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Lewis A Baker, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Surrey, UK


The purpose of this article is to justify the engagement in developing a teaching philosophy statement and to scaffold the writing process. For those already familiar with such documents, this article will argue for the value of revisiting a teaching philosophy statement and updating it to reflect changes in one’s thinking and practice. Irrespective of familiarity, the intention is that readers, at a minimum, find this article helps them critique their current educational values, beliefs, and classroom practices (taken together, their teaching philosophy), and in doing so, reorient their teaching and learning practices to foster evidence-informed deliberate practice.

The motivation for this work comes from two observations. The first was engaging with the literature to understand why some neuromyths continue to pervade educational spaces at all levels of study. At the practitioner level, it is often because of confirmation bias cycles that make a critical analysis of education and neuroscientific literature challenging (Baker, 2020). The second was writing several teaching philosophy statements as part of my own continuing professional development, noticing what had and had not changed in my thinking and practice after significant periods of time, new experiences, and navigating different educational and working contexts (Baker, 2021). Reflecting on what has and has not changed makes you ask, why? To answer this requires some careful consideration of the educational literature to justify the actions one discusses in their teaching philosophy (Schussler et al., 2011). Teaching philosophy statements can therefore be a vehicle for critical reflection.

Interestingly, while teaching philosophies are developed and shared amongst communities of practitioners throughout educational circles (e.g., across a school or college), they are rarely written at the individual practitioner level, especially true within the secondary and further education sectors. As such, practitioners located here may miss two key development opportunities. Firstly, the writing process formalises and consolidates thinking since it is at least, in part, a product of the construction of knowledge (Beatty et al., 2009). Secondly, it elicits critical reflection on the rationale behind thoughts and beliefs about education, which requires engagement in evidence-based practices to develop professional knowledge.

The rest of the article is structured as follows: a discussion of what a teaching philosophy statement is and a justification for writing one; the dynamic nature of this document that should be updated as practitioners gain knowledge and experience; and finally, the imperative to critique evidence to justify the why, what, and how of our teaching philosophies.

What is a teaching philosophy and why does it matter?

‘Philosophy’ finds its etymological root in the ancient Greek word philosophia meaning ‘love of knowledge’ or ‘love of wisdom’. It’s a branch of study that challenges the assumptions of what constitutes knowledge, why we want to gain this knowledge, and how we come to acquire this knowledge through ethical and virtuous pursuits. A teaching philosophy, therefore, challenges the what, why and how of one’s theoretical conceptualisation and practical implementation of knowledge in their teaching and learning context (Zauha, 2008; Bowne, 2017). Given the nature of education, which spans scientific and social science domains (Alkove and McCarty, 1992; Kivunja and Kuyini, 2017), the philosophical framework that underpins one’s teaching philosophy will undoubtedly lead to shared thematic elements amongst other teachers. But one’s values, life experiences, beliefs and ideologies will conceive, prioritise, and orient knowledge in an individualised way (Fanghanel, 2009).

A teaching philosophy statement should, therefore, resemble a narrative essay that aims to articulate an individual teacher’s conceptualisation or ‘worldview’ of teaching and learning and how this is manifested in their practice (Goodyear and Allchin, 1998; Kearns and Sullivan, 2011). Such statements are often found in the higher education sector, however, their content is not unlike that which is uncovered in interviews to assess a candidate's thoughts and opinions on teaching and learning. Indeed, requests for the inclusion of a teaching philosophy statement are often made in job applications (Merkel, 2020). A fundamental aspect of a teaching philosophy statement is that they should demonstrate scholarship. This means, where appropriate, it should be clear that the content in such statements is underpinned by a critical analysis of suitable evidence that informs the thoughts, opinions, and practices made claim. For instance, if one claims to incorporate a specific practice or concept, say ‘growth mindset’, into their teaching (Dweck and Yeager, 2019), it would be suitable to have critiqued the evidence for any positive learning gains it makes for students, as well as its limitations (Yeager et al., 2019).

It is here where I suggest that writing a teaching philosophy statement is particularly valuable. The process requires a deep reflection on many of the practices that have been acquired through training, mentorship, observation, continuing professional development workshops, trial and error, or are simply a requirement of a school policy (Elliott et al., 2016), and then challenges the rationale for doing so. For practices (which require time or financial investment) that have a poor evidence base for an intended impact (e.g., raising attainment), you may reconsider their use. For the practices that do have a stronger evidence base, you are likely to double down on their use with a better understanding and confidence of where it does and does not have the desired impact – these practices are now not only deliberate but are evidence-informed deliberate practices.

What goes into a teaching philosophy statement?

Now that the case for writing a teaching philosophy statement has been made, we discuss what goes into writing one, with several good resources for developing them (e.g. Eierman, 2008; Kearns and Sullivan, 2011; Yeom, Miller and Delp, 2018). Summarising a teaching philosophy statement, one would expect a narrative that captures one’s experience in teaching and learning contexts; their worldview of teaching and learning which guides the specific teaching and learning models they employ (e.g., curriculum design, classroom pedagogies, assessment and feedback strategies), contextualised with specific examples of how this knowledge of teaching and learning is applied; and the rationale for doing so (Eierman, 2008). The document itself is usually (relatively) short – one, two or three pages would be typical. A suitable narrative structure of a teaching philosophy statement might therefore follow the suggestions of Eierman (2008):

  1. Your experience in and commitment to teaching
  2. The teaching philosophy that guides your use of teaching and learning models
  3. Your teaching interests, particular expertise, and possibly, future teaching and learning interests
  4. An executive summary that brings everything together into a coherent picture of your teaching philosophy
  5. A reference list which underpins the content of the statement. You might cite some works within the text (like this article has) but you might also include additional readings or resources which are not directly referenced. In this case, this list would then resemble a bibliography.


The above gives a reasonable starting point to the narrative structure of a teaching philosophy statement. It is useful to reflect on several questions which challenge one’s assumptions of teaching and learning to help align values and beliefs with the practices employed. Some representative questions are given in Table 1 to consider (Kearns and Sullivan, 2011; Yeom, Miller and Delp, 2018). Importantly, if there is a particular idea, practice or activity held as key to one’s worldview of teaching and learning, this would be an excellent opportunity to research more deeply to understand the evidence base for its inclusion (some useful starting resources might be Hattie, 2008; Coe et al., 2014; Higgins et al., 2016). Reflecting on these questions and writing a bullet point or two about them, taken altogether, can form a strong basis for a teaching philosophy statement.

Finally, consider the use of evidence to support a narrative. Generally, one tries to articulate the ‘reach’ (who is affected, e.g., a single student, a specific demographic, the whole school), the ‘value’ (what is gained, e.g., new skills, deeper understanding, new experiences), and the ‘impact’ (how you know this value was obtained, e.g., attainment was recorded higher, positive feedback from stakeholders, other outputs from your actions) of your teaching and learning practices on the various stakeholders in your educational context. Such stakeholders might include you, your students, other teachers, the school and senior leadership team, parents, and future employers of those you have reached and impacted. Citing suitable literature to support claims in a teaching philosophy statement, and quotes from peers, students, parents, and senior leadership that demonstrate the value and impact of one’s teaching and learning practices can provide excellent evidence to support and rationalise one’s claims.


Conclusion and implications for the classroom

This article aims to raise awareness of what teaching philosophy statements are, how to write one, and the value to teachers in engaging with the process. The beliefs and values one has as a teacher are shaped by knowledge and experience, both of which inevitably change over time. As such, teaching philosophy statements are often very personal documents which should evolve and be updated accordingly. A key premise of writing a teaching philosophy statement is to challenge one’s assumptions about teaching and learning, find relative alignment to philosophical educational frameworks and critique the evidence base for holding any assumption. Doing so will make future practices not only more deliberate but also evidence-informed. Without engaging in this process, teachers may risk finding themselves integrating practices which have no good evidence to justify their use.

For readers then, there are several actions which may follow. For those who are new to teaching philosophy statements, why not try to write one? It is a rich intellectual exercise which will challenge even the most basic assumptions made on a day-to-day basis. For those who have a teaching philosophy statement, why not read it again now and ask yourself, do you think differently about anything written? Perhaps you have a more developed understanding of a piece of pedagogy, or perhaps you have never critiqued your claims against educational literature. For teacher trainers, consider asking new trainee teachers to write a teaching philosophy statement early in their course, and then rewriting it towards the end of their course, and encouraging a reflective piece on what has and has not changed and how they might locate and justify why this is the case. This might even form an assessment for a PGCE or QTS assignment if the formative nature of this writing is not compelling enough! Finally, for senior leadership and school leaders, consider how this might be embedded or encouraged in your environment to help foster reflection among your staff.

Toolkit: Getting started as a CCT Research Champion

This toolkit is presented as a bitesize CPD unit, incorporating key reading, video content and accompanying tools and resources to support you in getting started as a Chartered College of Teaching Research Champion. It should take approximately one hour to complete. 

This has been designed to support you to:

  • develop your understanding of the benefits of supporting research engagement in schools and become familiar with some of the evidence-base in this area
  • increase your awareness of some of the Chartered College of Teaching resources that are available to you and your colleagues through Chartered College of Teaching membership
  • understand how you might support research engagement effectively in your context, through your role as a research champion.


You will also:

  • reflect on your current knowledge and expertise and how you might develop this further
  • develop a plan for supporting research engagement in your school or trust.


Let’s begin by taking a look at the evidence-base on this theme. In this article, Vic Cook, Education and Research Project Specialist, summarises some of the key research around research engagement in schools. 

As you read this summary, consider its relevance to you, specifically, how you might draw on these ideas to support research engagement effectively through your role as a research champion in your school or trust.

Supporting research engagement in schools

The term ‘research engagement' refers to both engagement in research (i.e. by doing it) and engagement with research (i.e. by reading and using it). Research can be used by teachers and school leaders to improve teaching, decision-making, leadership or professional learning (Walker, 2017; Brown, 2020).

 Godfrey (2014, 5) defines a research-engaged school as one that:

  1. promotes practitioner research among its staff;
  2. encourages its staff to read and be responsive to published research;
  3. welcomes (as a learning opportunity as well as a responsibility to the wider educational community) being the subject of research by outside organisations;
  4. uses research to inform its decision making at every level;
  5. has ‘an outward looking orientation’ (Wilkins, 2011), including research-based links with other schools and universities.


There is no single blueprint for schools to follow as they explore research engagement (Bennett, 2015) and the precise level of research engagement will vary between schools according to their individual circumstances and contexts (McAleavy, 2016). Whilst many schools may have a key individual who takes a whole school view of the use of evidence, extending the responsibility for research engagement and evidence-led practices more widely among staff may help to support sustainability (Riggall and Singer, 2016). However, central to any approach that is adopted is the need to develop a school-wide culture of research engagement.

Developing a culture of research-engagement

Godfrey (2014) describes a culture of research engagement as a long-term, sustainable improvement strategy that involves four key ingredients: 

  • systemic connectedness (the formation of collaborative partnerships and networks between teachers and schools)
  • leadership for knowledge creation (rather than it being viewed as the sole purpose of senior leadership to implement research findings, a distributed leadership framework supports research engagement by staff at all levels of seniority)
  • teaching as a research-informed practice (where academic research, professional experience and judgement, and evidence and data from individual contexts are brought together)
  • the school as a learning organisation (a professional learning community that centralises an enquiry focus and stresses the importance of sharing, collaboration and collective learning).


Research engagement therefore involves both formal research findings and more informal modes of enquiry and reflection that value professional judgement and experience:

The research-engaged school uses the best available external evidence while also seeking to build the school as a single professional learning community. It understands the importance of personal insights derived from experience and good analysis of other forms of management information such as test results and feedback from students and parents (McAleavy, 2016 p. 30).

In this sense, McAleavy argues that a research-engaged school may be ‘evidence-informed’ but can never be totally ‘evidence-based’.

It would also appear that developing a culture of trust among colleagues is central to developing research-informed educational practice (Brown et al., 2016; Groß Opho et al., 2023). Analysis of survey data from 73 English primary schools found that schools with a higher average value of trust among colleagues reported more organisational and research-informed activities (Groß Opho et al., 2023).

Continuing Professional Development

The Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of teaching staff is central to supporting research engagement in any school. However, “[L]ayering of additional research duties on top of existing demands placed on hard-pressed school staff is unlikely to yield benefits in the long term” (Godfrey 2014, 12). Research activity therefore needs to be integrated into existing systems. Central to supporting research engagement is a shift towards a more empowering model of professional learning that promotes enquiry and reflective practice through collaboration in communities of practice (Godfrey, 2014). Sharing, collaboration and collective learning are key to such an endeavour. This could involve making space for professional dialogue in staff meetings or encouraging staff to share and critically reflect on their practice through observation and mentoring (Sharp et al., 2006). 

Consideration also needs to be given to the types of support that teachers will need to engage with and conduct practitioner research. Godfrey (2014) suggests conducting an audit of the existing skills and expertise at the school to identify strengths and areas of development. Various tools can help support this endeavour, including the NFER’s ‘Self Review Tool’ (2015) which helps to measure your school’s level of research engagement, or the ‘Self Assessment Tool for Teachers’ (Stoll et al., 2018a) and the ‘Self Assessment Tool for Schools’ (Stoll et al., 2018b).

Key takeaways

  • Research engagement includes both engagement in and with research.
  • Extending the responsibility for research engagement and evidence-led practices more widely among staff may help to support sustainability.
  • Supporting research engagement in schools is a multilayered, iterative process that involves developing a culture of research-engagement. 
  • Continuing Professional Development of teaching staff is a key aspect of supporting research engagement.


Before you move forward, take a moment to reflect on what you have read. Make a note of any specific points, implications, actions or questions that have been raised for you. You can then refer back to these later on when planning and implementing your next steps. 

A three-phase approach to research engagement

To help you get started in your role as a Chartered College of Teaching Research Champion, we’ve identified three phases of research engagement that might inform your approach. 

Phase 1. Starting out: This phase focuses on raising awareness of Chartered College of Teaching (and wider) resources, so that colleagues know how and where to access content that helps build their understanding of education research.

Phase 2. Deepening: This phase is about deepening research engagement in your school; supporting colleagues to apply learning from research and evidence in order to develop practice, and implement evidence-informed approaches in your context. 

Phase 3. Embedding: As the name suggests, this phase is about embedding and sustaining research engagement as part of the culture of the organisation.

In the short video below, the Chartered College of Teaching’s Charlie Meyrick, explores the three-phase approach in more detail, and offers some practical suggestions as to how you might work with colleagues to facilitate research engagement at each phase. 



We’ve brought together some of the ideas explored above as part of a self-evaluation activity. This activity focuses on research engagement within the context of your role as a Chartered College of Teaching research champion. You will consider

  • Current levels of research engagement in your setting
  • Your own knowledge and understanding of how you might support research engagement as a research champion

You should now pause and complete the self evaluation activity (estimated time: 15 minutes). A downloadable copy can be found at the bottom of this page.

You may also find it interesting to evaluate your school’s wider research engagement using the Evidence-informed teaching self-assessment tool for schools. Where possible, we recommend completing this with the senior leadership team to ensure you gain a collective understanding of existing strengths and priorities. 

Planning your next steps

With your self-evaluation complete, it’s now time to think about how you want to take your work forward, depending on which phase you feel your school is currently at.

If you and your school are just starting out, it’s likely that your focus will be on raising colleagues’ awareness of the Chartered College of Teaching. Depending on how research-informed your school is already, you may also feel that it would be beneficial to raise awareness of evidence-informed practice more generally within your school or trust.

If you and your school are in the developing phase, there may be areas of your work that you could further enhance - the self-evaluation should give you a good indication of where you might focus your attention. 

Similarly, if you and your school are in the embedding phase, you are already in a strong position. However you may have found there to be areas of your work that you could further enhance to embed and sustain the work you are already doing.

You should now use what you have learnt from the self-evaluation to plan your next steps. You may find it helpful to develop an action plan outlining the key areas of work you want to focus on, and the specific action steps that you will take to progress in these areas. When developing your action plan, try to think about 

  1. Any specific areas of focus for your school, and actions you will take in light of this.
  2. Any specific areas that you would like to develop your own knowledge and skills as a research champion - and actions you will take to enable you to achieve these.


To support you with taking this forward, we’ve collated some key resources below, linked to each of the three phases. Take a few minutes to browse the resources available to you before you begin developing your action plan. You’ll also find an optional action plan template which you can use to capture your actions and next steps. A downloadable copy can be found at the bottom of this page

Resources to support schools in the starting out phase

  • A short (4 mins) member benefits video giving an overview of the benefits available to members, including how to login to our member platform, MyCollege. 
  • Some step-by-step printable instructions for how to login to MyCollege (see downloadable documents at the bottom of this page).
  • A clip from the Chartered College of Teaching Podcast (10 mins) where Dame Alison Peacock provides an introduction to the College and its work in supporting teachers to deliver excellent teaching through access to research.
  • For trainee teachers, early career teachers and mentors, a student and ECT workbook to support their engagement with College resources (see downloadable documents at the bottom of this page) - and don’t forget to signpost them to all of the great content on the Early Career Hub which we’ve helpfully linked to the strands of the Early Career Framework. 
  • A short (2 mins) introduction to Chartered Status video which gives a helpful overview of what Chartered Status is and the different pathways available to teachers, mentors and school leaders.

Resources to support schools in in the developing phase

  • A selection of bitesize CPD units and themed collections, covering a range of areas. These collections can be used as the basis for individual or team CPD and will be added to regularly over the year.
  • A certified online course, the Certificate in Evidence-Informed Practice which is designed to support teachers to engage critically with research and evidence, and explores a range of key areas of education research and how this might be applied in practice. This course includes credits towards Chartered Status. 
  • A certified online course, the Development of Teaching Practice Award (Leadership) which is ideal for anyone leading CPD in schools. This course includes credits towards Chartered Status.
  • A page where we list any relevant research opportunities that you or your colleagues can get involved with.

Resources to support schools in the embedding phase

Further reading


Agency, defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘the ability to take action or to choose what action to take’ (n.d.) refers in an educational context to the ability to determine one's own learning goal and the process of pursuing that goal (Vaughn, 2018). Agency may be used in a moral, social, economic, or creative context, shaping our interactions with ourselves and others (OECD, 2019). Because agency offers us the ability to self-reflect, self-react, and have forethought to make an action happen (Taub et al., 2020), out-of-classroom environments in particular may create a setting for meaningful learning and interaction between students and teachers (Kangas et al., 2014). Furthermore, being allowed and having the courage to question what one has learned is an important part of agency development (Vaughn, 2018).

Student agency has particular relevance in the context of sustainability, a topic that children and young people are increasingly concerned about. I believe that agency in younger generations is important in a world where adults are making political and economic decisions that will influence their lives. Climate change, and more broadly sustainability, have made the development of student agency all the more important. I got the opportunity to explore the concept of student agency in relation to climate change and sustainability at the end of 2021, when I was invited by Schools of Tomorrow with their partners at the Edge Foundation to help organise their first Sustainable Education Summit in Birmingham, UK. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the summit was held in two parts – an online event in March 2022 followed by an in-person event in November. The summit was aimed at bringing school leaders and their student leaders together to look at a more sustainable approach to education in their schools. This article reflects on the summit and what we can learn about student agency in relation to sustainability in out-of-school settings.



Schools of Tomorrow is a small, voluntary cross-phase network of schools in England and Europe committed to sharing a broader understanding of school purpose. It regularly involves students and school leaders in its work and in the post-COVID-19 world has established a new program – Ambassadors of Tomorrow – in partnership with the Comino Foundation. Over the last five years, my own studies in marine biology and climate change brought me to the topics of science education, sustainability, and student agency. I based my Master’s thesis on the concept of student agency at the Sustainable Education Summit with a particular focus on two questions:

  1. Do students feel heard and that their voices and interests regarding sustainability are being respected in the current school system?
  2. Do the findings indicate student agency in the participants?


I used the Model of Educational Reconstruction (MER) to frame my analysis of how students showed agency during the event. The MER is a framework that is widely used in science education research, particularly in Europe. It was designed to better understand the process of knowledge acquisition and reflect on science learning and instructional environments for both students and teachers (Duit et al., 2012). The model focuses on three key interrelated factors: design and evaluation of the learning environment, clarification and analysis of science content structure, and analysis of perspective and learning processes.


Design and evaluation of the learning environment

This part of the MER focuses on the development of tools and visualisations to simplify conceptual understanding and support the clarification of scientific content (Niebert and Gropengiesser, 2013). Data from the online event was analysed and used for reflection on the event design and to identify improvements for the in-person event.


Clarification and analysis of science content structure

This part of the MER focuses on the science content that is selected and embedded in a learning environment and how it is presented. The summit included a keynote speech by Professor Robert Barratt from the University of Lancaster on sustainability, narration and storytelling, equity, and sustainable innovation. The keynote was delivered in a classical lecture style. While education should, to improve student agency, be more participatory, with content co-created and students feeling ownership of their study (Corres et al., 2020; Vaughn, 2018; Vaughn, 2020; Cavagnetto), the keynote format was chosen to create a basis for discussion and more participatory activities throughout the day.

The student attendees, aged between 12 and 16, showed a high level of agency by questioning aspects of the speech. Comments such as ‘The logistics of tearing down buildings and rebuilding in nature does not seem feasible to me in terms of space and resources, and even attitudes’ indicate critical reflection on the content.


Analysis of perspective and learning processes

This part of the MER is concerned with the role of the students’ empirical knowledge and their learning processes. Students’ empirical knowledge, interests, and attitudes all play a part in how receptive they are to content (Duit et al., 2012). Mentimeter was used to gather insights from the students about their knowledge of, and attitudes towards, climate change and sustainability. A Mentimeter word cloud was created around the question ‘What words do you associate with the future?’. The question received a total of 86 very diverse answers. Students could submit multiple answers, the requirement being to use a maximum of two words.

As seen in the word cloud (Figure 1) students showed a mixed outlook toward the future. The words they chose indicated extensive knowledge of the problems connected to sustainability and climate change and the possibilities that we, as a society and individuals, continue to face. Students brought vast knowledge to the activities in both the online and in-person event – something that we as organisers had not expected. This perhaps indicates the shift in climate awareness in young adults over the last years and our underestimation of the student’s existing knowledge base. The questions students asked showed a strong understanding of the problems at hand, highlighting the need for a safe space for discussions that go deeper into the complexities of sustainability and climate change. As one student put it: ‘I don’t know who to talk to about these issues at school’.

Figure 1: Word cloud based on the question of what words the students associate with the future.


During the online event, students had the chance to write down ‘asks’ of the school system, developing ideas for how their school could improve its approach to sustainability. Many of their comments showed a deeper understanding of climate change beyond the content highlighted during the events and displayed a desire for climate change and sustainability to be given more space in the curriculum, with students as content creators.

Another dimension of student agency is the feeling of being heard and taken seriously. Three statements were used to gain an understanding of the students’ perspectives about their own voice in the school system:

  • My values are represented by my school
  • I don’t know how to tell my school what is important to me
  • I don’t think telling my school my values would make a difference.


Students gave their level of agreement or disagreement on a Likert scale (Fig. 3), with 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree. Analysis showed that students generally believe their values would be considered in the school system if they got the chance to voice them and that their values are being represented by their schools. However, almost half of them also said that they did not know how to address what is important to them at school.

Fig. 2 Likert scale showing students’ perspectives about the three distinct statements.

(The numbers in the circles indicate the average value calculated based on the answers of the students ranging from 1=strongly disagree to 5= strongly agree.)


Future developments

Based on our reflections from the online event, the student event planning team decided to create a more discussion-based approach for the in-person event. The sharing of opinions is important in increasing both reflection and student agency. Creating a safe space for discussion is important for enabling students to develop their communication skills and gain confidence to address topics at school that might be hard to talk about. To accommodate more interactive learning approaches, we designed games that sought to clarify important aspects of communication. For example, two groups of students discussed the question Is a Jaffa cake a cake or a cookie? and had to settle on one answer. Each group had a student referee to guide the discussion and afterward, we discussed their approaches to finding an answer to the question, drawing their attention towards the differences of opinion and the steps involved in finding a resolution.

We also used a visualisation meditation to guide the students through their ideal future school. During the meditation, which I guided, the students imagined their school 5 years down the line focusing on the topic of sustainability and green solutions. Afterward, the students shared their ideas for a future school in small discussion groups.

During the event, students displayed agency in a myriad of ways. Their participation, inquisitive nature, and creativity showed their desire for more in-depth learning in sustainability and climate change education. Schools of Tomorrow and Edge are currently in the process of creating the next Sustainable Education Summit, to be held in Birmingham on November 16, 2023 ( After the last two sessions, online and in-person, the organisation team has decided to focus much more on interactive learning in the student session this time around. A big part of the student session at this event will involve students exploring real-life problems their school may face when trying to integrate sustainable solutions. This will be an interactive teamwork exercise, where students have to come up with solutions that please different people in the school, such as other students, teachers, the head, and parents. We aim to inspire the students with this exercise to take a more active role in their schools as well as create a space for self-governed learning and reflection.

To enable student agency to flourish consider the following activities and approaches. Include more activity-based learning that supports reflection and real-life problem solving in your curriculum. Weekly check in circles, in which students get to openly discuss their worries, problems, and things that made them happy during the week can help students reflect on their emotions and work through problems as a community.

Real-life and problem-based activities will increase and improve self-governed learning and creativity in the students. Such activities could be the creation of community gardens, innovation weeks, or cooking societies. These activities will also teach the students skills that they can use beyond the school gates. Activities such as ‘innovation week’, in which students can work on problems they deem important at the school and create their own solutions, will create self-governed learning opportunities, problem solving skills, and can be used to combine different school subjects into an interdisciplinary project.

The world of interactive - and student agency supported learning experiences is a vast one. I hope that some of these ideas will be inspiring to students, teachers, and schools alike. For further ideas and inspiration I recommend the references used in this article as a starting point.

In order for educational research to understand and represent a diverse range of experiences from different groups, it is important that educational research practices are inclusionary. Inclusion is an important consideration at every stage of the research process (research design, data collection, analysis and reporting) to ensure that the voices of underrepresented groups in particular are heard. The long-held view that quantitative research, with its emphasis on measurement and empirical data, is more rigorous and robust than qualitative research is starting to be challenged (Santoro, 2023). Statistical practices such as eliminating outliers when cleaning the data (where data points that lie outside of the normal distribution are deleted) perpetuate structural inequity by silencing voices from the research (Arellano, 2022). In comparison, qualitative research, with its focus on lived experiences, can deepen our understanding of the educational experiences of historically marginalised groups. 

This is not to say that the status quo is simply being, or should be, reversed. Quantitative and qualitative data can often complement each other, so having a breadth of methodological tools at our disposal when seeking to conduct inclusive research is valuable. These guidelines are aimed to support anyone who would like to learn more about inclusive research as well as anyone who would like to take a more inclusive approach in their own research design, data collection, analysis and write-up.

Guidelines for conducting inclusive research

This guidance is adapted from the Government Social Research (GSR) Inclusive Research Guidance, available at: A guide to inclusive social research practices - GOV.UK (

The guide to inclusive social research practices includes the following recommendations: 

  • it is important to allocate sufficient time and resources to the design stage of the research process to ensure that the project can accurately capture the views of all relevant groups from the beginning
  • using a range of data collection methods and approaches will help to reach underrepresented groups. The additional costs associated with these methods need to be factored into research plans
  • analysis needs to consider equalities issues and should be taken on disaggregated data where possible
  • when reporting research, the voice of underrepresented groups needs to be heard, with the diversity of participants reflected in the final report.


The guide also suggests the following questions for researchers to consider:

Research stage Questions
Research design Has the project been scoped thoroughly to ensure that all underrepresented groups have been identified?

Who will be sampled?

What sampling strategies will be used? How will this approach reach underrepresented groups?

Data collection Are the research materials accessible?

What demographic information is required?

Is the recruitment strategy inclusive?

How can questions be sensitively worded, presented, and probed? 

Is online recruitment and/or data collection appropriate?

Conducting analysis Is the analytical approach representative of the different groups in the research?  

How will statistical issues with sub-group analysis be overcome?

How can the analysis be designed to ensure reflexivity in qualitative research?

How can the analysis be designed so that the research remains open to the issues and experiences that are important to the research participant(s)?

Reporting Has sufficient detail on the groups involved in the research been reported?

Do the conclusions reflect results for sub-groups and not just the sample as a whole?


Research design

Designing inclusive research means taking time to understand different groups or subgroups within the research. For example, the design of the research question(s) may inherently and inadvertently exclude some groups. Engaging with communities to co-produce research questions may help to ensure that decisions about what is measured and prioritised are fair and equitable.

It is also important to consider the barriers and enablers of different research designs. The research question(s) can be addressed using qualitative methods, quantitative methods, or a combination of the two approaches. Using a mixed methods or qualitative approach can provide the researcher with a deeper level of insight. Individuals are simultaneously members of multiple interconnected social categories that interact and intersect to influence lived experiences. Qualitative research approaches are valuable to understanding this complexity, which can often be lost in quantitative studies alone.

Sampling techniques and sample sizes will vary according to whether you are conducting quantitative or qualitative research. For more detailed information on this, please see the ‘Further reading’ section.

Data collection

When engaging with underrepresented groups, consideration for their needs must be embedded in all aspects of data collection. However, developing suitable data collection practices can take time. 

To ensure that the research materials are as accessible as possible, consider the format and length of the materials as well as the language used. Keeping materials short will help to make your study more accessible. If English is not the first language for all participants, you may need to consider translating research materials. It is good practice to pre-test research materials to ensure language is accessible. Consent forms must also be written in accessible language, clearly stating why, how, and when personal data and research data will be used. All content should be made accessible according to the needs of different users, such as those using screen readers. Furthermore, not all materials have to be written. You could also consider producing materials in different formats, such as audio or video. Additional guidance on designing for different groups is provided in the ‘Further reading’ section below.

When collecting demographic data, a balance will need to be struck between ensuring that questions are not overly burdensome and collecting equalities data that will be specific to each individual research project. Researchers should always try to use the most disaggregated taxonomy where possible, to help avoid cultural sensitivities arising from using higher level group options (for example, the category Asian encompasses a diverse population). However, whilst having lower-level categories will enable more detailed data analysis to be undertaken, it is important to ensure that you do not use low level categories that are too specific because this could lead to anonymity being compromised. 

It is important to think carefully about the phrasing of questions relating to demographics. The term BAME is not accepted by all and should be avoided, and the term ‘another’ is generally more inclusive when providing a list of categories for respondents to choose from, as opposed to ‘other’. Alternatively, participants can be given the opportunity to self-define if they do not identify with any of the proposed groups. Guidance on the use of terms relating to ethnicity, national identity, religion, gender and sex can be found in the ‘Further reading’ section.

Fundamentally, researchers must minimise the risk that participants taking part in their study will come to harm. Whilst central to research with any groups, this may be more pertinent when engaging with participants from underrepresented groups. For example, it is important to weigh up the wider benefits of the research with the possibility of unwittingly causing distress or creating self-doubt among your participants.

When choosing methods to recruit participants and collect data, it is important that accessibility is taken into consideration. Online methods may remove some barriers of face-to-face approaches (such as geographical and travel barriers) but exclude those who do not have access to digital devices or the necessary digital skills. This could lead to sampling biases in your study. Using a mixed methods approach to recruitment and data collection is therefore recommended. Careful consideration should be given to the location chosen for face-to-face methods, in terms of both accessibility requirements and whether participants will feel comfortable in the space. 

Conducting analysis

Broad categories have the potential to mask critical within-group differences and disparities. Disaggregation of data into the lowest possible level of characteristics is therefore important when analysing results. For example, conducting an analysis of educational attainment only at the Asian/Asian British level would fail to reveal significant variation among the five ONS-recommended Asian/Asian British sub-groups. 

Reflexivity and positionality are important in qualitative research. It is important to acknowledge how the researcher’s beliefs, values and judgements may have influenced the conclusions reached. When conducting the analysis, it is also necessary to remain open to the issues and experiences that are important to the research participant(s). 

The most common approach to analysing quantitative data is to consider parametric/non-parametric tests, but there are many approaches beyond this. It is important to check that your data meets the assumptions for your identified statistical analysis. For example, when undertaking subgroup analysis to explore the data from underrepresented groups, there may be a risk that the sample size is too small and you may have to choose a different approach.


Generally, it is important to cover four main areas in a report: 1) an overview of the problem or the topic; 2) data collection and analysis; 3) results, and 4) conclusions and recommendations. 

Just as with data collection, it is important to ensure you address a wide range of accessibility issues to make your data and evidence as accessible as possible. It is important to not unintentionally marginalise and/or stigmatise groups through the language that is used, and to avoid inaccessible technical language. Providing feedback to participants at the end of research, through presentations or brief summaries, can help to build trust and transparency around the research process. 

An example of conducting inclusive research in schools

Atkinson (2017) describes a mixed methods approach to research in one school that was driven by a desire to better understand the priorities of their community. Two contrasting strategies were adopted to better understand parents’ views. A parent research group was established, which consisted of around 20 parents representing a cross section of families from the school community. The group met every half-term, under the leadership of the deputy head. The school also used an online questionnaire to gather responses from a large number of parents about complex issues around school policies. You can read the full article on MyCollege

Further reading

For a discussion of sampling techniques and sample sizes in qualitative research, see Marshall (1996).

Sampling in quantitative research

Guidance on making written information easier to understand for people with learning disabilities.

Guidelines for producing materials for six diverse groups, including those with dyslexia and those who use screen readers.

Ethnicity data: how similar or different are aggregated ethnic groups?

Measuring equality: A guide for the collection and classification of ethnic group, national identity and religion data in the UK.

Sex and gender within the context of data collected for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Inclusive Language Guidelines: American Psychological Association


Promoting pupils' conceptual learning is one overarching goal that teachers might have in order to help pupils understand mathematics in a way that goes beyond just following a technique to reach an answer. The objective to support pupils' conceptual mathematics learning can be accomplished through evidence-based practice where teachers learn with and from each other. There is strong research underpinning teacher learning and reflection that is focused on the classroom (MacGilchrist et al., 2004). In my experience of teaching mathematics, I have observed that despite pupils having sufficient awareness of angles in their daily spatial relationships, the formal concept of angles is a severe barrier for them.


Why are angles difficult? 

The concept of angles has several facets and can be difficult for pupils to understand (Crompton, 2015). I believe that one of the main issues stems from a lack of understanding of the dynamic character of angles. Pupils experience angles in dynamic contexts in everyday life, but in mathematics classrooms, they are still taught about angles in static form (i.e. as immovable models). According to research, teaching solely in the static domain makes it difficult for pupils to grasp the idea and encourages them to develop unfavourable alternate conceptions that they frequently take over to more advanced stages of learning. (Mitchelmore, 1998; Burns and Clements, 2000).

The concept of angles as measures of turn is important to how pupils view angles. This needs to be taught explicitly so that pupils understand angle measurements and rotation in both domains. This is reinforced by the work of Mitchelmore (1998) who found that when pupils’ knowledge of angles is limited to within the static domain, they do not develop a deeper, conceptual understanding. For example, pupils often struggle to translate their knowledge of real-life situations such as the movement of a door; a pair of scissors; a swing or the hands of a clock, to their learning of basic angle facts in school. They are not able to recognise that the angles in these dynamic settings as essentially the same as what they have learnt in the classroom.

Aside from problems with the dynamic character of angles, I have also identified two other areas where pupils struggle in the learning of angles: the ability to conceive of angle rotation as a continuous, measurable quantity, and the need for a support mechanism or schema to solve multi-layered angle problems.


Pupils’ introduction to angles

Understanding complex problems involving angles requires pupils to have a solid understanding of the many facets of the angle idea. In my experience, I have found that when pupils first encounter angles in secondary school, the teaching of angles does not always emphasise the dynamic element i.e. seeing angles as a measure of a turn or the turn being the relationship between two lines. Hence, pupils  tend to struggle with the idea of angles in relation to movement and the interpretation of this movement.

Unfortunately, the opportunity for pupils to identify angles in various physical contexts is rarely explored. Consider, for example, why children do not easily connect the time on a clock to angle types [e.g. 3 o’clock as a representation of a right angle]. This disconnect is reinforced by responses to the survey for this research. A sample of 25 pupils from a Year 9 class (14 year olds) were asked to pick out the odd one out from five groups of four words and numbers from a list that are associated with angles. Below is an example from the survey.

  1. 50 degrees; b) a swing; c) left angle; d) protractor


The rationale was to ascertain if pupils could associate dynamic objects and movement (swing) to angles and thus be able to correctly pick out the odd item (left angle). In this anonymous survey conducted at the start of the project, pupils were also asked to give their definitions of an angle. Interestingly, only a few pupils attempted a definition or provided one that was close to accurate. Most of their definitions mentioned “measurement”, “degree” and “size” but omitted important words like “rotation” and “turn”. Mitchelmore (1998) argues that the gap between the understanding of angles as both dynamic and static has given rise to misconceptions around  the definition of angles. It was interesting to note that the majority of pupils in the survey were also unable to make a link between dynamic objects (a pair of scissors, for example) and their learning of angles, showing a disconnected knowledge base between school and everyday experiences.


Identifying the problem

In my context, a large mixed comprehensive school serving a significantly deprived area in the West Midlands, there was general agreement among teaching staff that angles as a topic area in the maths curriculum was challenging for the majority of our pupils. The decision to focus on angles was due partially to an overwhelmingly poor performance in multi-step angles questions from a summative test. Following from this, an analysis of data using test scores from this specific cohort of pupils was undertaken. The data looked at the number of pupils who attempted two key angles questions from the test and the number of marks scored for each question. In one of the questions, only 34 pupils out of 142 who took this test scored any marks, representing less than a quarter of the total number of pupils and by all accounts, a low score rate. As teachers, we also collectively drew from our own various experiences of teaching angles to bolster our position to focus on this area. This is in alignment with MacGilchrist et al.’s (2004) assertion that teachers bring invaluable knowledge and experience to a process of change.


Pedagogic intervention

Given that the motivation and objective was to improve outcomes for pupils by changing the way we teach angles, a mastery approach was adopted to address this issue. The concept of ‘teaching for mastery’ refers to the practices used in classrooms to increase pupils’ chances of deeper understanding of mathematics (NCETM, 2022). In practice, the idea is to explore a topic at greater depth such that learning is firmly understood and embedded. With support from the NCETM Maths hub, a national network that is coordinated by the NCETM  to support excellent practice, an evaluation of research studies on angle pedagogy was conducted.

This knowledge was shared and discussed across the faculty. The scheme of learning was also scrutinised to find where changes could be implemented to reflect a different way of teaching that was more effective. The intention from the outset  Iwas to refine our practice by enacting the following agreed approaches:

  • Explicit teaching of correct definition using Frayer modelling
  • Discuss real-life examples of angles including their dynamic nature
  • Demonstrate angle rotation and measurement
  • Introduction of goal-free questions to solve more complex problems.


In the revamped approach, the Frayer Model (mentioned above) was used to introduce the concept of angles, giving a clear definition based on the idea of an angle as a measure of turn. The Frayer Model is a graphic organiser originally developed for vocabulary learning but has been adapted and is now increasingly used in maths teaching and other disciplines. It is divided into four distinct headings, namely: definition; characteristics; examples and non-examples. We used this template to set out the main features of angles, and allowed pupils to explain why the features they identified were examples or non-examples. Examples offer an instance of resemblance, whereas non-examples offer contrast. A typical non-example would be two straight lines that do not intersect to form an angle, for example.

This activity sought to help pupils avoid misconceptions by correctly identifying angles based on an angle’s definition and characteristics. Discussions of real-life application of angles were also incorporated in lessons to make learning meaningful and engaging. Pupils were encouraged to research the different angles they encountered in their daily experiences both in static and dynamic domains. Angle rotation was taught to show the changes in angle size and how this movement or turn relates to two intersecting lines.

These changes led to a redesign of schemes of learning to incorporate the agreed themes, as well as supporting colleagues to implement them in their lessons. After agreed timelines, continuing professional development (CPD) was delivered using a focus group of students to reflect on how this work was influencing pupil progress and how to improve on this for a larger cohort of pupils.


Goal-free questions

Research studies found that when students employ dynamic actions for angles, they create schemas that apply in other circumstances. Because of this, they develop a deeper understanding that encourages the use of more precise angle measurements and links between ideas (Clements and Burns, 2000). Just as pupils may use body movements and physical objects to describe and understand angles, goal-free questions were recast as schema for our pupils to develop their ability to solve more complex problems involving angles. In Craig Barton’s (2018) book, How I wish I’d Taught Maths, he highlights the benefits of using goal-free questions to focus pupils’ thinking (Barton, 2018). Goal-free questions serve as schema to help pupils approach angle problems in a manner that is structured and avoids ‘attempting to juggle all the possible sub-steps’ towards the goal or final answer. (Barton, 2018, p.162).

A recent study actually found that an undue focus on the answer can be reductive (Johnson et al., 2022). This usually occurs when teachers place more value on procedural fluency than the key mathematical concept in the learning. In the goal-free scenario, the teacher can choose to conceal the original question and design one of their own that encourages pupils to attempt the aspects they know in small steps. Goal-free questions also have cognitive benefits as they help pupils avoid cognitive overload by de-emphasising the goal. This allows for some flexibility and takes away some of the pressure that pupils often encounter when faced with multi-step questions, therefore freeing up working memory to complete the sub-steps that lead towards the final answer (Barton, 2018).



Although this is ongoing work, in terms of impact, pupils have described their learning of angles using themes suggested in this research in the following words: “interesting”; ”useful”; ”challenging”; ”good”; ”alright”, suggesting a positive shift in our practice. There is also evidence from pupils’ classwork that goal-free questions are being tackled and the work is reflecting a good understanding of the concepts taught. In the meantime, teachers report being more confident in their teaching of angles using the agreed themes, and are very positive about using goal-free’ questions in their lessons.

It is crucial that pupils have the opportunity to develop a meaningful idea of angles through connecting formal learning with applied domains. The majority of angles in practical circumstances are dynamic, which also makes studying them more interesting and engaging. This research offers a pedagogic strategy that is practical, relevant and effective in the teaching of angles. The findings presented have key implications for teachers to harness and develop their collective professional learning to promote pupils’ conceptual learning in mathematics.


ChatGPT, or Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, is a natural language processing (NLP) artificial intelligence (AI) system, a machine-learning system that has been trained on a massive dataset of text from the internet, including books, articles, and websites (Bessette, 2023). As a large language model (LLM), ChatGPT uses machine learning algorithms to analyse this data and learn the patterns and characteristics of how words and phrases relate to each other to enable it to process and generate new content (Fitzpatrick et al, 2023). ChatGPT makes predictions about how to string words together, putting one word in front of another based on statistical probability. Like an enhanced predictive text, or the autocomplete function of a search engine (Floridi, 2023), ChatGPT produces and refines statistical models for processing and generating natural language and does so in coherent and contextually appropriate responses and replies to prompts in a conversational way (Rospigliosi, 2023).

The advent of this algorithmic writing technology capable of producing text with minimal input has the potential to cause massive disruption to educational practice and there are concerns about quality, accuracy, bias and intellectual integrity. Equally, however, this is an invitation for educators to rethink their teaching, learning, and assessment methods and strategies. It is the responsibility of educators to help students navigate the ethics, features, and limitations of these communication tools.

Artificial intelligence in education (AIEd) opens new opportunities, potentials, and challenges in educational practices. This article investigates the potential of ChatGPT for use and implementation in their course work by Higher Education students on Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses with the potential for them to be able to extend this to their own pupils.


The challenges

  1. Incorrect, inaccurate or misinformation

The responses generated by ChatGPT may not always be factually correct, accurate or reliable, as ChatGPT will make up information, answers or references when it does not know how to reply. These are called ‘hallucinations’. AI hallucinations occur when the AI generates content that cannot be grounded in any of its training data or provided source content (Fitzpatrick et al., 2023, p. 35).

Inaccuracies could also be the result of a failure to filter relevant information or being unable to distinguish between credible and less-credible sources.

  1. Prejudiced, stereotypical or biased

Prejudices and stereotypes present in the set of text data used to build ChatGPT could be replicated. AI models are trained on datasets that reflect historical and societal prejudices, and so have the potential to perpetuate those biases in their predictions (Eke 2023; Fitzpatrick et al, 2023).

Issues like availability, selection and confirmation biases, can be reproduced and so there is a distinct need for student teachers to fact-check and verify ChatGPT results (Alvero, 2023).

  1. No understanding of the physical world

ChatGPT imitates existing language but has no understanding of the physical world or of the content or context of the prompts or the queries (Alvero, 2023). The user will put in a query or prompt and the algorithm that has programmed ChatGPT will take that set of words, access its enormous set of training data, and determine what the most likely word is to come next, and then after that. For example, a trainee teacher using ChatGPT asked for a lesson plan for teaching the concept of 'photosynthesis' to secondary school students, and ChatGPT creates a lesson plan relying on technology like virtual reality headsets and holographic projectors, not considering practical classroom constraints or availability of resources.

ChatGPT does not understand the query and will not source relevant documents or appropriate sources of information. Thus, although the responses seem authentic and authoritative, ChatGPT cannot fully understand the context and meaning of the text and cannot self-evaluate its outputs (Grobe, 2023).

  1. Over-reliance on ChatGPT

Another challenge is the risk that student teachers – or their pupils - may become too reliant on ChatGPT, because the model simplifies the acquisition of answers or information. This could amplify laziness and counteract the learners’ interest to conduct their own investigations and come to their own conclusions or solutions, which in turn could hinder their critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Kasneci et al, 2023).

  1. Academic integrity

Concerns have been raised around academic integrity (Stokel-Walker, 2022). For example, if student teachers use ChatGPT to generate essays or other forms of written texts that are then passed off as original work. This challenge is heightened by the fact that it can be hard to detect using traditional anti-plagiarism software because ChatGPT generates a brand-new answer for questions asked (Eke, 2023).

There are currently no requirements of transparency or that the work is watermarked or tagged as synthetic, which is problematic to educators who may not recognise work as AI generated. In addition, although there is currently much work going into identifying AI generated text, it is difficult to determine when a written submission has been created by a chatbot and this could lead to ethical concerns about the use of machine-generated content (Fitzpatrick et al., 2023).

To overcome these challenges, it is important for student teachers to use – and indeed to show their own pupils how to use - ChatGPT and other generative AI tools responsibly and with caution. They should critically evaluate the accuracy and relevance of the responses generated and use these tools as a supplement to their own knowledge and understanding, rather than a replacement for it.



ChatGPT and other generative AI tools offer several opportunities for ITT/E students to enhance their learning and academic performance and to share with their own pupils.

  1. Learning aid or study tool

ChatGPT can be used in research and writing tasks, as well as in the development of problem-solving skills. Examples include generating summaries and outlines of texts, helping student teachers to quickly understand the main points of a text and to organise their thoughts for writing. As a tool, ChatGPT can efficiently format and organise the content and so optimise time and effort in producing, revising and editing texts.

ChatGPT can also serve as a helpful learning aid, providing the student teacher with practical strategies, tips, and guidance related to classroom management for their future role as an educator.

  1. Facilitate communication and collaboration

ChatGPT can provide a discussion structure, real-time feedback and personalised guidance to students and so facilitate group discussions and debates, which can help to improve student engagement and participation. For example, ChatGPT can serve as a collaborative partner, helping the student teacher brainstorm ideas, provide explanations, and suggest tools to enhance group communication and productivity. The student teacher interacts with ChatGPT to gather information that can be shared with their group, fostering effective collaboration and ensuring that everyone's contributions are heard and valued.

  1. Language translation

ChatGPT can also be used for language translation, allowing student teachers to communicate with peers – or their pupils - from different cultures and backgrounds, enhancing global awareness and intercultural competence. For language learners, ChatGPT can serve as a conversation partner, allowing learners to practice their speaking and listening skills in a safe and non-judgmental environment.

  1. Remote learning

Another opportunity offered by ChatGPT is its use to enable remote learning, especially when students are unable to attend classes. ChatGPT can provide quick and accurate answers to questions that student teachers may have about a topic they are studying but do not necessarily have resources for. ChatGPT can help explain difficult concepts by breaking them down into simpler terms and can generate study materials, such as flashcards or quizzes, to help student teachers to review material they have learned.

  1. Empower students

ChatGPT can be used to provide starting points, outline arguments or generate points for consideration. Student teachers will need to have definite ideas and arguments they want to make, and ChatGPT can be useful in helping these students to develop their own writing skills and to think more critically about the ideas and arguments they are presenting. ChatGPT offers much value in the writing process, but it is the student teachers who will cite and analyse evidence, create logical links between claims, and check the validity and accuracy of the responses provided.

Furthermore, ITT/E students can challenge and clarify information by asking ChatGPT to respond to follow-up questions, encouraging integration with existing knowledge and promoting a deeper understanding of multiple meanings and concepts (Rospigliosi, 2023). This is another skill that student teachers can share with their own pupils.


Implications for the classroom

The use of ChatGPT and other GAI by student teachers has significant implications for pedagogy, curricula and assessment and their own future role as educators.

Pedagogy - ChatGPT can transform the way students interact with educational content because of its ability to process and generate human-like responses, engaging with students in a personalised and conversational manner, and providing them with immediate feedback and guidance.

By providing student teachers with information and resources on a particular topic, ChatGPT can assist in developing their research and critical thinking skills (Kasneci et al, 2023). ChatGPT could further serve to democratise knowledge sharing as it can receive and output text in multiple languages, providing translations of reading passages or re-writing classic text to accommodate specific learner needs, such as learning difficulties, and is beneficial for non-native speakers studying in English (Hosseini et al, 2023). Student teachers could find this supportive tool invaluable. ChatGPT can also adapt to individual students' needs to provide personalized learning experiences, another benefit to student teachers learning to create an inclusive classroom and accommodate individual learner needs.

Curricular - ChatGPT can provide access to vast amounts of data that can be analysed to identify patterns and trends in student learning. This data can be used to design and implement more effective curricula that meet the diverse needs of students and ChatGPT's ability to generate personalised responses and provide immediate feedback can also enhance the delivery of curricula, allowing for a more dynamic and responsive learning experience.

Assessment – Concern about the use of ChatGPT by students to write their essays and assignments for them means that assessment methods must be revised. ChatGPT itself can assist here by enabling the development of more sophisticated and effective assessment tools, including supporting the development of more accurate and comprehensive assessment methods that can capture a wider range of student learning outcomes and be catered towards individual learner needs. Examples could include the use of case studies and made-up scenarios.

These implications highlight the need for educational institutions to consider how they are going to address the use of ChatGPT and other GAI by student teachers. ChatGPT generated the following response:

  • Educate students on the appropriate use of ChatGPT, including its limitations and the importance of responsible use.
  • Provide guidance on how to effectively integrate ChatGPT into the learning process, including best practices for incorporating ChatGPT-generated content into assignments and assessments.
  • Ensure that the use of ChatGPT does not compromise academic integrity, and provide clear guidelines on what constitutes plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct.
  • Regularly evaluate the use of ChatGPT to assess its impact on student learning outcomes and to identify areas for improvement.



With ChatGPT, we need to explore its capabilities, appreciate its limitations, and consider its endless possibilities.

The use of ChatGPT and similar tools by student teachers does raise a number of challenges and concerns, but these can be mitigated by student teachers being made aware of these limitations and being allowed to take responsibility for fact and accuracy checking.

ChatGPT and other AI chatbots have the potential to offer a range of benefits for higher education, including increased student engagement, collaboration, and accessibility.

The use of large language models like ChatGPT can be integrated into the curriculum to enhance teacher learning. Effective and efficient use should be taught, and students should be encouraged to utilise these tools in a responsible and ethical manner.


The evaluation of information is a key skill associated with modern independent learning. Indeed, it is fundamental to Callison’s (2014, p. 23) principle, distilled from the literature, that ‘analysis skills must dominate student use of the internet’, in particular. Even in the age when most information materials took paper form, source appraisal was invariably one of many processes addressed in frameworks for teaching information skills (e.g. Marland, 1981; Paterson, 1981). The emergence of the Web, however, has led to new models that concentrate exclusively on the information evaluation. These offer educators a structured breakdown of the areas they should cover, whilst showing students the factors they must consider. Today, with the popularity of social media especially, the number and range of authors have increased enormously, and material no longer necessarily has to satisfy the requirements of editors, reviewers, referees and publishers for it to become widely available. Separating high-quality content from material that should be ignored is now a major task in student research.

Faced with a range of models for appraising material, devised by parties as diverse as academics, teachers, librarians and other information professionals, modern students may well feel overwhelmed by their number. And in situations where the individual is allowed completely free choice, making a decision on which model to adopt when carrying out their work may be intimidating. Early in 2023, I conducted a small scale research project that explored the factors borne in mind by students when determining which model they should use. This article will outline the context for the new research, the methods employed, the main results and the wider implications of what arose from the study.


I am employed as an EPQ supervisor in a very successful comprehensive school in the north-east of England. The participating students were Sixth Formers aged sixteen or seventeen who had achieved above national levels at GCSE the previous year. As part of their pursuit of the Extended Project Qualification, all were tackling independent learning tasks that culminated in the writing of a 5,000-word document on a subject of their own choice and in the planning and delivery of an oral presentation. They also kept a diary of their research work.

The evaluation of information is a significant element within the EPQ. Ten of the fifty marks available are allotted to the use of resources. These must not only be relevant to the topic; they should be diverse and of high calibre. At my school, candidates are required to compile a source evaluation table that includes an entry for each item consulted. Students are expected to appraise all the materials they consider for use against the criteria put forward in a recognised framework. Various models are suggested to the candidates as examples but they decide for themselves which to adopt. The students may even ignore all those highlighted and go for one that they have discovered entirely independently, without any prompting from staff.


In order to shed light on the evaluative framework chosen by each individual and their reasons for selecting it, the 11 students allocated to me were asked specifically about these matters during face-to-face, one-to-one tutorials. The meetings took place four months into the EPQ course. By this point, the candidates were used to working with me and had become accustomed to personal tutorials – each had experienced four previous one-to-one sessions of a similar nature. The students and the supervisor took notes during these exchanges and those made by the latter, plus the text that the candidates had set down in their research diaries, formed the data upon which I drew in the study.

In a classic research methods textbook, Webb et al. (2000) recommend the use of ‘unobtrusive measures’. They are critical of how interviews ‘intrude as a foreign element into the social setting they would describe’ (Webb et al, 2000, p. 1) and whilst it is true that the personal tutorials here were dependent on the cooperation of the students involved, these conversations were an integral part of the EPQ and would have happened irrespective of whether the research forming the subject of this article had taken place or not. Consequently, this data collection method, like that of the research diary, may indeed be regarded as unobtrusive.


On the basis of the data gathered and analysed, eight factors determined the likelihood that a particular model for evaluating information would be accepted by an EPQ candidate.

1)  Ready availability

Although the names and/or the authors of eight different models were given to the students, they were not provided with either Web addresses or any other details of sites where the frameworks could be found. Each of those chosen for use by the students was, however, freely available via the internet and featured in different documents. For virtually all young people today, the Web of course forms the most obvious environment in which to look for information.

2) Profile/degree of exposure

All the models that were applied by at least one student had been highlighted to them in class previously, either in terms of being mentioned verbally by the EPQ supervisor or shown on a PowerPoint slide. It may be significant, also, that one of the two most frequently occurring tools was that which the supervisor had referred to first. In circumstances where this was favoured, the candidates began examining the models in the order in which they had been presented and when the first was deemed to be satisfactory, they looked no further.

3)  Fittingness with existing experiences

Various students indicated that they adopted the model because they had already applied at least some of its criteria in a previous assignment. This gave the framework a degree of familiarity and, if the candidates had been successful in the previous endeavour, led to a feeling among users that it was likely to be effective. Past experience of a more immediate kind was important to a student who had already devised a table in which they would set down details of each source. They then selected an evaluation framework that seemed most congruent with the headings they had determined.

4)  Ease of use

This justification covered a range of areas, which students expressed in different ways. Several spoke generally of a model being ‘intuitive’. Some appreciated how, when working with their preferred checklist, it was straightforward to test a source in terms of the factors cited, whilst one candidate pointed to how, if there was a smooth progression from criterion to criterion, it became easier for their thinking to transition between the points when they were evaluating an item.

5)  Memorability

By no means all the models suggested to the candidates were identified by particular names. A few were known simply as the work of those who devised them. Most of the frameworks chosen for use by the candidates were, however, represented by acronyms – CRAAP (California State University, 2010), RADAR (Mandalios, 2013) and IF I APPLY (Phillips, 2019). The first generated much amusement and students who adopted any of the three explained how the name rendered memorable both the model itself and the elements within it. CRAAP refers to currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose. In the words of one candidate, ‘As long as I can remember what the letters stand for, I don’t need to look anything up.’

6)  Anticipation of own ideas

Students within this category spoke of how the factors stipulated in their preferred model ‘made sense’ or ‘were obvious’. In each instance, the individual claimed that the considerations set down were those they would have applied themselves had they been left to their own devices. Following the chosen model meant that little additional thought on their part was necessary.

7) Use of familiar language

The inclusion within the frameworks of unusual words or specialist academic language was found off-putting by multiple students and imposed an extra cognitive burden. Some were discouraged from using one framework by its reference to ‘affiliations’ and ‘citations’ (Shenton and Pickard, 2012). In contrast, models whose criteria were presented ‘in plain English’ were praised.

8) Resonance

This was the most intangible of the eight factors and that which the candidates found most difficult to articulate. Here the nature of a certain model chimed with a student’s inclinations. Resonance is perhaps best exemplified by a candidate who felt a particular affinity with one framework because it gave what she believed to be special emphasis to an evaluative factor she deemed most meaningful, i.e. relevance.

Only one student chose not to adopt an existing framework in its entirety. This exception opted instead to develop their own hybrid, which incorporated what they regarded as the most pertinent factors from different models, as well as giving special attention to the usefulness of the source for the task at hand.

Other Relevant Contextual Factors

Although in previous work lower down the school the students had been encouraged to take a critical attitude to information, none recalled ever being trained in the application of a specific model, beyond those recommended in very precise curricular contexts. Had a more generic tool been advocated then, it seems likely that the candidates would have used it unhesitatingly in their EPQ work, with little thought given to alternatives.

About a month after I had urged the students to select and then rigorously apply a source evaluation framework of their choice, the candidates made a study visit to the library of a local university. Here a model featuring six generic questions (i.e. Newcastle University, 2018) was demonstrated in detail. It had not been made known to the group previously. One wonders whether, had the trip taken place earlier, the students would have accepted this structure immediately, simply because it had been introduced at a special event (i.e. a day away from school), by authoritative Higher Education staff and in a memorable video.

Implications for the classroom

The results from this study would suggest that a model for evaluating information is most likely to be adopted if:

  • it is freely accessible and readily available
  • it is highlighted by a teacher in a lesson
  • its contents are found to be consistent with previous work undertaken by the student
  • it is thought to be user-friendly
  • it is represented by a memorable acronym
  • it incorporates factors that would be borne in mind by the student without recourse to any prompts
  • it features language and terms known to the user
  • it resonates in some way with the individual.


This should not be viewed as a definitive list of relevant factors, however. Indeed, we might hypothesise that other considerations, such as recommendations from peers, could also come into play. The small-scale nature of this research should be noted and it would be unwise to assume that the discoveries made here will emerge in terms of EPQ students more widely or groups of EPQ students in schools different from my own. It has been indicated that the 11 EPQ candidates whose thinking has been explored were for the most part of high ability. Comparable findings may not necessarily result in studies that involve a more heterogeneous body of EPQ candidates.

Still, teachers who invite students to choose from a range of models for use in their own subjects may reflect on how far they apply more generally the principles listed above. Many of the decisions made by the participants in the project would seem to make sense on a logical level but at this stage it is too much of a conceptual leap to believe that similar factors will arise in other situations. More research would be needed to ascertain how far the findings presented here are widely applicable across a range of contexts and settings.


This case study will explore the emerging impact of a shared specialism between a SENCo and SEND link Governor on curriculum improvement at a one-form entry primary school in Kent. Kings Hill Primary School has Special Resource Provision (SRP) for children on the autism spectrum. Like other schools, the setting is currently navigating the limited resources and inconsistent outcomes experienced by pupils and their families in relation to SEND provision. (DfE, 2022; DfE, 2023). As a United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Rights Respecting School, our values are particularly focused on non-discrimination and participation (School website, 2022, UNICEF, 2022). The joint work of the SENCo and Governor, as well as fulfilling the duties of governance and school leadership, are therefore child centred, aiming to increase participation and outcomes for pupils with SEND across the full breadth of school life. We propose that the benefits to school governance of this shared institutional mindset (Connolly and James, 2022) have relevant implications for the work of link governors in schools.

The current SEND link governor is a former SENCo and Specialist Leader of Education for SEND, who now works in SEND consultancy and works with other school settings on whole-school improvement for SEND. The SENCo is also the Lead Teacher of the SRP and has worked within mainstream primary and secondary settings as well as in Alternative Provision (AP) across all key stages.

The current climate in SEND education

Schools in the UK are facing increasing pressures to meet the needs of children with SEND outlined in the recent SEND and AP green paper (DfE, 2022) and associated improvement plan (DfE, 2023), as well as through associated oral evidence (UK Parliament 2023)  The failed implementation of the law (House of Lords,  2022) is seen as one of a number of reasons that repeated conflict and unmet needs continue to inhibit equity in educational outcomes for pupils with SEND. System-wide issues such as lack of parental confidence, long waiting times for assessment pathways and Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) processes, and inconsistency of practice across the education sector (DfE, 2023), are all felt within the school and local community. In Kent particularly, following the SEND Ofsted inspection, there is now a significant push for more children with SEND to be educated in mainstream settings. Although there is an impact for all schools, the pattern observed has been that “inclusive” schools have become “magnet” schools for families with children with SEND (HoC, 2019, p. 42).  As a one-form entry mainstream school with an SRP, we have seen this with our SEN percentage being above national average and the number of EHCPs in most classes being above the national average for mainstream primary schools. The number of children identified as having SEND nationally has been steadily increasing in recent years (ONS, 2022). Schools are now required to provide a range of support which may previously have been found through support services such as specialist teaching services or children’s centre,  before funding cuts in 2011 (Farquharson et al., 2021). In effect, school leaders find themselves scrutinised for a lack of inclusive practice or over-subscribed yet underfunded having formed a reputation for good inclusion practice.

When reviewing inclusion in the curriculum, it is important to consider the concepts of equality and equity (Guldberg, 2020). Equality reflects the quality first teaching, with every child being treated the same (Equality Act, 2010).  Equity, however, is about meeting the needs of individuals and adapting through reasonable adjustments (GOV.UK, 1995;  DfE, 2014). Recent research suggests a further model of a three-tier approach to pedagogical needs (Norwich and Lewis, 2005; Roberts and Webster, 2020). A three-tier approach looks at support and intervention at a universal, targeted and specialist level. This can create a tension between pupils accessing a curriculum that is rich and broad and balanced, whilst also making adjustments for meeting their individual needs. It is, therefore, important that collaboration takes place between all stakeholders, staff, pupils, parents and governors, to identify the key priorities for the cohort of the school and how the curriculum should be designed to meet their needs.

Collaboration in practice

There is a requirement for Local School Board (LSB) members to maintain strategic oversight and vision setting whilst avoiding involvement in operational matters (DfE, 2020). While the educational experience of the link governor is useful, the boundaries of this leadership are constantly reviewed, through a systematic approach to governor visits from the Multi Academy Trust the school is in. This requires Governors to probe school data, find evidence of impact on school strategies and to understand the progress of staff through CPD. Through additional visits to events such as assemblies, and observation of the resourced provision, the Governor’s experience in SEND is used effectively to report on the overarching inclusion of children. All visits whether more formally planned or otherwise, are nonetheless reported to the LSB to provide a deeper analysis of progress.

The shared specialism between the SENCo and SEND Governor in the case study school has had a number of positive impacts on curriculum improvement. Firstly, it has allowed for more open and productive conversations about SEND. The shared language of the SEN arena and associated legislation has resulted in efficient and targeted conversations that have provoked collaboration with external partners. For example, in discussing the SENCo’s outreach offer, the pair were able to establish that greater input from the local authority in designing the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) may be needed. The SENCo and Governor are able to share their expertise and insights, leading to better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the school including funding issues.

A supervisory, rather than coaching (developmental and goal-oriented) or mentoring (advisory and guidance-based) approach has allowed the link Governor and SENCo to manage the boundaries of the relationship by applying an agreed framework to discussion. Through these discussions, professional understanding has led to more collaborative approach to curriculum discussion and in turn planning on part of the SENCo. The Chair of Governor reports that the SENCo has found greater “confidence in her ability to influence curriculum” which as rapidly led to staff improving “adaptations to lessons using her tools and advice”. This is particularly notable in the development of an ‘emergent curriculum’, designed for pupils with complex needs to enable them to participate in the same curriculum as others.

Progress measures for children with SEND

Since the removal of Levels in 2014 and P Levels in 2018, it has been at individual schools’ discretion to choose how they access pupil progress. For pupils working at an age expected standard, this is more straightforward. It is, however, more challenging to show progress for pupils who are working below the age expected standard, with them often assessed at ‘working below’. Governor visits have been focused on the probing of this progress using what the SENCo calls “the right questions”, for example: “what are the principles of the curriculum that we can work towards to show emerging progress for [X learner]”, “How can we track informal and extra-curricular progress towards [X’s] Section F?”. Within our trust, small step trackers which encourage observation and reporting on a child’s social interaction with others e.g. the length of time they were engaged in play with friends or the circumstances in which they were able to ‘share’ with others, were collaboratively designed for pupils who are working significantly below the age expected standard whilst also being aligned with the monitoring of key skills and concepts within our current assessment system. These have allowed staff to capture progress, reporting to parents regularly and subsequently improving parental understanding of their child’s academic and social development.

As part of good autism practice, it is crucial that the voice of the child or young person (CYP) with autism is heard (Guldberg et al., 2020) and this should apply for all pupils with SEND.  As part of the annual review process, there is an expectation that the voice of the child is captured. What is often captured is the parental voice or the school’s interpretation of what they believe to be the child’s voice (Bloom et al., 2020). Local authority documentation can be limited in its ability to capture pupil voice and does not allow for pupils who are non-verbal.  As a school we have worked collaboratively as a staff group, wider trust and with the LSB to review how we capture pupil voice and progress. This is done through photos, video capturing and visuals, but these are not yet readily accepted on statutory paperwork. Through collaboration with our SEND Governor and in light of the proposed homogeny of the EHCP system, including its digitisation (DfE, 2023, 2022), the school can provoke wider discussions to see how this might be achieved using our communication system, Class Dojo ( We have seen increased acknowledgment in progress beyond standard grading measures in our with parents, trust executives, governors and other external agencies.

We believe that these emerging correlative points are indicative of a governor/SENCo relationship underpinned by shared elements of a ‘cultural-cognitive pillar of institutionalisation’ (Connelly and James, 2022) that is a collectively shared notion of the arrangements of the school as a distinct institution.


The shared specialism between the SENCo and SEND Governor in the case study school has had a number of positive impacts on curriculum improvement. It has led to more open and productive conversations about SEND, a more collaborative approach to curriculum planning, and a more reflective approach to curriculum evaluation.

The impact of the relationship has so far only been gathered through qualitative feedback in regular meetings with the Chair of Governors when discussing leader’s progressThe Headteacher, Deputy Headteacher and Chair of Governors, who describe an increase in the SENCos leadership confidence, increased benefit of a peer in the same field of specialism to support decision-making, as well as increased confidence in using innovation in curriculum design. The Headteacher reflected: “this shared understanding has enabled Governors to challenge leaders about the specific design of out curriculum”. The importance of deeper professional conversations being enabled in a psychologically safe environment (Shein, 2017, Edmonson, 2018) is recognised as the Headteacher continues: “constructive conversations on the effectiveness of chosen key systems and strategies to empower pupils with SEND, has enhanced curriculum access and engagement for pupils with additional needs across the school”. Further data will now be gathered through surveys and interviews with SEN Specialist staff to understand if they and the children they support have benefited from any of the approaches identified in this case study.


Overall, the emerging experience of the collaborative relationship and particularly the application of a supervisory model in discussions between the SENCo and SEND Governor,   appears to be positive. Further data and evaluation of this peer-focused collaboration will be undertaken through surveys with specialist SEN staff and through discussions with other SENCos in the MAT who do not have a link governor with a specific background. Schools may want to explore how a targeted recruitment of specialist governors may benefit the quality of interaction in the fulfilling of expectations for effective leadership and management in schools.

Original article by:

Lowry C, Leonard-Kane R, Gibbs B et al. (2022) Teachers: the forgotten health workforce. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 115(4): 133–137. 



Amidst rising rates of mental illness among children, this commentary highlights the role of teachers as the forgotten health workforce. According to the Mental Health of Children and Young People in England (MHCYP) survey, teachers are the most common source of mental health support for children (NHS Digital, 2017). Although children are well placed to access help in schools, staff do not receive the necessary training to promote mental health or respond to problems (Byrne et al., 2015; Sibieta, 2021). Furthermore, disproportionate numbers of teachers themselves experience mental health problems (Lowry et al., 2022a). 

What is the research underpinning it?

Research indicates that teachers have an important role as public health professionals, promoting long-term health. School connectedness, or the extent to which children feel valued by their teachers and peers, has a long-term impact on the physical and mental health of pupils (Lowry et al., 2022a). Particularly important for adult health is the quality of the teacher-pupil relationship (Kim, 2021), whilst teachers can also play an important role in the promotion of pupils’ social and emotional learning (SEL), which in turn has a positive impact on GCSE results (Lowry et al., 2002b) and lifetime earnings (Flèche, 2017).

Teachers also have a further role to play as primary care professionals, providing frontline health and wellbeing services. Teachers are identified as ‘tier 1’ of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) professionals, alongside general practitioners and social workers. However, training for teachers in England is notably lacking. A national scoping study of mental health provision in English schools found that the main staff supporting pupils in schools had no specialist mental health training (Vostanis et al., 2013). 

Impact on practice

The authors argue that funding is required to support schools to fulfil their public health and primary care roles, which could come directly from the health sector (Jani et al., 2022). Specifically, the authors propose three recommendations:

  1. Train the workforce: training in child development, health and wellbeing should be integrated into ITT and the Early Career Framework. This training should be complimentary for current teachers, with different training pathways tailored to specialised roles (e.g. form teachers, pastoral managers, health education teachers and school leaders).
  2. Measure what matters: it is important to regularly measure all the modifiable factors relevant to children’s long-term success. Anonymous school-level data on pupil health, wellbeing, and SEL, pupil–teacher relationships, and teacher wellbeing and workload should therefore be collected regularly. This data can be used to understand and respond to the needs of both pupils and teachers.
  3. Create child-centred services: investment is required to enable pupils to access essential children’s services in school, from social workers to social prescribing link workers.

Key takeaways:

  • teachers perform both public health and primary care roles
  • however, teachers are not adequately trained for these roles
  • funding is required to support and equip this forgotten health workforce. 

Joanna Johnson, Associate Trainer (Grassroots Suicide Prevention), ASIST Trainer (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills), Papyrus Volunteer (Prevention of Suicide in Young People), and  Head of Department and Psychology Teacher, Monmouth School for Girls, UK

If you were asked what the leading cause of death was in young people, what would you say? Drugs or Alcohol? Car crashes? Gang fights or violence in the home? It’s actually death by suicide. Alarmingly, around 4 children a week, some only 10 years old, die by suicide in England and Wales (ONS, 2022), with research by Papyrus in 2017 stating that on average students are sharing suicidal thoughts with teachers once a term or more (Papyrus, 2017). This may well have increased following COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are overwhelmed, with many children and young people with mental health issues desperately needing support. Over 190,000 0–18 year-olds were referred to children and young people’s mental health services between April and June in 2021, up 134 per cent on the same period the year before, and 96 per cent on 2019 (97,342) (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2021). Moving forward, the longer-term impact of the pandemic on young people is still being examined, however research from Cambridge indicates that ‘increases in stress across the entire population due to the coronavirus lockdown could cause far more young people to be at risk of suicide than can be detected through evidence of psychiatric disorders’ (Polek et al., 2020). It is so distressing and we, as teachers, give our absolute best to help our pupils. But we are not mental health professionals, and it can be frustrating when we can’t refer them for the specialist support they so desperately need.

On 13 March 2023, Parliament debated whether suicide prevention should be a compulsory part of the school curriculum (House of Commons, March 2023). Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, responded to the debate and outlined current measures to ensure pupils’ emotional wellbeing within the curriculum: ‘as part of taking a comprehensive, evidence-based approach, we will make sure we speak to the experts in the field. We plan to start the review as soon as possible.’ If this does come to fruition, it could have a profound impact on rates of suicide in children and young people. But we must also examine what this means for us in our role as educators, how we embed this in the curriculum, and how we support pupils in the most effective way, with the most useful training.

Suicide is such a complicated and difficult area. The ripple effect of the death of a child or young person is of course unsurmountable, and research by Clinical Psychologist Julie Cerel shows that, on average, around 135 people are affected when a person dies by suicide (Cerel et al., 2018, p. 5). This figure, however, is erroneous when considering the impact on a community, as it depends on the connections in that community, and in particular such a close-knit community as a school.

I trained a group of counsellors and trainee counsellors on suicide prevention in South Wales – an area that suffered a particularly devastating 26 deaths by suicide in 2007/2008 (Luce, 2012).  Many of the suicides were teenagers aged between 13 and 17 years. The community was shell-shocked and there was public outcry to try and find out why, with many blaming the media. There are now helpful media guides when reporting suicide, compiled by the Samaritans (see resources section), but suicide is a complicated issue, signified by a complex interplay of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors, so it is not wise to take a reductionist view of the causes, or the ways in which to help.

So, what can we do?

Tailored training which equips people to run an intervention with a young person is the ideal. And there are a number of courses I would highly recommend, in particular the ASIST Course, delivered by Grassroots Suicide Prevention, which I deliver (ASIST key studies 2007 – 2017). ASIST is a 2-day intervention course designed to equip people with a practical, credible model based on psychological concepts and extensive research. Not only does it provide a clear structure for educators to follow, but also offers the opportunity to apply the model to scenarios tailored to your environment/specific role in school. The intervention training will develop your confidence when holding conversations with a young person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and in developing a suicide safety plan.

In addition to ASIST, there are organisations, such as Grassroots Suicide Prevention, who will devise tailored suicide prevention training programmes aligned with your needs. There is an award-winning StayAlive App – see resources section (Grassroots Suicide Prevention, 2020) – which is packed full of information to help someone stay safe, whether they are having thoughts of suicide or concerned about someone else who may be considering suicide.

If you are interested in suicide prevention training, then please do not hesitate to get in touch. In the meantime, however, here are some key strategies to help, which are based on psychological models and key research studies.

Turning to some common misconceptions, it is often assumed that asking about suicide somehow puts the idea in their head. No research has shown this. In fact, it can have completely the opposite effect and act as a protective factor (O’Connor 2021, p. 52).  If asked clearly, and directly, it can actually encourage the person to seek the help they so desperately need. An effective way to integrate this into the school community is to practise asking the question. This could form part of inset training for staff on mental health which incorporates a workshop on suicide prevention and could be run by accredited organisations such as Grassroots or Papyrus.

Another perception of people who have suicidal thoughts is that they want to die. This is not necessarily the case. Part of them will want to live and through an intervention, you can work with the young person to identify this will to live (O’Connor 2021, p. 53). The main emotion they often feel is ambivalence, plus ‘tunnel vision’ where they can’t see any other way out and feel ‘trapped’. The eminent Psychologist Edward Schneidman spoke of ‘cognitive constriction’ which is a narrowing of perspective, a dangerous reduction of the person’s range of problem-solving options, and a form of ‘psychological myopia’. The individual focuses on day-to-day needs at the expense of forward thinking (Jobes and Nelson 2006, p. 5). If a young person starts speaking about the future or anything that has meaning for them, such as family or pets, encourage that conversation, as it can be a connection to life, which can lead to a way out of this ‘narrow thinking’ process.

In your school community, your pastoral leads are undoubtedly dealing daily with children and young people with mental health issues. According to the 2022 Digital NHS report into Mental Health of Children and Young People in England (NHS Digital, 2022), 18 per cent of children aged seven to 16 years, and over 1 in 5 (22 per cent) of young people aged 17-24 years had a probable mental disorder, with many of these vulnerable young people more likely to report self-harm (28.3 per cent of 7-16 year olds and 68.6 per cent of 17-24 year olds with a probable mental disorder had tried to harm themselves).

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, self-harm is the single biggest indicator of suicide risk and provides a crucial opportunity for intervention. People with a history of self-harm are at increased risk of suicide, and self-harm is increasing in young people, particularly girls, according to the Incidence, clinical management, and mortality risk following self harm among children and adolescents report published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017). Every mention of self-harm should be taken seriously, but the link between self-harm and suicide is not straightforward.

According to the Child Mind Institute (2023), self-injury can be used to feel better rather than to end life. Indeed, some people who self-injure are clear that it helps them to avoid suicide. They state that there are marked differences between self-injury and suicide, such as intent, means, frequency, level of damage caused and the amount of psychological pain experienced (Child Mind Institute, 2023). In essence, however, self-injury is a risk factor, especially when combined with other risk factors, such as a history of trauma, alcohol or substance abuse, adverse childhood experiences, childhood abuse, attachment disorder and high emotional sensitivity, as well as mental disorders and previous suicide attempts, according to research on Suicide and Youth: Risk Factors (Bilsen, 2018). The advice: hear their story, ask the question – are they thinking of ending their life?

So, what are we looking for?

What contributory risk factors and behaviours should you look for, monitor and follow up?  Changes in language can be a sign, such as being a ‘burden’ to others, that they are ‘trapped’, ‘struggling to cope’ or ‘they’ve had enough’. Behaving out of character, such as giving possessions away, stopping clubs/activities, mood changes – either withdrawn, or elation (they can feel relief). A traumatic life event, such as bereavement, abuse, relationship or family breakdown.  Unsurprisingly, academic pressure (especially exam pressure) is a risk factor, and they may express suicidal ideation verbally, or through indirect means, such as creative writing. Self-harm mentioned alongside a risk-taking behaviour is an important indicator. This list is not exhaustive, but knowing students well can help to identify behaviours that may be ‘out of the ordinary’, acting as a warning sign (see NSPCC Guide in resources section – learning from case reviews).

Issues around sexuality can be a risk factor. Stonewall’s LBGT in Britain – Health Report (Stonewall, 2018), based on YouGov research with 5000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people across England, Scotland and Wales about their life in Britain today, found that half of LGBT people (52%) said they’d experienced depression in the last year, and one in eight LGBT people aged 18-24 (13%) said they’d attempted to take their own life in the last year. Almost half of trans people surveyed (46%) also thought about taking their own life in the last year, and 31% of LGB people who aren’t trans said the same.

Importantly, though, take every small mention of suicide seriously. You don’t need to solve all their problems; just listening and showing you care can really help. An important message that has come across in many training sessions I’ve attended, is to reverse the phrase ‘attention-seeking’ to ‘seeking attention’ – they are asking for help for a reason. You don’t need to have all the answers or be concerned about saying ‘exactly the right words’; just be that person they talk to, and show compassion.

One of the most effective strategies that I’ve learnt throughout all the training sessions I’ve attended/delivered, is the importance of listening. As teachers, we frequently want to jump to a solution in order to help, and I had to learn to put the brakes on and let someone simply tell their story. The story that is painful, the story that may be aired for the first time, the story that gives some release to that young person in psychological pain, the story that may save their life.

So, how can we embed this in the curriculum?

These are some suggestions, certainly not exhaustive, nor prescriptive. In addition, Papyrus has produced a helpful guide for supporting schools and colleges to be ‘suicide-safe’ (see resources section). We can all potentially help to save lives, by involving the whole community and empowering people to have conversations with children and young people, and to listen.

  • Develop a School Suicide Prevention Policy (is suicide prevention in your School Development Plan?)
  • Working groups, or a suicide prevention specialist intervention team (you may already have a Wellbeing Working Party that could incorporate suicide prevention)
  • Involve a range of people: e.g. governors, SLT, safeguarding/pastoral/wellbeing leads/local authority/health boards, public health/nursing/boarding/parents/pupils/key local organisations/Papyrus/Grassroots.
  • Training for colleagues (a cross-section of professions in the school community – not just teachers) during inset/suggested as CPD
  • Do you have ‘safeguarding hubs’ in the community – could training be delivered to key people from several schools? (which would potentially save costs and reduce cover requirements)
  • Incorporate in your PSHE programme
  • Incorporate in mentor training for prefects, and/or enrichment programmes. Do you have wellbeing or mental health prefects?
  • Enhance current safeguarding reporting methods: e.g. do pupils have ‘go-to’ people they can easily talk to – identify any barriers to them speaking to someone about their concerns
  • Compile a ‘flow-chart’ of immediate action/key contacts to ensure colleagues know exactly what to do if they are concerned about a child or young person who has expressed suicidal thoughts
  • A list of key organisations – both local to your community and UK-wide – with relevant helplines, accessible for everyone, including parents (you may wish to include a statement that you are not responsible for the content)
  • ‘Help’ cards (credit-card sized), or ‘Help’ apps for students – with key contact numbers etc.
  • Get involved with Suicide Prevention campaigns e.g. fundraising events, to raise awareness and reduce stigma
  • Audit what you currently do in school – there will already be good practice taking place
  • Audit your current reporting systems and run through potential scenarios to ensure they are fit for purpose.

It is, I know, so difficult in our profession. We are constantly holding fleeting conversations in corridors, or in the staffroom, rushing to meet deadlines and planning ahead. But if you can pause, just for a moment, and take the time to ask (you may have noticed a risk factor), listen, really listen, to that child or young person. There may be a chance for a turning point you spot, perhaps where they speak of hope, or you help them to identify a connection to life. It can work. You can save lives.

Thank you.


Suicide prevention: Useful resources and links

Grassroots’ award-winning app StayAlive, packed full of useful information to help you stay safe. You can use it if you are having thoughts of suicide or if you are concerned about someone else who may be considering suicide. In addition to the resources, the app includes a safety plan, customisable reasons for living, and a life box where you can store photos that are important to you.

Stay Alive App - Grassroots Suicide Prevention (

Grassroots Suicide Prevention | Educating, Connecting, Campaigning (

Grassroots Suicide Prevention (GrassrootsUK) profile | Padlet


Papyrus’ Building Suicide-Safer Schools and Colleges A GUIDE FOR TEACHERS AND STAFF.

Schools guide | Papyrus UK | Suicide Prevention Charity (

Papyrus also runs a free helpline, which you can give to the young person to call, use for support during a conversation with a young person, for a debrief after an intervention, or any time you need advice on suicide prevention for children and young people.

HOPELINEUK: Call: 0800 068 4141, Text: 07860039967, Email:

Opening hours: 9am – midnight every day of the year (Weekends and Bank Holidays included)

Papyrus UK Suicide Prevention | Prevention of Young Suicide (


Samaritans 116 123 (available 24 hours)

Contact Us | Samaritans

Research evidence shows that certain types of media depictions, such as explicitly describing a method, sensational and excessive reporting, can lead to imitational suicidal behaviour among vulnerable people. In contrast, coverage describing a person or character coming through a suicidal crisis can serve as a powerful testimony to others that this is possible and can encourage vulnerable people to seek help.

Samaritans' media guidelines for reporting suicide | Samaritans

Promoting and supporting mental health and wellbeing in schools and colleges - GOV.UK (


NSPCC Suicide: learning from case reviews

Learning from case reviews briefing: suicide (