MyCollege Logo

Research Projects

Discover opportunities to participate in research projects and collaborate with researchers

Beyond Gender Stereotypes (BGS) is a new evidence-based curriculum for all KS2 children about gender stereotypes, designed to be taught as part of PSHE. BGS will support teachers and schools to promote positive and equitable gender norms.  To read more about the programme, download the information sheet at the bottom of this page.

Primary schools across England are invited to register their interest in participating in this exciting pilot initiative by clicking here. Schools that take part will benefit from full online training and ongoing support.

The deadline for enrolment in the pilot phase is 7th June.  For further information contact Lifting Limits’ Project Lead, David Bartlett, on david@liftinglimits.org.uk.

Neurodiversity in Education is in the process of organising a pivotal online event, Neurodiversity in Education Week, slated for the end of September. Our vision is to create a platform that highlights the significance of neurodiversity in the educational landscape, both in the classroom and within the broader workforce.

To achieve a rich and varied dialogue, we invite experts and practitioners to contribute as panellists or interviewees. The sessions will cover a spectrum of topics, including but not limited to:

  • Innovative Approaches in Teacher Training: Equipping educators with the skills to support neurodiverse students.
  • Leadership in Neurodiversity: Best practices for managing and leading neurodiverse teams effectively.

 

Interested individuals are encouraged to contact Simon Preston (Founder and Director, Neurodiversity in Education CIC) at s.preston@neurodiversityineducation.co.uk to discuss their potential involvement further.

This research summary was produced as part of a project funded by The Comino Foundation.

 

Original research article

Connolly V (2023) Less Can Be More: Rethinking The Use Of Time In Schools. The Buckingham Journal of Education 4(1): 73–92.

 

Introduction

Policymakers and researchers have repeatedly disregarded teachers’ calls for increased non-contact time, or less scheduled teaching. This paper explores the relationship between secondary teachers’ workload, GCSE results and teacher retention using longitudinal data from England’s School Workforce Census (SWC). Results suggest that increasing departmental non-contact time for teachers is likely to have a positive impact both on teacher retention and GCSE performance for that department. Furthermore, findings suggest that decreasing allocated instruction time for students is not detrimental to either the school budget or GCSE performance. 

The research underpinning this summary

Although workload is a complex, multi-layered construct, workload volume is often measured by time. Researchers have explored the links between teachers’ workload and time pressures and the impact on teacher stress, retention and pupil attainment. In numerous studies, teaching professionals have reported a lack of time as one of the main contributors to workload, decreasing job satisfaction and commitment to the profession. This call for more time is supported by theory which suggests that improvements to teachers’ workload can lead to improvements in collaboration, planning, staff morale etc, all of which are thought to correlate with improved student results.

In light of this theory, the research poses two main questions:

  1. Do lower contact hours relate to better school performance/results?
  2. Are teachers more likely to quit teaching, or to move schools, with increased contact time and workload complexity? (p. 79)

 

Workload complexity is considered in relation to four variables:

  1. The number of subjects on a teacher’s timetable,
  2. The number of National Curriculum levels, or year groups, taught,
  3. Whether a teacher taught an assignment in the previous year,
  4. The percentage of assignments of short duration (≤one hour). (p. 80)

 

An ‘assignment’ refers to a specific subject/year group combination. For example, a teacher teaching Year 9 history again after having taught Year 9 history the year before.

The SWC is completed by all state schools and contains timetable data for 75 per cent of secondary teachers that can be matched to school-level value-added scores for each department (the measure of progress made from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4). The author explored the relationship between GCSE performance in different subjects and average contact hours for each department using a regression model using data from 2010 to 2014. Changes to assessment data means that a longer timeframe was not possible. The author also explored the relationship between the probability that a teacher will move/leave and their workload and workload complexity in other regression models. All regression models considered a range of possible biases, mitigating for these where possible, and the robustness of the results were checked.

The results of the analysis, which are highly statistically significant, indicate that departments with lower average contact hours achieve better results. The results are equivalently opposite to estimates of GCSE gains arising from additional learning time for students. This suggests that if a school decreases students’ learning time in a bid to improve staff non-contact time, the net effect on results is likely to be zero (all other things being held equal). 

Furthermore, a statistically significant relationship is found between contact hours and workload retention, with a greater probability that those teachers with more contact hours will move school. These findings vary by department, with the strongest effect shown for English teachers. Workload complexity also affects the probability of a teacher moving school. The effect of each new assignment was strongest for mathematics teachers and teachers in departments beyond English and science. The effect of teaching additional year groups or additional subjects was also linked to the probability of moving school, although again the extent of this varied by department.

Amongst those leaving the state system entirely, again a highly statistically significant relationship is seen between contact hours and workload complexity, with variations between departments. This non-linear relationship is complicated, and is perhaps most easily illustrated through an example of two ‘average’ science teachers, in ‘average’ schools:

 

  • Teacher D: teaches GCSE groups Years 10 and 11, over three sciences. They also teach PHSE, for a total of 16 hours per week with no short assignments (i.e. teaching a particular subject/year group combination for only a few hours per week)
  • Teacher E: teaches Years 7 through 13, for one science subject only and totals 26 hours. Fifteen per cent of this timetable is made up of short assignments
  • The probability of Teacher D leaving the State sector is four per cent, while it is 9.4 per cent for Teacher E. (p. 87).

 

Impact on practice

The findings indicate that departments with more non-contact time are likely to achieve better results and retain their staff longer. If such time may be created by reducing students’ allocated instruction time without negatively impacting school performance or budget, schools should be empowered to rethink their use of time to facilitate curriculum enrichment, improve student well-being and support professional development. It is also important for those undertaking timetabling decisions in schools to understand how workload in conjunction with workload complexity affects retention, underscoring the need to consult with colleagues during the timetabling process.

Amidst a lack of policy action on contact time, some schools have already begun to rethink their use of time, offering extra protected time for staff CPD (School 21, London), large-scale group work (Doncaster XP) and early closures on Fridays to boost well-being and morale (Forest Gate School, London). Perhaps, in this case, less can be more?

Reflection questions

  • How might you rethink the use of time in your context?
  • How can you reliably measure those outcomes?

Further reading

The OECD’s analysis of 2018 PISA data concludes that the issue of instructional time is complex, and it is more important how available time in school is spent rather than the total amount of time spent in school.

This research review was produced as part of a project funded by The Comino Foundation.

 

According to the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development, and Learning (PEDAL) at the University of Cambridge, most students beyond early childhood age do not currently have the opportunity to learn playfully in school. However, evidence suggests that learning through play can support a wide range of intended educational outcomes beyond the preschool years, including academic achievement, student engagement, inclusion and the development of holistic skills such as creative thinking, problem solving and socio-emotional learning (Parker et al., 2022). The focus on educating the whole child is a central component of learning through play (Allee-Herndon and Roberts, 2020). Whilst a wide range of educational outcomes may be supported through play, this review specifically focuses on the link between play and creativity in secondary schools.

Defining learning through play

Parker et al. (2022) argue that there is a continuing lack of consensus and clarity surrounding the definition and role of learning through play at school. Play itself is a complex phenomenon that is difficult to define (Zosh et al., 2018). A scoping review (n=124) of learning through play with children aged between 6-12 years identified several pedagogies that align closely with learning through play, all of which derive from the same constructivist learning theories: ‘active learning, cooperative and collaborative learning, experiential learning, guided discovery learning, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, and Montessori education’ (Parker and Thomsen, 2019, p. 25). This diversity has led to further confusion because terms such as 'active learning' are sometimes used synonymously with learning through play to achieve legitimacy in academic classrooms (Mawtus, 2021). 

In response to this lack of clarity and consensus, Parker et al. (2022, p.3) have proposed the following expanded definition of learning through play at school based on the science of learning:

  1. Children develop holistic skills by interacting with people, objects and representations (Department of Education and Training, 2016) in actively engaging, joyful, iterative, meaningful and socially interactive experiences (Zosh et al., 2017).
  2. Experiences are designed and facilitated to make effective use of available resources and integrate child-led, teacher-guided, and teacher-led opportunities (Marbina et al., 2011).

 

This definition recognises that learning through play can occur in different ways, with adults and children occupying different roles during child-led, teacher-guided or teacher-led opportunities. Furthermore, the design of playful learning experiences typically include activities and questions that are relevant and meaningful for children, integrating concepts and skills with children’s interests and experiences (Parker et al., 2022).

The definition also recognises that playful learning is a subjective experience because it involves feelings such as joy. What is experienced as joyful will be different for different people. However, at the same time, there are observable behaviours (such as smiling and laughing, for example) that may be consistently associated with learning through play. So rather than asking ‘what does playful learning involve?’, it may be more appropriate to ask ‘what does playful learning look like and feel like?’ (Mardell, 2022).

Play and creativity at Key Stage 3

Whilst learning through play is associated with high quality early childhood education practice and research (Wall et al., 2015; Nilsson et al., 2018), research exploring learning through play in school for children beyond age five is limited (Howard, 2010; Jay and Knaus, 2018). Seeking to address this research gap, Mawtus (2021) explored the link between creativity and play in Key Stage 3 students (11-14 years), measuring creativity using a pre- and post-creativity thinking test. Developing a hybrid approach termed Personalised Playful Pedagogy (PPP) that is based on the key principles of engagement, flow and agency, the research provides evidence that play as a learning medium can be used to enhance creativity whilst also supporting academic learning in English. PPP is an approach to planning in which existing lessons are adapted by adding personalisation and playful components to the learning process. Students are presented with a menu of different options that all centre around the learning objective for the lesson. Students are given the opportunity to select the most appropriate for their ability, meaning that they have control over the method of demonstrating their learning. In practical terms, teacher workload was not found to be negatively impacted by this approach as it is designed to adapt tasks and strategies that teachers already employ, making it particularly effective for mixed ability groups.

Playful learning also looks different in different cultural contexts. In the Nordic countries it is more common for students to learn through play (Fleer et al., 2021). For example, the International School of Billund (ISB) in Denmark for children aged 3-16 places play at the heart of its curriculum:

At ISB we believe play is a core approach to learning…and to life. Playful people of all ages are actively engaged and driven by an internal desire to understand and reshape the world. They test the limits of their abilities without fear of failure, knowing that mistakes are the key to progress and, ultimately, success. They share ideas and make new rules. They laugh.

 

At ISB we believe that by creating a culture of playful learning—by consciously introducing elements of choice, wonder and delight into the classroom—we are nurturing the qualities that will carry our students not only to their next educational destinations, but through life. No matter the paths they choose, ISB graduates will seek knowledge, take risks and care for one another. They will play, and they will learn. (taken from the ISB website)

 

Whilst there is a clear need for further research into learning through play amongst Key Stage 3 students, Parker et al. (2022) argue that there is also an underlying need for stakeholders at all levels — research, policy, system and school — to achieve consensus around the intended outcomes of education. We first need to achieve clarity over what knowledge, skills, values and behaviours that education aims to foster before we can decide how to best facilitate and measure those outcomes. Learning through play may be an effective means of supporting a wide range of intended educational outcomes (including, but not limited to, creativity) at Key Stage 3, but we first need to agree what the intended outcomes of learning are for this important stage of children’s educational careers.

Resources to support playful learning

In 2015, the Pedagogy of Play research project at Harvard University began investigating the nature of playful learning in schools. Funded by the LEGO Foundation, the website includes links to an Educator Toolbox that includes an overview of playful learning practices and strategies and tools appropriate for all ages and contexts. Examples include creating a culture of collaborative learning and risk-taking in your classroom and ideas for storytelling and story acting for older learners.

Reflection questions

  • What does playful learning look like and feel like within the context and purpose of different lessons?
  • How can you set up the conditions where playful learning thrives?
  • What is the impact of the different facilitation approaches (child-led, teacher-guided, and teacher-led opportunities) on student experience and learning outcomes?
  • How can you reliably measure those outcomes?

This research review was produced as part of a project funded by The Comino Foundation.

 

In many countries including England, Australia and Germany, the secondary school curriculum has traditionally been carved up into subjects delineated by their knowledge, modes of inquiry and discursive practices. In turn, this has implications for the notion of ‘subject teacher’, as expertise is situated within a field (Crisan and Hobbs, 2019). A teacher may be positioned as ‘out-of-field’ when they are teaching a subject outside their area of specialisation, which may be due to a mismatch between teacher supply and demand (Sani and Burghes, 2022) or alternative models of curricular and pedagogical design that remove subject boundaries and prioritise interdisciplinary approaches (Crisan and Hobbs, 2019). Teaching out-of-field, or outside specialism, is a common practice in secondary schools in many countries (Vale, Hobbs and Speldewinde, 2022).

Subjects and professional identity

Subjects provide meaningful focal points around which teachers develop a sense of professional identity (Hobbs, 2012; Siskin, 1994; van Manen, 1982). Luehmann (2007, p. 827) defines teacher professional identity as 'how one is recognised by self or others as a certain kind of teacher'. Siskin (1994) argues that secondary school teachers tend to describe themselves in terms of subjects that they teach, having developed a set of values, norms and viewpoints that are reflective of the subject culture. The subject culture also governs both what should be taught and how it should be taught (Ball and Lacey, 1980). Crican and Hobbs (2019) argue that the assumption that disciplinary training alone for those teaching out-of-field automatically leads to effective teaching is flawed. Whilst over time, enculturation into the disciplinary practices and subject culture of out-of-field teachers is possible, there are many challenges that teachers may face as they learn to teach a new subject effectively and broaden their professional identity. 

Supporting identity transformation

Mizzi (2022) conducted a qualitative case study to investigate how a group of science teachers in Malta approached the teaching of chemistry as their non-specialist area. In Malta, science teachers usually have a teaching degree specialising in one science area (either physics, chemistry or biology), but they are required to teach all science areas at lower secondary school (11-13 years). The research was carried out with eight non-specialist chemistry teachers who participated in a year-long professional development programme to improve the teaching of chemistry. When facing challenges with planning and teaching chemistry topics, teachers were found to switch between different enabling mechanisms that developed their feelings of competence in their non-specialist area (such as conducting research prior to lessons and learning from colleagues) and coping strategies (such as following prescribed material and using more didactic methods of teaching to reduce opportunity for discussion). The findings suggest that teachers’ knowledge base and teaching experience determined the type of mechanisms employed, with early career teachers and those who had never studied chemistry at secondary level resorting to using coping strategies despite also investing time in research to learn more about the subject. However, Mizzi also concluded that the use of enabling mechanisms alone was not sufficient for subject specialists to expand their professional identity and view themselves as generalist science teachers, because identity transformation from specialist to generalist is a very slow process. Mizzi therefore recommends that communities of learners are formed within schools to promote ongoing professional dialogue with colleagues from different specialisms and support teacher identity transformation over the longer term. 

These findings are supported by another study of 22 out-of-field science teachers in Australia who were found to revert to traditional ways of teaching, which starkly contrasted with the range of teaching approaches used in their in-field discipline areas (Campbell, Vale and Speldewinde, 2023). However, in-school support structures were found to be influential in helping one teacher collaborate with a science colleague to develop a more constructivist approach to the design of a course of work. The importance of ongoing collaborative support is further highlighted by a four-year longitudinal study of eight teachers who completed a part-time maths retraining course England (Sani and Burghes, 2022). The study found that participants’ confidence and self-efficacy decreased over time following completion of the course in the absence of ongoing support. Whilst professional development programmes are an important part of upskilling out-of-field teachers (Goos et al., 2023), school culture is equally important to support the professional learning of those who are teaching out-of-field (Hobbs, 2013; Hobbs et al., 2022). The provision of ongoing collaborative support underpinned by professional dialogue is vital if out-of-field teachers are to be enculturated into a new subject. Without such support, retraining courses are unlikely to have sustained long-term impact. 

Reflection questions

  • What in-school support structures could help colleagues teaching outside of their areas of specialism in your context?
  • How can a culture of professional dialogue be nurtured in your school?

This research review was produced as part of a project funded by The Comino Foundation.

 

In Europe, teachers are increasingly expected to take an active role in curriculum design (de Almeida and Viana, 2023), being variously positioned as curriculum developers at the macro, meso and micro-levels. The officially prescribed core or intended curriculum sits at the macro level, which is then interpreted at the meso level by educational institutions and at the micro level by teachers. Recent research has begun to explore the knowledge, skills and support needed by teachers engaging in curriculum design at these different levels. 

Curriculum design at the macro level 

At the macro level, the intended curriculum is officially prescribed in policy documents, frameworks and guidelines (Porter and Smithson, 2001). De Almeida and Viana (2023), who refer to this national curriculum as the core curriculum, investigated the kind of knowledge, skills and support needed by teachers engaging in curriculum design at the macro level in Portugal. Since 2016, eighteen teachers' associations, composed of retired and active teachers, have been charged with the design of the core curriculum for primary and secondary education in Portugal. From their research conducted with all eighteen teachers' associations, de Almeida and Viana concluded that professional learning opportunities for teachers engaging in curriculum design at the macro level need to focus on increasing teachers' knowledge and skills of curriculum theory, specifically relating to curriculum design, development and evaluation. Furthermore, teachers also required expert support with pedagogical and didactic content knowledge and the knowledge and skills to create externally consistent curricula. Crucially, their findings suggest that teachers require support with all stages of curriculum design, and it is important that this support is offered from the very beginning of the process.

School-based curriculum design: the meso level

At the meso level, schools and teachers in different countries have varying degrees of autonomy to develop a school-based curriculum and pedagogies that best fit the needs of their students. In England, a common question for secondary schools is whether Key Stage 3 should last for two or three years. Ofsted (Harford, 2020) have clearly stated that they have no preferred length of Key Stage 3, but rather the focus for schools should be on what they want pupils to learn and offering a rich, ambitious and well sequenced curriculum. They are clear that a two-year Key Stage 3 does not necessarily mean a narrow Key Stage 3 as long as students have the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects. That said, offering a two-year Key Stage 3 simply so that students can study their GCSE courses over three, rather than two, years is described by Ofsted as a ‘worst-case scenario’ because some students will never again get the opportunity to study subjects such as art, music or languages at school. At the school-level, the requirement to offer a broad curriculum must be weighed against competing demands, for example interpretations of wider educational policies such as Progress 8 and EBacc measures that do not include the performing arts (Fautley and Daubney, 2019) and which research suggests has led to the marginalisation of the performing arts in the secondary school curriculum (Nicholson, 2022). 

In the context of curriculum reform in Wales (Welsh Government, 2015), teachers are expected to actively engage with curriculum making and design decisions. In response to the challenges of curriculum reform, teachers may opt to use ‘off-the-peg’ or ready made materials as they decide how best to deliver the curriculum to ensure that it is done so in a manner that is meaningful and relevant to their students. Whilst this may appear to present a challenge to professional autonomy, in a recent small-scale case study of a primary school in Wales teachers viewed commercial mindfulness materials as a useful addition to their pedagogy. Rather than presenting a tension, the teachers in the study said that the materials enabled them to use mindfulness approaches flexibly; where and when they deemed them appropriate (Hughes and Lewis, 2020). 

Research suggests that dialogue, underpinned by a culture of collective sharing and learning, may enable school leaders’ top-down vision of curriculum innovation to be successfully enacted by teachers. Wang et al. (2022) studied the interactions amongst key stakeholders during the process of school-based curriculum development in a new primary school in Singapore. They concluded that a collaborative culture shaped the chains of interactions between school leaders, teachers and students. For example, interactions between senior leaders and teachers included brainstorming and collective decision-making, whilst interactions between teachers included cross-discipline collaborations. School leaders also had regular dialogues with students to collect feedback on current programmes. These chains of interaction coexisted and interlinked, forming ‘an ecology of dialogic interactions amongst the stakeholders’ (p. 291). Furthermore, the interactions were both dynamic and reflective, enabling continual change and adaptation that is central to the process of curriculum design. 

The micro level

At the micro level, the interpretation of the intended curricula by teachers creates what has been termed the ‘planned curriculum’ (Grundén 2022, p. 274). Exploring primary mathematics teachers’ planning in Sweden, Grundén found that the intended and the planned curriculum differ greatly between teachers, with teachers planning their teaching based on their experiences and their groups and students. Textbooks also play a particularly important role in the planning process, usually forming the basis of teachers’ planning based on a false assumption that textbooks are in line with the National Agency of Education and the national curriculum in Sweden. Grundén argues this confusion may negatively influence teachers' achievement of agency, with teachers’ focusing their planning on the content of the textbook and the ultimate goal of ‘finishing’ the textbook. If teachers are to achieve the level of professional agency that is expected of them, Grundén argues that teachers must therefore have the opportunity to discuss and problematize assumptions and power relations in curriculum making. 

Conclusion

Curriculum development operates at multiple levels and the knowledge, skills and support needed by teachers engaging in curriculum design at these different levels may vary.  Research has highlighted the need for further professional learning opportunities around curriculum design at the macro level and the importance of dynamic, reflexive dialogue between all those involved in the curriculum decision-making process in schools.  Furthermore, the use of ready made materials does not necessarily present a challenge to professional autonomy, but rather may provide a valuable support for schools seeking to decide how best to deliver the curriculum for their students in their contexts.

Reflection question

  • What knowledge, skills and support is needed for those engaging in curriculum design in your context? 

This research review was produced as part of a project funded by The Comino Foundation.

 

The transition from primary to secondary school is often regarded as one of the most challenging periods in students’ educational careers (Zeedyk et al. 2003) and can be a particularly difficult and stressful period for some students (Kwarikunda et al., 2023). Jindal-Snape et al.’s (2020) systematic review (n=96) of the literature on primary to secondary transition in the UK and other countries concluded that transition is associated with lower educational and wellbeing outcomes, although they argue that the long-term impact of these effects is uncertain due to a lack of longitudinal studies. Recent research into secondary school transition exploring the language of secondary school, resilience and the use of Year 7 ‘bubbles’ to support transition provides important recommendations for those supporting students at this juncture in their school careers. 

The language of secondary school

It has been suggested that the language of secondary school may contribute to the aforementioned academic dip (Deignan, Candarli and Oxley, 2023). Investigating the linguistic challenges faced by students as they move from primary to secondary school, Deignan et al. (2023) collected and analysed approximately two and a half million words of written and spoken data from 13 schools in the north of England. They found a central language issue that all the subjects shared was polysemy, where previously encountered vocabulary takes on new meanings at Key Stage 3. These new meanings may be very different or sometimes much more subtle. For example, in Key Stage 3 English the word ‘device’ is used to mean a literary tool such as figurative language, whereas previously the word referred to a mobile phone. The study also identified specific challenges for different subjects. For example, Key Stage 2 mathematics language is more clausal, containing more present tense verbs, adverbs and third person pronouns, whereas Key Stage 3 is typically non-clausal and contains comparatively more symbols, which is likely to be new to many students. In science, students are exposed to a significant increase in the volume of new vocabulary in Year 7, much more so than in English and mathematics. 

The study also found important variations within different sub-registers of a single discipline. These sub-registers refer to the different types of written and spoken teaching material, such as lesson presentations and worksheets. In science, the sub-registers of presentations and assessments became significantly more non-narrative at Key Stage 3 than at Key Stage 2, adding a further dimension of linguistic complexity to these texts as students are required to draw inferences. Given the sheer volume of language that students encounter at secondary school, combined with the emotional demands of transition, Deignan et al. (2023) recommend that there is a need to increase awareness of the specific challenges presented by the language of secondary school. They argue that, whilst this is important for all children, it is especially important for those for whom English is not their first language, those from lower SES backgrounds and those with additional needs. Areas for vocabulary support may include:

  • Undertaking baseline assessments to ascertain which words are less well known by students
  • When selecting words to explicitly teach, also consider focusing on words from key topics and threshold concepts within the curriculum that have everyday meanings and academic meanings (polysemy)
  • Dedicating time in lessons to explore how words are unpicked, discussed and used by students. Ideas include word building activities (e.g. matching prefixes and root words for example, ‘anti-body’ or ‘anti-matter’) and exploring common word roots (e.g. analysing the etymology of ‘photo’ (‘light’) and generating other scientific vocabulary that includes the root ‘photo’). Further ideas can be found in Recommendation 2 of the Improving literacy in secondary schools : guidance report (Quigley and Coleman, 2019).

 

Fostering resilience

Resilience also plays an important role during the transition to secondary school. Resilience has been defined as the capacity to adapt to difficult circumstances and thrive (McGrath and Nobel, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c). Resilience, which varies over the course of a lifetime, is a capacity that is influenced by context (Rutter, 2006). It involves the interplay between an individual’s internal strengths and external protective factors in the individual’s social environment (Rutter, 1990) such as high school and home expectations and school, peer and parent caring relations (Cem and Gul, 2018; Rutter, 1990). Kwarikunda et al.’s (2023) mixed methods study of 744 secondary students from 11 schools in Uganda found that if students experience positive peer relationships at school, they are more likely to have positive attitudes toward school, which in turn positively impacts resilience. The authors conclude that attitudes toward school and transitional activities are therefore crucial for promoting resilience. To develop students’ resilience around transition, they recommend that secondary schools cultivate a culture of high realistic expectations so that students understand the realities of secondary school life before they enter secondary school, particularly in terms of the amount of freedom that they can expect to have. Furthermore, they recommend cultivating peer connectedness and positive educational attitudes to both the school and schooling more generally. Finally, they suggest that involving parents in transitional strategies and activities throughout the first year of secondary school (rather than just a few days or a week) may help to foster students’ resilience. 

Year 7 bubbles

Peer connectedness may be cultivated in many different ways, but a perhaps unexpected way in which it was found to be cultivated was through the use of Year 7 ‘bubbles’ during the COVID-19 pandemic. Saville et al.’s (2024) mixed methods study of over 400 students and teachers in England found that year group bubbles helped to smooth the process of transition for students entering secondary school. The bubbles provided a more developmentally appropriate and flexible transition for students, helping to create an environment more aligned to children’s previous primary school experience. In particular, they found that a transition supported by bubbles helped students who are yet to reach adolescence navigate the myriad social, practical, emotional and cognitive demands of a school environment designed for older students. Whilst their findings do not support a type of permanent COVID-style schooling, their study does support the need to rethink physical, administrative and pedagogical school structures to support the transition to secondary school. Specifically, they stress the need to nurture peer and teacher relationships and ensure that pre-adolescent students’ developmental needs are addressed. Some of the schools involved in the study have already adapted their practice as a result of the findings as follows:

  • Designating discrete Year 7 facilities, such as one floor of a building with their own toilets, pastoral support offices and a library or sitting area that students can choose to use as they wish
  • Allocating specific times, equipment and/or spaces for play with Year 7 peers to help facilitate developmentally appropriate play
  • The use of Year 7 specific teachers, who are often primary trained and teach mixed attainment classes in one classroom throughout the day, to enable peer and teacher relationships to be closer to those of primary school.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, as these studies suggest, transition is a multi-faceted process, influenced by social, cultural, and relational factors as well as individual pupil characteristics (Holt et al., 2022). These studies have demonstrated some concrete steps that schools can put in place to support the transition to secondary school, however it is also important for schools to consider how they might evaluate the impact of transition initiatives in their context. 

Reflection questions

  • How can physical, administrative and pedagogical school structures be reimagined to support the transition to secondary school for your students?
  • How can you evaluate the impact of transition initiatives in your context?

Become a Chartered College of Teaching Research Champion

 

Overview

Are you passionate about advancing education through evidence-informed practices? Elevate your impact by becoming a Chartered College of Teaching Research Champion. This crucial role positions you as a liaison between the Chartered College of Teaching and your school, fostering a culture of evidence-informed practice and continuous professional development.

Register as a Chartered College of Teaching Research Champion today

 

Key responsibilities

Facilitating engagement with Chartered College of Teaching content

As a Research Champion, you will play a key role in assisting your colleagues in accessing and utilising Chartered College of Teaching resources effectively. Your support will extend to implementing evidence-informed practices within the school and guiding colleagues to platforms like MyCollege and Impact, providing a wealth of resources. Additionally, you'll offer guidance on accessing Chartered College of Teaching webinars, courses, and Chartered Teacher Pathways, seamlessly integrating Chartered College of Teaching content into colleagues' ongoing professional development plans.

Integrating Chartered College of Teaching content into your school's CPD provision

Identifying opportunities to incorporate Chartered College of Teaching content into your CPD programmes is a pivotal aspect of the Research Champion role. Your contribution will involve developing an evidence-informed CPD strategy for the school, utilising Chartered College of Teaching resources to design and deliver tailored CPD sessions. As a leader, you'll actively promote evidence-informed practices within the school community.

 

Who can apply?

There are no strict eligibility requirements and anyone can be nominated as a Chartered College of Teaching Research Champion within your school or trust. The Research Champion can be:

  • An individual who has been nominated as the main contact to promote evidence-informed practice within your school
  • A middle leader or senior leader who holds a responsibility for supporting teacher development
  • A practitioner who is focused on implementing research engagement within your context
  • One of many Research Champions within your school or trust, allowing for a collaborative approach
  • An individual with a passion and interest in evidence-informed practice.

 

We welcome individuals from all backgrounds and roles to join us in this exciting opportunity.

 

Benefits of being a Research Champion

For individuals

Embarking on a journey as a Research Champion offers several benefits for individuals. These include opportunities for professional growth, where you can enhance your knowledge and understanding of evidence-informed practices. The role provides a platform for leadership development as you guide your colleagues and lead initiatives, contributing to your own professional development. By working as a Research Champion with the Chartered College of Teaching, you will be recognised for your commitment to evidence-informed practice within your setting.

For schools and trusts

The impact of having Research Champions within a school or trust is substantial. It enhances teaching and learning by improving methodologies and student outcomes. Research Champions actively contribute to building a professional learning community within schools, fostering collaboration and support among educators. Moreover, the role enables improved CPD provision, aligning opportunities with the latest research and evidence. By promoting a culture of research and inquiry, Research Champions play a pivotal role in elevating educational impact within their settings.

Find out more about the role in our detailed role description

 

FAQs

Is the Research Champion role voluntary?

Yes. It is an unpaid voluntary position.

How much time is expected for the role?

The Research Champion role is flexible, with no set minimum or maximum time requirement. Recognising the varied professional obligations and personal commitments of educators, you can dedicate as much time as you are willing and able to invest in the role.

What support will I get from CCT?

As a Research Champion, you will receive a Research Champion toolkit, accessible online. This toolkit guides you through the support you will receive and helps you set up an evidence-informed culture within your school. Additionally, you will receive practical resources to support engagement with the Chartered College in your school and a termly newsletter outlining helpful resources and content for you to share with your colleagues.

My school already has a Research Champion; can I still apply?

Yes. You can be one of several Research Champions in your school. For instance, some schools may choose to have a Research Champion across each key stage or in every department or year group.


Register as a Chartered College of Teaching Research Champion today

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

Introduction

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.

 

If you are not yet signed up as a Chartered College of Teaching Research Champion, you can learn more and register via our website

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. 

 

Self-evaluation

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