Unlocking potential: navigating personal data sharing across multiple universities for enhanced collaboration

Are you or students you supervise involved in research collecting personal data across a number of different partners or institutions? Are you involved in collecting data at the post-graduate level? Before you encounter the myriad pitfalls and considerations, please read this blog… the insights will equip you with the confidence and expertise to navigate the challenges that lie ahead.

  1. Make sure you have a signed data sharing agreement (DSA)

When different universities share student data, it’s crucial to have an agreement in place. This protects student privacy and ensures compliance with laws and regulations. The importance of this agreement cannot be stressed enough. Without it, there’s a risk of misusing sensitive student information in unauthorised or unethical ways. A data sharing agreement helps minimise these risks by establishing clear rules for collecting, storing, and sharing data. It also determines who can access the data and under what conditions.

It’s vital for the different universities to sign up to the programme’s data sharing agreement. As the programme moves forward, new data may be collected, and priorities may change. That’s why the data sharing agreement needs to be periodically reviewed, updated if necessary, and re-signed to keep it relevant and accurate.

  1. Get permission from the data subjects

Each institution may have their own way of handling data permissions. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Some institutions might include it in their applicant or student privacy notice, while others might ask each student for explicit consent to share their data. If you gain permissions through a privacy notice, ensure it states the data can be used for research purposes and covers the individuals whose data you are collecting.

It’s crucial for each institution to think about their own approach when sharing data with another partner institution. They need to make sure they’re following their own rules before any data gets sent externally. But the key point to remember is to obtain permission from the data subject.

  1. The challenges of extracting data

Data extraction can be a tricky business. First off, the data can be stored in different formats, spread across multiple datasets, and handled by different teams. And when it comes to post-graduate data, things can get even messier because there isn’t the mandatory requirement from HESA like there is with undergraduates. This means the data might be incomplete or missing, which messes up the accuracy of the analysis and makes it harder to get a complete picture.

On top of that, the data might need cleaning before it can be shared. This can take a lot of time but is necessary to make sure the data is accurate and can actually be used for research purposes.

It’s also important for the evaluators to try their best to match the requested data fields with the common HESA codes, so that where possible data can be extracted without the need to clean it. But sometimes, that’s just not possible, and partners may find it impossible to extract the data in a meaningful way. In such cases, the evaluators need to be flexible and willing to refine their data collection tools and requested variables.

Data extraction is no walk in the park. It requires careful consideration and planning to overcome the complexities and ensure you end up with meaningful insights.

  1. Watch out for data breaches: safeguarding your data

Data breaches are a big deal when it comes to sharing data outside of an institution. You’ve got to make sure the data is stored safely and take proper measures to protect it during transfer. That means using data encryption and secure transfer protocols to keep it secure.

But it’s not just about keeping the data safe. You also need to think about the consequences if a data breach does happen. It can be a real nightmare, with hefty fines, damage to your reputation, and a loss of trust from others. So, it’s crucial to take this seriously and do everything you can to prevent it from happening.

  1. Getting everyone on the same page: talking among teams

To make sure data sharing goes smoothly and without a hitch, it’s important for the researchers/evaluators, programme leads, data teams, and data protection teams to have some informal and open discussions. Here’s what those talks could cover:

  • Legal and ethical: make sure that the data can be used for research purposes, that you’ve got the green light from the individuals you will be collecting the data from, and that you’re following the data sharing agreement that you’ve put in place!
  • Talk about data extraction: dive into the details of data extraction. Figure out if the data you’re after is reliable and easy to get your hands on. You don’t want to end up with a load of messy data.
  • Watch out for data breaches: keep an eye out for any potential data breaches. Discuss the risks and how you can keep everything safe and secure.
  • Know your role: make sure everyone knows what they’re responsible for. Clear communication is the key to making data sharing run smoothly.

By having these discussions, you can make sure you’re all on the same page and working together to share data effectively and safely.

To sum up, sharing data across partnerships or between institutions isn’t easy! Comparing PGR data across the sector has been historically difficult, but I’m optimistic that our collaborative efforts will pave the way for better data collection processes in the future, benefitting the entire sector.

Lucy Clague is a senior research fellow in SIRKE.

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. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/learned-words-using-poetry-reflect-practices-higher-education

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

Autism understanding

Please note for an accessible visual and audio version with captions please click here.

I can’t stand it any longer. The stress, the stress. Constant stress unless I’m drunk. I’m drunk far too often, but how else do I cope? My dream came true, and I wish it hadn’t. They told me that university would be the making of me, not the breaking of me. Everything is against me. The systems, the systems. The tutors – they are so nice, so kind, so knowledgeable – and so utterly lacking in how to deal with my autistic way of being. The sensory hell, the ‘reasonable’ adjustments that are anything but. The social life – oh, the social life. “Get some friends at uni” I was told. Groups of strangers at Freshers’ Week – aka the week of hell – the only way to cope, get as drunk as them, at least it levels the playing field. Room changes are game changers. How am I expected to cope? I’m told “it’s only a room change; it really doesn’t matter” – is this gaslighting? Am I the only one who is useless enough to be unable to cope? Am I a lesser human? Were they right all along? Disordered, impaired, broken. Drunk. Groupwork – “it develops your team working skills” – does it? Does it really? Or does it demonstrate that I am not, and never will be, an effective person in that kind of setting? Give me a role, give me a goal. Don’t give me a bumbling group of ‘peers’ who have different views, different motivations, different language. They look at me in disdain when I ask if they’ve done what we agreed. “We’ll get it done, don’t worry” they tell me. I want to rail at them, scream at them; “I’ve done my bit, why haven’t you done yours?” The unfairness cripples me. We are graded as a group – those who worked hard get the same grade as those who didn’t bother. No one seems to care, except me. I lie awake at night, so tired, so wired. Anxiety leads to sensory sensitivity. Drinking numbs, does nothing else work? I’m told I need to present ‘better’ else I won’t get employed. But I don’t want to be assertive, I don’t want to maintain eye contact, I don’t want to be like everyone else. I want to drop out. That’s all I want.

I got a letter today. This is what it said:

Many congratulations on your place at our university. We are aware of the diverse range of neurotypes that attend our institution and note with great interest that you have written that you are autistic. We very much look forward to learning more about your needs, but in the meantime, we hope the following is of some help in terms of what we can offer:

  1. All our first-year autistic students can be linked with a mentor. Whenever possible, this mentor will be an autistic student on the same course who has just completed their first year, so should be in the perfect position to guide you should you want to choose this as an option.
  2. We know that Freshers’ Week activities are not always for everyone. We have a whole range of activities outside of this to make students of differing neurotypes as welcome as possible.
  3. Exams are stressful for everyone, so whenever possible we provide alternatives to assessing student knowledge, and these assessments can be altered to suit your individual skills.
  4. We have attached a sensory questionnaire. Feel free to fill it in and send it back, or we can go through it with you in person or via Zoom (or similar) if you prefer. We do our best to understand students’ sensory needs and subsequently do a sensory audit on the university environment to make necessary adaptations where possible.
  5. We do our best to offer flexible options. So, for example, you will not be forced into working as part of a group if this is something you are unable to commit to at this stage. It might be that you can pair up instead or work solo if that is a particular need. And please rest assured, plenty of our students work very happily on their own, so you wouldn’t be the only one!
  6. We have also attached a communication questionnaire to ascertain your preferred communication style. If there is an option that doesn’t appear on the list, please do let us know. We are keen to expand our knowledge and will happily be led by you!
  7. We have included links to screencasts and videos. You will see that your personal tutor has done an introduction, along with footage of your first spaces in which you will be taught. There is also a link to a screencast of the main university operating system and student portal so you can get a ‘feel’ for what our systems look like.
  8. Having so many different components to student life can be stressful, which is why you have your own allocated support advisor who is your ‘go to’ person for anything you need outside of academic support. He/she/they may have to signpost you elsewhere, but they are still your first port of call.
  9. Lastly, whilst we are determined to be as inclusive as possible, we recognise that we are not experts and are committed to working with you and learning from you as the expert. We have ‘quiet days’ over the summer and we would welcome you to come and have a look around and meet your mentor, your ‘go to’ advisor, and personal tutor if that is something that suits you.

I think I am going to like this university lark.

Dr Luke Beardon is a Senior Lecturer in Autism.


Covid has put wellbeing in schools front and centre

Covid has put wellbeing in schools front and centre

The school shutdowns during the Covid pandemic may feel like a distant memory. But the effects of this period are still being felt in schools today — and pupil wellbeing is one of the biggest casualties, as explored recently by Dr Caron Carter on this SIOE blog. Caron examined how the lockdowns affected children’s social and emotional lives – including by limiting opportunities for play and friendship. Her piece concluded with some practical strategies for adults working to boost children’s wellbeing post-pandemic.

Here, we come at the topic from a different perspective to complement Caron’s insights. We were commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), along with Ipsos UK and CfEY to explore how schools in England were recovering from the effects of the pandemic.  The findings are published in the School Recovery Strategies report.

The research spanned two academic years, from 2020-2022. We conducted in-depth interviews with senior leaders in primary and secondary schools in England, most recently in summer 2022. Along with Ipsos survey data from over 1,750 schools, the results paint a stark picture, notwithstanding some green shoots of recovery.

Wellbeing matters

When we were commissioned by the DfE to study schools’ recovery, the government’s focus was on children’s academic performance and catch-up. But the more we spoke to school leaders, we realised that pupils’ psychological wellbeing was a top priority.

As we know, wellbeing is important in itself, but it’s also foundational to academic performance. As one leader said, ‘For us it [is] about wellbeing first. That has to come first.’

In our conversations with leaders, we were struck by the range of emotional, behavioural and wellbeing challenges faced by pupils, and the gravity of some of the examples. Anxiety was commonplace among pupils, and for some it continues to be so severe that they cannot attend school – contributing to the high rates of persistent absenteeism. One secondary leader told us:

‘Parents [say] “We’re trying our hardest to get these kids to move but they won’t come out of their bedroom and they’re just sitting in the house all day…” They’ve had so much time at home that I think that had a massive impact on what they can and can’t do… We’ve offered every single one of those [a range of measures to support return], and we’re finding that it’s very, very hard to get them back to school.’

Eating disorders and self-harm by pupils were also on the increase. One secondary head said:

The anxiety and self-harming is through the roof… Not a day goes by that we don’t take sharp objects off these children.’

Evidence of more subtle (but significant) impacts on wellbeing for learning also emerged. Leaders reported that pupils were less able to sustain concentration, struggled to bounce back after disappointments, and were giving up more readily than before the pandemic. This was hindering academic recovery, especially for the most disadvantaged pupils.

In younger year groups, maturity levels were lagging behind age-norms, affecting social development and readiness for learning.  A secondary head illustrated the point:

Mindset and behaviour in KS3 – [they’re] still very primary in the way that they behave in the playground. Taking each other’s ties, moving a seat when someone is about to sit down, that kind of thing. Babyish behaviour.”

Leaders attributed these delays, in part, to missed transition activities and social interactions during lockdowns, and to class ‘bubbles’ at school, limiting exposure to older role models.

Will it take a generation to recover?

We asked leaders how long they thought recovery would take. Some estimated that pupils will need at least three years to bounce back; others predicted that children would feel the impacts throughout their school careers and beyond. One secondary leader said: “Thinking from primary through to secondary, it’s going to take a generation.”

Systemic factors are slowing down that recovery. As more pupils are presenting with increasingly complex needs, delays in assessment and appropriate support are additional barriers. Leaders called for more funding for SEND, improved access to external agencies such as CAMHS and counselling services, and better training for staff to support pupils with mental health issues.

Adding to the crisis…

The pandemic affected staff wellbeing too. School staff worked incredibly hard across a tumultuous period, often beyond their education remit, to provide frontline support for families in the absence of other services. Staff felt increasingly demoralised and frustrated by policy responses and underfunding. No surprise that schools are struggling to retain and recruit staff and are now resorting to strike action.

Finally, the cost-of-living crisis cannot be ignored. It is exacerbating the pandemic’s effects, particularly for growing numbers of vulnerable pupils, but without a similar scale of recovery funding. Ever-increasing pressures on budgets meant that leaders were anticipating significant cuts and sacrifices, including reducing their teaching assistant workforce — the very people tasked with delivering recovery interventions.  We also heard of pupils absent from school because their parents could no longer afford to drive them. Since then, the financial stress on many families has risen dramatically. Hunger and poverty are further damaging pupils’ learning.

The future

Our report is a snapshot of a school system in crisis. Leaders expressed gratitude for the government’s recovery funds and tutoring schemes, but most stressed that it was nowhere near enough. Better funding was urgently needed to support long-term wellbeing and academic recovery.  Accountability measures like Ofsted and the exam system should reflect the pandemic’s sustained impacts. Although many leaders felt that a huge opportunity to reset education has been lost, let’s at least ensure that wellbeing is kept at the front and centre of teaching and learning.

Bernadette Stiell and Ben Willis are both Senior Research Fellows in the Sheffield Institute of Education Research and Knowledge Exchange (SIRKE). The authors would like to thank Lisa Clarkson and Rhys Edwards for their valuable input.



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: https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/developing-a-systems-based-approach-to-research-use-in-education

 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.

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 (https://www.visitharrogate.co.uk/explore/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: https://coverstorybooks.com/new-contexts-4/


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.

[1]  https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7523/

[2] https://www.ippr.org/publications/englands-apprenticeships-assessing-the-new-system

[3] https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/data-tables/fast-track/24fba78b-86df-4342-359b-08daa20fa891

[4] https://www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/apprenticeship-standards/senior-leader-degree-v1-0 (version retired in 2021)

[5] https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/data-tables/fast-track/a70bac68-2e3a-4123-a6ef-e5d3c8121df5

[6] https://feweek.co.uk/dfe-forced-to-finally-reveal-true-amount-of-apprenticeship-funding-returned-to-treasury/

[7] https://www.wmca.org.uk/media/2267/regional-skills-plan.pdf

[8] https://labour.org.uk/skillsreport/

[9] https://labour.org.uk/press/labour-announces-landmark-shift-in-skills-to-drive-growth-and-equip-our-country-for-the-future/

[10] EDSK: https://www.edsk.org/publications/changing-courses/ Learning and Work Institute: https://learningandwork.org.uk/resources/research-and-reports/raising-the-bar-increasing-employer-investment-in-skills/ IPPR: https://www.ippr.org/research/publications/skills-2030-another-lost-decade CIPD: https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/work/skills/employer-skills-view-uk#gref

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 – https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/sioe/