Category Archives: Teacher Education

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 

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 

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)

The Only Fresh Air is Outside in the Yard

This film made is about the ways that children can sometimes slide through school without getting a great deal of benefit from being there. It looks particularly at the impact a teacher can have by noticing the thing that makes a child tick and thinking about how that child can be included in the school community.

This is the film version of Martin Illingworth’s entry for a new book called ‘The Working Class’ edited by Ian Gilbert.

Martin Illingworth is a Senior Lecturer in English Education at Sheffield Institute of Education

“Dans ma trousse, j’ai…”SIoE conference offers inspiring models for learning in a foreign language

The inaugural Association for Language Learning /SIOE cross-curricular language learning conference took place this summer at the SIOE.  For the first time academics and practitioners from Anglophone countries and similar contexts across all phases converged to explore how content and language integrated learning pedagogy could be applied to different contexts and subjects.  The range of factions from which delegates came was also a first: EAL/TESOL/EAP/curriculum subjects/ and foreign languages. Perhaps we should not have been surprised at the number of delegates and eminent scholars from as far away as Australia and Japan who attended the conference… though we were, as were listeners of BBC Radio Sheffield.

Difficult to capture the buzz from the outset of the conference but this account from one captures a taste:

Delegate’s impressions

I have just spent 2 days at the 2017 Inaugural International Conference on ‘cross curricular language learning’. The SIOE in partnership with the Association for Language Learning (ALL FLAME) brought together an impressive array of internationally acclaimed researchers, writers and teachers in the field of language learning, many of whom are experts in CLIL : ‘Content and Language Integrated learning’, which aims to teach subject content via a foreign language (Hood & Tobbut, 2009). This temporary, international ‘community of practice’ was the catalyst for great opportunities to think about both our own classrooms and global classrooms.

 Highlights from the keynotes included a fascinating presentation on ‘pluriliteracies: creating motivating conditions for progression –at any stage, in any language’ by Professor Do Coyle which situated CLIL pedagogy firmly in the EAL arena.   On day 2 I loved Phillip’s message that integration of foreign languages was valuable wherever and however it occurred: a daily “Buenos días “ ,” ¿Que tal ?” and “adios” to your Year 3 class might not seem like much but these greetings and farewells are   all part of embedding the language;  a simple but powerful way of  using L2  for an authentic purpose . This purposeful and meaningful use of the foreign language contrasts with the decontextualised learning many of us have experienced. It is not uncommon for a pupil to encounter a foreign language through the narrow prism of their pencil case, pets or favourite colour (Bower, 2017).  What Phillip articulated so powerfully was that through the fusion of content and language we can open the door to a myriad of engaging, inspiring, meaningful and creative contexts and, in the process, give learners a much richer and cognitively challenging experience.

Key messages to share with trainee teachers and with colleagues in school: 

  • Primary or early years teachers who use CLIL can enhance learning so much when teaching a Foreign Language. Primary teachers are already well versed in the necessary subject knowledge and the practice by which to communicate it!   
  • It’s understandable that some practitioners may worry that that they don’t have the confidence or competence to teach in a foreign language. This isn’t total immersion! Have a go! You can use English where necessary- there is no compulsion to carry out all your classroom business and interactions in the foreign language. The key is that the children are interacting with authentic foreign language content resources.

Check out the keynotes and workshop highlights via the following link:  Conference PresentationsSome highlights were:

  • the water cycle in Year 6, the life cycle of the butterfly in KS1. (Eric Carle’s , ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar ‘ ( La Pequeňa Oruga Glotona ‘ was used to great effect ) Noelia Rivas and Sara Montero
  • rainforest animals and the ancient Egyptians KS2 Victoria Cooke
  • Using movement and dance to tell an intriguing story about pirates – in French! Elaine Minett and Laure Jackson
  • Access resources via: google sp; goofle fr

For all these  examples of joyful learning, CLIL was not presented as the  panacea for  foreign language methodology , and indeed the challenges  presented in the UK  by  gaps in teachers’ ‘ subject knowledge –be language or content-  and the imperative  for funding for appropriate  CPD was much discussed. Yet despite and possibly because of  these barriers, delegates departed with a renewed commitment to playing their part in promoting  a creative, cognitively challenging, intercultural, purposeful approach to foreign language learning. I’m look forward to the 2nd conference!

Impact from the conference

‘All teachers are language teachers’ (Coyle, 2017) … at Sheffield Hallam University we look forward to developing links across the curriculum, particularly in EAL/EAP and subject contexts as we explore how elements of CLIL pedagogy can be effectively employed across the curriculum.

  • We have a SIG for second language acquisition, a sub-group of the language and literacy research group. Contact Kim
  • An internal group of academics was formed at the conference to further cross curricular language learning in Anglophone contexts beginning with a symposium at ECER 2018 and a book currently under review.
  • Interest in collaboration between the SIOE and ECU Perth was firmed up as a result of delegates from ECU University, Perth Australia attendance at the conference and a memorandum of agreement is now in place.

…so watch do join us, come along to CLIL 2019 (June 28/29 SIoE) – register your interest via:

and watch this space!


Bower, K. (2017) ‘Speaking French alive’: learner perspectives on their motivation in Content and Language Integrated Learning in England., Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching. doi:10.1080/17501229.2017.1314483

Carle E. (translated by Esther Rubio) (1991) La Pequeňa Orgua Glotona , Hamilton, London.

Coyle D., Hood P. & Marsh D. (2010) CLIL : Content and language Integrated Learning , Cambridge.

Sally Hinchliff, Senior Lecturer and Dr Kim Bower, National Teaching Fellow 2018

A tale of two teachers: the importance of keeping a supply of great teachers for our region

It’s already March, and headteachers’, and trainee teachers’, thoughts are rapidly turning to next September.  Before long, the adverts will be out, the shortlisting will be done and heads and trainees will be looking warily across a desk at each other, both thinking the same thing: do I want to work with you?

Lots has been written about teacher shortages, but just as important as recruitment is retention: Nick Gibb released data before Christmas showing that 30% of teachers leave the profession in their first five years, so the need for a good fit between schools and teachers is very important, which reminds me of the stories of two teachers in a research paper on this issue that I published recently.

Sarah joined Forest Fields secondary expecting to stay for the long term – “as long as there is a job here for me” seeing a strong fit with her values as teacher. But as she developed in her second and third year, she became more focused on promotion, and saw few possibilities at Forest Fields. By her third year, she was looking to move on.

Daisy was ambitious when we joined Smith House primary, expecting to move on quite quickly. By her second year her priorities were changing and she was enjoying a good fit with the school. By her third year, she was feeling supported, considering  children and saw the school now, as a very good fit for her  “I am career-minded, but I want to fit in having children too… and the school is a good one for one with children”.

These were not isolated stories in a study of early career teachers including a series of surveys of over 4000 teachers in their first 3 years in the profession as well as 2000 senior leaders, alongside over 150 interviews conducted in case studies in 50 schools that looked at both the experiences and expectations of beginning teachers and the corresponding views of heads and other school leaders.

In the study schools like Forest Fields and Smith House fitted the traditional model of what I call in the paper stability-orientated schools, schools that focus on encouraging early career teachers to develop their classroom skills, focusing their professional development on building these skills and aiming to create an environment that encourages teachers them to stay in the school in the longer term. By her third year, Sarah found she didn’t want to be in a school like this – she might have stayed longer  in an action orientated school, one that expected its teachers to want to move on in their careers, encouraging teachers to take on responsibility early in their careers, moving them on to promotion and encouraging staff to move on in their first five years.

Action-orientated schools can thrive in an environment where they expect staff to move; they don’t always need to find and then hang on to teachers, as long as they can be sure there is a good supply and system of collaborative support for high quality NQTs to take their place. The key is for schools collaboratively to ensure the right range of support, opportunities and contexts  are available in the region and to join these up with the varied needs of teachers.

So what about our local region? Sheffield Institute of Education is working with Initial Teacher Training providers, Local Authorities Teaching School Alliances and Multi Academy Trusts across the Sheffield City Region to help provide this supply, support and development so that when the Daisys and Sarahs of the future decide to move on, schools can be sure that they can find equally excellent teachers in the future in new ways. If you want to join them and teach in our region please get in touch; if you want to find out more about how we are working across the region – watch this space!

Professor Samantha Twiselton is the Director of Sheffield Institute of Education

Mike Coldwell is Head of Centre for Research and Knowledge Exchange

Access to A level Further Mathematics: it matters and it’s at risk for many

Recently, A level league tables were published alongside secondary league tables. No surprise that independent schools continue to be at the top or that there are big differences in performance in different areas of the country. But it is not just performance that varies considerably – so does access to doing A levels and that is an important issue. In one authority – Knowsley – schools have stopped offering A levels completely. Fortunately there has been a change of heart but still access to A levels depends on where you live.

We have recently undertaken research focused on access to Further Mathematics A level. Further Mathematics has been a success story in recent years. The numbers of students taking A level mathematics have steadily risen but have gone up even more quickly for Further Mathematics. Alongside this, the numbers of schools and colleges offering Further Mathematics has also risen – in 2004 only 40% of the schools offering A level Maths, now it is nearly 70%.

This matters because Further Mathematics can help students gain entry to mathematics and science courses at Oxbridge and other selective Universities. Like the A level performance tables, independent schools dominate the rankings in terms of number of entries for Further Maths. State funded schools with high entries have students with similar socio-economic profiles to the independent schools – households that are relatively affluent and parents with professional backgrounds. Also whilst students from many ethnic minorities are more likely to do A level Mathematics than their peers from white British backgrounds, they were less likely to do Further Mathematics. So more students doing A level Further Maths is good for social mobility.

There are many schools that offer A level Mathematics but who do not offer Further Mathematics. The Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP), who commissioned our research, do great work in encouraging such schools to get involved in Further Mathematics. The FMSP offer face to face and on-line Further Mathematics tuition, as well as materials and CPD for teachers. This supports schools to introduce or keep going with Further Mathematics when they would not otherwise be able to do so. Sometimes this can even mean schools offering the course on an individual basis. In fact, the modal entry to A level Further Mathematics is just one  student per establishment. This means that in any school or college offering Further Maths they are more likely to only have one student doing it that any other number. This highlights the subject’s fragility. Our research found that in two out of three schools offering Further Mathematics the subject was insecure – that is there was a risk of access to Further Mathematics being withdrawn.

In 2015 new post 16 funding arrangements were introduced. Schools and colleges get paid on the number of students doing 3 A levels rather than the number of subjects taken. If a student takes a fourth A level, schools and colleges only get a little bit extra money. So there isn’t an incentive to have students take 4 A levels. The problem is that Further Mathematics is often taken as an additional A level. The funding arrangements won’t affect independent schools. It is less of a threat to schools which have large numbers of students taking Further Mathematics already as they get economies of scale. These schools are almost all in wealthier areas. So we could see less privileged students locked out from Further Mathematics and so find it even harder to join wealthier students on prestigious maths and science university courses.

Further Maths is another example where we see the divide growing between schools that have access to more resources and those with less. Although the government funds the work of the Further Mathematics Support Programme, changes to A level funding means that the FMSP’s efforts are undermined. The potential losers are poorer students, those from ethnic minorities, struggling schools and all of us if we have fewer young people with strong maths qualifications.

It looks like the work of the FMSP will be even more important in supporting schools to find ways to continue to offer Further Mathematics as well as A level Mathematics. If you work in a school that offers A level Maths but are not part of their network then why not get in touch? But it’s also important that unintended consequences of changes in funding arrangements are pointed out to government as they monitor changes in patterns of A level entry.

Dr Mark Boylan is a Reader in Education at Sheffield Institute of Education

Mark Boylan 123368

Terraced House or Terrorist House? What effect will the Prevent Duty have on trainee teachers and teacher educators in higher education?

The first phrase highlighted above is not a SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) test question, but rather a phrase overheard in a primary school classroom that led to a ten year old boy and his family being questioned by the police earlier this year. This is not an isolated occurrence, with similar stories in the press of a suspicious ‘cooker bomb’ that was later explained to be a cucumber. Trainee teachers have from 1st September 2015 had the ‘safeguarding’ responsibility to report concerns about potential terrorist threats when working with children and young children  –  to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. However what response should teacher educators take in applying the Prevent Duty to the trainees with whom they work?

Trainee teachers have a variety of identities – they need to think like a teacher, also as learner or student, as well as presenting their own personal identity in university and school settings.  So it follows that applying the Prevent Duty impacts on teacher educators in different ways depending on their role and their knowledge of student teachers’ culture, religion and identity, whether they are international or ‘Home and EU’ students.

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, Head of Research at the SIoE, has been researching the experiences of international students, refugees and asylum seekers in higher education for the past fifteen years, and is expert on the impact of legislation on university students. Her interviews with over sixty students over many years show how important it is to understand that students need to ‘belong to’ and ‘matter to’  their university and student group, and how statutory guidance like the Prevent Duty can alienate students whilst at university and in placement schools. So how can teacher educators draw on Jacqueline’s work to ensure all trainee teachers belong to, and matter to, the SIoE education community?

Jacqueline’s research shows that lecturers and teachers need to set up opportunities for students to talk explicitly about their religion, culture and identity. She identifies a common misconception that universities are secular, religion-free institutions in both Europe and North America. This perception can cause problems for both staff and students, because when religious activity is supported at university, it is often perceived as a threat. One of her interviewees responded, ‘after a bomb alert, every Muslim is seen as an Islamist, and every Islamist a terrorist’. The policy response is that religious activity may require surveillance and control – precisely the response that will lead to trainee teachers feel they do not belong to the institution, and do not matter except as a potential problem.

One way that teacher educators have started to address Jacqueline’s findings is to introduce the Prevent Duty within wider diversity training for student teachers. The secondary PGCE course in the SIoE has run a Diversity Conference in conjunction with the South Yorkshire Development Education Centre (SYDEC) for the past two years. Evaluations show that trainees have developed a more nuanced and critical understanding of the Duty, and feel more secure in their identity as secondary teachers.

Teacher educators, in common with other staff at Sheffield Hallam, complete an e-learning module to introduce the statutory Prevent Duty.   However, the important work of supporting ‘belonging’ and ‘mattering’ also requires face-to-face interaction. This can take place through academic and university link tutor support, as well as in the design of placement and university learning experiences. Examination of the ‘British Values’ agenda as part of professional studies is an opportunity to critically reflect on how all our trainee teachers can feel they belong and matter to different educational settings. Teacher educators have the skills to sustain cohesive communities – let’s not forget that building and sustaining partnerships between students, educational settings and higher education has been at the core of our work for many years – all our students matter and all should feel they belong.

David Owen is the Head of Teacher Education in Sheffield Institute of Education

Knowledge organisers, cognitive science, tiger teachers and Michaela. Beyond the pale, or part of our ITE future?

Last week I taught geography for the first time since the current National Curriculum was implemented (note to self – do fewer meetings but do more teaching and research as Head of Department). The topic was rivers; the student group BA primary; the module assignment was to create a primary classroom learning environment to facilitate enquiry based learning in one of the primary foundation subjects. I first taught a rivers scheme of work thirty years ago (!) to Year 9 pupils; led primary environmental investigation in primary science and geography twenty years ago, then championed the enquiry approach to primary geography with Alison Ryan in Teaching Geography 3-11 in 2001, followed by completing a PhD on primary children’s collaborative talk during the creation of digital maps. There’s been a focus on enquiry and subject pedagogy in my teaching since I was a probationary teacher (an NQT in old money…).

However, views on curriculum content have changed since then. Government ministers no longer see the curriculum as a ‘secret garden’, inaccessible to policy makers. Knowledge rich content is privileged above a skills based approach in the National Curriculum, and also in many of the curricular approaches in influential free schools and academy chains. Bloggers cite E.D. Hirsch and his cultural literacy approach as a key influence in defining core knowledge for schooling in the USA and in England.

So how did the ‘knowledge-turn’ affect my return to geography teaching and my preparation for the session?  Some things are still the same – sections of film showing the progress of the River Severn (which I used to access via VHS) are now on YouTube and still popular with students and teachers – at least judging from the comments posted online. But other things have changed – I now had a context in which to engage with a knowledge rich curriculum tool – the knowledge organiser . Joe Kirby, Deputy Head at Micheala Free School, is passionate about the use of knowledge organisers and has blogged about their use as well as contributing a chapter on ‘Knowledge, Memory and Testing‘ to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Micheala Way (edited by head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh) and reviewed here  by Debra Kidd. But would I have moved over to the ‘trad’ dark side in trying out this approach? What would my colleagues think in relation to enquiry based learning? Interestingly, Dr Emily Perry has also reflected on the balance between knowledge and skills in science education in the  last SIoE blog. So how did the session go?  What did the primary trainees think of the knowledge organiser approach?

I used a Year 7 knowledge organiser focusing on key words, definitions and concepts related to river landscapes. Identifying the appropriate knowledge related to primary humanities topics is a challenge for primary trainee teachers – they may have given up history or geography at the end of Year 9 and could have only a few hours of humanities content in their ITE course. So far, so good; the trainees told me that they could use such an approach to help map out the knowledge they needed to know in order to teach. But did they think knowledge organisers had a role in primary children’s learning?   Again the trainees were cautiously positive. They were receptive to the argument that KS2 children could return to an appropriate rivers knowledge organiser during a topic. The rest of the session then focused on what pedagogical approaches the trainees would be effective in learning about rivers: some familiar strategies were suggested including using dance, song, child-led (!) enquiry and ICT. They particularly appreciated Moorcroft Wood Primary School’s cover of James Bay’s Hold Back the River. So perhaps ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’ pedagogies can co-exist after all. Certainly this teaching experience has prompted me to engage seriously with current school led curriculum developments influenced by cognitive science, including knowledge rich curricula, deliberative practice in teacher preparation, tools such as knowledge organisers and the success of academy chains such as Ark implementing rigorous lesson planning approaches across their schools.  I might make a tiger teacher educator yet!!

David Owen is the Head of Teacher Education in Sheffield Institute of Education

Responding to complexity: a new third tier for school based education

Change has become a constant in the English school education system. A major driver has, and for the moment continues to be, the Government’s on-going strategy for a school-led self-improving system which incorporates a number of new, and relatively new, organisational structures and influential roles. In no particular order these include the office of Regional Schools Commissioners, the growth of Teaching Schools, the increase and variation in Multi Academy Trusts (MATS) and the local creation of other new models of school-based  groups such as Schools’ Companies .

Significant parallel systems changes include the introduction of new approaches to teacher training through School Direct  and Early Year Professional Status that have impacted on both University and School-Centred teacher training and the supply of qualified colleagues into the system to counter increased rates of loss.

These changes are contributing to new inter-organisation dynamics where effective partnerships often need developing, resourcing and a level of skills from those involved to make effective, focused and impactful decisions. These structural changes taken with the relative decrease in the capacity of many Local Authorities to continue to take their historical lead in organising strategic, tactical and operational responses to variations in schools’ performance is resulting in increased complexity, particularly with respect to achieving improved outcomes for children and young people.

This diversity is a source of richness in the overall system but also of challenge in managing common and efficient approaches to assessing needs of schools that are causing concern, organising effective strategies and achieving successful and sustainable improvements in the context of staffing, financial and other constraints. It has created a much more diverse environment in which schools:

a) engage with their own improvement agendas,
b) seek or are directed to seek support from other external sources and
c) could, should and do contribute to the improvement of others.

This increased turbulence in the education environment, with its multiplicity of organisational relationships, responsibilities and accountabilities, requires a coherent response to achieve a degree of stability, a response that is informed by the needs and capacities of the local system as well as the boundaries and opportunities afforded by national policies.

The concept of ‘place leadership’ is one approach to this, where local strategies can be designed, developed and, most critically, actually deployed. ‘Local ‘ may be defined at different geographical scales depending on the circumstances of the area but in all cases this needs to be a process that can bring together local stakeholders, draw on the complete set of available contributions so that they can make and mobilise the ideas, resources and commitment that they can bring . This in effect is the creation of a new ‘third tier ‘ that has been built and put into action by the organisations in the area, for the area, i.e. those whose work will be most directly affected by its success.

Success in this also requires a consensus on the issues that need to be addressed before embarking on strategies to bring positive impact. Education has a major advantage in this respect in that there is an almost universal consensus that improving the life chances of children and young people is a common goal of schools, MATs, local education authorities, colleges, universities and employers who engage with them to bridge education to the world of work.

The schools, MATs, SCITTS, School Direct lead schools, colleges, universities and local authorities in the Sheffield City Region are working towards this ambition of ‘place leadership’ through a new initiative “Partnership for Attainment” and hope to bring about change through a new form of partnership and collaboration.

Sean Cavan
Head of Business Engagement
Sheffield Institute of Education