Meeting of the Research Leads Network Symposium held at City Hall, London 2nd December 2016

Guest post by Jennie Richards

City Hall London

Photo by tyom at

I attended the third meeting of this group on behalf of SUPER and was very impressed with the level of interest in both the new “network  of networks”(there were well over 70 delegates from a range of schools and institutions) and our work at SUPER. I had been asked to be on the panel discussion for the final session, which gave me an opportunity to talk briefly about SUPER. Also, to ask for suggestions for the content of the next meeting, which Cambridge is hosting in a twilight session next term (date to be confirmed).

The previous two meetings  (at Eton College and the Institute of Education) were mainly about justifications for the new network, arguments for teachers researching their practice and some of the current thinking from academics and organisations involved in promoting evidence based practice in schools. This meeting was different in that it seemed to be more focused on giving concrete examples of the structures and current projects being created and undertaken in schools and networks, showcasing and evaluating the impact of some of their findings.  Prof Bill Lucas from the University of Winchester acted as facilitator, and the hosting was organised by Christ the King Sixth Form College.

Sessions were delivered by:

  1. CtK, the hosts, a consortium of 3 sixth form colleges whose CPD model was described, demonstrating the growing research culture across the institution, giving flavours of collaborative projects and outcomes of research from teachers involved.
  2. Eton College gave a presentation about their current progress, in particular focusing on the work of their Researcher in Residence.
  3. The Greenwich R and D partnership with the IoE, covering primary and secondary schools, described their more emergent stage of development as a research partnership.

Each session was followed by table discussion of what had been heard, plus the panel discussion later.

There was much talk of the range of options for schools to become involved in collaborative teacher research and there were plenty of opportunities to view not only the successes, but also the challenges that are involved. There was much emphasis on learning as opposed to performance, and a genuinely collaborative and optimistic culture seems to be emerging in the group. I believe it has the potential to be a powerful voice to promote SUPER, its values and aims.

Suggestions for the meeting at Cambridge which emerged from the group included:

  • More understanding of how networks and partnerships can be created and sustained
  • Support structures for developing deep learning
  • How to develop peer-led professional development
  • What tools can be used/are needed to facilitate research informed practice
  • How to evaluate impact and effectiveness

The next meeting at Cambridge should therefore focus on some of these issues. I would suggest that a mixture of theory and examples of relevant practice have been well received by this group, with plenty of discussion opportunities and a similar structure would be appropriate. The audience is mixed in terms, of schools (both independent and state), universities and representatives from various organisations such as CUREE. Some of the audience are experienced in promoting research cultures in schools, whereas others are at the start of their journeys. Hopefully SUPER will be hosting an interesting, informative and stimulating event which will enable this new network to move forward and flourish.

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Eton College Symposium: The Role of Research in School

Guest post by Jennie Richards

On 4th July 2016, Jennie Richards, Dave Hall and Lucy Sherratt, three teacher research leads representing SUPER attended a symposium at Eton College entitled “The role of research in schools”.  This was a very interesting and new event which enabled a wide range of people to meet, share ideas, and discuss possible future developments with regard to school based educational research. There were delegates from USA as well as the UK, and both the independent and state school sectors were represented.

Speakers included Bill Lucas, Geoff Petty, Philippa Cordingley, Louise Stoll, Rob Coe, Laela Adamson and Gary Jones. They provided thought provoking ideas which led to discussion between the representatives of schools, universities and relevant organisations regarding the use of research evidence to support school improvement and the development of sustainable professional learning communities.

The final session of the day enabled consideration to be given to the questions “Where might we go next, and what might we might make together?” Key needs that were identified, with remarkable levels of agreement, can be summarised as the following:

  1. One key umbrella website providing a user-friendly, free, robust and accessible body of professional knowledge which can support research in schools.
  2. A reliable and sustainable source of funding for supporting school research networks.
  3. A national organisation which connects and joins all the current networks together into a coherent whole.
  4. A network which researches and supports the development of teacher research leads in schools.
  5. University involvement with all schools to encourage joint research and knowledge sharing.
  6. Commitment from the government to the value of research in schools. Further support for teachers to Masters level study.
  7. Independent and state school partnership in promoting researching schools and networks.
  8. A more conscious commitment to developing teacher research “from the ground up” and the development of students as researchers.
  9. Aspirational standards for teachers which support professional identity. Universal recognition of the need for trainee teachers to develop research skills and expertise.
  10. National awards for good research practice in schools.

Clearly in the current economic and political climate, these ideas are ambitious and challenging. However, they need to be expressed and optimistically pursued.

It is to be hoped that this very successful symposium can be repeated next year, and thanks to Eton College for hosting such an inspiring event. SUPER is one of the most successful and longest surviving schools university research partnerships.  Dave, Lucy and I all agreed after the event that the day had been really worthwhile and we were really pleased to have been able to gain some recognition and publicity for the good work of SUPER at a national and international level.

For tweets related to the event, see #TLCresearch

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Can art trips and artist practitioner visits help students’ understanding of creative knowledge and/or skills? A study of Year 9 and 10 Art-Textiles students in a village college

Guest post: Kathryn Aybak (a teacher who recently completed her Masters of Education with us on the School-University Partnership for Educational Research course at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge). This article reproduced with kind permission from Impington Village College impact issue 4 Autumn 2015  Also in this issue: an article by another SUPER Alumnus, Andy Baldwin on ‘Extra-Curricular Activities and Attainment in Maths: the Good Bits’ plus ‘Memorisation, review and making knowledge stick’, a report on a CASSA Teaching School Alliance R&D Conference by Mo Middleton and Mike Murray. Update: all issues of impACT can now be read/downloaded from this link on the Impington Village College website!

KA headshotImpington’s founder, Henry Morris, was passionate about putting art, architecture and colour into school. He had a vision for a democratic access to art for all pupils, abolition of the ‘insulated school’ and for lifelong education. In the present educational climate I became concerned that narrowly defined goals were driving both teachers and students in a target-oriented model of education, and that ‘the performativity discourse is hijacking the creativity discourse’ (Turner-Bisset, 2007, p.201).  I am motivated by issues of equality of opportunity, employability skills and the value of creativity and Art within education. I began to question how does Morris’s creative vision fit, in today’s marketised target driven educational culture? (Sahlberg, 2013).

KA research questions

Creativity with a small c
Whilst the importance of creativity in education has been emphasised in the last decade (Jeffrey and Craft, 2006), the current Department of Education’s (DfE) lack of emphasis on creativity and the arts, together with Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, announcing in November 2014 that only STEM subjects lead to careers and that the arts were not useful for future careers, stands in direct contrast with research on for example, ‘little c creativity’ (Craft, 2001). ‘Little c creativity’, could help with students becoming flexible and divergent thinkers, which the current economic climate requires, especially as many argue that the UK is out of step with the global market (Hannon, 2012 and PISA results, 2012). This reinforces the necessity for keeping creativity at the forefront of the educational debate. Whilst within education one of the key features of Art, suggested by Maslow (1968), Boden (1996) and Lucas (2002), is the sense of there being no ‘right’ answer or method, students could achieve a positive task outcome through creative processes of learning, as defined by their own expectations, and according to this theory improve engagement (Lee, Morrell, Marini and Smith, 2012). Linked to this is Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory (1988; 1990; 1994; 1996), which combines the ideas of emotional and behavioural engagement with an activity.

Kath cartoon 1

Research focus
Many students and parents have told me that they do not know enough about Art careers and are concerned that Art is not a secure option post-16; it can instead be viewed as a leisure activity.  The perception that Art is not a serious option choice made me seek out data concerning employment in the creative industries. I discovered that these industries embrace a wide range of career routes and that, in the UK, total creative employment is 2,278,500 (7.8% of all employment).  I questioned how I could help students make informed choices about creative careers.

With careers guidance having been taken away from local authorities and handed to schools (September 2012), schools could feel under pressure to provide the necessary skills, to fulfil the duty put upon them, on top of the need to deliver results.  I became interested in investigating whether taking students out on Art trips and, more specifically, to creative careers events could help students to understand about creative careers.

Further to this I wanted to investigate creativity and flow (Csikszentmihalyi ,1990 ‘Flow theory’) during an artist workshop and compare this to a normal school day.

Trips and creative careers
The findings from two questionnaires, one completed before the trip and one after and five semi-structured interviews indicated that the trips had a positive impact on student’s understanding about creative careers. 100% of students said that the trips had informed them about creative careers and that they knew a lot more about types of careers in the arts after the trips.

KA themes tableKey themes emerged after the trips.  Over half of the students identified: learning from others, real-life learning, learning as fun, trips as motivating, inspiring and helping with creative techniques. They also said they got access to appropriate and up to date information and resources, skills and ideas.  These themes were supported by comments made during semi-structured interviews.  These findings support some of the initial themes I had identified through the literature review on creativity, learning environments and creative partnerships, with a mixture of inductive/deductive approaches adopted.

Art related careers
The perception of Art and art careers was largely a positive one. After the trips this positive perception increased as they felt better informed about careers and courses in the creative industries.  I had not expected so many students to view Art careers in a positive light.  The majority thought Art was enjoyable and intrinsically motivating, but they also thought it was diverse and therefore careers could be difficult to understand.

Impact of a day with an artist
To investigate this area I used Experience Sampling Forms (ESF’s) (Bryne, MacDonald and Carlton, 2003) for the artist workshop day and compared these to a normal school day.  These should determine whether or not ‘flow’ occurs, if three of the conditions of flow were present. I also used visual methods, with questions inspired by Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi (1976) to visually analyse the work produced by students on the all- day artist workshop day.

KA key findingsAnalysis of ESF’s indicate positive correlations between levels of ‘flow’ indicated and assessment of creativity.  Students’ did experience ‘flow’ during the artist day, as three or more of the conditions for flow to occur were present.  It could therefore be concluded that aspects of flow, including the balance between challenge and skill and no worry of failure, were evident during the artist day. This supports Csikszwntmihalyi’s theory of flow and corroborates evidence from studies citing the positive effects of students engaging with artists. Students feel more energetic, focused, cheerful, involved, excited and confident during the artist all day workshop, compared to the normal school day.

This graph illustrates the findings:

KA graph

A visual analysis of the art work produced by the students who had completed ESF’s suggested correlations between levels of creativity and levels of optimal experience.  It could be surmised that a day of doing Art was enjoyable.

Performativity and its impact on creativity
It is possible to speculate that students do not experience flow/creativity during the normal school day because there are more time pressures on them.  The fragmented nature of the day could make immersion in an activity difficult, whereas during the artist workshop students had more time to develop creative work.

I am able to conclude that working in a variety of contexts with different creative practitioners helped to enable creative thinking, and that overall these experiences promoted positive learning experiences.  These results are context directed and do not represent all Year 9 and 10 students, but my aim was not causality but ‘understanding’ (Maxwell, 2002 in Huberman and Miles).

Conclusions and recommendations
It is clear from this data that not only do Art teachers need to provide opportunities such as trips, for students to understand about creative careers and skills, but more generally schools and politicians need to be receptive to the benefits to pupils’ learning, when taken out on trips.  These also advocate the need for time to be given to creative activities, especially important given the current educational climate.

It has not been possible to accurately assess how trips and artist visits have helped with creativity, but that participants do seem more motivated by being given freedom, meeting with others, and learning from the real world.

Within an educational context I still posit that creativity is best described of in terms of problem-solving (Craft’s’ little c’, 2001) and as a process of active, constructive understanding (Fleming, 2010).  After reflecting upon Art’s role in creativity and student comments and how intrinsically motivated they felt by the Art making process, I arrived at the conclusion that Art can be about novelty and originality and does offer something new.  This does not alienate some students and make the creative process only open to a few, but reinforces the need for all students to be given the opportunity to experience different learning experiences in a variety of contexts.  The idea that all subjects can be equally creative could contribute to it being further marginalised.  Findings from the artist workshop do show that students produced creative work and experienced ‘flow’, which I do not think is possible in all subjects.

This particular research focused on trips and an artist visit, but there was little opportunity to explore other ways of developing creative knowledge such as connections with local galleries and creative connections across subjects, including within traditional EBacc subjects.

Relevance of this research
The importance of creativity and its benefits for future generations is not a current focus for the DfE. This was one of the reasons I felt it necessary to investigate creativity in school. This focus on creativity may seem justifiable, as more and more of our time is spent reaching to performativity based targets, which Hodgson and Spours (2012) suggest occupies a teacher and student’s attention to such an extent that education becomes detached from the economy. This focus on achievement in the core subjects could lead to Art’s contribution being diminished.

Having initially been inspired by my students to carry out this research, my passion still lies with informing students about creative skills and creative careers. When I was lead teaching the Art BTEC I felt that some of the more applied aspects of Art learning were better addressed by that course.

This research has enabled me to become a more reflective practitioner (Schön, 1983) and to continue with this research process.  I have begun to investigate the ways in which other schools embed creative knowledge and skills, and inform about careers.  I recently contacted a post-16 college, which is more vocational in focus, and interviewed the Head of Art.  She explained how the college invites outside clients to meet the students and set live briefs; not dissimilar to the work by the Sorrell Foundation (YDP, 2005).  The concern however is that in the current educational environment, opportunities for developing creative thinkers for the future economy could be inhibited. Students could worry about getting things wrong and taking risks (Holt, 1984). Further to this, if, by 2017, about half the new jobs in the UK will be coming out of the creative sector, it is imperative students have more knowledge about these jobs. However, we need to be mindful that we are not preoccupied, as Oakley (1994, p.23) states, with young people as ‘becoming’ and with their status as ‘would be adults’, rather than the here and now state of ‘being’, which could also contradict the process driven creative process.

I would like to further investigate the inherent contradictions within an educational system that is, on the one hand, preparing students for a competitive, fast moving, globalised marketplace, and demanding skills of flexibility and innovative and creative thinking, whilst on the other is squeezing out arts and creative subjects in favour of STEM subjects and a target-oriented model of education.

Key recommended reading
Ball, S.J. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215-228.
Butcher, J. (2009).  Off-campus Learning and Employability in Undergraduate Design: the Sorrell Young Design Project as an Innovative Partnership. Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education, 7, (3), pp.171-184.
Craft, A. Jeffrey, B. and Leibling, M. (eds.) (2001) Creativity in Education.London: Continuum.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper and Row.

Full references referred to in the text available on request from

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‘No surrender’. A case study of how one Bedfordshire Upper School meets the challenge to improve students’ writing

Guest post: Tricia Lennie (a teacher who recently completed her Masters in Education with us at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge)

I’ve just seen my academic transcTricia Lennie twitter imageript online for the first time and, satisfying as the numbers are, is that really what it was all about? I don’t think so. I’ve spend the past two years completing a SUPER M.Ed, the part-time Masters course at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, designed for serving teachers and, for me, it was about something even more important than that. Apologies if this sounds pompous or self-aggrandising, but for me it was all about professional integrity.

It’s a familiar scenario: long-serving teacher, gives blood in various middle management roles but, for whatever reason, doesn’t make it to senior leadership role, becomes disenchanted with the ‘way we do things here’ but doesn’t have the decision making capacity to do anything about it. So far, so familiar and for many of us, this might be the beginning of the end. A Head teacher I once worked with used to call it, ‘the cancer in the staffroom’, where cynicism and dissatisfaction spreads like a mutant cell. This might have been my fate if it were not for the opportunity to undertake an in-service Masters course.

As an English specialist, my main interest was why current initiatives to improve student writing were not having more success and I wanted to try out approaches recommended by the National Writing Project (for more information see ). What I didn’t foresee were the ideological barriers I would face as I attempted to start a ‘Teachers as Writers’ group in my own school. It was a fascinating journey and, like the best quest stories, one with villains and heroes, the potential for disaster and human cost, full of twists and turns but ultimately illuminating, refreshing, even vindicating.

For my thesis abstract, key implications plus further links, see below.


This autoethnographic case study explores the apparent differences in one English Department regarding the most effective ways to improve student writing. Qualitative data is examined to reveal ideological and methodological tensions between an approach informed by National Writing Project ideals and an approach informed by the government’s current standards debate. Data was gathered over the course of one academic year and contains semi-structured interview transcripts with a wide range of staff and students, as well as exemplar material and field notes. The discussion is located in the literature of government policy contrasted with contemporary exegeses most notably by Smith and Wrigley, Locke and Myhill.

The analysis concebook for Triciarns English teachers’ attempts to understand the ‘field of judgement’ applied to student work by the examination board, to write a scheme of work, to mark student written work, to trial a different approach and to work within a whole school context. The study advocates a pragmatic blend of National Writing Project methods within current external constraints. It concludes that a radical change of approach to school literacy policy, teaching styles and approaches would be beneficial to improvement in student writing.


Seven key implications of my research

  • National measures of writing progress suggest that Illich may have had a point in his polemic ‘Deschooling Society’ (1995), “Together we have come to realize that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school”.
  • Any strategy that seeks to intervene in students’ writing needs to recognise the skills are developing throughout their life. This may have implications for liaison between co-operating schools.
  • Writing pedagogy should be reframed, as far as is possible within the school context, as a process not a product. Students should feel that their development as writers is more important than the grade on a piece of work and this will involve adaptations to classroom practice.
  • Keeping a personal journal, from the beginning to the end of their school career and beyond, should be encouraged. Introducing more flexible ways of responding to student writing within their journals, which empower them as writers, may encourage student motivation and self-efficacy. The use of portfolios of best work is another way of encouraging drafting skills and making progress data more reliable.
  • Enhanced student motivation and self-efficacy is likely to have a beneficial effect on student behaviour.
  • Writing tasks with ‘real’ audiences have been shown to improve student motivation, and this may be easier to achieve in terminally examined KS4 and KS5 courses.
  • Talented and motivated student writers are currently an underused resource for promoting writing practice.

Links to the full thesis can be found on and Researchgate under Tricia Lennie, ‘No surrender’. A case study of how one Bedfordshire Upper School meets the challenge to improve students’ writing.

The real benefit to teachers of in-service Higher Degrees is the opportunity to reflect on practice; to fraternise with the very best scholars in your field; to learn how to investigate practice and make a scholarly case for change. For this opportunity, I would like to thank the inspiring staff in the Faculty of Education and the SUPER M.Ed cohort of 2013-15.


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Enthusiastic, optimistic, realistic

Guest post: Jennie Richards, SUPER Emeritus Teacher Research Lead

Our SUPER network members enjoyed an excellent and inspiring teachmeet style ‘researchmeet’ last Thursday evening, showcasing the work going on in our schools and relevant research conducted by the Faculty staff. Although the focus was on sharing our efforts on our Closing the Gap theme, there were also ample opportunities to network and discuss widely with colleagues. This networking event enabled people from a wide range of contexts to engage with and learn from each other in an honest and supportive environment. It is clear that the SUPER network is moving from strength to strength.

The TRL (Teacher Research Leaders) meeting earlier in the day was similarly very positive regarding the future direction of our partnership. There still remain many planning decisions to be finalised, but there is a palpable new energy about the group. People really valued the opportunities in the afternoon to visit the library, catch up on reading, plan with colleagues in the network and reflect on the ideas we had discussed in the morning.

Overall, a really useful and productive event. Thanks to all involved in presenting and organising.

researchmeet ‘storify’ of tweets:

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‘Closing the Gap’: SUPER ResearchMeet January 21st

Schools in the SUPER network will present their research on or related to the theme of ‘closing the gap’ in a researchmeet at the Faculty of Education tonight 5pm -7pm.  Our programme includes presentations on whole school approach to closing the gap, using research and inquiry to close the gap and dissemination. There are also opportunities for informal networking in between sessions. We’ll aim to follow up this post with links to presentations and resources where available plus a storify of any tweets #researchSUPER


Session 1: Whole school approaches to closing the gap

What to do with a register of Pupil Premium interventions – Consulting the literature to close the gap

School Partner: St Ivo                    Speaker: Anne Barratt

Summary: This year St Ivo plans to analyse data on interventions currently used to support Pupil Premium students across key stages 3 and 4. Literature on efficacy of strategies to support closing the gap for disadvantaged students will be reviewed and used to inform an evaluation of current intervention data. It is hoped the research will be used to guide a whole school strategy for future interventions.

A brief overview of the effects of intervention on the academic performance of Pupil Premium students

School Partner: Sharnbrook         Speaker: Dave Bennett

Summary: The school has tracked every possible intervention (great and small) undertaken for the benefit of students across the entire school over the last academic year. This is a brief statistical analysis relating to the effectiveness of said interventions in relation to academic outcomes over the course of that academic year.

“Be your Best” Progress 8 intervention

School Partner: Samuel Whitbread Academy         Speaker: Rich Candlin

Summary: How we created a wraparound intervention programme that focuses on meeting the needs of the individuals to help them be their best. Through a combination of facilitating a growth mindset in pupils, parents and teachers, academic mentoring and reducing the barriers to allow pupils to achieve a positive progress 8 score.

Session 2: Using research and enquiry to close the gap

Closing the Gap: Biddenham’s tube map to Enquiry Group Research

School Partner: Biddenham       Speaker: Jacqueline Emkes and Laura Steward

Summary: At Biddenham, we are in the process of conducting Enquiry Group research which links to our School Development Plan. All staff are members of the Enquiry Groups. The groups will focus on nine important areas including differentiation and literacy. Join us on a journey through Biddenham’s current Enquiry Group Research. Route march through our tube map of research. Dissemination not destination is the mantra.

The development of Lesson Study as whole school CPD, supported by Pedagogy Leaders

School Partner: Soham Village College     Speaker: Brian Barham and Krista Carson

Summary: This is our third year of SVC using Research Lesson Study as its main CPD vehicle and forms a bedrock of at least one of every colleague’s appraisal targets. This year, four Pedagogy Leaders have been appointed to lead the Lesson Study groups by managing the process, supporting colleagues and researching the topics chosen.

Investigating how to close the gap between projected and achieved grades at GCSE

School Partner: Stratton Upper school      Speaker: Lucy Sherratt

Summary: At Stratton this year we are researching into closing the gap between teacher’s projected grades for GCSE students and the final grades that are actually achieved. We have analysed the previous academic year’s data to find patterns, both of areas in the school and individuals in the school who currently project accurately. We aim to use this information as a basis to investigate methods of projection that are effective, and to design strategies that can be put in place to support colleagues. One initial area of research involves drawing on the knowledge of colleagues who examine for the different boards. Our overall aim is to find and disseminate measurable sharing of good practice.

 Examining wellbeing over primary-secondary transfer for vulnerable students

Partner: Faculty       Speaker: Ros McLellan

Summary: Most students experience some difficulties on transferring from primary to secondary school but few studies have considered the wellbeing of youngsters thought to be at risk over the transfer period and beyond through Year 7. Snapshot findings from a recent study funded by the Nuffield Foundation will be presented, allowing schools to consider implications for their own contexts.


Session 3: Dissemination

Research in the Dunmow Consortium

School: Dunmow Consortium     Speaker: Abi Thurgood-Buss and Charlotte Hart

Summary: We will give a brief overview of how we are conducting research in the consortium this year (a variety of projects under the umbrella theme of Closing the Gap). We will also outline some of the particular research projects going on this year.

 Working together to close the gap

School: Bottisham

Speaker: Ellen Merry and Lee Andersen

Summary: Outlining the introduction of a whole school TeachMeet, to develop a platform to discuss T&L ideas and challenges. Furthermore, using blogging and social media to generate discussion and promote collaboration amongst teaching and support staff. Key target groups, such as PP and SEND, are often the focus of such discussions and blogs and how we can ensure they fulfil their potential.

Whole school research moving it on, dilemmas and impact

School: Impington     Speaker: Mike Murray

Summary: How our whole school project on closing the PP gap and research has changed this year. Opportunities and dilemmas posed in terms of developing an evidence based culture.

Developing a research culture in a school: network graphs analysis study

School: Faculty & Biddenham        Speaker: Frank Cornelissen and Jan Schofield

Summary: Developing a research culture in school where all staff engages in sharing and using research for improving practice is promising, but challenging. We will use network graphs to show the development of research engagement among staff at Biddenham and will share some of the school’s experiences and key strategies that contributed to this change.

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SUPER at researchEd 2015

Members of our partnership were privileged to be invited to present at the 3rd researchEd national conference last Saturday 5th September at the South Hampstead High School for Girls.


Tom Bennett and Helene Galdin-O’Shea (researchEd founder and organiser extraordinaire) had put together an impressive programme of speakers.  Around 800 attendees were left with a dizzying range of sessions to choose from. SUPER members were involved in three separate sessions:

frank's session

SUPER main session

sam whit session

Frank’s slides can be accessed here: ResearchEd 2015_Cornelissen

The Slides for the collaborative research session can be accessed here: SUPER researchEd 2015 presentation for sharing

See Krista’s blog for a series of 5 fascinating reflections on the day and sessions she attended:

Nick and Clare launched an exciting new school ‘lesson study journal’ called ‘Anthecology’ as part of their very well received session. The journal can be downloaded here:


Attending researchEd has been – yet again – a fantastic way to start the academic year and has given us lots to think about as we look forward to another year working together in our partnership. Thanks again to Tom and Helene, the sponsors, SHHS and the researchEd participants for making it such a success!

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What did we learn at SUPER in 2014-15? Looking back, looking forward . . .

Guest post: Jennie Richards

In our final meeting of the academic year 2014-15, a wide ranging discussion by our school Research Leads and the Faculty Staff enabled reflection on our joint learning from this year’s work and the recent annual conference. This summary is designed to stimulate further ideas and discussion as we look forward to deciding the future direction of the partnership this new academic year.

Impacts of the annual SUPER Conference 2015

  • Dr Frank Cornelissen’s keynote speech on leveraging the potential impact and value of schools university partnerships was universally well received. In particular, the impact of closing the gap between educational theory and the practice of teaching was regarded as crucial. His ideas on networking patterns enabled schools to reflect on teachers’ networks in their own schools as well as across the partnership.
  • The focus on networking led to agreement about the value of creating more informal opportunities for teachers to meet and discuss practice (preferably with food available). For example, one school has created a breakfast “bacon butty club” before school to facilitate such discussions.
  • Schools have also used information from Frank’s research to identify core people in their schools who are influential in promoting improved practice and enquiry, and also which teachers seem to be more on the periphery. The group discussed ways to use this information to improve engagement of all staff.
  • Communication and dissemination issues raised by the conference prompted ideas for embracing social media to encourage teachers to write more about their developing knowledge, research and reflections. Other written formats such as journals, updates, or brief papers similar to the BERA Insights series were mentioned, along with audio- visual products like podcasts, posters and DVDs. The real challenge for busy teachers was, as ever, the space and time to produce them. However, all recognised the need to raise the profile and impact of SUPER in these ways.

What have we learned about “Closing the Gap”? (between the performance of Pupil Premium Pupils compared to other pupils)

This has been the joint umbrella project for all schools in the partnership, with schools both exploring what the gap or gaps might be, as well as researching the impact of interventions designed to “close the gap”. As is often the case with research, as many questions were raised by the enquiries as distinct findings discovered.

  • Homework

How effective is the homework set in terms of improving learning?

If pupil premium pupils find homework more challenging than other pupils, how can it be changed to close rather than widen the gap?

Does the non- completion of homework lead to negative impacts on pupils’ relationships with teachers?

Why is homework set by teachers without more opportunities for student ownership and self- management?

How does a fear of “getting it wrong” impact on pupils’ homework and more general engagement with learning.

  • Parental and pupil engagement

Engaging parents of vulnerable pupils soon after school entry was considered key by schools researching in this area. One school had introduced a successful café culture style drop in coffee morning for parents, teachers and pupils to meet more informally to discuss learning.

Pupil premium pupils were generally found to be less engaged with the school, their learning and extra -curricular activities. There is a sense in which education is done to these pupils rather than them having an active and participatory voice. Engaging pupils as learning partners with other pupils is a successful technique, as is seeking their opinions on how they are taught. One school found that pupil premium pupils did not like being given model answers, because they did not seek to gain grade As, preferring to be just given what they needed to pass their exams.

  • Aspirations of pupils and parents

The importance of understanding and challenging the aspirations and expectations of both pupils and their families was seen as important for closing the gap. New ways to support vulnerable groups need to be found, in particular regarding their mindsets, building resilience and reducing their fear of failure. It should be noticed that teachers can learn as much from intervention that do not work as well as those that appear to do so.

  • Communication, not literacy

Schools working on interventions related to literacy highlighted the importance of leadership in this area. Projects which actively involve pupils working together worked well, as did projects which focused more generally on communication skills rather than purely literacy. It was evident that primary and secondary teachers have much to learn from each other in this area of teaching, with clustering teachers to share knowledge, projects and understanding being fostered in partnerships such as SUPER.

Where next?

SUPER is currently undertaking consultations between its partners regarding its future direction. There is a strong feeling of optimism and enthusiasm evident amongst the research leads and the Faculty staff. It is to be hoped that this new academic year, 2015-16 and the years to come in SUPER will be as interesting, vibrant and engaging as this one.

Jennie Richards, Emeritus TRL

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The Impact of Primary-Secondary Transition on Students’ Wellbeing: research summary

Posted on behalf of Dr Ros McLellan, current co-ordinator of our Schools-University Partnership. In the post below Ros shares with us a summary of findings from a research project she is currently engaged in . . .

Transfemclellan_rosrring from primary to secondary school is an anxious time for most youngsters with the dip in academic progress during the first few weeks in secondary school being a well-established phenomenon. For most students, concerns are generally short-lived with around three quarters reporting they have settled in well by the end of the first term, but something like 6-10% experience persistent problems. A recent major review of school experience funded by the Nuffield Foundation as part of the Changing Adolescence Research Programme, found no studies which examined young people’s wellbeing over more than the immediate primary-secondary transition period, despite the fact that that small but significant percentage of students appear vulnerable to longer-term problems. We also know from international studies that young people’s wellbeing in the UK is lower than that in many other developed countries. Maurice Galton and I have been researching young people’s wellbeing over the past five years and he is a world-renowned expert on the primary-secondary transition, having studied the topic over the past four decades. Wlogo Nuffielde felt it was high time to explore young people’s wellbeing over transition over a longer period of time than previous studies and are grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for funding this work.

Maurice Galton’s previous work shows that over the years schools have developed a range of strategies to ensure continuity for students. Termed the five bridges of transfer, these relate to 5galton_maurice areas – administration, social, curriculum, teaching and autonomy. By the early part of the 21st century it was clear that a lot of sophisticated work was going on in terms of things like bridging units of study, teacher exchanges and post-induction sessions to tackle the issues encountered by young people as they transfer schools. However in the changed educational landscape where many schools have become academies outside local education authority control and in a more stringent economic climate with reduced funding in schools it is unclear how much of this work remains in place. It is therefore timely to revisit to examine what is happening now and how this might relate to young people’s wellbeing.

We recruited four secondary schools (and their feeder primary schools) to work with us in central and eastern England. Two schools indicated they pay particular attention to primary-secondary transfer and have a range of strategies in place to support the vulnerable. The other two had been specialist arts schools and strongly promote the arts and these were chosen because our previous work had suggested that creative initiatives promote eudaimonic or functioning wellbeing (i.e. self-actualisation and fulfilling potential) together with the other main facet of wellbeing, hedonic or feeling wellbeing (i.e. feeling good and enjoying life) so we were interested in seeing whether students in these schools would fare particularly well. The research involved:

  • Surveying 1110 young people about their wellbeing inside and outside of school at the end of Year 6, after the first half-term at secondary school, and at the end of Year 7 using a questionnaire we had developed in our previous work.
  • Developing case studies of the work to support primary-secondary transfer and people’s perceptions of it in each secondary school based on observations (induction days, the first day at secondary school, a regular day in Year 7), interviews (with students seen to be successful and those at risk, as well as discussions with various members of staff including the Year 7 coordinator) and an analysis of relevant documents (relating to arrangements for transfer).

Survey findings revealed that whilst perceptions of wellbeing outside school remained more or less constant over the time period studied, both eudaimonic and hedonic wellbeing in the school context declined considerably over the year. What was interesting was the wellbeing scores did not change significantly between the end of primary school and the initial period at secondary school; the drop occurred between the October half-term and summer testing points in Year 7. Thus it seems, in line with previous literature, most children settle into secondary school within the first half-term as their wellbeing scores stay relatively constant. Thus, the work schools were doing to ease transfer was generally effective for the immediate transition period, although they were less successful at maintaining wellbeing over the first year at secondary school.

Our previous study suggested that wellbeing declines with age and indeed this reflects the literature more generally but this doesn’t explain why only wellbeing in school was affected, whilst wellbeing out of school was unchanged. The explanation for this could lie in the stage-environment fit theory, which suggests that the learning environment must fit the developmental needs of youngsters, which research has shown problematic as students move from primary to secondary school. Work in occupational psychology has suggested that successful work-role transitions comprise 4 stages, which take place over a period of time including a preparation stage, initial encounters, adjustment and stabilisation, and whilst schools attend to the first two stages rather less emphasis is placed on the final two stages.

There were no overall differences between the schools either in terms of overall levels of wellbeing or how this changed over the year, thus it would appear that they were equally effective in maintaining wellbeing over the transition period and showed a similar decline over the Year 7 period. The final issue of note was that boys overall reported higher frequencies of eudaimonic wellbeing at all testing points and this was seen across all schools. This finding, whilst concerning, does reflect what we found in our previous work and the literature more generally.

The case studies demonstrated a remarkable consistency in experience across all four schools. Overall students thought they had settled in well and were experiencing hedonic wellbeing, felt most teachers had their best interests at heart so they could achieve their best, thus facilitating eudaimonic wellbeing and valued what the Year 7 coordinator had done to support them. As the field of student voice has demonstrated, they are well placed to reflect on their wellbeing and did make some suggestions.

Similar approaches were taken to induction days and the first day at secondary schooling. As in previous studies, there was a considerable focus on administrative issues such as the timetable and rules in students’ initial encounters with their secondary school. However, what was different was that the rationale for rules in terms of helping students achieve their best was explicit and this appeared to be accepted by the majority.

Previous writers have talked about transfer from primary to secondary school being a status passage and the need therefore for secondary school to be different from primary to mark this change so students see they have successfully achieved the status change in the transition. Thus, whilst some initiatives such as a special base at one of the schools for vulnerable students, who were grouped together in a tutor group, undoubtedly helped this group in the early stages of their secondary careers, it can also hamper if students don’t yet feel they have achieved the status change. In this particular example targeted students appreciated the base initially but wanted to fully integrate with the rest of their cohort by being able to mix with others during lunchtimes and breaks. Thus there is a balance to be struck between support and continuity and discontinuity.

Our observations in this study and in previous work suggest that teaching approaches do not differ markedly between Year 6 and Year 7, perhaps due to performativity pressures of the KS2 SATS eroding the traditional topic-based and integrated approach of primary schools. Again this can be problematic for students needing to feel they have achieved a status change. Given that students were preoccupied with making new friends and vulnerable students reported continuing issues with friendships and relationships with some teachers, rather than focusing on taster lessons in induction days, which may not be dissimilar to what they are used to, it may be more useful to focus on the social rather than curriculum aspects of transfer. Vulnerable students will also need on-going support as their problems continue through the year and are exacerbated by the prospect of going into different teaching groups and potentially having a different personal tutor / Head of Year in Year 8.

Although two of the schools specialised in the arts, there appeared little difference in teaching approach between these and the other two schools based on our observations and what young people told us. Our previous work had suggested that creative work led by experienced practitioners fostered eudaimonic wellbeing through being autonomy-supportive and allowing youngsters to make their own decisions about their work and hence reach their potential. Although we saw some examples of autonomy-supportive practices in all schools, the strong focus on targets and rules meant this wasn’t the typical practice and wasn’t something that was more apparent in the arts-specialist schools. But to maximise learning in autonomy-supportive environments students also need to become efficient autonomous learners as well as efficient managers (which the focus on admin and rules supports) and this needs to start during the initial encounters and during the adjustment stages.

Thus our recommendations are:

  • Consider transfer from primary to secondary school as a status passage and give consideration to the balance of continuity and discontinuity to enable students to feel they have successfully transitioned to a new status. Also take into account the developmental needs of youngsters and phase changes gradually.
  • Consider transition as an on-going process comprising a number of stages that isn’t just about the first term in secondary school (i.e. preparation, initial encounters, adjustment and stabilisation).
  • Focus particularly on social aspects in the preparation and initial encounters (induction days and first few days at secondary school) rather than on curriculum / pedagogy.
  • During initial encounters and the adjustment phases students not only need to encounter autonomy-supportive teaching but also need to be taught how to be efficient autonomous learners (how to work independently, take notes etc.).
  • Vulnerable students need on-going support, particularly in the socio-emotional sphere.
  • Although important for all students, particularly attend to how to help girls feel they can achieve their potential and involve them in this process.

See and for a link to the report.

Ros McLellan

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SUPER Conference 2015 Storify

More posts, resources and reflections will follow from our annual conference yesterday but in the meantime here is a ‘storify’ of tweets generated by our brilliant tweeting community!

Thanks to our teacher research co-ordinators, MEd students, teachers, headteachers/principals & faculty for making it such a rewarding and thought provoking partnership event!

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