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Families across England have made history this month (June 2022) as they joined the first new national birth cohort study of babies to be launched in more than two decades, at a time of huge significance for the country as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study will be led by UCL researchers in partnership with Ipsos and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London. Tens of thousands of letters have been sent out across the country to more than 8,000 parents and their babies, inviting them to take part in the nationally representative “Children of the 2020s” study.

Commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), the study will follow children during the first five years of their lives, and potentially beyond, shedding new light on the factors that can influence their development in the early years.

The evidence gathered will answer important scientific and policy questions, which will help inform decisions about early years and childcare services and improve the lives of families with young children in England.

With their babies now nine months old, the families randomly selected to take part will soon be visited by the study’s interview team, starting from next week, to answer questions about their child’s development, family circumstances and their own lives.

Funded initially for five years, parents will be asked about their child’s development, their neighbourhood and family context, family structure, health and mental health, the home learning environment, and formal and informal childcare provision and preschool education.

Study director, Professor Pasco Fearon (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences and the University of Cambridge) said: “We are extremely excited to start meeting with families next week for the first new birth cohort study of babies in England since the millennium”.

Co-investigator Dr. Sandra Mathers at the University of Oxford, Department of Education, is leading the aspect of the work which focuses on children’s childcare and education. She comments: “Children’s experiences during their first five years shape their development later in life. In this time following the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding how childcare and early education can help promote children’s wellbeing, social skills and learning will be vital. The Children’s of the 2020s Study will provide important evidence about how early years services can support children to make the best start at school and flourish as they are growing up.”

Between the surveys, the research team will invite parents to use a smartphone app to log their baby’s language and development, while receiving news and tips from the team of experts.

With parents’ consent, routine administrative data, held by government departments, such as family health, educational and social care records, will be linked to their survey data, enabling researchers to gain a more detailed picture of participants’ lives.

Children and Families Minister, Will Quince, said: “This is an important study that will provide an insight into the crucial early years of a child’s life and a wealth of evidence about their development and educational outcomes. We know the pandemic has created unique challenges for families and I’d like to thank the thousands who will be participating in this study over the next five years.

“We are committed to supporting families, including through a multi-million-pound package to transform services, which will create Family Hubs in half of all local authorities and provide important advice to parents and carers through the Start for Life offer.”

Speaking ahead of a visit to UCL last year to learn about the new study, Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge said: “Our early childhoods shape our adult lives and knowing more about what impacts this critical time is fundamental to understanding what we as a society can do to improve our future health and happiness.

“The landmark Children of the 2020s study will illustrate the importance of the first five years and provide insights into the most critical aspects of early childhood, as well as the factors which support or hinder positive lifelong outcomes.”

 

The Equity, Diversity and Belonging (EDB) Committee lecture was hosted in Trinity Term 2022 by Professor Caleb Gayle, who practices at Northeastern University, Boston. Caleb was a student at the Department of Education, University of Oxford, and went on to become an award-winning journalist who writes about the impact of history on race and identity. A senior fellow at Northeastern’s Burnes Center, he is a fellow at New America, PEN America, and Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies. He is the author of ‘We Refuse to Forget’ which tells the extraordinary story of the Creek Nation, a Native tribe that two centuries ago both owned slaves and accepted Black people as full citizens. Winner of the Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award, Gayle’s writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Guernica, The New Republic, The Boston Globe, among many other publications. Prior to Northeastern, Gayle served as a Lecturer at the CUNY-City College of New York, and a Visiting Scholar at the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute at NYU. He also worked as a writer and US News Fellow for the Guardian. Gayle also spent time in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group, a fellow at the think tank Demos, and in philanthropy as a Program Officer at the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

Watch the insightful Equity, Diversity and Belonging (EDB) Committee video.

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Right at the forefront of teaching research; informing and inspiring our teaching education methodology, our department has been in existence for 100 years.

We offer a set of internationally recognised MSc courses, including a number of innovative part-time programmes for professional educators, and an ‘outstanding’ PGCE.  We also have a thriving doctoral programme, with around 120 doctoral students who work closely with the department’s academic staff and its research groups.

There is huge amount to offer students who are keen to learn and research in Education.

The following study courses at the Department are still open and accepting applications:

Everything you need to know about making an application is available on the University of Oxford’s Application Guide webpage. If after reading this information you still have questions, please get in touch with us. You will find the contact details on the relevant course pages on our website.

We are also still accepting applications for our ‘outstanding’ Ofsted-rated PGCE in the following subjects:

Our PGCE programme runs on a full-time basis and provides training to students for the teaching of a variety of subjects at secondary school level. Apply directly to join one of the PGCE courses above.

The Oxford Internship scheme, as the PGCE programme is known at the University, is a one-year, full-time course of teacher education for graduates, involving a close partnership between the University department and local partnership schools.

“I can’t recommend the PGCE at Oxford highly enough. It kick-started my career in education by giving me the skills to develop situated methodologies for my classroom, drawing on practical understandings as well as education research”, Laura Molway (PGCE in Modern Foreign Languages)

Trainee teachers are known as interns during the PGCE course. At Oxford, interns are prepared to teach in secondary schools (11-19 age range) in one of the above PGCE subjects.

Professor Kathy Sylva has been officially inducted into the British Academy as a Fellow in Education.  Although the Academy was founded in 1902, its Education Section was created in 2021 to recognise scholarship in what was considered a ‘new’ subject.

The Education Section is keen to encourage applications from researchers in Education for several funding streams that include large as well as small grants, often in conjunction with other bodies such as Leverhulme.  Kathy will be happy to talk with anyone interested in applying for BA funding. The new Education Section welcomes  ‘blue skies’ projects as well as those that are more applied. Email: kathy.sylva@education.ox.ac.uk

Are disadvantaged children being given a fair educational start in life? That’s the question at the forefront of the latest research conducted by the Department of Education’s Professor of Child Development & Education, Iram Siraj (OBE), at the University of Oxford, and in partnership with the Sutton Trust. She sets out why the 30-hour childcare entitlement needs to be extended to 3- and 4-year-old disadvantaged children.

Professor Iram Siraj comments: ‘I have specialised in research which investigates disadvantage and helps inform policies designed to give all children and families a fairer start. A focus of my research has been the impact of early education and I was one of the co-leaders of the major DCSF 17-year study on Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE 3-16, 1997-2015)’.

She continues: ‘Excluding 3-4 year old disadvantaged children in England of non-working parents from the full 30 hour entitlement is an erroneous and unjust policy. Policy makers often cite our EPPSE research as justification, as having found that there was not a significant difference in short term educational benefits between part time (PT) 15 hours and full time (FT) 30 hours attendance and so they reason the 30-hour policy is simply 15 extra hours of childcare only accessible for parents who work’.

As one of the distinguished authors, Professor Iram Siraj states that the EPPSE report does not find that disadvantaged children do not benefit from additional hours. The study records effects on the whole group, not individual effects or effects on different sub-groups, such as by family income, parental education or other markers of disadvantage.  EPPSE researchers did not test differences in effects of 30 hours versus 15 hours provision for different groups of children.

There is less research which looks at the impact of additional hours. Such evidence is hard to obtain because there are so many variables which need to be accounted for. However, what the evidence does suggest is that more hours for the most disadvantaged children gives more benefits.

Two American studies demonstrate this point; One found that the impact of full- versus half-day assignment on students’ literacy skills at the end of the kindergarten year, generating the first evidence based on random assignment of children to kindergarten type showed that a full-day assignment has a substantial, positive effect (0.31 standard deviations) when compared to students across treatment conditions within the same school.[1] The second report found that  full-day preschool participants had higher scores than part-day peers on socioemotional development, language, mathematics and physical health.[2]

The EPPSE study – sample size 3500, has proved to be culture shifting research and its’ value continues to be recognised, but there are also, larger, more recent data sets; The Millennium cohort study (a birth cohort study of 18,000 children) and the current SEED study (8000 children). These should be analysed to enable the Department for Education (DfE) to reconsider whether full-time (FT) versus part-time (PT) childcare has differential benefits for some groups of children, particularly disadvantaged.

The EPPSE researchers were asked to test and identified that children with poorer home learning environments (HLE) benefited from a higher quality of education by being in FT childcare.

Put simply, where the early HLE is compromised, the advantage of more hours of early education outside the home is enhanced. The EPPSE study showed that the early HLE continued to have an impact on children’s educational achievement and development and is stronger than the impact of any of the measures of preschool education.

There are many reasons why parents may struggle to provide a high quality HLE and it is often these parents who don’t work and are ineligible for the 30 hours. They may have care responsibilities for disabled members of the family and will be working long hard hours without pay and limited respite. They may struggle with mental health or be coping with domestic violence, all of which lead to exhaustion which makes it harder to provide the stimulation that young children need to learn in the widest sense and to develop language and pre-reading skills. These are often poorer and more disadvantaged families.

Professor Iram Siraj concludes: ‘From my own research and my understanding of the evidence about early years education, I believe that limiting access to the full 30 hours, risks depriving children most in need of an educational opportunity and increasing the physical and emotional burden on the family. This in turn may impact on the HLE in a vicious circle. Extending the entitlement to all three and four-year olds would be an effective early years policy that is not only ‘about’ children but their parents and will strengthen intergenerational support.

There is, a professional consensus that the extension of free early education is positive for children, parents and social mobility. There is a consensus that intergenerational interventions, that is, policies which help both the parents and the children, are the most effective.

But there is also a professional consensus that the eligibility requirements are restricting access to additional pre-school hours for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, in a way that is unfair, irrational, and ignores the best evidence about where and how good quality early education and childcare can make the most difference. Instead, the eligibility criteria ensure that disadvantage for children in the poorest families becomes even more entrenched, and the gap between disadvantaged children and other children becomes wider. It’s simply entrenching an unfair start.

Iram Siraj OBE is a Professor of Child Development & Education at the Department of Education, University of Oxford, and Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, University of Oxford.

[1] Experimental Evidence on Early Intervention: The Impact of Full-day Kindergarten Chloe R. Gibbs September 2014 Association of a Full-Day vs Part-Day Preschool Intervention With School Readiness, Attendance

[2] Association of a Full-Day vs Part-Day Preschool Intervention With School Readiness, Attendance Parent Involvement Arthur J. Reynolds, PhD; Brandt A. Richardson, BA; Momoko Hayakawa, PhD; Erin M. Lease, MA; Mallory WarnerRichter, MPP; Michelle M. Englund, PhD; Suh-Ruu Ou, PhD; Molly Sullivan, MPP

 

Professor Therese N. Hopfenbeck (Principal Investigator), Dr Tracey Denton-Calabrese (Project Manager, Research Officer), Dr Samantha-Kaye Johnston (Research Officer), Dr Juliet Scott-Barrett (Research Officer) and Associate Professor Joshua A. McGrane (Principal Investigator) from the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment conducted an international study across 9 countries and 19 classrooms exploring how teachers facilitate curiosity and creativity in their classrooms.

The research was funded by the Jacobs Foundation and conducted in partnership with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and the International Baccalaureate (IB). The team developed a novel and flexible approach to collaborating with teachers online, using teacher-captured video recordings to understand how they facilitate curiosity and creativity. In addition to the teacher videos, researchers collected data from student creativity and curiosity tasks, and teacher and student interviews. Further details of the research can be found in the project report here. Project videos and infographics for teachers will be uploaded onto the project website over the coming weeks.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) team, on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies have published the results of REF 2021 today (12 May 2022). The REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

We are delighted to report that our submission to the Education Unit of Assessment (UOA) has achieved fantastic scores, which demonstrates the excellence of our research.

In Unit of Assessment 23 (Education), 69% of our submission was judged to be 4*. 4* is the highest score available, indicating research quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance, and rigour. This result is the highest overall percentage of research judged to be 4* in the UK within the unit.

Professor Victoria Murphy, Director of the Department of Education, comments:

Congratulations to all our staff on the REF 2021 results! The results of our REF21 submission reflect that we conduct the highest quality academic research in Education at the University of Oxford – research that has meaningful impact in our field’.  

From all of the wide-ranging impactful research in our Department, we selected five impact case studies for submission to the REF Board for consideration. We are delighted to have scored 100% 4*recognition and you will find details below of the case studies we put forward.

For further information, please click here.

Further information about the University of Oxford’s overall performance in the REF 2021 can be found here:  http://www.ox.ac.uk/refhttp://www.ox.ac.uk/ref-results, and http://www.ox.ac.uk/ref-impacts

A new junior research fellowship focused on early childhood education and care (ECEC) has been established by Oxford University’s Department of Education in collaboration with Jesus College. Made possible by a generous gift from Dr Lydia L.S. Chan, the Sylva-Chan Junior Research Fellowship will ensure continued momentum for research in this important field.

Oxford has been making a major contribution to the study of education for over 100 years, with ECEC a subject of particular strength. Research conducted by the department has helped to inform policy and practice in the UK and beyond, leading to improved outcomes for millions of young children and their families.

The junior research fellowship has been named in honour of Professor Kathy Sylva OBE, whose work at Oxford since the 1980s has been central to achieving this level of academic excellence and impact. Not only has Professor Sylva made huge personal contributions to the field, but she has also supervised generations of students who have gone on to shape early years provision around the world.

Dr Katharina Ereky-Stevens, who has a wealth of experience in this area and is – fittingly – one of Professor Sylva’s former students, will take up the post in May 2022. Dr Ereky-Stevens’ research explores the quality of young children’s relationships and interactions with caregivers, and she has a particular interest in the provision of support for disadvantaged families and their young children.

As the new Sylva-Chan Junior Research Fellow, Dr Ereky-Stevens will focus on expanding ECEC research within the department, building on current expertise and networks in order to achieve greater impact. She will work under the mentorship of Professor Iram Siraj, Professor of Child Development and Education and joint researcher with Professor Sylva on many studies.

Professor Victoria Murphy, Director of the Department of Education and Professor of Applied Linguistics, said: ‘The Department of Education is delighted to be able to support this junior research fellowship, which recognises the important contribution from our esteemed colleague Kathy Sylva. We are grateful to Dr Lydia Chan for her generosity and support of the crucial and influential work on ECEC in our department. This junior research fellowship will help ensure the continuation of the significant impact of our colleagues’ work in this area.’

Upon taking up the post Dr Ereky-Stevens will also become a fellow of Jesus College, which will enable her to become involved with college life, present her work to academic peers and have workspace there.

Dr Alexandra Lumbers, Academic Director of Jesus College, said: ‘Professor Kathy Sylva is an emeritus fellow and former professorial fellow of Jesus College, and a much-respected colleague. We are delighted that her research in the field of early childhood education and care is being recognised through this new junior research fellowship, and thank Dr Chan for her support and generosity. We greatly look forward to welcoming Katharina to the college fellowship in May.’

Dr Lydia L.S. Chan is an alumna of both Jesus College and the Department of Education, where she obtained her DPhil and MSc degrees under the supervision of Professor Sylva. As a postdoctoral researcher she later worked in Professor Sylva’s Families, Early Learning and Literacy Research Group, before returning home to Hong Kong. She is currently the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the non-profit Yew Chung Education Foundation, and Member of the Board of Governors and Chairlady of the Council of the Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education, which is the first and only higher education institution specialising in the early years in the region.

Dr Chan said: ‘It is a real privilege to be able to honour Professor Sylva and her unparalleled contributions to early childhood education through this junior research fellowship, which will hopefully strengthen such research at Oxford and inspire other gifts toward the same goal.

‘I also wish to pay tribute to my own family of distinguished educators, beginning with my late grandmother, Madam Chan-Tsang Chor-hang, the founder of our Yew Chung Schools, and to celebrate the lifelong friendship of Professor Sylva and my aunt, Dr Betty Chan Po-king. Their joint passion and dedication to education ultimately led to me following in their footsteps.’

‘I have also long admired Katharina, since my DPhil days, and most grateful for the support and friendship of Iram too. I very much look forward to witnessing the wonderful work that will be generated in the coming years, and wish them every success.’

A new research study conducted by both The Department of Education, University of Oxford, and Barnardos Australia has revealed that children who were adopted had significantly better life outcomes when compared with children that remained in foster care, particularly when it comes to education and employment.

Professor Leon Feinstein, Director of the Rees Centre, Department of Education, at University of Oxford said,

“we are delighted to announce our partnership with Barnardos Australia on the book launch of a major research study on adoption, entitled ‘Outcomes of Open Adoption from Care’. The project, funded by Barnardos (Australia), with research undertaken by Emeritus Professor Harriet Ward and Helen Trivedi at the Rees Centre (Oxford), presents new and vivid findings concerning the extreme vulnerability of children placed for adoption from care, the impact and durability of face-to-face post adoption contact and adult outcomes of adoptees.”

Launched 6th April by Barnardos, this is the first longitudinal study of open adoption undertaken in Australia, examining the long-term outcomes of 210 children adopted through Barnardos between 1987 and 2013. The children in the study were permanently removed from their birth parents and placed in foster care due to severe abuse and neglect. By maintaining “openness” through contact with their birth family, these adopted children formed a healthy sense of identity and experienced greater stability and belonging, for life, compared to those in the unstable foster care system until the age of 18.

Key findings of the study include:

  • 63% of adult adoptees completed Year 12 or higher, compared with 42% of adults who grew up in foster care.
  • 62% of adult adoptees were engaged in full-time employment, education or training compared with 34% of adults who grew up in foster care.

These findings have important implications for government support and funding of open adoption in Australia. Currently only NSW and ACT have legislated for open adoption and Barnardos is the largest non-government provider of open adoptions from care Barnardos Australia CEO Deirdre Cheers said;

“This is a children’s rights issue. All children have the right to an education and to grow up in a stable and supportive environment. There are over 45,000 children are in foster care in Australia but only 171 children were adopted from foster care last year. Currently adults working in child protection are the making the decision as to whether a child can be adopted. Barnardos world-first research will serve to inform our state governments about the urgent need to bring about open adoption reform in order to improve life outcomes for the children and young people currently in foster care.”

This launch video features two of the authors of the study and two adult adoptees speaking about their experiences of foster care and open adoption.

Watch Emeritus Professor Harriet Ward discuss research findings on ‘Contact, Relationships, and Outcomes’ of open adoption in Australia

Read the open access book: ‘Outcomes of Open Adoptions from Care’

Read the story in the Sydney Morning Herald