Category Archives: SIOE

The poetry of reflection

We love poetry and we love teaching. But is it possible to combine the two?

We came across an article in the Times Higher Education (Illingworth, 2022) that did just that, and decided to try it. This post describes our experiences of using poetry to widen the horizons of our trainees, showing them how they might use a combination of a reflective model and poetry to critically analyse their teaching experiences. Inspired by the article, we ran sessions with our trainees on the full time (Chloe) and part time (Alison) PGCE/Cert Ed course, drawing on an activity that meshed poetry and Gibbs’ (1988) model of the reflective cycle to scaffold trainees’ reflections on their experiences on placement. Illingworth’s (2022) article explains how the Gibbs’ model can be used to structure a reflection on a lesson/session. The task is then to write a poem that describes, very concisely, the critical evaluation and analysis of that experience.


Our trainees were asked to read the article prior to our session to familiarise themselves with the techniques they were going to use in class. We explained how the activity related to the module assignment, in which they have to synthesise methods of reflection and evaluation to critically review progress and monitor targets. Our aim was to stimulate engagement, and to help trainees consider different ways to reflect and evaluate – a crucial skill for teachers, and not one that comes naturally to everyone.

This is what happened…

The full-time cohort

To model the process, Chloe and the Post-16 Course Leader created poems based on their own recent teaching experiences and shared these with the full-time group. The group then worked collaboratively to create poetry. One group was led by an enthusiastic trainee who acted as the nominated poet, distilling peers’ experiences into examples of free verse, with some attention to rhyme and much humour. This tone contrasted with the challenging circumstances they had encountered on placement. Another group worked in pairs to analyse the progress of one learner from getting a D in a mock exam to an A*. This is their poem:

An immense sense of pride washes over me,

One of my students received an A* from a D,

And from this I learnt communication is key,

Which creates stronger teacher / learner bonds for me.

Moving forward I will continue this method,

Guiding them through life like a teaching shepherd

Another larger group drew on their questioning techniques to ascertain exactly what had happened following the five stages of Gibb’s Reflective Cycle (1988) closely, resulting in a haiku-style poem outlining the significance of a medical issue. Another pair reflected on the alternative placement experience at the Botanical Gardens, detailing a sensorial perspective and the personal and professional impact the experience had afforded them. Other poems generated by individuals were visceral and direct, evoking the impact of their experiences, and the creative process of writing poetry collectively about them.

The part-time cohort

We weren’t sure Alison’s part time people (a small group of five trainees completing their two-year part-time course) thought it was going to happen, despite the preparation required. But it did, and despite the groans and quizzical glances, the trainees participated actively in the task set. Alison split them into two small groups, with a ‘prize’ for the best poem produced. She then asked them to use their latest observation to produce a poem based on Gibbs’ reflective cycle, applied to a reflection on the observation. Alison went first and wrote her poem on the board, providing an example that trainees could follow if they wished to do so. The poem reflected on the ongoing session itself as it was the first face-to-face after the holidays, and included a nod to Burns as it was January 25th :

 Reflection is iterative
Back F2F

1st time this year.

Positive anticipation

No fear?

Did I talk too much?

Was it too intense?

Made sense?

Ended in poetry

Unfamiliar. Rhyme?

A fitting way to end

on Burns’ night?

No ‘wee timorous beastie here’?

Try it again

Reflection is iterative.

The best trainee poem was a witty, succinct, rhyming poem reflecting on an observation Alison had done on a trainee in the previous semester:

Alison was late, because she’s not Tom’s mate

His timings were up for debate.

Moving forwards he’s going to plan more effectively,

By looking at his timings more perceptively.

What did we learn?

Using poetry allowed the trainees to synergistically link different models of reflection, and they had a lot of fun whilst doing so. Possibly the biggest gain was the way trainees tackled the activity (despite their initial misgivings), worked well together in their small groups, and as a larger cohort. We suggest that this type of session could be applied in different courses, and we highly recommend trying it with your students. It’s ‘out of the box’ and gives students a unique experience of reflective analysis and evaluation. The technique seemed to develop students’ capacity for collaboration, and pushed them to be more concise and precise in their reflections. Ultimately, the task provided students with a means to reconstruct their experiences in a new genre, which perhaps illuminated a new perspective on those experiences. Moving forwards, we’ve been asked to run a workshop later this year at the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers conference with Sam Illingworth, the author of the article that started all this.

Try it. What have you got to lose?


Gibbs, G. (1988) Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic, Oxford.

Illingworth, S. (2022). Learned words: using poetry to reflect on practices in higher education. Times Higher Education.

Dr Alison Hramiak and Chloe Hindmarsh are senior lecturers in post-16 education and training.

The bigger picture: taking a systems approach to encouraging research use in education

This post originally appeared on the BERA blog and is shared here with BERA’s kind permission:

 Whilst it is not always easy to see the tectonic plates moving, a culture shift appears to be occurring in English schools towards widespread engagement with research (Department for Education, 2022). Yet, when we consider the development of evidence-informed practice we often focus on schools and teachers, rather than the education system as a whole. In a recent Review of Education paper we have taken a wider perspective to consider the overall systems in which research evidence is produced, mobilised and used (available here).

But what exactly do we mean by a ‘research use system’ in education and what are the potential implications for schools, policy makers and intermediary organisations?

A system can be defined as “a set of components that work together as a whole to achieve a common goal. A system is greater than the sum of its constituent components because the relationship between the different components adds value to the system” (Ndaruhutse et al, 2019). In that respect, a loaf of bread could be considered as a system, in that you take a group of separate ingredients – flour, water etc. – and add the action of heat and yeast to create something that is greater than the sum of the parts. Systems are also dynamic and constantly evolving, which also applies to a loaf of bread as it is initially baked then goes dry over time.

It is with this systems perspective that we recently examined efforts by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to mobilise its guidance on ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants’ and, in particular, activities to support the development of evidence-informed practices at a regional level. Research use in this project emerged as a dynamic process that relied on the alignment of multiple factors and activities relating to evidence production, mediation and use. It was influenced, for example, by the quality and usefulness of the evidence, the receptiveness and capacity of schools as evidence users, and the presence of research intermediaries. Furthermore, research use didn’t take place in isolation, but instead sat within the broader contexts in which schools operate e.g., regional policy, school improvement, accountability.

Put simply, research use is as a myriad of interconnected ‘moving parts’ that need to function optimally and be aligned. Weakness in any area of the system, or interactions between different actors and activities across the system, can potentially impede research use. It is a strong as its weakest link.

A system-based approach to research use has some potential implications for policy makers, and, indeed, anyone who is interested in developing an evidence-informed education system:

  1. Failure to acknowledge the complexity of research use systems is likely to result in less-than-optimal interventions to improve research use.

Current approaches to supporting research use in education typically underplay the complexity of systems change. There has been a growing recognition that simply ‘packaging and posting’ research is unlikely, by itself, to impact significantly on decision-making and behaviours (Nutley et al, 2007). Taking a systems perspective on research use encourages us to see the complex interdependencies between different actors and activities and so gain a deeper understanding of the factors at play.

  1. There is value in exploring multi-stranded mobilisation strategies that work together at different levels of the system e.g., school, regional policy, national.

One of the characteristics of research use systems is the high degree of interdependence between activities at different levels of the system e.g., school, regional, national.  EEF’s ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants’ scale-up campaign illustrates how mobilisation activities at different levels can influence each other e.g., press/media engagement; influencing national and regional policy. A systems perspective encourages you to think strategically about how different mobilisation activities interact and reinforce each other.

  1. Create receptivity for research use

As discussed, research use activities do not operate in isolation, but sit within the broader contexts and systems in which schools operate. Policy makers should therefore consider how the wider systems in education – e.g., accountability, school improvement, teacher training – can enhance effective research use. They should promote evidence use as a clear priority throughout the system to encourage alignment and consistent expectations across the sector.

  1. A systems perspective can be used to examine the functioning of existing systems and make informed decisions on where best to intervene.

Applying a systems lens creates opportunities to examine the existing research-use systems and make informed decisions as to where best to intervene. It can identify impediments and enablers to research use, which can then inform the choice of intervention strategies (Gough et al, 2021). For example, if an identified limiting factor within the system is the capability of schools to critique and interpret evidence, activities that build the capacity and skills of schools as research users would be a worthwhile strategy to consider.


Department for Education (2022) School and College Panel – March 2022 wave

Research Report. Department for Education

Gough, D., Maidment, C., & Sharples, J. (2021). Enabling knowledge brokerage intermediaries to be evidence-informed. Evidence & Policy, 1–15.

Maxwell, B., Sharples, J., Coldwell, M. (2022) Developing a systems-based based approach to research-use in education. Review of Education 10(3)1-26

Nutley, S., Walter, I., & Davies, H. (2007). Using evidence: How research can inform the public services. Policy Press.

Ndaruhutse, S. et al (2019). Why systems thinking is important for the education sector. Education Development Trust

Professor Jonathan Sharples is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Education Endowment Foundation, seconded from UCL Institute of Education. He works with schools and policy makers in the UK, and internationally, to promote evidence-informed practice and spread knowledge of ‘what works’ in teaching and learning. He is the lead author of EEF’s ‘School’s Guide to Implementation’.

Professor Bronwen Maxwell is an Emerita Professor at Sheffield Hallam University who has led many large scale research and evaluation studies focused on research use in education and teachers’ professional learning, knowledge and development.

Professor Mike Coldwell is a Professor of Education at Sheffield Hallam University. His research focuses on professional learning, education policy and research use in education.



Shaping South Yorkshire

Last week the Princess of Wales launched the Shaping Us campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of early childhood experiences in how we develop physically, socially and emotionally. The campaign starts from the premise that:

“The way we develop, through our experiences, relationships, and surroundings during our early childhood, fundamentally shapes our whole lives. It affects everything from our ability to form relationships and thrive at work, to our mental and physical well-being as adults and the way we parent our own children.”

This will not come as news to anyone who works with young children and their families or who is familiar with a range of research in fields as diverse as child development, health inequalities and economics. In all these areas there are powerful arguments that outcomes are improved, and society gains when resources are invested in meeting the needs of young children and their families. Politically there has been interest in intervening to support parents during those crucial first few years from the Sure Start programmes, Free Early Learning places, Children’s Centres and now Family Hubs.

Despite this interest, and some periods of significant investment, the gap in outcomes between children growing up in poverty and their more advantaged peers is no longer narrowing according to a Nuffield Study. Additionally, health inequalities, many of which start in early childhood, are actually widening. This situation has been further exacerbated by the pandemic, a recruitment and retention crisis in the early years workforce and the closure of early years courses.

Sheffield Hallam University is very active in this space in their civic role and in 2021 opened the Early Years Community Research Centre (EYCRC) in Shirecliffe in Sheffield. The centre has a nursery that provides places for children aged 2-3 years-old who are deemed to be economically disadvantaged and entitled to 15 hours per week in nursery. To date, 80 families have been supported through the centre, and a research study with a sample of parents and carers in 2022 revealed how vital this nursery place was, not just in supporting the child’s development but in meeting the needs of the whole family. Parents reported how isolated they had become during the pandemic and how anxious this had made them about their child’s development. For example, one parent commented:

“He was more like a baby when he first came here, like a baby, you know, and now he doesn’t want his bottle as much and his dummy. He’s not bothered. He will just come and play. And he is becoming a little toddler now, not a baby anymore.”

And another reflected on how the nursery provision had reduced her anxiety:

“It means I get time on my own, because I’m a single parent and I’ve got two children, and Molly is my granddaughter, but I’ve got her full time, so obviously I’ve had no time whatsoever. Nobody takes then overnight or anything, so I don’t get a break. So having this nursery place earlier, for Molly, is just- it’s made me feel better, and I’m not on high alert 24/7.”

Parents and carers also reported that the nursery staff were a great source of support and information about their child’s health and development. They found that through being supported in a non-judgemental way they had gained confidence in the services and were now attending the parents’ breakfast club and other activities at the centre:

“Because of Wendy coming here, I am looking to either going back in to work or applying for a university place. I don’t usually like making friends. I’ve got social anxiety. But quite a few of the mums here that I talk to go to breakfast club now, so I sit with them.”

The opening of the EYCRC has led to Hallam’s involvement with a fascinating project funded through the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. This initiative asks cities or city regions to gather a team of eight members drawn from relevant stakeholders to address a problem their area is facing. The team is then supported to work through the root causes of the problem and identify potential solutions. I was thrilled to be asked to be one of the eight from South Yorkshire, chosen by the regional mayor Oliver Coppard and the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to look at health inequalities in early years and how they impact negatively across a person’s life. The problem identified is that health inequalities are stark in South Yorkshire and getting worse for young children and their families. Next week we will be joining other teams from across the USA and from Helsinki in New York City to start to develop potential solutions with the support of academics from Harvard and the Bloomberg team. The team recognises that this will be a huge challenge, but we are all committed to looking at how we can build a preventative, supportive system upstream for families and young children rather than waiting to help them out of the river downstream. I am hopeful that the current focus on early years is a window of opportunity for us to address these issues for the long-term. This is an opportunity that we have to grasp.

Professor Sally Pearse
Sally is the Strategic Lead for Early Years at Sheffield Hallam University and the Director of the Early Years Community Research Centre (EYCRC). Since 2017 Sally, has led the work with early years colleagues from across South Yorkshire to develop a range of collaborative projects. These have included a £1million project, funded through the DfE Early Outcomes Fund to transform the regions speech, language and communication services and the development of the EYCRC in Sheffield. The project is now delivering nursery places and family support in an area of social and economic challenge.

Issues and Answers: Teacher Recruitment and Retention

COVID 19 showed us more clearly than ever the importance of education and why we need to protect it. We have not only seen how hard it is when teachers and their pupils cannot be together but also how much it matters that we address the disruption to learning this has created. We have also been constantly reminded that an excellent education is the foundation for everything else in society. Let’s face it, without education, we would not have been able to navigate our way through the global crisis. We relied on our scientists and many other experts whose own education helped them to rise to the challenges of the pandemic so magnificently.

There are of course so many pressing issues in education I could talk about right now. But we can’t have great education without great teachers. Teachers have worked incredibly hard in the most challenging of circumstances. Now it matters more than ever that as a society we look after them. So, here are three pressing issues in teacher recruitment and retention that urgently need attention:

  1. Teacher recruitment – including Initial Teacher Training (ITE)

Teacher recruitment, both into ITE and beyond, has been a challenge for some time. As is so often the case, it’s a problem everywhere but a bigger problem both in impact and scale in the most disadvantaged areas. The schools with pupils who have the greatest need for the best teachers have the greatest challenge recruiting them.

ITE is clearly a very important factor in this – providing a pipeline of new teachers into the profession. It therefore matters a great deal that providers like the Sheffield Institute of Education have a clear mission to serve disadvantaged communities, and we are definitely part of the solution. However, as many people reading this will know all too well, ITE is not in a settled state, both in terms of recruitment and its future, and is a growing challenge nationally (see The changes to ITE provision through the DfE ITT Market Review have also raised questions about provision of ITE in all the right subjects, phases and places going forward (see We need to keep a close eye both on the supply and the provision side of ITE. This is a big deal.

  1. New teachers – we need to look after them more than ever

One of the reasons there is such a teacher recruitment challenge is because we have a teacher retention problem. As so many teachers leave (and so often very early in their career) we are constantly refilling a leaky bucket. We can’t have a great education system without great teachers, and we can’t have great teachers if we don’t hold onto them.

As I have said, we need to look after all teachers, but we need to give special and focused attention to our new teachers. They not only represent the future of the profession; they can play a central role in reformulating what happens now. They are also the ones most likely to leave, and this is a problem that is getting worse.

At the Sheffield Institute of Education, we have been focusing on how we support new teachers to help them develop, re-establish and nurture relationships with the children and colleagues they work with. Without those relationships, and without understanding the different factors that impact  children’s ability to learn, we cannot overcome all the barriers those children face:

However, it’s equally important that we understand and address the needs of the new teachers. The need to look after new teachers has become a welcome policy priority in recent years. This is mainly in the form of the Early Career Framework (ECF). The framework  has not been without its teething problems in its first year of national roll out (see It is certainly true that extra time demands on both early career teachers and their mentors has sometimes added to the pressures of teaching rather than eased them (though according to an independent evaluation not nearly as badly as the Schools Week article suggests: ). So, we need to learn from what has and hasn’t worked well in the early days of the ECF. Above all though, as financial constraints tighten, we must not abandon the need to look after new teachers as a policy priority. The answer to the challenges raised by time pressure is not to abandon the time needed for early career teachers and their mentors – it is to fund it properly.

  1. Teacher retention more broadly

While new teachers are a particular priority, we also need to pay attention to mid and later career members of the profession. The DfE has partly woken up to this problem and in publishing the recruitment and retention strategy (recruitment and retention strategy)  has started to build a sensible response. As a strategy, this response includes different moving parts which all need to work together. The National Professional Qualifications are a key part of this. However, research from my colleagues led by Professor Emily Perry shows that we need to do more: (

Now more than ever we need to support all our teachers and ensure the teaching profession has a bright and secure future.

Professor Sam Twiselton, OBE

Director of the Sheffield Institute of Education

Executive Summary of Sheffield Hallam’s Institutional response to the Initial Teaching Training Review

You can read Sheffield Hallam’s full response to the ITT review – SHU Response to ITT Market Review

The story of Sheffield Institute of Education and our response

With over 100 years of experience, we are one of the largest providers of teacher professional development, we work with over 600 partners, and we are home to many of the leading academic thinkers and influential school leaders in this space. As educators and trainers of over 2,200 trainees and student teachers (ITT and SCITT total, July 2021) we pride ourselves on our innovative and comprehensive approach to teacher development and as a partnership, our mission to transform lives shapes everything that we do.  Our partnerships have considerable strengths and we are not working from a deficit model.

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Why we need to look after new teachers: now more than ever

In the Doncaster Opportunity Area, of which I am deputy chair, we have seen large numbers  of people losing their jobs because of Covid-19. This is having a huge impact on lives, communities and, of course, children.

So what has been the effect of this on new teachers starting this year?

As you would expect, there are probably as many different answers to this question as there are new teachers. There has always been much variation in what it’s like for new teachers, and Covid 19 has amplified this in the same way it has amplified so many of the variables in all our lives.

But I believe the trauma with which this generation of teachers has been faced in its first year will make its members stronger in the future.

Hopefully it will help form their professional identity and thereby make them a positive force for good in the system.

At Sheffield Hallam we have been focusing on how we support these new teachers: to help them to develop and re-establish and to nurture relationships with the children they teach.

For many, this is proving to be a really strong identity-forming way to come into the profession. Without those relationships, and without understanding of the different factors that impact on children’s ability to learn, we cannot overcome all the barriers that come with them.

We have all been dealing with trauma, bereavement and (for some) economic catastrophe which will be present well into the future. At its best the school system has been able to embrace the role new teachers can play in helping put a premium on relationships and responsive flexibility. As a system we have needed to emphasise the centrality of positive and mutually respectful relationships with children, staff and parents.

Having said all this, it would of course be wrong to say it has been an easy time or that the stress of starting a new and demanding career has not been made so much harder for the majority of new teachers. They had a disrupted ITE year and they have come into schools at a time when teaching and learning are far from normal and when there are many things that add to the usual stress.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many have risen to the challenge brilliantly and have maybe even enjoyed some of the ‘stripped back’ nature of having to really focus on the basics of what is achievable in these constrained circumstances. This does not, however, mean they do not need our current and ongoing support.

What have we learned through the COVID 19 Crisis?

Most people who work in education are motivated by the sense they are doing something important, that matters, that makes a difference. This is because we all know that ultimately education in all its forms has the power to transform lives, open gateways, change individuals, the communities they live in, society – the world.

Without education we would not have any of the other things our upon which civilised lives depend. Covid times – combined with the tragic events associated with Black Lives Matter – have shown us more clearly than ever the importance of this. This means we need to look after our teachers – all of them – but we need to give special and focused attention to our new teachers. They not only represent the future of the profession – they can play a central role in reformulating what happens now.

What does that mean for what we keep and what we change?

The problem of teacher retention existed long before Covid-19. It is one that that is getting worse and earlier in career every year. My time on the Carter Review of ITT a few years ago highlighted  one of the key reasons for this – ITE is too short and this combines with an accountability system that can tempt some school leaders into expecting NQTs to be the fully formed product and able to hit the ground running.

It is a toxic combination. Stress, workload, and a lack of self-worth inevitably follow. The DfE have recently woken up to this problem and in publishing its recruitment and retention strategy last year came up with a sensible response. As a strategy it includes different moving parts which all need to work together, but it is the ECF and ITT Core Content Framework that are uppermost for me.

When the two frameworks are up and running and working together as a national entitlement from September, we have something that could make a huge difference – a core entitlement for all trainees and early career teachers, regardless of where they train or where they get their first job. This ‘Velcroed-together’ set of frameworks should provide consistency in the evidence-based training, support and development that new teachers receive across the ITT year and the first two years after they have qualified.

This is a great step forward and the system needs to get behind it and support it. We need to change the narrative for new teachers, and we need to support, develop and – in some schools – adjust our expectations of them. The last year has given us a cohort of new teachers with special insights and strengths – we must work hard not to lose them as we have lost previous generations.

Written by Professor Sam Twiselton, Director of the Sheffield Institute of Education

‘Doing data differently’- now open for visitors!

One thing that we’ve learned from the current pandemic – if we didn’t already know it – is that data can be powerful.  And of course, it’s not just data but visualisations of data that make a difference. Just a fortnight ago heat maps of COVID-19 infection in different regions and graphs showing projected numbers of deaths were used to make the case for a second national lockdown in England. No matter that the graphs were so small that you couldn’t read the labels on their axes or that the models on which they built have since been problematised, the spread of red and soaring clines charted an inexorable move towards a breakdown of the NHS and intensified the national crisis.

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Is there a role for universities in developing Early Years services? A reflection after two years of South Yorkshire Futures

Sally Pearse, Strategic Lead for Early Years for South Yorkshire Futures at Sheffield Hallam University.

My background in the early years has been driven by my belief that high-quality early years provision and services are a vehicle for social justice and transforming children’s outcomes. However, since moving full-time into Higher Education lecturing at Sheffield Hallam University in 2015 I had felt slightly removed from this purpose.  I was therefore delighted when I was asked to lead the early years’ aspect of a programme to explore if the university could play a key role in working with regional partners to address the inequality that impacted on the educational attainment and social mobility of young people in South Yorkshire. This innovation was partly in response to two government initiatives around social mobility and a drive for universities to play a more direct role in schools.

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