Child on a Laptop learning at home

UK Child Well-being in the Pandemic

It is no surprise to hear the recent news that the child well-being in the UK is of concern: nearly a year on from the first lock-down children have found themselves in a new world.

Since the day in March 2020 when the Prime Minister announced all of us – including school pupils – must stay at home, I have had serious worries regarding the changed environment children now find themselves in.  They have not been able to attend school or take part in external activities; not see their family, friends and teachers; they have remained mostly isolated at home.

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Building A Culture of Mentoring: How We Are Doing It

“I feel that this year more than ever, the mentor has a crucial role in supporting the students through their placements.  Schools are just not the same as ‘usual’ and I feel it is the role of the mentor to support the students even more during these strange times.” Hallam Mentor

Recently we have been revisiting some key questions:  What does it mean to us, as a partnership, to be ‘Hallam Educators’ or to train ‘Hallam Teachers’? What are our common values and aspirations? Within what frameworks and using what models can we achieve our goals?

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‘Doing data differently’- now open for visitors!

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

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

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

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

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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

Thinking about NQTs in the Covid Era

Covid-19 has brought such a range of challenges for everyone working in the education sector. This includes an important group who are feeling very vulnerable right now – those who are about to become Newly Qualified Teachers.

We all know that education is going to be one of the most important features of the rebuilding (and maybe even to some extent reimagining) of our communities and society going forward. It is therefore more important than ever that we look after those who represent such an important part of the teaching profession’s future.

The good news is that from my recent experience, this incoming set of NQTs are already stepping up in preparation for their important role. Some are serving the school communities they belong to by supporting with remote learning or for example volunteering help with free school meal deliveries often whilst juggling a range of other commitments. All are seizing the opportunity to really look after their own professional development by combining the work set by their ITE providers with a more personalised approach that focuses on their individual priorities.

However, they are also very worried about the time they are missing in the classroom and the impact this may have on their confidence and competence in September. We do need to take their fears seriously. The final third of a PGCE year is typically mainly spent in school and is usually a huge growth point in the making of a new teacher. The absence of this is bound to be severely felt and we need to be mindful of this when supporting and adjusting our expectations for teachers taking up their first jobs next year.

In my experience, however, the anxiety they are experiencing right now is being channelled in positive and useful ways. I have been so impressed with how seriously they are taking the challenge of maximising the time they have between being so suddenly and traumatically disrupted from the school-based element of their ITE and when they will be back in the classroom.

The fact that lockdown is happening during the period of ITE where accelerated growth usually happens on final school placement does not mean that they are still not able to continue to develop while a step removed. Taking time to really stand back and reflect and use the range of tools available to analyse teaching and learning with forensic detail may prove to be extremely beneficial when they do return to the classroom.

Many are availing themselves of the tremendous online CPD being made available by organisations like the Chartered College of Teaching and the Teacher Development Trust. To do this alongside scrutinization of online teaching for pupils in the form of (for example) the Oak Academy could be so beneficial. The ability to really study how others make complex concepts accessible and meaningful to pupils at different stages is a great benefit and is likely to prove so useful in the future. Bringing together thinking about the bigger picture of what teachers are there to do for their learners with studying micro-moments of practice is such a supportive process for new teachers.

Come September it is very likely that all in school – from new teachers to senior leaders will inevitably be rightly focused on very practical issues. Establishing new socially distanced routines, relationships and ways of working with pupils who have had a long period away from school will be top priority. For some children these will include circumstances involving a range of trauma. Addressing these challenges will be ‘all hands-on deck’ in this endeavour. If this is done in a culture of teamwork and mutual support, my prediction is that this will make a conducive and supportive context for new entrants to the profession. To get through this initial period in a spirit of support and pragmatism seems sensible.

As things settle to a new normal the foundation of principled reflection on and analysis of practice that has been established during this strange period, we are living through will hopefully really benefit new teachers. To optimise these benefits, it will be important for mentors and school leaders to support their NQTs to link this learning to their new and current experience in the classroom.

Written by Professor Samantha Twiselton OBE, Director of Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University

05 Nov 2019; Turning the tide of BAME experiences: A call for waves not ripples

The recent report published by the EHRC1 (2019) ‘Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged’ has once again illuminated issues of racial discrimination in HE, ranging from explicit mistreatment to micro-aggressions. This is now a familiar story that recounts the negative experiences of BAME2 students in universities across the country. The EHRC (2019) study found that a quarter of ethnic minority students had experienced racial harassment since the start of their course. Similar studies conducted by the Office for Students (OfS, 2019) and the National Union of Students (NUS, 2019) highlight the prevalence of these issues and the desperate need for change. This coupled with the growing media interest in racism in universities has rightly amplified the issue of BAME experiences in HE, such as the recent Guardian (2019) article covering the controversy over the ‘Insider-Outsider’ report (Akel, 2019) that explored BAME student experiences at Goldsmiths. The bottom line is, this issue isn’t going away, and nor should it.

Many of the issues highlighted by recent publications are reflected in my (Amira) own research, which explored female BAME students’ perceptions of whether postgraduate education was for them. I worked with five final-year students using walking interviews around their university campus to reveal how these women experienced university spaces, and how that experience influenced their engagement with HE. My results revealed participants’ dispirited attitudes towards continuing in academia, with many expressing feelings of disillusionment with their undergraduate experiences, anxieties around the quality of education and support and a lack of BAME role models in the institution. Interestingly, the main conclusion drawn from my results was that students’ perceptions of PG education were not only negatively influenced by experiences of marginalisation and bias at undergraduate level, but were also deeply engrained by the time students entered their final year.

By placing myself metaphorically and literally into the spaces these women inhabited at the university through the walking interviews, I was able to understand how their response was to seek out peripheral spaces, which they could occupy under their own terms. They adopted transactional approaches with the university environment, with little sense of belonging. Simply put, the participants did not trust their institution to give them a fair deal. This lack of trust expressed by the participants in their institution and the staff was in fact the most striking finding of my (Amira) research. It led to participants censoring their true identities; “playing the game” and keeping their heads down as they felt that drawing attention to themselves came with risks. For these students, academia is a game in which the odds are stacked against them, so they opt to play from the side-lines. The result is that we all lose.

Something can and must be done – but what? There is now, of course, a wealth of literature (e.g. Smith, 2017; Austen et al, 2017; Miller, 2016) which sets out clear recommendations and practical steps that institutions can implement and indeed, may already be doing. These include:

– decolonising the curriculum by reviewing course content and teaching materials so that they reflect the diversity of knowledge that exists. This includes teaching research methods that are more inclusive such as the walking interviews I (Amira) used for my own research;

– implementing blind marking to address unconscious bias. This was raised by most of the participants in my study as an important way to build trust in the institution. For example, one student felt she had been disadvantaged because of her “ethnic sounding name”.

Measures beyond the curriculum also need to be taken. Mentors, allies and role models are crucial. But these roles should not be disproportionally placed on BAME staff and students. Instead, as Miller (2016) advocates, there should be a sense of ‘shared ownership’. Allyship calls for a willingness to show up and critically think about the ways in which we are complicit, either directly or unwittingly, in disadvantaging people of colour (Abdi, 2019). To be allies, staff need breathing space to listen, learn, act and listen again. I (Lisa) am afraid of getting it wrong, accidentally offending or appearing (and feeling) awkward. I know that some conversations will be difficult, but they are critical to the process of growing and learning. It will be worth it.

I (Amira) have had good experiences which have enabled me to successfully complete my studies and experience a safe space where I felt my voice was heard, respected and appreciated. This interaction with just one or two lecturers restored my faith that academics do care. The truth is that positive experiences are as potent as negative ones. There is power in reaching out and taking action. However, staff need to be given the time and space to do so, just as institutions need to make structural changes. Research has shown that pockets of change are already occurring across faculties, student unions and universities across the country, with varying levels of success. However, the startling figures discussed at the beginning of this blog indicate that there is a lot more work to do. For radical change to occur, we need waves not ripples.


  1. We note that this study has been heavily criticised for the inclusion of anti-white prejudice in the authors’ definition of racial harassment at universities.
  2. We acknowledge the limitations of using homogenising terms such as BAME/BME which mask differences between ethnic groups.

Author bios

Amira Samatar is a PhD student at the SIoE and recipient of a vice-chancellor’s scholarship. Her research explores female BAME students’ experiences through the academic pipeline.

Dr Lisa McGrath is a senior lecturer in the SIoE. Her research focuses on academic writing development and genre pedagogy. She supervised Amira’s MA dissertation on female BAME perceptions of postgraduate education.