidence from research about particular evaluation models, such as whether a phone call to a sample of participants might provide more useful feedback than a written form completed by everybody. Nor, apparently, would they often reflect on whether particular models of CPD, such as collaborative curriculum development, might lead to greater learning and impact than, say, action research.

Few formalised development programmes exist for facilitators and most draw on their existing skills and knowledge, their experiences as a teacher and a facilitator, and on (rare) opportunities to work in collaboration with others; they tend not to look for the evidence from research.

This is not a criticism of facilitators. As a CPD facilitator myself I appreciate its many challenges and constraints. But it does highlight that, while we are hoping for teachers to use evidence to inform their practice in the classroom, we are not yet aiming for facilitators of CPD to do the same.  We need to work together to find ways to help facilitators to gain access to evidence from research and to support them to share experiences, collaborate, learn from other experts, challenge and be challenged. In other words, we should ensure that our CPD for CPD facilitators models the evidence about effective CPD.

Originally published through 

The ‘Low Steps’ of Social Mobility

We at Sheffield Hallam University are engaged in some great work with South Yorkshire Futures a region-wide initiative to improve rates of social mobility in the area through educational improvement. But, as both Market and Recruitment Lead for the Department of Education, Childhood and Inclusion, and a lecturer within the sociology of education, I paused to think: what exactly is social mobility? Well, think about these questions: Do you have (or expect to have) a better paid job than your parents? Have you got (or expect to get) higher level educational qualifications than your parents? If the answer to these questions is yes, you may be experiencing social mobility.

I have already hinted at how we can define social mobility by my questions above. If you have a better paid job than your parents you have experienced social mobility because it is measured, largely but not exclusively, by your wealth which includes income. Wealth–assets and income–is a key measure of social class by most definitions. So, if you earn more than your parents, we can say that you have moved into a higher social class, and that you have experienced upward social mobility. When politicians talk about the benefits of social mobility, this is the kind that they always mean. However, what goes up can also come down and it is quite possible for individuals to experience downward social mobility. It may not surprise you to learn that politicians do not like to talk about this second kind of social mobility, and neither would you if you had an election to try to win. The difference between upward and downward social mobility points, in turn, to another way of looking at this concept: absolute and relative mobility.

Absolute social mobility refers to the improvements in wealth (largely defined by income) of an entire social class. Relative social mobility means movement between social classes, whether up or down. One way of thinking about this is movement of a class and movement from a class. In the decades after World War Two, Britain experienced quite high levels of absolute social mobility: put simply, working-class people had more money in their pocket and were part of Harold MacMillan’s ‘never had it so good’ generation. The reasons for this are well known: continued post-war economic growth, governments’ commitment to maintaining full employment, and economic policies aimed at income redistribution through taxation and welfare spending. Fast forward to the present and we see a very different picture: sluggish economic growth, no commitment to full employment and a move away from redistributive policies. Under these conditions, the prospects for absolute social mobility of the sort enjoyed by the post-war ‘baby boomers’ are not good. Consequently, as absolute social mobility moves off the political agenda, the focus is on relative upward social mobility: your ability to move from your social class of birth to a higher class. And this is where education contributes. Qualifications are ‘positional goods’–they enable you to stand out from the crowd, although in today’s hyper-competitive jobs market extra-curricular assets are also of key importance.

Why does social mobility matter? Social mobility matters to every advanced capitalist nation. Good levels of social mobility are seen as a sign of a healthy economy, and this in turn feeds into our beliefs about what is right and acceptable. We need to believe that, given the right amount of hard work and skill on our part, we can achieve what we aim for. Anything less is, quite rightly, seen as unfair. It is surprising to remember how recent, historically speaking, this attitude is. The average medieval peasant would not have entertained the notion that hard work could mean social advancement; for them, hard work was simply the grind of daily subsistence. Our modern faith in social mobility has its distant origins in the seventeenth century with the advent of a more secular, individualistic outlook on life. It is well summed up in these lines, written in 1634, from John Taylor’s ode to social mobility and meritocracy, The Triumphs of Fame and Honour:

Low steps begin to mount the highest hills,

Great Rivers have their heads from little Rills

From servitude growes freedome, and from thence

(Through Industry) springs Worth and Eminence.

It is not exactly Shakespeare but the hopes that Taylor invoked in 1634 are the hopes that we all have today, and so it is vital that education, though programmes like South Yorkshire Futures, plays its role in helping to realise them.

Andrew Morrison is the Markets and Recruitment Lead in the Department of Education, Childhood & Inclusion

The Real Honour

As a newly announced recipient of an OBE for ‘Services to Higher Education’ I am experiencing a strange mix of emotions and questions. The biggest emotion other than embarrassment is sadness that my mum died last year and won’t get to be there when I pick it up. The biggest question is to wonder why I have received it as a nominee doesn’t get to see their own nomination.

With this in mind, I’m able to do that thing we so often talk about in higher education but more often than not simply don’t have the time to do – reflect. In reflecting on what I, and my talented colleagues, have done well and where we have seen genuine impact, I have focused on two milestones.. The first is the time I spent advising the DfE Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training back in 2014-15 and the role I played in helping the review to recognise the importance of school/HE partnerships in preparing the next generation of teachers. This was a significant time both for my bit of the HE sector and also for my own personal development and evolving understanding of the actual and potential role of HE in the school system. This brings me to the second milestone: South Yorkshire Futures. This is the work Sheffield Hallam University is leading in improving social mobility in South Yorkshire through improving educational attainment and raising aspiration. This partly arose from thinking that started with my time on the Carter Review.

The process of the review prompted some challenging questions around the best way for universities to bring something to the school system that either doesn’t exist already or that can be done better only with HE expertise in the mix. Some of the arguments that were made about expert practitioners based in HEIs who brought their practice based expertise to ITE and other forms of teacher development simply did not stand up in the face of the outstanding, cutting edge practitioner expertise we saw in school-led provision. Much more compelling were those providers who were able to demonstrate that they were using the best of expert, school-based practitioner expertise alongside HE expertise in evidence, research and bigger picture problematizing. The most impressive partnerships did this in a way that powerfully interweaved a carefully crafted range of expertise and experiences.

Knowing what you are best placed to do in improving the school system and knowing what is best left to expertise that other players will always hold more strongly than you as a university is a big question we have continued to grapple with well beyond the finish of the Carter Review. At the same time as we were thinking about our role in the teacher training part of the system, DfE was thinking about the broader role that HEIs should be playing in school improvement and in its Green Paper went so far as to suggest all those charging increased tuition fees should either sponsor failing schools or open a new one. During this period I was involved in many discussions with other universities who had done both of these things. It was clear that the evidence was not compelling that an improvement in the regional school system had automatically followed. Indeed in some cases it had undoubtedly got worse.

However it is not unreasonable to expect civic universities who have always maintained a strong, ongoing commitment to education in their region to put their money where their mouths are and step up to help address the improvements that are clearly needed in some way. Certainly at Sheffield Hallam University, under the relatively new leadership of newly honoured Professor Sir Chris Husbands (an expert in school systems globally) and Richard Calvert (Chief Operating Officer newly arrived from his previous post as Director General at DfE), there was an appetite – perhaps even a responsibility – to seize this agenda but to do so in a way that was substantively different (and better) than the proposals in the Green Paper – the result of which is South Yorkshire Futures.

As an anchor institution in South Yorkshire, and with immediate access to an expert research resource, we could provide a sound evidence base and resulting theory of change that placed educational improvement as part of a bigger picture understanding of how to improve social mobility. Combined with our ability to convene and facilitate partnership working across education providers, local authorities, DfE, schools, colleges and employers, the potential was compelling to say the least.

What resulted was a social mobility partnership which targets young people from disadvantaged areas of South Yorkshire through three specific interventions: early years, primary/secondary, and further education/higher education/employment. Less than one year since it launched, we are already seeing stakeholders across South Yorkshire working together to improve CPD for the EY workforce

So, in the final moments of my self indulgent reflective mode I feel more positive than I have for sometime that universities can and should have a distinctive role in school improvement and increasing social mobility and that this is beginning to be recognised by policy makers. I am also proud that the more nuanced, complex, sophisticated approach we are taking is clearly supported as I believe it has the potential to reach more children and – most importantly – impact positively on those who need it the most.

Professor Sam Twiselton OBE is the Director of Sheffield Institute of Education

“You say … I hear …” tensions in professional/parent partnerships

In this blog entry Nick Hodge and Katherine Runswick-Cole reflect on some of the factors that might lead to a lack of understanding between practitioners and parents/carers  of children with Special Educational Needs.

Inspired by #festABLE tweets, a blog about dealing with difficult parents of children with SEND  and a very kind mention in Jarlath O’Brien’s blog, we decided to reflect on the issue of parent-professional partnership drawing from our recent book chapter:

Hodge, N. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2017) ‘You Say, I hear’: understanding parent-professional partnerships in special education. In Runswick-Cole, K., Curran, T. and Liddiard, K. (eds) (2017) Palgrave Handbook of Disabled Children’s Childhood Studies, Basingstoke: Palgrave.*

We have long been interested in parent-professional relationships in the often conflict ridden world of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).  From our different subject positions as teacher and parent of a child labeled with SEND, we have had numerous conversations about why it is so difficult for teachers and parents/carers to communicate.  From our work in universities with teachers and parents, we know that, as much as it may feel like this at times, parent-professional conflict is not simply produced by ‘bad’ teachers and ‘troublesome’ parents.  In particular, we reject ways of representing certain types of parents or teachers in negative ways.  We see little value to such an approach.

We know that demands are made on teachers and on parents in systems that make up the legislation, the paperwork, attitudinal and structural barriers to the inclusion of children labeled with SEND.  In the chapter, we drew on Lipsky (1971)’s work on ‘street-level bureaucracy’ or, the paperwork and other demands, to understand how teachers and parents are caught up by the need to meet the demands of the system as much as the demands of the child.

We think that it is this current SEND system that inevitably promotes lack of empathy between teachers and parents in their communications, working against the possibility of productive parent-professional partnerships.

In the chapter, we explored some examples where there seems to be an empathy gap between teacher and parent, describing parents’ reactions to what teachers said to them.

You say … I hear ….

You say…


I hear …
Head teacher: have you thought about going back to work?


Parent: she thinks I’m an over anxious mother with too much time on my hands.


Teaching Assistant:  she was really tired when she came in this morning. Parent: we never go out because of her difficulties with fatigue, we never do the things other families do, and just for once, when we do, you have a go at me! You’re telling me off.


Doctor: what’s your job? Parent: what does it matter what my job is?  You are judging me


Occupational therapist:  I didn’t tell you about DLA (Disability Living Allowance: A welfare benefit for disabled children and adults) because I knew your partner had a good job.


Parent: You shouldn’t be claiming benefits.


Teacher: He has said he doesn’t want to go to work experience. You can over rule him at home, but I can’t, he’s seventeen.


Parent: Adult services won’t look   after my child properly.


Teacher: his teaching assistant reads with him, I have 29 other children in the class to think about.


Parent: the teacher doesn’t see my child as her responsibility.
Inclusion Officer: you are not entitled to a Rolls Royce service. We have limited resources that we must allocate fairly.


Parent: you are a greedy, pushy, selfish parent.


Teacher: I know he’s lashing out but that is what children with autism and epilepsy do.


Parent: You don’t see my son, you don’t recognise him as an individual.


Speech and Language Therapist: your daughter is making really good progress. Parent: hey?  She’s still really struggling – oh no, they are about to discharge her!


Speech and Language Therapist:  I’m sorry but your child doesn’t meet the criteria for our service.  There are some spaces on the anger management classes for parents.


Parent: You think I have a problem with anger and I can’t parent my child.
Receptionist at LA offices: [hand over phone so slightly muffled] it’s Mrs Smith on the phone, are you in? Parent: the whole office thinks I’m a problem.

Hodge and Runswick-Cole, 2018: 545

We know that while the examples above are taken from a parent’s perspective, we could just as easily have found examples of teachers, too, feeling that they are engaging with parents who lack empathy.

In the chapter, we explore the work of McKenzie & Scully (2007) to think about how things could be different in these difficult conversations.

In sympathetic moral imagination one does not try to imagine being the other from the inside. Rather, one recognises that the other is different from oneself, one imaginatively engages with her perceptions and experiences, as she represents them, and one responds emotionally to her perspective and her situation. (MacKenzie and Scully, 2007: 347).

Sympathetic moral imagination means that you try to imagine how an event is experienced by the other person, rather than how we think we would experience it if it happened to us.  This is more than putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, this is about imagining, as best you can, that you are that person, in their shoes.

It is clear that the current SEND system, of failed reforms and ever increasing funding cuts, does not nurture an environment where sympathetic moral imagination has the space to grow, but we also know from #festABLE that it is possible to create those spaces and to nurture relationships for the best interests of teachers, parents, and, of course, children.

We need to fight current systems and approaches that define children labeled with SEND by what are said to be their deficits and disorders, and, at the same time, strive to engage with sympathetic moral imagination, or just be a bit kinder, in our relationships with each other.

* You can read our chapter in The Palgrave Handbook of Disabled Children’s Childhood Studies – available from libraries.

Nick Hodge, Professor of Inclusive Practice, Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University, @goodchap62

Katherine Runswick-Cole, Chair in Education, The University of Sheffield, @k_runswick_cole


Perilous Praise Burger

The Perilous Praise Burger (Or ‘In search of the Artisan Praise Burger’)

In a world of over-reliance upon pre-packaged off the peg solutions, where convenience food is pervasive due to the time-poverty phenomenon of modern life, convenience is often seen as the number one priority in everything. In this world, are over-worked teachers (NEU, 2018) (also recently reported in The Guardian, 2017), reliant upon the fast-food model of praise? Indeed do such models also please school leaders eager to show conformity, unity and measurable outcomes?

Teacher training makes strenuous efforts to ensure that everything trainees are taught is underpinned with sound theory and evidence based research, (Barnes, 2017) but does this fly out of the window, or indeed fly in the face of, targets, perceptions of what OfSTED want to see, performance management routines and the completion of tasks for the purposes of ‘quality assurance’ audit, more than impact and purpose?

Given the environment in which we operate it is easy to see why the plethora of “ready-meal” packages proves so popular with teachers, all eager to demonstrate their compliance with directives and show that they can give praise to each and every learner within the prescribed time frames, however the experience of the writers is that this is often a practice based on little to no pedagogical study.

This can be likened to the creators of our analogy’s real world equivalent; consider the chef who has completed extensive, rewarding training in a high-class restaurant, and then works in a cafe churning out freezer to microwave to plate unimaginative sometimes unpalatable food.

A quick Google search for ‘praise’ yields many ‘instant fixes’ (e.g. “A general 4:1 ratio of praise to reprimand statements is desirable. Using about 6 praise statements every 15 minutes is also recommended.” Tennessee Behaviour Support Project ‘Behaviour Specific Praise’. Vanderbilt University, 2018) and much which appears innovative, but is the use of a third-party, off the peg (e.g. teachertoolkit, 2014), solution going to do more harm than good? (BBC, 2014.) Insincere interactions and ambiguous intentions, not to mention confusion over the pedagogical grounding – if any – render these ready-to-serve solutions of questionable value, rather like the ubiquitous, brand-neutral,  “economy burgers” which are gradually falling out of favour with the food industry as awareness of the health implications associated with them increases.

What’s a Praise Burger?

What’s a Praise Burger






We’ve all at some point dipped our toes into the murky waters of fast-food consumerism – and if you’re an educator, it’s highly likely that you’ve partaken in this analogous counterpart too – and consequently the snappy soundbite that accompanies both products will also be familiar. “Great job!” and “Well done!” have been reduced to pieces of phatic praise which now ring empty in the ears of their respective recipients much like the jingle we can call to mind along with the infamous golden arches, or the “have a nice day!” which comes free with every customer service interaction.

Polystyrene-packaged, Throw-away culture? Quickly forgotten?

School leaders are likely to advocate praise burger type models for fear that otherwise they might fall foul of monitoring bodies such as OfSTED, in the manner of Barrowfoot school (Guardian, 2014).

How easy is it to digest? Learners are confused by mixed-messages, rather like the presentation-product mismatch of the appetising illustration on the menu or carton compared to the tepid and insipid product delivered.’Person’ praise, where learners are praised for a personal attribute, versus ‘process’ praise where learners are praised for the efforts and strategies they used in a task ( eg. Dweck, 1999) can have a detrimental effect on learners who experience any more than even one single failure. No praise at all, or just an objective form of performance feedback, such as 10 out of 10, can be preferable to ‘person’ praise in the face of failure. (Skipper and Douglas, 2012)

How enduring is the benefit? It could be that, rather like the sugar rush of processed foods, with instant gratification, but longer-term unwelcome effects, the praise  has little value, is quickly forgotten or is storing up problems for the future.

Much more understanding by teachers of the mechanisms around praise is needed in order for them to produce the bespoke ‘ artisan’ style ‘praise burger’, where the teacher grasps how to sell it, where and when the learners wants to eat it, what kind of seasoning to use, just what the contents should be and how substantial. In other words, the teacher understands  what the learner believes about themselves, their intelligence and their capabilities and how they will respond to further success and failures.

Charly Irons is a progress tutor at New College Pontefract

Liane Taylor is an Associate Lecturer in Teacher Education at Sheffield Institute of Education

Dave Darwent is a Senior Lecturer in D&S (E-Learning Technologist / Digital Teaching & Learning)

Stephen Lawrence and Closing the Black and Minority Ethnic attainment gap

I was privileged to be invited to the service to commemorate Stephen Lawrence’s death and perhaps more importantly celebrate his life and legacy. St Martin-in-the-fields welcomed family, friends, royalty, politicians, senior police officers, celebrities, community leaders, those emboldened by Stephen’s life to act and those who have benefited from his legacy. In this famous church a very ‘broad church’ were congregated. During the service I reflected on how the extraordinary can be found in the extremes and what we must do to encourage the extraordinary.

Twenty-five years on, as Stephen was remembered, it was palpable that wounds were still raw and justice still unanswered. To us, Stephen Lawrence has become an icon for needed change but for others he is a son, a brother or a friend. They had lost the personal, in the most brutal and unjustifiable manner possible. They received the knock at the door, or the phone call, that no one should have to answer. Their loss was greater as at its heart was ignorance, apathy and hatred. Ignorance of the power of understanding the other’s perspective, apathy towards the value of life and hatred of one’s own life that its inadequacies should be blamed on another. Stephen is still missed by those who loved him, for the boy he was and the man he should have become.

Despite their terrible loss, his family chose to build a legacy, and from this emerged reasons to celebrate. The work of the Stephen Lawrence charitable trust has supported young people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds through university to influential careers and posts in the professions; the Macpherson report acted as a watershed moment in race relations in the police force; and as Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon OBE, Stephen’s mum has tirelessly acted for constructive change and creating positive futures in young peoples’ lives. Stephen legacy is extraordinary and shows ignorant brutality is most powerfully responded to with thoughtful empowerment.

Stephen’s talents were leading him towards university to study architecture and a career where we one day could have benefited from the buildings he designed. If buildings really are ‘machines for living’ as Le Corbusier described them, then Stephen was on track to design our lives. Since his death, Doreen Lawrence has championed the value of education at all levels and spoken of its power for positive change. In education our potential is enriched and as we get stronger so does our society.  A well-educated society is robust, more powerful, and able to sustain its values while addressing challenges. Therefore, it makes sense that the more we educate our society the better off we all are. The more ‘designers of better lives’ we have. This statement has a reasoned and reasonable logic to it. It just feels right and yet it stands at odds with the Black and Minority Ethnic attainment gap which exists in Higher Education.  It stands at odds with the potential we squander, ignore and fail to recognise in the cohorts we teach.  While many numbers could be chosen, the latest data indicates that Black and Minority Ethnic students studying at SHU are performing 18% below their white peers, a black student is performing 29% below their white peers, numbers which are echoed throughout HE. Their potential is not being recognised, developed or enjoyed. How would Stephen have fared? Would he have been hindered in the HE system due to the colour of his skin? It is probable that he too would have suffered from the attainment gap.

Data gleaned during the Macpherson report noted that the police were guilty of institutional racism. It is easy to see this label applied to others but the attainment gap data speaks and the label is justly applied to our profession. In short, our actions and inactions are denying the potential of Black and Minority Ethnic students. While I am not attempting to make any parallels between the hate filled actions of those who murdered Stephen and what we do, I am noting that a Black and Minority Ethnic attainment gap is the embodiment of institutional racism.  So what to do? Fortunately we are already taking actions and raising awareness about the issue with our course teams, enacting listening rooms to hear from our Black and Minority Ethnic students about what they experience, need and want in order to reap their potential. Deep change won’t come easy but we are willing to change and undertake the work.  Yet we need to keep these developments front of mind and not allow them to be lost amongst competing priorities.

At the service, the Prime Minister announced that the 22nd April will become Stephen Lawrence day which will act as focal point for the nation to remember Stephen and take stock of changes that have been made to improve our society and the lives of young black people. A day to celebrate an extraordinary legacy and gird ourselves for the work yet to be done. In line with this, I intend to use the 22nd April in future years to examine our Black and Minority Ethnic attainment gap, transparently and openly. So that we can recognise that which has been achieved and that which is yet to be attained. Sir Lenny Henry at the service noted that ‘a just society is not a destination but a state of mind’. Therefore, justice will always take work and require changes but it must sit at the core of our values. We will close our attainment gap and we will benefit fully from the potential of all our graduates. In helping guide this change Stephen Lawrence will have helped ‘design better lives’ through the enacted potential of others, a truly extraordinary legacy the Lawrence family can be proud of and we can all benefit from.

Dr Iain Garner is the Head of Department for Education, Childhood & Inclusion