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Department of Education

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By Sam Turner from Become, the charity for children in care and young care leavers

This month, we released our manifesto – A system that cares ­– which outlines our key asks of the next government to support care-experienced children and young people.

We’re calling for all of the main political parties to commit to a comprehensive independent review of the care system which listens to those with lived experience, to focus on the continuity of relationships and stability for all children, and to ensure all care-experienced young people can access the mental health support they need to heal and thrive.

However, change isn’t only required within the care system itself.

Young people’s experiences in education can have a huge impact on their ability to manage the difficulties which arise from experiences of trauma and the instability of life in care. For some children, school might be a place of support and sanctuary, but for others, their experience in the classroom might act to compound the difficulties they face outside of the school gates.

Training and support – Every young person in care deserves a place in an inclusive school which welcomes them, addresses their needs and works closely with children’s services and Virtual School teams so they are well supported to pursue education and realise their aspirations.  

Within our manifesto, we highlight our concerns about the increasing use of ‘zero tolerance’ behaviour policies on pupils who have experienced childhood adversity. The work of the Rees Centre and others in exploring teacher training in attachment and trauma awareness demonstrates the value of this approach in improving wellbeing and learning outcomes for whole cohorts, not just those with experience of care.

Our own Teachers Who Care report released last year highlighted a significant training gap in the needs of children in care: 87% of respondents received no training about looked after children before they qualified as a teacher. We want to see mandatory pre-qualification and continued training for all teachers which emphasises a compassionate understanding of childhood trauma and the impacts of care on learning and behaviour.

Admissions and exclusions – We are also calling for a revised School Admissions Code which ensures children in care are not denied a place in the school which is best for them. The current Code acknowledges that a local authority “has no power to direct” an Academy school to admit a looked after child.

A parliamentary question from Emma Lewell-Buck last year highlighted that 28 appeals had been made by local authorities after a refusal by an Academy from March 2017 – May 2018, and the Secretary of State was forced to provide formal direction four times to ensure a child in care was given the place they deserve. Academy and free schools now make up 75% of secondary schools and must be required to follow the same rules as local authority-maintained schools.

In addition, we want to see new initiatives which bring together local authority and school staff to prevent the growing use of fixed-term exclusions with children in care. As identified in the recent Timpson review, looked after children are more than five times more likely to have a fixed-term exclusion than all children. Repeated time away from the classroom impacts not only on children’s attainment, but their emotional wellbeing, sense of identity and belonging.

We look forward to working alongside the Rees Centre and others to ensure the next government makes a commitment to improving educational experiences of all children in care. Not all challenges can be solved in a classroom, but creating a caring and supportive school environment for all pupils must be a top priority for whoever comes out ahead on December 12th.

Sam Turner, Voice and Influencing Manager, Become

Contact Sam:

The Rees Centre welcomes guest blog posts from professionals across the sector. Views expressed are the authors’ own and do not represent those of the Rees Centre.

Some of the UK’s most eminent education academics have collaborated to create a book offering a firm foundation for evidence-based, effective primary education. The book features work from department Professors Iram Siraj (Professor of Child Development and Education), Pam Sammons (Professor of Education), Edward Melhuish (Professor of Human Development) and Kathy Sylva (Professor of Educational Psychology). Using the UK’s 17-year Effective Provision of Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education research study (EPPSE, 1997–2014) as the core source, this research-led book combines qualitative and quantitative research findings to shine a spotlight on teaching in effective primary schools.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive Education Endowment Foundation, says “The history of education is littered with ideology, headline-grabbing here today, gone tomorrow policies and the hyped ideas of education gurus. Cutting through the fads and fashions, this book, by some of the UK’s most eminent education academics, gives us firm foundations for effective primary education.”

The book reveals the pedagogical strategies that are the hallmark of successful schools and brings these strategies to life through detailed observations of classroom interactions. By taking the reader into the classrooms of skilful teachers, it offers an accessible, multi-layered insight into how to make learning more engaging and motivating for children. This in turn will influence their development and progress, and, therefore, their later life chances.

The book also features work from Brenda Taggart, Honorary Senior Research Associate at the UCL Institute of Education and Donna-Lynn Shepherd, Senior Research Assistant at Coventry University.

Teaching in Effective Primary Schools: Research into pedagogy and children’s learning

Iram Siraj, Brenda Taggart, Pam Sammons, Edward Melhuish, Kathy Sylva and Donna-Lynn Shepherd
£24.99, paperback, 220 pages 16th September 2019 UCL IOE Press

Find out more about this area of research here.

Sibel Erduran, Professor of Science Education and Deputy Director of Research at the Department of Education, University of Oxford has co-authored a new book, “Transforming Teacher Education Through the Epistemic Core of Chemistry: Empirical Evidence and Practical Strategies”.

The book, published by Springer and written with Dr Ebru Kaya, associate professor in science education at Bogazici University, Turkey, illustrates the relevance of philosophy of chemistry in the education of chemistry teachers. It investigates how to make chemistry education more meaningful for both students and teachers, rather than concentrating on “cookbook” activities where students and teachers follow “recipes”, memorise formulae and recall facts without a deeper understanding of how and why knowledge in chemistry works. This book provides empirical evidence for the integration of epistemic themes in pre-service teachers’ learning.

The book is the second Professor Erduran has published this year: “Argumentation in Chemistry Education: Research, Policy and Practice” came out in February.

“Transforming Teacher Education Through the Epistemic Core of Chemistry: Empirical Evidence and Practical Strategies” provides an example of how theory and practice in chemistry education can be bridged. It reflects on the nature of knowledge in chemistry by referring to theoretical perspectives from philosophy of chemistry. Drawing on empirical evidence from research on teacher education, it illustrates concrete strategies and resources that can be used by educators. With the use of visual representations and analogies, the project makes some fairly abstract and complex ideas accessible to pre-service teachers.

Discover more about Professor Erduran’s work and research here.

Department of Education Academic Jason Todd responds to coverage of a Tide-Runnymede Trust report that he co-authored.

Read more

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, comments on the relationship between China and Russia in the academic sphere.

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Education is often one of the top priorities for those young people who arrive to England on their own from another country. Many have been through difficult journeys and find themselves separated from family, friends, and their home country, but we know that education provides a place for stability, for aspirations, and to make new friends.

The young people have aspirations to learn English to a high standard, finish college courses, and go to university. They have wide-ranging job aspirations from pilots to photographers. The other week, one 16-year old asylum-seeking boy explained,

“I want to be a nurse […] I have a grandmother, and when I was with her, she so nice. I was helpful to her. She’s very old. That is why I like older people, to help. I like that to do. […] I don’t want to learn only to get a job and get the money. [I want to learn] especially for my mind, for changing my experience.”

What educational provision is currently offered? 

So what educational provision is offered to unaccompanied migrant young people in England? We’ve written a new paper to be released in the Oxford Review of Education that explores this topic based on a research project funded by the OUP John Fell Fund. The statistics show us surprisingly little. We find that only half of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who have been in care for 12 or more months have a unique pupil number (tracking their educational provision in state funded schools). This may be because many of them go straight to English language programmes in colleges at the ages of 15-17 or be because they go to bespoke provision designed for unaccompanied migrant young people. No matter the reason, it means that it is difficult to understand what provision they do receive and how that provision meets their needs. In order to improve resource sharing, the National Association of Virtual School Heads is planning to host a repository of different educational projects for this population. Understanding educational provision serves as a basis for evaluation and for understanding outcomes.

What do these young people think about their education and aspirations?

Dr Ellie Ott is currently exploring this topic as part of a TORCH Humanities Knowledge Exchange Fellowship. The Fellowship is a partnership with the Oxfordshire Orientation Programme run by Key 2 and with the National Association of Virtual School Heads to share knowledge and share the voices of young people themselves. Although the Fellowship is on-going, the young people’s dedication towards learning and their aspirations for their future careers are already impressive.

This post is written by Dr Ellie Ott, Research Fellow at the Rees Centre and Dr Aoife O’Higgins, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Magdalen College and the Department of Experimental Psychology who completed her doctorate at the Rees Centre.  It is part of a series for the month of May on unaccompanied migrant young people in care.


Related Rees Centre resources

Research: Educational provision

Research: Concepts of care

Department of Education DPhil student James O’Donovan is conducting ground-breaking fieldwork in Mukono, Uganda in training Community Health Workers to recognise, treat and prevent hearing loss in remote and rural areas.

Over 5% of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss. This can cause oral language and communication impairment in children which in turn leads to adverse effects in educational attainment and behaviour and is linked to depression, dementia and social isolation in adults. However, of the global population affected, over 80% live in low or middle income countries, many of which have a severe lack of resources to prevent, diagnose or treat the disease. A report from the World Health Organization in 2013, revealed that 64% of participating countries from the African region had fewer than one Ear, Nose and Throat surgical specialist per million people, in comparison to 12 in some high-income countries.

In partnership with The World Health Organization (WHO) programme for prevention of deafness and hearing loss and The Mukono District Health Office, James’ current fieldwork aims to tackle this inequality by training community health workers to recognise, treat and prevent hearing loss. Training lay individuals as community health workers has had great success in the past in reducing common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia, however this approach has been largely unexplored in regards to hearing loss.

In particular, this project aims to create a better understanding of how the use of mobile phones can support supervision of the Community Health Workers in this process and the pedagogical processes underpinning their use and is one of the first studies to take this approach.

Early findings show that some of the major underlying causes of high rates of underdiagnosed hearing loss and barriers to accessing care include a lack of clear referral pathways, widespread corruption and a lack of trust in the formal healthcare system. Despite these deeply rooted and complex issues, James is working with key partners on a local and national level to address them. So far the project has promising signs of success with over 100 individuals screened by Community Health Workers since the fieldwork began in September 2018. It is estimated that over 1,000 individuals will have been screened by the end of the six-month evaluation period.

Commenting on the importance of this research James said: “Hearing loss effects hundreds of millions of people globally, but the burden of disease falls hardest on resource poor countries. This is a social justice issue which needs to be highlighted and addressed, hopefully resulting in greater attention being paid to hearing loss and ear disease at the community level, by practitioners, academics and policy makers.”

This project is likely to be a landmark study in understanding how community health workers can address the burden of ear disease in low and middle income countries and will serve as a model for others working in this area. The project is funded by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council and The British Medical Association Charitable Arm.

James began his DPhil in Education in September 2017 and is being supervised by Professor Niall Winters (Associate Professor of Learning and New Technologies, Department of Education) and Dr Chris Paton (Group Head of the Global Health Informatics Group, Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health).

The DPhil in Education at the University of Oxford is an advanced research degree of high standing. The course provides graduates with a wide range of research skills as well as an in-depth knowledge, understanding and expertise in their chosen field of educational research. About 80 DPhil students from over 40 different countries are attached to the department, producing high-quality research across a wide range of topics.

Find out more about the DPhil in Education here:

Find out more about James’ research here and download his latest article, ‘The use of participatory visual methods with community health workers: A systematic scoping review of the literature’ here.

A Mathematical Reasoning programme developed by Department of Education researchers has been found to help pupils’ understanding of the logical principles underlying maths and boost their results by one additional month, according to the findings of a randomised controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation in December.

160 English primary schools took part in the trial of Mathematical Reasoning, originally created and piloted by Terezinha Nunes (Emeritus Professor of Educational Studies) and Peter Bryant (Honorary Research Fellow), which involved almost 7,500 pupils in Year 2 (Key Stage 1). Teachers were trained to deliver the programme over 12-15 weeks as part of their usual maths lessons and pupils’ learning was supported by online games, which could be used at school and at home.

The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) led the delivery of the trial through the network of Maths Hubs, including recruiting 160 schools and training teachers. The independent evaluation by a team from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found that pupils who took part in the programme made the equivalent of one additional month’s progress in maths, compared to a similar group of pupils. They also found some evidence that the programme also had a positive impact on mathematical reasoning.

Terezinha Nunes is Emeritus Professor at the department and has been researching children’s mathematical thinking for more than 35 years. In 2018 she was awarded the 2017 Hans Freudenthal Award for her outstanding contribution to the understanding of mathematical thinking, its origins and development.

The Mathematical Reasoning programme aims to improve mathematical attainment by developing pupils’ understanding of the logical principles underlying mathematics. The programme is delivered to year 2 pupils during normal lesson time.

The EEF previously funded a smaller trial of Mathematical Reasoning, which also suggested a positive impact on attainment, equivalent to an additional three months’ progress. This new trial, adapted to enable the programme to be delivered at scale, was designed to test its impact under everyday conditions and in a large number of schools. The EEF, University of Oxford and NCETM will now explore the potential for taking the project to more schools in England.

To find out more about Terezinha’s research visit:

To find out more about this research project see: 

100th Anniversary of the passing of a statute creating the Oxford University Department of Education

In 2019, the University of Oxford’s Department of Education celebrates its 100th anniversary in style; rated first in the UK for degrees in education by the Times Higher Education World University Subject Rankings, number one in the UK for research in education by the most recent Research Excellence Framework (the REF), and as part of the world’s leading University for Social Sciences teaching and research.

Originally established in 1919 to prepare teachers for Elementary and Secondary schools, the department’s contribution to the wider community has been evident since its inception, with the delivery of the University’s cultural resources to schools always being of critical importance. Our excellence in teacher education remains a core part of the department today, as demonstrated through the recently received ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating of our PGCE programmes, through our MSc in Teacher Education and Learning and Teaching, our research informed teaching practices, and the work of our Oxford Education Deanery, which has been dedicated to supporting teachers’ professional development and improving outcomes for pupils in schools since 2013.

Today, the department has 7 postgraduate programmes, 9 research groups, 4 research centres, over 590 postgraduate students and more than 160 staff members. The department takes particular pride in the diversity of its students, with 33% of students coming from the UK or EU during 2018 and the remaining 67% from countries overseas, including Ghana, Japan, Germany, India, Malaysia, China, Mexico, Estonia, Australia, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United States, among many others.

Research in the department has continued to grow over this past century, not only across the breadth of its research areas, addressing issues in Language, Cognition and Development, Policy, Economy and Society, and Pedagogy, Learning and Knowledge but also through its increased physical growth, research activity and popularity. In 2018, the number of researchers in the department increased by 36%, research income exceeded department records and the number of doctoral applications increased by 20%.

The relevance of our research on policy, in particular, has been both influential and crucial to the UK government through parliamentary committees such as the  Science and Technology Committee, the Treasury Select Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee, to the Education Committee, the House of Lords Select Committee and the Women’s & Equalities Committee. The depth of research on both an inter and cross-disciplinary level has seen collaboration not only within the Social Science disciplines, from Philosophy, Social Policy, Sociology and Psychology, but also into the Humanities and Medical Sciences.

Last year saw the launch of a brand new Masters programme aimed at researchers and professionals in the field of educational assessment and led by academic researchers from the department’s Centre for Educational Assessment. We also welcomed three new senior academic Professorships to the department in Higher Education, Teacher Education and Child Development and Education, with Associate Professorships in Applied Linguistics and Higher Education underway. 2018 also saw the arrival of our most recent research centre, the Centre for Global Higher Education, now headquartered at the department and actively researching themes from the internationalisation of Higher Education, local and global public good contributions of Higher Education and the implications of Brexit, trade and migration for UK universities.

100th Anniversary Activities

To mark our 100th anniversary a year-long series of themed activities will be delivered to address some of the department’s top initiatives for 2019, answer some of the big questions facing education today and to reveal the advancements the department has made to the study of and research in the field of education.

Celebrations will start with a public seminar series on ‘Student Access to University’, led by Simon Marginson (Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Centre for Global Higher Education). The series will run for 5 weeks starting in January and involve an array of education experts within and outside of the department. In March, our annual student conference, STORIES (Students’ Ongoing Research in Education Studies), will explore issues in mental health, access and accountability in education. During Trinity term we will discuss the importance of Teacher Education, the basis that established the department in 1919, through our second public seminar series for the year, as well as celebrating with our alumni through the relaunch of our annual Oxford Education Society lecture.

A paper commemorating the centenary and the department’s history will also be published by Emeritus Professor and former Department Director, Richard Pring, later in the year. Entitled, ‘Teacher Training at Oxford University; Reluctant birth, Robust development – and the Oxford Review of Education’, the paper will set-out the department’s evolution, relationship with the University and cultural involvement with the wider community and contribution to Government policy.

If you would like the opportunity to explore our history, learn more about our future research and discover how you can be part of our 100th anniversary celebrations, join our mailing list and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for all the latest updates. Further announcements will follow throughout the year.

To find out more about our research:

To view our public seminar series on ‘Student Access to University’ and register to attend see here.

To find out more about our PGCE, range of masters programmes and DPhil in education:

To view all upcoming events: