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TalkTogether is an international collaborative research project examining oral language development in young children in India and the Philippines. It is led by by Dr Sonali Nag at the Department of EducationUniversity of Oxford, alongside colleagues and co-leaders Prof Alis Oancea and Dr Joshua McGrane, both from the Department of Education, and Prof Maggie Snowling from the Department of Experimental Psychology,

Children with a small vocabulary are disadvantaged in all aspects of learning. Without targeted support, children who start slow will continue to fall behind their language-rich peers.

A powerful way to ensure all children are ready for learning, particularly in school, is to offer high quality oral language education early in a child’s life. TalkTogether is using research to inform the development of a range of resources to assist with this.

The 2021 virtual round table event aimed to understand the promise of child-directed print corpora for child language assessment, experimental research, and the development of children’s materials. It also discussed how corpora can support theorising on child language acquisition. Catering to a broad audience, the roundtable considered the usefulness of corpora for researchers, practitioners and their trainers, and curriculum developers.

For the TalkTogether team – comprising The Department of Education at the University of Oxford, the University of the Philippines, The Promise Foundation (India), the Interactive Children’s Literacy Programme (the Philippines) and Georgia State University (USA) – this event was a major showcase of research work conducted over 2020-21. Some 19 talks were given by 28 researchers from 9 countries, representing 10 universities and 1 NGO, and featuring 4 languages: Kannada, Filipino, English, and Malay.

The large audience, which included academics, teachers, NGO workers, curriculum developers and government officials, took part in lively and informative discussions. The open source protocols were of particular interest, and the aim is to encourage more such groups worldwide to replicate the research and use the resources to give a better start to disadvantaged children. Work is also in progress by TalkTogether to produce even more resources that will be available at the end of 2021.

Dr Sonali Nag summarised the emphasis on collaboration saying: “We have prioritised an approach that is multi-disciplinary, multi-method and multi-country. We are firmly committed to encourage local innovations and are sharing protocols to help groups not have to start from scratch.”

For more information and to see the event brochure please visit the TalkTogether website.

Watch the TalkTogether 2021 Corpus Roundtable on YouTube.

We are delighted to announce that the Rees Centre has been appointed as the Department for Education’s research partner to deliver the evaluation of two new initiatives in Virtual Schools.

On 16th June, the Government announced more than £16 million for councils to extend the role of Virtual School Heads from September this year, meaning there will be a local champion for children with a social worker in every local authority in England. This will ensure that more focus is placed on children with a social worker, targeting support earlier on in these young people’s lives and helping improve how they engage with education.

A further £3 million in funding has also been confirmed for a new pilot, where Virtual School Heads will support looked-after children and care leavers in post-16 education. Launching in October, the pilot will enable Virtual School Heads to expand their work into further education settings.

Both programmes will build on the existing role of a Virtual School Head, who help champion and improve the educational outcomes for children in or on the edge of care, enhancing relationships between schools, colleges and local authorities so that pupils receive support from professionals that will help them develop and progress throughout their time in education.

The Rees Centre evaluation will help to build an evidence base of what works, which will be used to inform any future support for this cohort, including sharing learning and best practice identified through the Virtual School Head role extension programme and post-16 education pilot with all local authorities across England.  The evaluation will be jointly led by Professor Judy Sebba, Dr Neil Harrison and Dr Nikki Luke.

The Nuffield Foundation has awarded £2.8 million for an ambitious research programme to improve the lives of children and families by better understanding their needs and experiences.

Over the next five years, Professor Leon Feinstein, Director of the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, will lead this innovative collaboration between local authorities and universities to transform how information about and from children and families is gathered, interpreted and used in child and family social policy at both local and national level.

The project will focus on children and families who need additional support from local authority children’s services, who are often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society. For example, this will include children and families referred to children’s social care services; younger children who need help to have a good start at school; and children in care and young people leaving care.

Statistical or ‘administrative’ information about children and families – commonly known as data – can improve practice and policy, but there are gaps and complexities in how this information is used. Other types of information, particularly the views and expertise of children and families, are vitally important. This project aims to ensure children’s and families’ voices, and the views of practitioners, are heard and used to improve practice, services and policy.

The project includes five Local Sites. Greater Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, North Yorkshire and Hampshire local authorities will work with academics from Oxford University, the University of Sussex and London School of Economics and Political Science, University College London and Manchester Metropolitan University to build capacity and understanding about how to better use administrative data, children and families’ voices and information from practitioners to improve services.

Researchers will collaborate with children, young people, parents, carers, professionals and policymakers to understand and shape how information can be used ethically and effectively. Local Sites will also explore how the use of these different types of information can be co-designed with children and families, and how to support sustainable learning and change. The project has not yet been named, as the intention is to include children and families and practitioners in deciding the name.

A series of workshops, webinars and podcasts will share learning with all those working with children and families, including researchers, practitioners and managers, and policymakers. Academic thinking in this field will also be shaped by a range of research outputs. A Learning Network, run by Research in Practice, will bring together 20 local authorities to test out the findings from the five Local Sites and to develop learning materials to support better information use across England.

Tim Gardam, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Foundation, said:

“We established the Nuffield Foundation’s Strategic Fund to encourage ambitious, multi-disciplinary projects that would re-frame the social policy agenda and improve people’s lives.

“This project stood out for its originality and intent to work closely on the ground with local government and practitioners, as well as children and families. It aligns with our focus and priorities across the Foundation’s interests in Education, Welfare and Justice. By transforming the quality and use of information and data by local authorities, this project has real potential to reduce inequalities and improve the lives of the most disadvantaged children and their families.”

Professor Leon Feinstein, Principal Investigator and Director of the Rees Centre at Oxford University, said:

“We are thrilled to be leading a project with such a strong and committed group of local authorities, academics, and leaders in social policy. The Nuffield Foundation has provided us with a tremendous opportunity to bring evidence into policy and practice in a new way and to really support improvement to the lives and experiences of children and families. If we get this right, we can make sure data and information are used for and with people, rather than, as so often is the case, for and by government.”

Further information about this collaboration can be found here.

To stay informed about this project as it develops, contact oxfordnuffieldstrategic@education.ox.ac.uk with the subject header ‘keep in touch’.

The University of Oxford has submitted its response to the public consultation, launched on 5th July 2021, following the publication by the government of the ITT market review report.  We issued a statement on 5th July, expressing our concerns about the report and its recommendations which, if implemented, would have far-reaching consequences for initial teacher education (ITE) in England, including a threat to the future viability of the Oxford Internship Scheme which could not operate under the proposed model.

Read and download the full consultation response from the University of Oxford 

We support the objective of promoting consistently high-quality teacher training, but do not believe that this is the way to achieve such an objective, and have called on the Government to halt the consultation. This would provide an opportunity to engage in genuine dialogue with teacher education providers, including the University of Oxford, to explore alternative ways of promoting high-quality provision. The proposals contained in the review report are fundamentally flawed and risk de-stabilising teacher education in England, with inevitable consequences for teacher supply.

Our response to the consultation makes the following points:

  • The proposed structure:

The development of a national model for ITE provision, centrally controlled, with accredited providers working with ‘lead partners’, will significantly challenge university involvement in ITE. Current university-school partnerships, even those as well-established as the Oxford Internship Scheme, could be ‘squeezed out’ in a model which would make it difficult for established local partnerships to operate. The proposed structure would threaten our current model of collaborative partnership, in which schools and the university work together to design, deliver and evaluate the programme.

  • The ITE curriculum:

The model proposes centralised control over PGCE programme curriculum content with prescriptions as to how the curriculum should be sequenced, how trainees should undertake placements, and minimum requirements for mentors, along with restrictive quality assurance mechanisms to enforce compliance with these requirements. This will have clear implications for partnerships and a resultant reduction in academic freedom in terms of an ITE curriculum which will no longer be designed collaboratively with schools. There is no evidence in the report for many of the curriculum proposals, for example the requirement for 20 days of intensive placements for all trainee teachers.

  • The model of teacher learning:

This is not based on any well-researched model of professional learning, but rather a model of pupil learning, heavily influenced by current interpretations of cognitive science. This is a ‘one-size fits all’ approach which takes no account of local contexts and the needs of local schools. Training under such a model will reduce teacher professionalism and thus pose a risk to teacher retention.

  • The process of re-accreditation:

There is little justification for a costly and time-consuming process of re-accreditation, particularly at the current time given the wider challenges of the pandemic across the whole education sector, and the time scales suggested are unworkable.

The University of Oxford therefore calls for this consultation to be halted so that it can continue:

  • to operate within the principles underpinning the Oxford Internship Scheme
  • to determine (in collaboration with its school partners) its own high-quality curriculum and have the academic freedom to implement that curriculum
  • to operate a programme which is research-informed at all levels and not constrained by adherence to a prescriptive or restricted evidence base
  • to maintain and develop its long-standing partnership with local schools, working in a way that has proven to be effective
  • to respond flexibly to the needs of our school partners as local contexts change and develop

 

 

In an article jointly authored by Professors Jo-Anne Baird (Oxford) and Louise Hayward (Glasgow) on the TES website the authors consider the necessity for reform in the context of lessons learned during the pandemic.

The cancellation of exams has led to a new emphasis on the need for effective and standardised moderation and reform that is informed by expertise. However they caution against ‘radical and swift reform’, advising instead an ‘evolutionary approach’ to change.

‘With the disruption of the pandemic comes the opportunity to do things differently, to do things better.’

Dr Gillian West spoke about the NELI (the Nuffield Early Language Intervention) trial on and how NELI and the LanguageScreen app are supporting children’s language development on the Education Endowment Foundation (EFF) podcast ‘Evidence into Action’.

NELI is a programme for children 4-5 years old which has been found to improve early literacy skills and language. The trial has been hugely effective, and NELI has been rolled out into over 6500 schools in the UK. The LanguageScreen app, developed by the NELI team, is used to assess children’s language skills.

Listen to the podcast here.

Follow Dr West on Twitter for more information about NELI.

At a time when we should be celebrating the success of our teacher education programmes in preparing high-quality teachers who have been able to adapt nimbly and expertly to the demands of the pandemic, the Government’s ITT Market Review report (Initial teacher training (ITT) market review) instead threatens the future viability of programmes such as the Oxford PGCE.

Today the government published the report of the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) of the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Market Review. The University of Oxford, which has an international reputation for the quality of its teacher education (PGCE) programme and which has consistently been awarded the highest ratings by Ofsted, has serious concerns about the recommendations contained in the report. There is little indication as to why this review was deemed necessary (when all existing ITT providers are rated by Ofsted as being either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’) and the report threatens to undermine the very basis on which the Oxford PGCE operates.

The call for consistency across ITT programmes nationally has led to a set of recommendations which will impose control over every aspect of initial teacher education, resulting in:

  • a curriculum which will need to be aligned totally to the government’s ITT Core Content Framework;
  • increased prescription as to how the teacher education programme is structured and delivered;
  • prescribed approaches to assessment; a national ‘delivery’ model that appears not to allow for the continuation of high-quality local partnerships such as the Oxford PGCE; and
  • requirements for the school-based aspects of the programme which will have significant resource implications.

The recommendations also raise questions as to what degree of academic freedom a university will have within such a model, and the extent to which it can continue to plan and deliver a programme in close collaboration with its local school partners. Like many other teacher education programmes nationally, the Oxford PGCE works closely with local schools to meet both the schools’ needs and those of the teaching profession more widely.  Breaking long-established, close links with schools across our partnership threatens our ability to achieve those two purposes.

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Dr Michelle Meadows to the post of Associate Professor of Educational Assessment.

Michelle joins us from Ofqual where she is currently Deputy Chief Regulator and Executive Director for Strategy Risk and Research. She will take up her post at the department in conjunction with a Fellowship at Green Templeton College from 13th September 2021 and we very much look forward to welcoming her then.

Michelle has a PhD in psychology from the University of Manchester and is currently an Honorary Research Fellow here at the department. Her research on educational assessment has had a great deal of impact. Her research interests include policy making, standard setting and quality of marking. She has also researched the wash back effects of qualification design on teaching and learning. Michelle has published widely, given evidence to many parliamentary Select Committee hearings and her public engagement work includes appearances on BBC News, Radio 4’s Today Programme and Good Morning Britain. Prior to joining Ofqual Michelle was Director of AQA’s Centre for Educational Research and Practice and was a member of AQA’s Executive Board. She is currently collaborating on research projects with colleagues from OUCEA and we look forward to her continuing this work when she joins.

A significant, new research programme will investigate factors linked to the mental health and wellbeing of care-experienced young people during two transition periods: moving from primary to secondary school and moving from adolescence into adulthood.

The new research, announced this week, led by Dr Lisa Holmes and Dr Rachel Hiller (Department of Psychology, University of Bath) will look at the impact of transitions for care-experienced young people.

The four-year programme is led by an interdisciplinary team from the universities of Oxford and Bath, in collaboration with colleagues at Cardiff University and the University of Bristol. £2.2 million for this project has been funded directly by UKRI, with the remaining coming from the universities involved.

The programme aims to identify key processes linked to the mental health and wellbeing of care-experienced young people, with a specific focus on psychological process and the role of support systems and services, to identify targets for future intervention and prevention programmes. The work will be supported by Adoption UK and Coram Voice, as well as three panels of care-experienced young people.

By involving young people with direct experience of foster care, residential care and/or adoption, the researchers want to develop a deeper understanding about individuals’ pre-care experiences (ie. challenges they faced before coming into care), their experiences in care and at school, as well as how individuals see themselves and others, and manage their emotions.

One in 30 UK children are taken into care at some point before their 18th birthday. Many of these young people have experienced abuse, neglect, and other difficulties. Once in care, they are often separated from siblings and live with multiple carers, and this ongoing instability can compound their early experiences and have long-term consequences.

This topic addresses a pressing issue for practitioners and policymakers. The research team hope that their findings will lead to improved understanding of the needs of care-experienced young people, and improved outcomes, alongside more practical support for social workers, teachers, mental health professionals, adoptive parents and foster carers supporting these young people.

Dr Lisa Holmes added: “We are delighted to be awarded this funding and we firmly believe that the research programme will facilitate the development of an evidence base to move beyond stating the problem. We will focus on mechanisms, and in particular those that are potentially malleable for earlier interventions.

“Ultimately, this is not only about building resilience among care-experienced young people but also building more resilient systems and services to support them. In the long-term we hope that this work will help to positively impact policy and practice.”

Dr Rachel Hiller (Co-Principal Investigator) explained: “We know that care-experienced young people have very high rates of mental health difficulties and, if left unaddressed, that this can have lifelong consequences for their wellbeing. We don’t want to accept poor outcomes as an inevitable part of being care-experienced. Care-experienced young people deserve high quality research on how we can better support their needs.”

The research will use existing national data from approximately 14,000 care-experienced young people and will also include new longitudinal studies, involving 600 young people aged between 10-18, their carer(s), adoptive parent(s) and/or social workers.

Sue Armstrong Brown, Adoption UK’s CEO said: “The number of adopted young people seeking help for their mental health is rising. We know that trauma suffered in early childhood has lasting impacts on wellbeing, especially during tricky times like the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This research will help us develop a deep understanding of the challenges these young people face, and the things we can do to give them an equal chance to thrive.”

Linda Briheim from Coram Voice added: “Understanding how transitions impact on children in care and care leavers mental health and well-being and how they can be best supported to deal with these changes is incredibly important. Coram Voice are excited to be part of a research programme that explores these issues.

“As a charity committed to giving children and young people a voice in their care, Coram Voice are delighted to be facilitating young people’s panels with children in care and care leavers to co-produce the research. This will ensure the research is grounded in their experience and can identify solutions that can truly make a difference to their lives.”