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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.

The toll of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s wellbeing and mental health. How can we support children in ‘new times’?

Picture this: it’s March 2020; you’re in lockdown; you can only go out once per day for provisions or exercise; and your time is taken up juggling lengthy zoom meetings and home schooling. For many of us, this will be an uncomfortable memory. But in the first few days and weeks of lockdown, we presumed this predicament would be short lived, and it was a novel experience. The weather was good, and some of us had the flexibility within our jobs to spend more quality time with family, going for long walks, watching television together and playing games.

As a parent, I experienced first-hand lockdowns with a child. My son was overjoyed when the first lockdown began. No school or SATs tests. What more could a ten-year-old want? But, as time passed, the cracks began to show. Lockdown and restrictions led to the closure of parks and playgrounds. Playdates were on hold. Although schools were open to key workers’ children and vulnerable children, these were small in number. Most children were unable to play and interact with friends. When schools returned after each lockdown, some restrictions remained in place, for example social distancing and ‘bubbles’. Some children could no longer play with friends in other classes or year groups, which led to further disruption to children’s friendships and wellbeing.

Some children and families were placed under considerable psychological stress and financial pressure. Juggling conflicting demands, including work and home schooling, was tough on parents emotionally, especially women who were more disproportionally affected. Many parents felt stressed and their ability to parent was affected, impacting upon children. I certainly had several instances in the second lockdown where I felt overwhelmed with the range of demands placed upon me through work and home. This scenario may ring true for you too. Even before the onset of Covid-19 children’s mental health issues were increasing. Sadly, Covid-19 exacerbated those issues and increased the number of children needing support. But to provide that support, we need to understand more clearly what the impact of Covid-19 on children’s wellbeing and mental health was, and how we can support children in these new times. To find out, I conducted a study focusing on the emerging research on Covid-19 and its impact on children. This work helped to build a picture of both the positive and negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s wellbeing and how we might support children and families going forward.

Fortunately, I found that despite the negative impact to children’s wellbeing, there are actions that can address the impact and encourage resilience in children. Here are some of them:

  1. Listen to children’s Covid-19 experiences, noting any suggestions of how we can help or support.
  2. Be mindful that children need time to reconnect with friends and peers in and out of school. They need time to play and have fun.
  3. Set aside some time (this can be as little as ten minutes per day) to do something with your child: play a game, read a book together, bake some buns. Positive interactions like these help children feel secure and thrive.
  4. Seek out support from schools (schools have long term plans in place to cater for wellbeing and mental health) or professional health services if needed.
  5. Ensure children attend school. Covid-19 has showed us just how important being at school is for children. Not only do schools provide opportunities for academic learning; they also play a huge role in children’s social and emotional learning and development.
  6. Don’t get caught up in the learning ‘catch-up’ frenzy. Children will feel under pressure if they believe they are behind. Support and encourage wherever you can and seek support from your child’s class teacher or school if you are concerned.

As the pandemic continues in the background of our daily lives, research on childhood such as my own highlights the importance of awareness of the impact on children’s wellbeing and mental health. Be mindful of this impact but remember that there are steps that we can take to help mitigate the toll on our children as we go forward in these ‘new times’.

Dr Caron Carter is Senior Lecturer in Childhood & Early Years Education at the Sheffield Institute of Education.


It’s who I am, not what I do

On the way back from a trip ‘up North’ (further up as it were) to see my eldest son, we stopped in Boroughbridge ( for lunch. When I say lunch, I mean we picked up some pies from the butchers to eat by the mediaeval market place. There’s a fabulous stone structure, the Market Well, where you can sit on the steps, in the sunshine and watch the world go by. It’s a lovely town, dating from before Roman times, and well worth a visit for its history and geography, and, of course, its pies. As a family, we are good at pies. But I digress.

The reason I started with this was because, on this occasion, as we crossed the road from the butchers to sit in the sun by the Market Well, a large group of secondary school children turned up and took all the spaces. It’s a free country, so we sat on a bench by the steps instead. The two teachers with the group split them into two smaller groups and proceeded, with the aid of several teaching assistants, to talk to them about the town, and set them some work to do from where they sat.

Not one to miss an opportunity to learn more about the place, I sat quietly and listened in to the lesson behind me. The teacher had a lot of interesting things to say, and I was hooked. It wasn’t long before the teacher trainer in me kicked in and I realised I was actually observing the lesson and thinking about how it could be improved. The lads that sat at one edge had to be told over three times to pay attention. They mostly sat watching me and mine eating our lunch. The teaching assistants moved around the group of pupils, picking up dropped pens and helping some find the right pages. Unfortunately, the teacher could not be heard by all and forgot to check to see if everyone knew what they were doing, so by the time she set them on their first task (counting cars) many of them didn’t know what to include (moving or not, van size or not, different colours, camper vans etc.).

All of this in about 10 minutes. We left shortly after having finished our lunch, and so I wasn’t able to continue my ‘observation’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was an easy task, doing an outside lesson with lots of distractions, and I reflected on what strategies could get the lads more engaged and ensure all knew what they were doing. Outside lessons are much harder than indoor ones in terms of behaviour management, not least because, you have no real control over the environment you are teaching in. A windy day, at a busy junction, with lots of distractions…not the ideal place to try to be heard.

This then led me to thinking about how, after covid and the lockdowns, when such lessons were impossible, what a privilege it is to be able to go to such a lovely spot, and learn ‘in situ’, actually out there in the fresh air on a trip. Then, because of the way my mind works, (and because of the way I had immediately gone into ‘observation mode’, with lots of ideas for how to help the teacher make the lesson better for the kids who were falling behind, not really getting it, or hearing it), I thought about how we might have left pupils behind after covid. I thought about how those pupils with particular needs, or who had had difficult times at home during covid lockdowns, might still be feeling the aftereffects of covid. Might still be feeling behind, or neglected, or worse.

With this in mind, I wrote the following poem to try to make us think about the kinds of things that for some pupils, for those with specific needs, might not yet be behind them.

Post Covid: Special Needs

What happens to…
the ‘rear’ kids?
the ones with the silent voices
(that) go unheard.
Their sound not travelling
from the back
of the class.
Who listens out for them?
Are we so deaf now?
So immune?

Or the ‘fear’ kids?
the ones with the hidden bruises
(that) go unseen.
Their marks not travelling
from beneath
their low sleeves.
Who watches out for them?
Are we so blind now?
So immune?

Or the ‘beer’ kids
the ones with the slurry excuses
(that) go unbound.
Their gaze not travelling
from the front
of their face.
Who dares ask much of them?
Are we so scared now?
So immune?

Or the ‘tear’ kids?
the ones with the cover stories
(that) go untold.
Their chairs not travelling
from the door
of the room.
Who sits and talks with them?
Are we so numb now?
So immune?

Or the ‘peer’ kids?
the ones with the fewer friends
(that) go alone.
Their appeal not travelling
from the screens
of their phones.
Who inspires heart in them?
Are we so cold now?
So immune?

What happens now?
now that they’ve missed
so much.
Who will pick up the pieces?
Will you?
Will I?

I’ve used it in my teaching sessions at SHU. It’s a useful starting point for discussion in sessions when we start to explore the individual needs of learners, and how we might take this into account when we teach them. It makes the trainees think more carefully, and more deeply about their own learners on placement, and how they could adapt their teaching (and learning) to better meet their needs.

So, when you’re out and about, or in and teaching others how to teach, think about this poem, and about those lads at the edge of that outdoor lesson in Boroughbridge, or maybe about how best to engage them. And remember this: We are more than what we do. Training teachers, being a teacher, is, for me, who I am, and probably who I will always be – even during a pie lunch in North Yorkshire.

Alison Hramiak is a Senior Lecturer in Education and a poet. Her poem featured in this post is published in New Contexts 4: An Anthology at:


The apprenticeship levy: where are we now?

Apprenticeships are back in the news since King Charles’ comments about the need for more technical education at the ‘Repair Shop’. Given that our new Education Secretary was an apprentice herself, perhaps now would be a good time to reflect on the state of apprenticeships today.

First, some background: the new apprenticeship system, introduced in 2017, brought in new standards for apprenticeships as well as a new levy and funding system. New apprenticeship standards, endorsed by employers and often including a technical or professional accreditation, laid the ground for the growth of apprenticeships at higher levels including degree and postgraduate apprenticeships. The apprenticeship levy is only paid by large employers, with any funds unspent within a specific period (generally 24 months, but there have been extensions as a result of the pandemic) returned to a pot and spent on apprenticeships at smaller employers. When the levy was introduced, the House of Commons library briefing set out that “[i]n England, spending will be ring-fenced – meaning it will be protected within departmental budgets to be spent on apprenticeships only”.[1]

In 2016, I wrote a paper for IPPR[2] highlighting some of the potential issues with the new system, notably the potential for there to be low-quality, high-volume apprenticeships in some sectors, and a drop in small and medium-sized employers offering apprenticeships. The report offered recommendations to safeguard quality, and to encourage the growth of Level 3 apprenticeships.

The reality of the levy

Now fast forward to 2022: five years since the levy was introduced, my early concerns seem prescient. There has been a large drop in 16-18 apprenticeships at Level[3]. In 2014/15, 16- to 18-year-olds on Level 2 apprenticeships made up 17.1% of starts, but by 2020/21 this had dropped to 9.9%, with the actual numbers falling from 85,600 to 31,710. Level 3 apprenticeships for young people have stayed relatively stable. However, higher apprenticeships, those at Levels 4, 5, 6, and 7, typically taken by adults, have increased dramatically from 18,630 to 95,170 from 2014/15 to 2020/21, now making up 29.6% of starts compared to only 3.7% in 2014/15.

Other predictions have also held. There are organisations who supported individuals to obtain MBAs through the senior leader apprenticeship[4] to spend the levy rather than consider the needs of the whole workforce. Some large organisations with a predominantly professional workforce find it difficult to spend their levy, while smaller organisations who do not pay the levy find it more difficult to access the funding that would help them secure an apprentice.

There are also big problems with achievement rates, as new providers of varying quality have entered the market. The end-point assessments that apprentices need to pass to formally complete their apprenticeships have led to extended completion times.

The changing nature of apprenticeships

On a more positive note, apprenticeships are now much broader than before. They represent pathways for young people and for adults to move into new roles in new areas, to upskill or to reskill. An apprentice could be 16 or 60, training for their first job or their fifteenth, with the same employer or a new one. However, we also need to recognise that for many people, apprenticeships are understood as being a first step into a career for young people, often in skilled trades. These kinds of apprenticeships have fallen dramatically while newer apprenticeships in areas like higher level management, and arts, media and publishing have increased[5].

The future of the levy

What does the future hold? The levy has broad support in principle and the changing nature of apprenticeships, at a time of renewed focus on upskilling and reskilling adults, is welcome. There are concerns about the underspend of the current system, however. A recent report from FE Week[6] highlights that over £2 billion of apprenticeship funding has been returned to the Treasury since the launch of the levy.

Mayoral combined authorities in the West Midlands, London, and others have been promoting levy transfer, whereby up to 25% of a large organisation’s levy pot can be transferred to another organisation to fund their apprenticeships. The funds can be used to ensure that apprenticeships are still available for 16 to18 year olds at Level 2 or 3, and to promote greater use of the levy by smaller businesses. The West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street wants to double the number of apprenticeships in the region by 2030 partly through levy transfer[7] and Labour have proposed lifting the 25% cap on levy transfer[8]. Reflecting on the demand for the shorter courses that businesses typically demand to upskill existing employees, the Labour party[9] and others[10] have proposed broadening the focus of the apprenticeship levy to include those. The exact rules about what the apprenticeship levy can fund, what happens to the underspend, and how to encourage more smaller businesses to take on apprentices are in flux.

What won’t change is the notion that apprenticeships are for people of all ages and available at a range of levels. For the economy, through upskilling and reskilling, but more broadly for adult learners, this is a sign that lifelong learning is becoming a priority.

Charlynne Pullen

In September 2022, Charlynne joined SIRKE as a Principal Research Fellow focusing on post-16 education. Prior to this, she was working independently on research projects, for example the Global Statement on the Future of Professional Technical Education and Training for the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics. From 2014-2020 Charlynne was Head of Research and Evaluation at The Education and Training Foundation. She is a Governor at Milton Keynes College Group and the University of Bedfordshire.




[4] (version retired in 2021)






[10] EDSK: Learning and Work Institute: IPPR: CIPD:

SIOE Staffing Update

Dear friends and colleagues,

Now that the semester is in full swing, here’s a brief staffing update. Please support all colleagues below in their new roles, change of roles, or next steps in their professional life:

Following a competitive selection process, Rebecca Mallett will become Deputy Head of Department (fixed term contract until August 31st, 2024) and will lead on the Curriculum 24 portfolio redevelopment work.

We have strong field in the interviews for a permanent Deputy Head of Department to replace Heather Wain who is leaving the university to change career over the next few months.  Heather will be working 4 days a week from November 1st till the end of December, focusing on developing our ITE curriculum and ensuring we are prepared for Ofsted. I’ll update results of the interview stage of the recruitment (interviews on 20.10.22) as soon as I can.

Caroline Smart is now Head of Area for Secondary Initial Teacher Education, following Fiona Leonard’s move to 0.6FTE as a senior lecturer as part of phased retirement.

Adrian Fearn is now Initial Teacher Education Partnership Lead and Deputy Head of Area for the Secondary Area, leading ITE partnership developments.

Sarah Rawding is Deputy Head of Area for Education and the Early Years and Childhood Areas, supporting curriculum development across both Areas.

Philippa Thompson is Business and Enterprise Portfolio Lead and Deputy Head of Area for the Primary Undergraduate Area, leading employability across the department, and short and sandwich placement development across Education, Early Years and Childhood courses.

Richard Pountney has stepped down from the role of Postgraduate Taught Lead and Deputy Head of Area, as part of his phased retirement. He now works at 0.4FTE as a senior lecturer. We will advertise this Principal Lecturer vacancy as soon as we are able to.

Together we have made a great start to this semester, and it has been really rewarding to be able to meet so many of you in person again on campus.  Do invite our new colleagues to your meetings, or just catch up with them for a coffee and welcome chat.

Very best wishes,


Professor David Owen BSc MSc PGCE PhD FCCT (he/him)

Head of Department

Sheffield Institute of Education

Link to SIoE Sharepoint

College of Social Sciences and Arts

Sheffield Hallam University

Charles Street Room 12.4.01

City Campus, S1 2NE

Telephone +44 (0)114 225 4493   Mobile: 07799341912

@DavidOwenSIoE  SIoE Blog –

Who gets to access undergraduate study in the context of Levelling Up? The political economy of higher education

It is becoming clear that higher education faces some potentially momentous changes in the coming months – although, as is often the case, we can’t be clear of the direction of that change. The largest policy challenge is set by the Levelling Up agenda (DLUHC 2022) and subsequent policy reforms set in train by the former universities minister Michelle Donelan and the Office for Students (OFS) consultation that followed the publication of the Levelling Up white paper, designed to facilitate a shift away from undergraduate study and towards ‘skills’. Taken together, these policy changes formed part of the Government’s response to the Augar review of higher education financing (DfE 2022; Donelan 2022). On top of this, a new set of challenges has become apparent since that flurry of policy activity: the cost-of-living crisis, including the return of the spectre of inflation eating into University finances; and a leadership change at the top of government, with no certainty that higher education will be seen as a high priority for the new regime.

So, what do these changes mean for who gets access to undergraduate study in the context of levelling up? And how are these changes likely to impact us at Sheffield Hallam and within the Sheffield Institute of Education? As noted above, we don’t know how urgent the Truss government will consider these issues to be – early indications are that they are pro-free market and pro-growth. Much of their discourse about higher education has tapped into ‘culture wars’ attacks, such as ‘left-wing academics are cancelling academic freedom’ and the perennial (but never defined) portrayal of some programmes of study as ‘Micky Mouse degrees’ (Donelan, 2022). But we do know that any future government will continue to want to reduce the cost to the exchequer of the higher education and skills system. Here are three possible scenarios:

Scenario 1 changes to the nature of the student body

The government response to the Augar report (2019) (Donelan, 2022; DfE 2022, Office for Students (OfS) 2022) offers a series of policy solutions that are intended to redirect some potential applicants away from degree-level study (by removing eligibility for student loans for those with low A-level grades), with attendant negative implications for the diversity of the student body given the known association between socioeconomic background and educational attainment. Other proposals would lower the repayment threshold and lengthen loan repayment periods, both of which would negatively impact lower income and female graduates disproportionately, according to the DfE’s own impact assessment of the reforms (DfE 2022b).

If these reforms are accepted (currently proposals are out for consultation and some require parliamentary approval which could be problematic and time-consuming), this offers the prospect that a future Universities Minister is going to stand up in Parliament and declare the reduction in the number of graduates from low-income and some Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and other underrepresented groups, such as care-leavers, a successful policy outcome.

Scenario 2 changes to the business model of the institution

Even if the worse does not come to pass in that regard, we cannot yet know for sure whether Government will seek to save public money (which underwrites student loans and is thus exposed by non-repayment) by reintroducing student number controls; or indeed allows inflation to further erode the real value of the current maximum fee of £9,250 per year to fall. Estimates are that – even before the 10-15% inflation rates we will face in the next few years – real funding per student equates to around £6,500 per year because of inflation since the new cap was introduced in 2016 (Research Professional, 2022).

In this scenario, the market effect of inflation would dictate that to survive universities will have to look at other more lucrative sources of income that do not depend on the public purse such as fees from international students, postgraduate and professional qualifications, increasing research income e.g., from applied research and knowledge exchange activities including commercial spin-offs. These activities and income streams could either subsidise the current level of undergraduate provision or become substitutes for them. This would imply a fairly drastic programmatic review, including as options the reduction of student numbers accepted across some programme areas, or even the closure of provision in some disciplines.

Scenario 3 pivoting towards the skills agenda

Given the current government’s focus on skills provision at levels below undergraduate (levels 3 and 4) universities like Sheffield Hallam, which are less selective and less research oriented than Russell Group and other research institutions, could revert to offering provision at sub-degree level, through Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNCs/Ds), Foundation degrees (Fds) and degree apprenticeships in partnership with further education, training providers and employers. Such collaborative provision – with some level 4 teaching ‘franchised’ to further education partners as part of university validated courses leading to university awards – was common before 2012, from which time further education colleges were encouraged to compete against higher education for these numbers as the demand-led market was ratcheted up (HEA 2014).

Any of these scenarios will probably lead to a narrowing of access to and participation in undergraduate programmes after decades of relative widening. Even if the rhetoric of levelling up doesn’t appeal to the current government, the underlying problem of how to fund the higher education and skills sectors – during a period when demand from a demographic bulge in the number of 18-year-olds is high – will have to be addressed at some stage.


Department for Education (2022) Higher Education policy statement and reform, Published 24 February 2022. HM government

Department for Education (2022b) Higher Education policy statement and reform consultation: equality analysis, Published 24 February 2022. HM government

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (2022) Levelling Up the United Kingdom White Paper, Published 2 February 2022. HM Government

Donelan, M. (2022) ‘Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan speech on the Augar Review’, available at: (Accessed 22 February 2022)

Higher Education Academy (HEA) (2014) Evaluating the impact of number controls, choice and competition: an analysis of the student profile and the student learning environment in the new higher education landscape, Higher Education Academy, York, August 2014.

Colin McCaig is Professor of Higher Education Policy, based in the Sheffield Institute of Education Research and Knowledge Exchange Centre (SIRKE). His most recent book comes out in October: McCaig, C, Rainford, J and Squire, R (Eds) (2022) The Business of Widening Participation: policy, practice and culture, Emerald Publishing ISBN 9781800430501

 The Business of Widening Participation by Colin McCaig (



From safeguarding and confidentiality to GDPR and online methods: considerations for researchers during the pandemic and beyond

The world changed for everyone back in March 2020. The transition to working from home happened overnight, with little time to consider how effectively that would work in terms of the jobs we do. As a mixed methods educational researcher with a role as an Information Governance Guardian[1], I was faced with immediate concerns around research data – practically, ethically, and also legislatively. Fieldwork was put on hold whilst we tried to work out the best way forward.

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Quality assurance of teachers’ professional development: what have we learned?

We know that teacher quality matters to educational outcomes. Therefore, if we want to improve outcomes for pupils in our schools, we need to ensure they receive high-quality teaching. And this means teachers need access to high-quality professional development which helps them to keep learning about their practice and their roles. But can we agree what high-quality professional development looks like? And what might we be able to do to ensure teachers and school leaders are able to access professional development that will really have an impact?

These are the questions that have been on our minds for the last three years in a project, working in partnership with Chartered College of Teaching and Teacher Development Trust, and funded by the Wellcome Trust, in which we sought to develop, design and pilot a system for quality assuring teachers’ professional development. The intention of this work was to understand whether and how an effective quality assurance system could set a standard for quality which teachers and schools could use to inform their decision making around teacher professional development.

To understand what high-quality professional development looks like, we drew upon the evidence base around effective professional development and used this to develop a set of robust quality assurance criteria. Through consultation with stakeholders from across the education sector, we tested these criteria and continued to refine them throughout the project.

Our definition of ‘quality’ sits within the criteria. Professional development providers who took part in the pilot were asked to demonstrate that they met each of the nine criteria, which were grouped in three themes:

  1. Intent: the criteria in this theme focus on the aims and intended impact of the professional development, ensuring that professional development providers are clear about the aims for teachers undertaking the professional development as well as its long-term intended impact on pupils.
  2. Design: the criteria here ask professional development providers to show how their professional development is designed to meet its aims; providers are expected to draw upon evidence and expert input, and must demonstrate that they have designed the professional development to bring about sustained changes to practice.
  3. Delivery: within this final theme, the criteria look at how providers ensure their professional development is delivered to a high standard; they are expected to show how they engage in effective monitoring, evaluation and ongoing improvement and to demonstrate the steps they have taken to facilitate positive learning experiences for teachers who undertake the professional development they offer.

Evaluation from this pilot project suggests that the criteria we developed set a high bar for quality and enable valid judgements to be made about the quality of professional development. This indicates that there is potential for a quality assurance system to be introduced which might be able to make a difference to how teachers choose and experience professional development in the long term.

That is not to say that there wouldn’t be challenges: the professional development system in England is very diverse. The quality assurance criteria need to be broad enough to cover a range of types of professional development provider and provision, including schools who deliver an increasing amount of professional development in-house. Work also needs to be done to establish a shared understanding of the criteria and how these can be used by schools to inform their decision-making. As part of this pilot, we wanted to understand how the outcomes of the quality assurance process might be used by schools. We spoke to a number of school leaders to explore this further and used this feedback to develop a commissioning template which contains a number of prompts schools might use when thinking about commissioning professional development. These prompts encourage schools to ask questions about the intent and design of the professional development they are commissioning to ensure it will sufficiently meet the school’s – and individual teachers’ – needs.

Further information about the project can be found at Quality Assurance of Teacher Professional Development, and the final project reports are published on the Chartered College of Teaching website.

Emily Perry, Sheffield Institute of Education

Katy Chedzey, Chartered College of Teaching

Maria Cunningham, Teacher Development Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid-19 and the Battle for the Control of Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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