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On Friday 16 February, the Oxford Education Deanery hosted the annual Oxfordshire Association for Language Learning Network conference. Primary and Secondary school languages teachers were treated to a packed schedule of sessions focussed on motivating and engaging language learners throughout their journey through formal education.

Suzanne Graham kicked off the day with a session focussed on supporting students from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3, sharing insights and practical implications from her research into effective language pedagogies at both Primary and Secondary schools.

Workshops throughout the day included: Esmeralda Salgado speaking about how to implement meaningful project-based learning into the Key Stage 3 classroom; Suzanne Graham exploring what makes for successful transitions from GCSE to A Level; and Jonathan Patterson looking at how teachers can support their A Level students to make successful applications to university.

Two local teachers led workshops based on their Oxford MSc research projects and the way that these have led to lasting innovations in their teaching: Esther Roberts spoke about the collaborative Secondary-Feeder Primary school project she has set up, creating dialogue and understanding across Key Stage Two and Three. Sarah Sheppard demonstrated how teachers can utilise the linguistic resources of all of the students in their class through regular, short multilingual translation tasks.

Last, but not least, Maud Waret rounded the day off with a plenary focussed on steps that languages teachers can take to decolonise the curriculum and promote the values of diversity and respect.

In their feedback, participants left exclusively positive comments, including:

“It was a brilliant event and has inspired me very much!”

“the positivity of all the event speakers is very contagious.”

“All the seminars brought on some thinking. I woke up not sure I had the energy, I leave revived”

We can’t wait for the next Deanery language event for Chinese teachers on the 26th June – watch this space!

By Dr Jason Todd, Departmental Lecturer

Oxfordshire students recently participated in the regional heat of the Historical Association’s Great Debate, held at Trinity College. The competition involves students presenting a five-minute speech defending their perspective on a given question. In this instance, the question was: “Which historical place or person from your local area deserves greater recognition?”

The speeches demonstrated impressive ingenuity. One student poetically advocated for Abingdon Abbey. The range and quality of talks made the judges’ task challenging. The discussions seamlessly integrated local elements, taking the audience on a journey to various places, including Crete, Shanghai, and Sofia, Bulgaria, through a migration story that prompted reflection on how we understand the concept of ‘local.’

The presentations delved into the world of ideas, from science to ideologies like communism and fascism. Participants urged the audience to consider evidence, reminding us that ‘Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence’. Above all, the debate encouraged contemplation on how history operates, revealing how societal structures and mindsets can suppress certain narratives, underscoring the dangers of forgetting.

The winner, Zak Cunnington, chose to highlight the historical significance of Patrick Steptoe, a pioneering British gynaecologist pivotal in the development of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Zak underscored Steptoe’s contributions, addressing the ethical challenges and scepticism he faced. Ultimately, Steptoe’s work revolutionised fertility treatment, leading to over five million IVF births worldwide. Steptoe had a connection to Zak’s school, Henry Box School, and emphasised the idea that historical significance can be found in seemingly ordinary places, urging us to appreciate the history right under our noses.

Following the heat stage there will be a semi-final stage held virtually to select the 24 participants that will take part in the final in March 2024. Special thanks to Trinity College for hosting the event.

By Victoria Bogdanova, DPhil student

It’s always nice to receive New Year wishes but some messages are really precious. This year I got a call from Petya (name changed), one of my former students. Today, he is a confident, handsome young man. He has a brilliant sense of humour and makes a lot of jokes. I was his maths teacher and tutor five years ago. And the story was very different back then.

For over 10 years I’ve been working for a Moscow charity called Big Change which supports care-experienced children and young people in their education. Petya was the first student for whom I was also a tutor, meaning that I not only taught him maths but I was also responsible for his individual learning plan and general life issues.

He was 17. Lived in an orphanage with his younger brother. Failed most of the exams last year. Had terrible relationships at school (he could be very naughty and revengeful when needed to defend himself). As the last hope, he was brought to our charity by his social worker.

Unfortunately, it was a typical situation. In state schools in Russia, teachers are often lacking time, resources and training to support teenagers with behavioural and educational difficulties. It’s not a secret that teenagers in care like Petya had experienced so much loss and trauma at a young age that it had led to severe gaps in learning. For example, Petya’s knowledge of maths and Russian was at the level of primary school when I first met him, even though he was supposed to pass secondary school exams in a few months. Failing these exams restricts further educational and career opportunities. Many of these young people also suffer from drug or alcohol misuse or have criminal records.

When I first met Petya, his hood covered his face, he never looked into other people’s eyes, and he said no more than a few words. What could I have talked to him about? Definitely not maths… rap was the only thing I knew he seemed to be interested in. It made me listen to rap songs at home, to have some topics in common. Surprisingly, it helped, and I celebrated a small victory when after a math class he looked around and said, “You should listen to Tupac, I think you might like it.”

Over a year of lessons with Petya, I learned a lot; how smart and quick-witted he was, how polite he tried to be (he apologised every time a swear word accidentally slipped his tongue in my presence), how deeply he loved his younger brother whom he had saved from starving when their mother had been drinking, how much he cared about his elderly grandmother who cooked her best bortsch for him every time he came to see her. Of course, I also learned a lot about teenagers’ slang and culture. Petya, in return, stopped wearing a hood, started smiling, raised his head and, hopefully, learned something about maths.

Petya passed some of his exams but not all and couldn’t continue his education. However, he now lives independently, supports his brother, has a job, and his employer appreciates him. The fact that he calls me every New Year’s eve makes me think that my work was not in vain. It’s not about maths, of course, but some trust to this world that was fostered in this once aloof young man.

In my PhD research, I’m not only trying to describe what approaches can help these young people on how they can catch up with their studies, but also find their confidence and thrive in life, and what teachers can do about it.

by Lucy Robinson, DPhil student

On 29th November 2023, I had the pleasure of attending and delivering a workshop at the SCiP Alliance’s Annual Conference, on the theme ‘Identity Matters’. The conference sought to gather “practitioners, researchers, policymakers and funders to focus our collective attention, expertise and effort on the question of Service child identity, on Service children’s identities” and explore “why identity matters, broaden our understanding of the diverse expressions of what it means to be a Service child, and how, by considering identity matters in our work, we can help Service children to thrive” (SCiP Alliance, 2023).

Opening the conference was a keynote from Phil Dent, Director of the SCiP Alliance, in which he conceptualised service children’s identities as ‘distinctive, diverse and dynamic’; a thread that ran throughout the day and very much underpins my own research. The conference had a packed schedule with exhibitions, a further keynote, a panel discussion and a range of workshops to attend. As a doctoral researcher in this field (indeed, my thesis title is: How does military life shape service children’s identity and school experiences?), the annual conference is the perfect space to share my research and foster new connections. Thankfully, the schedule allowed plenty of time for networking and gave me the opportunity to meet with colleagues, old and new. It was particularly lovely to connect in person with three PhD students in the early stages of their respective research projects.

In the morning, I ran a workshop titled ‘Translating child-centered creative research methods into the school context’, attended by a range of stakeholders. Over the hour, I gave a brief outline of my doctoral research (including its aims and link to school practice) before going into greater detail about one of the creative research methods that I had utilised in my research – the ‘All about me self-portrait and relational map’. I spoke about the rationale behind my choice of this method and how it linked to my research questions before sharing some examples created by my research participants.

To highlight the transferability of the method into the school context, I invited workshop attendees to make their own ‘All about me self-portrait and relational map’. Whilst doing so, I asked attendees to think about what questions it brought up for them and how they might translate it into their own professional contexts, whether in schools or not. It was gratifying to speak to one attendee who informed me that they would be bringing the activity back to their team to use as part of their mentoring programme for vulnerable ex-prisoners, to open a discussion on their identity after leaving the prison system.

The last 25 minutes or so of the workshop was dedicated to questions and discussion. It was a pleasure to talk in greater depth about details of my recruitment process, research ethics and to discuss the nuances around the relationship between service rank and socio-economic status and the potential impact this has on service children’s living experiences.

In the afternoon, I attended a fantastic workshop by Forces Children Scotland, a charity that supports children and young people from military families (serving and veteran), by providing opportunities and “amplifying their voices to inspire change” (Forces Children Scotland, 2023). In the workshop, I heard from young people from military families about their involvement in the charity’s various projects. I was particularly struck by how thoughtfully the charity had co-produced work with these young people to ensure their voices and experiences were embedded, rather than an afterthought. It was clear from my conversations with these young people about just how much they had benefited from their involvement in terms of gaining confidence and new skills and having a continuous form of support in place as their lives continued to be shaped by the military.

To find out more about the SCiP Alliance, have a look at their website or follow them on X (formally known as Twitter), @scipalliance.

Dr. Jo Bjørkli Helgetun discusses teaching in the digital age in this blog about his research into the teacher professionalisation app Teacher Tapp.

Teacher Tapp is a smart-phone app developed by the company Education Intelligence in June 2017, after originating as a Nesta and Gatsby foundation funded research project. The app migrated to the publicly funded higher education institution Arteveldehogeschool in Flanders, the Netherlands by the summer of 2020 where it is run on a licence from Education Intelligence. The app claims to be a voice for the teaching profession, a research tool, and a teachers’ professional development device. They do so through daily surveys of teachers where the results are available in the app the next day, as well as through the promotion of blogs through their “daily reads”. The app currently has close to 10,000 daily users in England and 2,000 daily users in Flanders, and its data has been cited in policy documents and parliamentary debates.

On the surface, the app is a neat package that functions the same way in England and Flanders and provides a form of professional voice-by-vote to its users. However, as we move beyond the app’s graphical interface, we start to see that the data streams take on multiple forms¹ with implications for our understanding of the teaching professions and the future of teachers’ professional lives in the digital age. These differences manifest in different spaces such as between England and Flanders, or between fora such as social media, blogs, policy documents, or parliamentary debates.

For example, there appears to be a great difference between England and Flanders in regards to the place of profit (and private entities in general) in education. In England, Education Intelligence sells a range of products such as the possibility to ask questions in the app or to have them conduct in-depth analysis based on data from the app. By contrast, this is not possible in Flanders as it would be seen as unethical. Instead, all questions are asked by researchers at Artevelde (users can suggest questions), and the data is only analysed by them for their use. This has led to something of a conundrum, where even though Education Intelligence can be said to offer a pay-to-speak model, they at least provide some recourse for people to influence what is on the agenda in the Teacher Tapp app that is not present in Flanders. Indeed, much resistance in Flanders towards the app by researchers seem to centre on this lack of opportunity for others to ask questions on the app. Moreover, there has been much general scepticism about the validity of the approach and even the place of such direct democracy (type of teachers’ voice) in a society historically characterised by social dialogue between unions, the state, and school organisations in the so-called “pillared society” of Belgium. Such dialogue is completely absent in England, where teachers and researchers in education alike often feel they are shouting at a wall as their voices go unheard.

Meanwhile, the fit of Teacher Tapp in the existing “evidence”-based paradigm in education policymaking in England is evident. For example, data from Teacher Tapp has been referenced four times in parliamentary debates to either defend or attack government policy, where the source of data seems arbitrary and the method of delivery follows well established practices of reading short numbers-centred sound bites from a prepared list of answers. Moreover, when cited in the white paper “Opportunity for all: Strong schools with great teachers for your child” the discourse centred on too many primary teachers having to do their own planning (a failure of schools) and was used to set up new policy goals. The policy as presented in the paper did not come from a deeper study with much scientific rigour, and the question was a minor point in a Teacher Tapp blog that was focused primarily on phonics, but it is a classic example of policymakers shoehorning in numbers that fit the narrative. Unsurprisingly, the reported main problem in regards to planning – a lack of time – was ignored in the white paper.

Interestingly, the data as presented in the cited Education Intelligence blog’s text had also undergone a transformation in relation to the raw data (which was also presented), because they employed their own discourse. These results were themselves weighted, meaning they differed from the results shown in the apps graphical interface. This illustrates how data can be presented in different forms as it moves from a mobile app into a blog and/or a policy document.

These observations, and others², arguably reveal a range of things. Firstly, as new technology is created and spreads across different borders in our ever-globalising world, they take on new forms and are received differently based on pre-existing local structure and cultures. Secondly, we note the many different logics regarding what is permissible in education, as well as how teachers are to be able to speak up, between such close places as Flanders and England. Thirdly, as voice becomes quantified and turned into “evidence” it takes on a life of its own as the data streams flowing from an initial 3-5 questions are transformed to take on different meanings across contexts such as Twitter, policy document, or political discussion.

As such, the notion of Teacher Tapp as a new form of voice for teachers raises important questions as to what is a professional voice, how can one speak up in relation to one’s professional life, and does Teacher Tapp fit into the ongoing digital revolution where data is increasingly fed into algorithms and forms of AI with unknown consequences. The computer knows (or pretends to know) more about us than we ourselves do. So in the end who does the speaking? The teacher who answers the survey? Education Intelligence or Arteveldehogeschool who formulate the questions and conduct cross-analysis between a range of data sources? Someone else who obtains the data from the app, Twitter, or by purchasing it from Education Intelligence and then running it through a form of AI-based analysis to determine what teachers actually want? What about the voice of the 1.1 million teachers who do not use an app like Teacher Tapp? We hope to be able to answer some of these questions through our study. Our first paper titled “One thing can be more than one thing: A comparative study of the teacher professionalization app ‘TeacherTapp’” is currently under review for publication.


Some links to further reading:

The website for Education Intelligence can be found at:

The website dedicated to Teacher Tapp at Arteveldehogeschool can be found at:

For an overview of the company Education Intelligence see


¹  In more technical terms these “forms“ are what in Science and Technology Studies parlanse are called multiple enactments

²  Due to space limitations in this blog, many examples are left out. However, publications are under review that further demonstrate the points raised in this blog.