Category Archives: SIOE

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

In Defence of Alchemy – thoughts on the future of student engagement

Over tea the other night my husband, a maths teacher in Sheffield, told the story of his last period of the day with his nightmare Year 10 class.  Suffice to say, seating plans had failed, engagement with the magic of number had not occurred and at one point a desk had been thrown.  Inevitably, after 40 minutes of mayhem choreographed by the charismatic Casey Wild*, his lead practitioner excellence let him down;

‘Right that’s it Casey – your name’s on the board – you’ve had 3 warnings, you’re on red detention.  You have utilised everything in your toolkit of horrors to disrupt this lesson and I’ve had enough of you’

‘No way Sir’

‘Yes, way – you’re on the board, now for the sixteenth time, sit down.’

‘But it’s not even my fault Sir – it’s your fault – you are not engaging my learning style at all!’

‘Is that right? And what is your learning style then Casey?

‘I don’t know, but it’s not this”

As any secondary school teacher will tell you, you only need 10 minutes in the average classroom on a Friday afternoon to know that ‘student engagement’ is a tough nut to crack, so it’s little wonder a whole theorising industry is building around it in higher education. Indeed, it’s easy to see why student engagement is almost becoming an academic religion – after all, if it can deliver on its promises, it could be the magic wand making all the modern university’s dreams of retained, progressing and NSS happy students come true.

Last September I sat in a large faculty meeting to discuss Student Experience and Engagement Priorities. On the desks in front of us were A3 sized coloured spreadsheets – the kind you need laser eye surgery to be able to read. I flicked through. There were about 36 priorities and most had 4-6 sub priorities and actions. I imagined that similar meetings were taking place in universities across the land, all working to a methodology of improving student engagement by breaking down the teaching and learning process into its constituent parts and formulating a list of actions to address NSS and PTES deficits.  I didn’t like to say but my own philosophy of teaching and learning, if I’m honest, is that it’s a kind of alchemy: a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way, but that is almost impossible to quantify.  Even though I trained as a teacher, I’ve never really understood how lesson plans equate to good lessons. My experience is that sometimes it works, in a magical, surprising, inspiring way, and just as often, well, it doesn’t.

Does trying to break down, isolate, and classify the chemistry of teaching and learning by focusing on ‘engagement priorities’, however sensible these might seem, set us on a rocky road to formulaic, well packaged but uninspiring teaching?  If we need any evidence of how it might – we need only look to what has happened in schools over the last twenty years. The assumption that if you use data in the right way you can cover all your bases, target your vulnerable areas and improve outcomes has only taken us so far.  Student engagement in schools is no walk in the park.

How do we develop methodologies that really listen to what students say about what they want when they are such a moving target? Do they even know? Did you at 20? Is it possible that we may be occupying some of our most talented staff with what are essentially ‘side issues’, disrupting the kind of chemistry that can build between students and teachers in an enquiring seminar or lecture room? How do we support the human encounter in our universities? How do we best defend alchemy?

My sense is that we want to avoid The Good Sex Guide approach to teaching and learning. There is a book that sold millions of copies and kept a million therapists in jobs on the basis that learning the moves and varying the positions lead to great sex!  But, in real life, surely we know that it’s all in the chemistry – we just need to create spaces where this can happen, and not legislate it out in the name of efficiency.


As the end of the longest hour on a Friday drew to a close, Casey held up her phone triumphantly:

‘Sir, I’ve found it, I’m kinaesthetic, we did it in Year 8. I’m kinaesthetic!’.

‘Right, Good to know. You can have a kinaesthetic detention then. Sorted.

 *not her real name – she chose it herself as she wanted to be in a blog

Karen Dunn is Head of Academic Development in Sheffield Institute of Education

Marking to fail or facilitating success? Could understanding marking improve how feedback is perceived?

I was recently team-teaching and my colleague was speaking to our students about how they should use the Module Learning Outcomes and Pass Descriptors to inform their work and used the phrase “allowing you to experience success”. There was a slight buzz of conversation in the room and I overheard a few students muttering ‘I didn’t know they could do that’ and (bearing in mind these are trainee teachers) ‘have you ever done that with your learners?’.

I found myself pondering what the experiences of our trainees must have been in the past to leave them surprised that assessors would be seeking to support their success. I recalled an article from The Florida Times Union which considers whether P.E. students should be graded on what they can do or what effort they make. A contributor noted: “You should not be graded on how fast you run a mile, the grading scheme should be based on the process, not the product.” (Amos in Florida Times Union, April 15th 2015). The context of this comment was a learner who, because they were unwell and therefore did not exceed their previous best speed, was down-graded from an A to a C.

This in turn made me think about NSS results: it’s well known that NSS scores for assessment and feedback are a concern for the H.E. sector, but do we have a good understanding of why they are low? Some research into the possible reasons was carried out for the HEA in 2010 (Crawford, Hagyard & Saunders) and amongst the key findings were “Preparing students to understand, receive and make the most of assessment feedback takes time” and “When informing students about the assessment requirements and submission dates, it helps to provide clear indications of when and how feedback will be provided as well as the roles and responsibilities of both staff and students“. But might it (also) be that students are actually less aware than we think of how marking is carried out? Or could it be that some assessors really do look for ways in which they have not met the pass criteria – or at least that some learners perceive this to be the case?  Perhaps feedback itself isn’t the whole story.

I noted to plan a session with our trainee teachers where we will look at some grade descriptors and some samples of work and investigate how the trainees tackle assessment themselves, then explore whether they are all doing it the same way and proceed to discuss ways to ensure that learners are given the maximum possible credit for their efforts, without undermining the integrity of the assessment process.

Later I had another thought: does the way in which grade descriptors and pass criteria are presented influence how learners and assessors perceive, understand and use them? It came to my attention that all the grading rubrics for modules I have taught for the last four years are laid out in four columns with the refer criteria on the left, then pass, merit and finally distinction on the right.
PP1 Rubric

A quick scan of grading rubrics on a modest sample of Blackboard module sites revealed that almost all are set out in the same fashion, but in my external examining role I noticed that at another HEI all of their grading rubrics are laid out with the highest marks on the left and the refer marks far right. rubric 2

As we read from left to right, does this influence the way that learners approach their work? Does it influence the way in which assessors mark work? Might it encourage ‘marking to fail’, albeit completely inadvertently and / or subconsciously. These are questions I certainly can’t answer at this time, but I would like to investigate.

A starting point for research is often a literature review, but interestingly, when I performed a search for literature on this topic, almost nothing was apparent. Instead literature was readily found on appealing marks which students perceived ‘unfair’ and there is much media coverage of assessors protesting that they are being encouraged to award marks which they do not feel are merited in order to maintain student numbers – “… recent reforms, which encourage universities to … expand their intake, … In 2014, record numbers of students left university with a first-class degree, prompting claims that grades are being inflated. The number of firsts has more than doubled in the decade since 2004,…“. (Guardian, May 18th 2015: )

There is a certain irony that, in a profession where encouraging learners, and planning to afford all learners maximum opportunity to experience success, because “By allowing learners to experience success throughout multiple levels of learning, they will develop a positive self-perception of their ability.” (Fazioli, M. P., 2009), the new entrants to the profession appear unaware of the concept of ‘marking to pass’ and instead – apparently – expect that they themselves will be ‘marked to fail’.

Having sparked my interest I am now planning to research approaches to marking and assessment.

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

Are we getting left behind with 21st century literacies?

I was recently at the European COST network meeting in Cyprus on ‘The digital literacy and multimodal literacy practices of young children’. The event was attended by delegates from over thirty countries and the network promises to provide a valuable and much-needed forum for synthesising and sharing research related to young children’s digital lives. The network is in its first year but various events, projects and publications are in the pipeline which will be of great value to practitioners and policy-makers across Europe. More details here [].

What struck me however was how far behind we are in England in terms of curriculum in this area. In many European countries schools are required to include digital media within their language arts or literacy curriculum, as indeed are schools in states within Canada, Australia, the US and other countries within the UK. Yet in England, despite a reference to digital literacy in the Computing programmes of study, digital literacies and multimodality are not addressed explicitly within the curriculum for English.  Schools are of course free to interpret the curriculum as they wish and many are integrating digital media within their provision in important and creative ways, but there is no requirement to do this and given that statutory assessments do not engage with the production or use of digital media, in many schools addressing these 21st century literacies will not be a priority.

Of course we do have a re-worked Computing curriculum and many schools are experimenting with ways of introducing coding with young children and using this to generate opportunities for creativity. This move would seem to be a positive one and there are plenty of examples of innovative and valuable work in this area- see for example the Computing At School network []. However, this move foregrounds mathematical and scientific dimensions of computer use.

More than ever, we are negotiating our lives online and engaging with diverse forms of digital media for multiple purposes (social, economic, political, civic, leisure-related and so on). This does not just involve making safe or judicious decisions about sources or resources, but exploring aesthetic, rhetorical and communicative dimensions of using digital media, aspects which would seem best addressed through the subject of English. There is a need to ensure that English provision recognises the wide range of media that children use and encounter, and the kinds of practices in which they do and could engage in their current and future lives. This is a point I take up in a review for the Cambridge Primary Review Trust [] which will be published later this year.

Addressing digital media with young children requires a literacy pedagogy that is flexible enough to respond to the changing nature of literacy and cultivates children’s ability to experiment, take risks and collaborate in the production and re-working of texts. It needs to support children to consider critically the digital practices in which they engage, e.g. how do (or could) they represent themselves through the texts they make, and how are they represented through others’ texts. These are principles that Guy Merchant and I explore through an article for the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, ‘The challenge of 21st century literacies’ [ ]. At Sheffield Institute of Education we are working to develop such pedagogies through collaborating with teachers in what we call ’21st century literacy maker circles’. This approach involves children working across schools in a shared digital space through a project created jointly by their teachers in a cross-school planning group (a Maker Circle). The work is in its early stages but appears to be generating motivating and productive contexts for teachers and children to experiment with 21st century literacies.

Cathy Burnett is a Professor of Literacy and Education in Sheffield Institute of Education

If you would like to know more about this work, please contact me at  or Professor Guy Merchant at

An alternative perspective on the physics teacher shortage

At present there are two issues in physics education making media headlines. The first, the  critical shortage of specialist physics teachers in England; the second, the persistently low number of girls choosing A level physics.  Is it possible that these two, seemingly separate issues might, in fact be linked and that by making inroads into one it may help to improve the situation in the other?

Girls and Physics

The Institute of Physics have been investigating and working on the problem of gender imbalance for many years and it was as a physics teacher in 2006 that I became aware that this was an issue of concern beyond my own classroom and department.  And so the low uptake of girls in physics is by no means a new phenomenon but it remains a stubborn problem to shift.  Despite a plethora of interventions and initiatives designed to address this issue, the participation rate of girls has remained at 20% of the total over recent decades. The issue is deeply rooted in society at large and within the physics community.

Physics teacher shortage

It is startling to realise that one in five 11-16 secondary schools do not have a single member of staff with a physics or physics related degree (IOP 2013),. In December 2014 the UK government committed £67 million (DfE 2015) to a range of initiatives to designed to increase the number of specialist maths and physics teachers, and subsequently a number of initiatives have been announced to address the problem (Teaching Subject Specialism Programme, pre-ITT Subject Knowledge Enhancement, A level grants initiative to name but three). What is clear is that there is a significant supply problem that starts with A level choice.  Startlingly, physics is the 4th most popular subject for boys yet the 18th most popular subject for girls (IOP 2013).  Clearly if we were to balance up this situation, the supply chain would be boosted.

The link

In business if, for over 40 years we had failed to ‘sell’ our product to an identified market, despite best efforts, surely we would question what is it is that we are trying to ‘sell’. So much of the debate around the issue of girls and physics is centred on the market (that is girls) and not the product (physics).  So, is something wrong with ‘physics’?  Is what we understand to be physics fundamentally gendered? Are we trying hard enough to adapt, change, and be open to alternative approaches to physics itself?

An imaginary case study

What follows is an imaginary case study drawn anecdotally from conversations with physics teachers and students over the years. Imagine Alice, a Year 10 girl who, through the enthusiasm, passion and subject specific, gender aware pedagogical expertise of her (idealised?) physics teacher, thinks she may be interested in taking the subject at A level. Having resisted the strong pull (or push!) towards medicine (and therefore biology and chemistry A levels), she goes against societal norms and chooses physics. Her interest in the subject remains strong throughout her A level studies especially towards the end when, finally, after 7 years of secondary education, the big picture of physics becomes clear.   It becomes time to think about university applications.  What she really wants to do is learn more about physics, a deeper understanding of its concepts and how it explains the physical world and the interactions within it, its history, how it has played its part in the advancement of society,  etc.  Furthermore, inspired by her physics teacher and also her interests out of school, she thinks she would like to be a teacher.  What she doesn’t want to be is a ‘physicist’, nor is she particularly motivated by what she perceives will be the increasingly abstract and mathematical representations of the physical world that a traditional physics degree would largely consist of.

And so what does Alice do?  She may opt for primary teaching, abandon the physics and choose a completely different degree course, she may choose to study what she identifies as physics related subjects such as engineering (not a bad thing in itself, engineering has its own gender battle to fight).  In any event, we stand a very good chance of losing Alice from the physics teacher supply chain. We also lose her potential to become that passionate, ‘expert’, inspiring physics teacher that so influenced her.

Here at Sheffield Hallam University we do offer an alternative through our undergraduate routes into teaching in mathematics, science and D&T. There is also a small but growing number of other institutions now also (re)instating these courses.  But beyond that,  I do not know of degree programmes out there which offer the opportunity to learn about physics (physics studies, perhaps?)  Could such awards be the very thing that we need to hold onto the Alices?   With more Alices making it as physics teachers, might we improve both the quantity and quality of the physics teacher workforce, thereby inspiring a new generation?  Would such awards create a virtuous cycle of growth?

And all this, of course, would not just be for girls!

Heather Wain is a Principal Lecturer in Physics Education and Head of secondary Undergraduate ITE provision. She has a particular interest in physics teacher recruitment, gender issues in physics and physics education research.

The perfect role model; beyond the usual suspects

The adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” has rarely been more apt than in its application to current educational setting. Schools are more influential in the social development of children than ever before and the need for powerful role models both inside and outside of the classroom is of critical importance. But from whom should they model? A role model should be someone who distinguishes themselves in such a way that others admire, and wish to emulate them. Commonly a role model is taken to be someone like us, just more senior or experienced. Nevertheless there are other people in which we can find admirable qualities, people we would benefit from emulating, perhaps we should cast our gaze wider to find the perfect role model?

This is not news to anyone who has worked in education in recent years, and yet, it remains an area where the opportunities are lost. For years, experts have extolled the benefit for students in connecting with adult role models in schools who can ‘relate to their own unique circumstance’, whether that is something as complex as an adult who understands cultural nuances, or something as modest as someone who simply looks like them.

And yet, it remains a rarity for many students to see themselves in the leadership of their schools. Where does the young black boy see himself in a primary school where teaching staff diversity is limited and almost exclusively female? What of the bilingual immigrant looking to see themselves in the leadership of the school? Or the children, who have questions about their own sexuality, faith or culture, who are unlikely to find adults who believe it is in their best interest to admit to “being just like them when they were growing up.”

Perhaps, even more important than providing encouragement and hope for students who feel marginalized, is the need for those students who are not classified in such groups, to see strong and professional role models who do not look like them, from adults who are not ‘usual suspects’! As the next generation of potential leaders, it is vital that students bear witness to adult interactions that represent the greatest diversity possible — that they see the value of those who play different roles in the school and have an inclusive understanding of who contributes to the schools success. In other words all those in a school can act as a role model.

I am taken back to a visit that I once had to a school in Kansas. I saw many really good things that day — teachers excelling in the classroom, coaches striving to solve problems, support staff patiently helping their students and all of the interactions that you would expect in a truly good school. I left that day, however, awed by a very different type of excellence.Adam Holden Blog

It was at lunch that I met Jessie, Rose Kay and Derrick. Jessie is the team leader and resident ‘grandmother’, and she was masterfully navigating the chaos that is a school lunchroom while mentoring and caring for her co-workers — Rose Kay and Derrick are adults with disabilities.

They were serving lunch, as they do every day, with a positive and upbeat attitude that surpassed just about everyone I met that day. They could not have been more professional, could not have been more helpful or courteous, and could not have been better role models to the students that they served. They loved their work, and were immensely proud to be an integral part of the school day. In combination, they forged a powerful connection with the students, whether that was to a group who, perhaps for the first time, could see themselves as adults, or others who just love to eat at ‘Grandma’s house‘. So on reflection Jessie, Rose Kay and Derrick had the admirable qualities of a role model. The behaviours I, and surely others, would want to emulate. My only regret for that day was to not see them as role models and share with others a potential source of ‘perfect role models’.

So my, perhaps our, endeavour, is to seek out the admirable as in them is a reliable source of ‘perfect role models’ and they may not be the usual suspects.

Dr Adam Holden
Adam Holden





Dr Adam Holden is the Head of Academic Development for the Department of Education, Childhood & Inclusion


Academic referencing: Wikipedia, Lenny Henry and the future of academic sources

Outside my university I was met with an advert for a fast food chain which was clearly focused on the student population. The advert boldly stated ‘you’re not allowed to use Wikipedia as an essay reference’. A statement which initially raised a smile in me but got me thinking, while ten years ago I would have whole heartedly endorsed this fast food chain’s academic stance now wasn’t so sure. What are the 21st Century acceptable information sources, what constitutes a good reference source and what constitutes bad one?

Wikipedia is a collectively produced information source, it was sent up in 2001 and since that time has steadily increased in size, Wikipedia report that in September 2015 they had 374 million unique visitors to their website. The Wikipedia website was part a vanguard which provided open access to information. Being part of a vanguard usually means you are also part of a first wave of criticism and Wikipedia were at the receiving end of a dumbing down argument. An argument which states that people thoughtlessly farm information from such internet sources and subsequently regurgitate this information in the hope that some of it may further their arguments or assignment. So there appears to be something which indicates that Wikipedia is bad because it facilitates poor engagement with information.

Added to this is the common joke that Wikipedia is simply the host of misinformation and half-truths that undermine knowledge and understanding. In 2009 the comedian and actor Lenny Henry created a sketch about this very issue ‘Wrongapedia’ for his ‘Live at the Apollo appearance’, the sketch pivoted around the incorrect information on Wikipedia about him, it was very funny and reinforced the position that such information sources are caveat emptor to say the least.

In light of all this it appears reasonable to suggest that Wikipedia is not a suitable reference for an essay. However, it may be worth deconstructing these two damning arguments

1. Wikipedia facilitates bad arguments

2. Wikipedia is wrong

For the first question we need to consider whether an information source can be held responsible for the arguments that are constructed based on the information which it holds. Would we question the veracity of refereed journals based on the argument that students make poor use of them in construction of their assignments? No we would see that the students would be at fault for poorly utilising the information. If it is actually an issue of just ‘cutting and pasting’ the same argument could be levelled at the most prestigious of on line journals.

So if it isn’t an issue for the information source is it an issue about how the information is assessed. Refereed journals are rigorously reviewed by peers. Whereas anyone with a web access can contribute to Wikipedia, perhaps giving grounds to the assumption that Lenny Henry’s ‘Wrongapedia’ sketch may be humorously close to the truth. However, there are 73,000 editors of Wikipedia from a wide range of backgrounds who are constantly reviewing the information. Unlike other information sources errors can immediately be addressed by users, Lenny could have simply edited his entry or noted there were errors on the page.

However, should it be up to Lenny or anyone else for that matter to correct an information source, if it is to be of value it should be right in the first place? While this appears to be a reasonable position it would be worth testing other information sources by the same standard. When Nature in 2005 pitted the accuracy of Wikipedia against Encyclopaedia Britannica they had the same rate of serious errors. In 2012 when Leither et al investigated the accuracy of information about the cancer Osteosarcoma found it to be accurate but lacking in the completeness found on professional websites (in this case the National Cancer Institute Website). The recommendation was to include links to external sources within Wikipedia – a link which is now there for ostesarcoma.

So this crowd sourced information encyclopaedia appears to have acceptable levels of accuracy, is constantly under review and open to swift updating. While it may not contain comprehensive information on all topics, what is there is factually sound and can be supported by links to further sources of information aiding the navigation of information available on the web.

This leaves the question should Wikipedia be used as a reference in an academic essay? In isolation no, just as any single information source would be questioned as forming good foundations for an argument. As part of the research process, as a form of information horizon scanning it is valuable. As with all information sources it is not simply the source that needs to be understood but how it is used, critiqued, supported and contextualised which deems whether it should form part of academic endeavour and considered learning.

Iain Garner




Iain Garner is the Head of Department for Education, Childhood & Inclusion and is part of the executive team for the Sheffield Institute of Education.

Universities, schools and a system in flux – looking back on Carter and looking forward to the future of Initial Teacher Education in England

Sam Twiselton (Director Sheffield Institute of Education) had the below entry posted on the BERA Blog in September 2015:

In 2014 I was part of the Carter Review of ITT – an experience that was rewarding, intense and often stressful. I met a student teachers, mentors, heads, university and school based tutors, NQTs and RQTs; committed people who were very keen to tell us about their innovative and exciting approaches. The Review concluded that, though confusing, the variety of different routes is actually a strength and has a rationale. Different aspirant teachers have different needs. As a profession we want anyone who has the desire and potential to become an excellent teacher to be enabled to do so. Regions and school communities also have particular needs and the different options can help serve these.

Excellent ITE is about far more than learning the craft of teaching through an apprenticeship approach. I and many others have been writing about this for years.

Universities can play a powerful role in supporting these models and in providing depth, breadth and academic rigour

There is a crucial need for learning away from and beyond the immediacy of the practical context. In some school-led models there is innovative and carefully crafted use of expertise and contexts, seamless links to NQT and beyond, immediate and ongoing access to outstanding practice. Universities can play a powerful role in supporting these models and in providing depth, breadth and academic rigour. However the Review gave me food for thought and an appetite to create a call for action – particularly for universities involved in ITE.

The expertise and knowledge needed to support student teachers’ learning is not the same as being an outstanding teacher of pupils. Student teachers need support to be able to connect their learning with the fundamentals of the subject(s) beyond the curriculum, the world beyond the classroom, and the broader knowledge base and research to underpin their understanding. This is a discipline and pedagogy in its own right. Some universities made a compelling case for their role in this, but some schools have also developed great expertise and capacity in Initial Teacher Education and CPD and in creating evidence based approaches to their practice and its development. Movements like ResearchEd and the use of research leads in schools illustrate this. We also know that many university based ITE tutors find it difficult to fully engage in research and knowledge creation, as illustrated in the BERA/RSA Report and REF2014.

Schools that chose to work with a university should make this decision based upon the genuinely recognised potential that pooling expertise and experience brings. For some the HEI partnership is there simply for the market advantage and the academic award. In these cases, the involvement of the university is extremely minimal. This may be because the university has robust evidence that the SCITT is very capable of delivering all aspects of the programme. However, it seems anomalous if a SCITT feels compelled to work with a university simply to be able to award a PGCE without feeling they benefit from the partnership. We need to look at the PGCE and other academic awards associated with QTS and consider their currency and consistency.

As Ellis and Nicholl (2015) argue ‘if we want to get the discipline of Education right, we need to get teacher education right…if we want to ensure the best possible preparation for new teachers and also ensure their retention and their continued professional development, HEIs have an important contribution to make and we need to get that right too’ (p. 124). They make the case for a reconceptualization of the role of HEI expertise in ITE partnerships, involving ‘co-configuration’ of teacher education activity in a way that has potential to produce strong forms of research and development that has benefits for all collaborators.

The highly political way in which the changes to ITE in England have been presented has polarised the debate to a point where it has become difficult to recognise both the strengths and weaknesses associated with different models. Being on the Review convinced me that it would be foolish to deny the enormous potential that exists in the new and emerging models. Student teachers do need regular and ongoing access to practitioner expertise in a way that is carefully structured, critically deconstructed, analysed, and evaluated for its impact on pupil learning and well-being. They also need to do this in a way that is situated in the literature, the most up to date research – both subject and pedagogical, and within an evidence-based, inquiry-driven framework. In my view, one of the most essential features is the deep integration of practitioner and research/inquiry expertise. The two polarised extremes of entirely school-led or entirely university-led ITE provision both present risks to the possibility of achieving this goal.

Professor Sam Twiselton

Director Sheffield Institute of Education

Looking Forward and Looking Back – Professor Sam Twiselton

Welcome to the Sheffield Institute of Education blog. Challenging education thinking and practise in the 21st century

The SIoE 2 years on

I find it amazing that I can write ‘two years on’ in this subheading. It still feels like I have just arrived and that we, the new Sheffield Institute of Education, have only just begun.

In many ways this is true – there is still so much to do and a lot to look forward to. However, there is also a lot that has been achieved and many things on which to look back and reflect.

One of the key things for me personally and professionally was to be part of a panel looking into routes into teaching known as The Carter Review. I reflected on this last week in a blog for BERA and I’m now going to do this briefly for the SIoE’s new blog.


As with my reflections for BERA on the Carter Review and implications for HEI, there are things that have happened in the last two years that give us pause for reflection on the future in both hopeful and concerning ways.

Charles Street

There is so much to celebrate in terms of internal progress and success. I continue to be impressed by the levels of academic and professional expertise, enthusiasm and commitment that are so evident across all areas of the SIoE and I still keep finding example after example of lights that are hidden under bushels and extraordinarily wonderful practice that people think is ordinary.

No organisational structures will ever create or substitute for this deep and broad bedrock of excellence that underpins the institute.

However I do think that through the different stages of our restructuring we are creating more permitting circumstances for this excellence to thrive.

We have outstanding people in the right positions at every level and we have more straight-forward ways of getting things done and making the right decisions in the best way.

When we are all located together this will be even better. I would be naïve to assume that our new arrangements (both structurally and physically) won’t encounter teething difficulties and there is clearly more to do in phase two. However I genuinely believe we will find things more enabling and straightforward. I also anticipate that very many creative innovations and developments will arise from this.

Externally there is a lot to think about – more than I can do justice to here.

The good news is we see so many pieces of evidence of the very high esteem in which we are held and this feels like it’s on an accelerating upward trajectory. This comes in many forms – new partnerships, new business, high NSS, excellent REF outcomes, strong recruitment in most areas, invitations to speak or comment, successful bids, increased numbers – I could go on.

However there are also very clear threats in our external environment that we would be foolish to ignore. At our advisory board earlier this week we were given two very depressing inputs by Sam Freedman (director at Teach First, formerly policy adviser to Michael Gove) and Jim Knight (chief education adviser at the TES, member of the House of Lords and formerly Labour Schools Minister) that both confirmed a very serious pending reduction of funding in all aspects of our sector.

This is bound to impact in a range of ways and certainly makes the challenges for our need to find new markets for CPD, research and Knowledge Exchange at the same time as holding on to all our current business particularly acute.

To end on a more positive note, these challenges always also create opportunities – clichéd as this sounds. The creativity, talent and positive mindset of members of the SIoE puts us in a great position to seize these opportunities and turn them to the advantage of our ultimate goal, which is to impact positively on the lives of children and young people at every stage and level.

You may also have picked up that I have now been asked to be on the Expert Panel that will support Tom Bennett’s remit develop materials and come up with recommendations to support Behaviour in ITE and beyond, securing coverage in the TES.

As with the Carter Review it will no doubt be a very political process. Once again I know I will be constantly drawing on the considerable expertise that resides across all the units of the SIoE and once again I hope it will raise our profile, help us make the case for why HEI is so important and bring us new connections and partnerships.

Please do take a look at the BERA blog and let me know if you have any thoughts about it or what I have said above. This is the first of what we hope will become a regular, monthly as a minimum, SIoE blog. We want all areas of the institute to contribute to it so let us know if you have some ideas.