In a classroom deep in the bowels of the UCL Institute of Education, teachers are taking part in a workshop about how their schools are using research to improve practice.
It is one of several events run by the UCL IoE’s London Centre for Leadership in Learning team as part of the institute’s new Research and Development Network, established at the start of the academic year.
“We want to find mutually beneficial ways of working with schools in a changing educational landscape,” said Karen Spence-Thomas, co-lead of the R&D Network and deputy director of the school partnerships team.
This changing landscape, which, among other things, has seen a swift move towards a school-led system of teacher training, was a significant part of the UCL IoE’s rethinking of its school-university partnerships.
“With the coalition government, the emphasis shifted to schools taking responsibility for much more themselves,” she told Times Higher Education. “We’re trying to support schools to engage in and with research; we want a much flatter relationship and don’t want [higher education institutions] to be determining the focus of that research. We are trying to develop evidence-rich and informed practice in schools and support them to make strategic decisions about teaching and learning based on evidence.”
Toby Greany, professor of leadership and innovation at the LCLL and head of department, echoed this view, saying that achieving an equal balance in partnerships was one of the main aims when prototyping the R&D Network model.
He said creating a relationship “which is not about either institution dominating, trying to create a way of collaborating which brings out the best of both” was what the network was trying to achieve.
Professor Greany, whose research report Partnerships Between Teaching Schools and Universities was published earlier this year, said that “school-university partnerships have struggled to achieve their potential over the years” but there was “broad recognition” that schools and education are not as evidence-informed as they think.
“There’s a groundswell of genuine commitment in many, if not all, schools to try and develop much more evidence-informed ways of working, and we’re running a number of research projects looking at how that works,” he said.
Professor Greany voiced his concern that, in a school-led system, schools might not see universities as their natural partners. “This is about demonstrating this can work as a model and universities have a huge amount [to offer]. And, it contributes hugely to the impact and public engagement agenda of universities as well as making a positive impact in schools,” he said.
Ms Spence-Thomas said that if a school is a R&D partner, “they have to commit to working with us over a three-year period, and we work together to develop collaborative programmes which support the school to engage in R&D”.
“It’s helping the institute to be really apprised of schools’ latest needs and requirements. Schools…feel it’s lifting their profile in terms of their relationship with [higher education] but also providing opportunities for their staff to engage in a deeper way with the institute,” she added.
In the two terms it has been running, the network has grown to include more than 60 schools, but Professor Greany notes that there are other good R&D partnership models out there. “I don’t want to make out that we’re better than anyone else,” he said. “[But] we created ours at a point in time when schools are working much more in multi-academy trusts, teaching school alliances or other cluster-type arrangements, where the membership [sometimes involves] institutions joining as a group of schools.
“There’s the new challenge for school leaders of how to mobilise evidence and knowledge and use research more effectively across a group of schools. That [showcases] the particularly innovative aspect of what we’ve designed.”
In terms of the network’s scale, “the sky’s the limit”, said Ms Spence-Thomas. “Our medium-term aim is to grow it to such an extent that we get a better understanding of how to build deeper, effective partnerships between [higher education institutions] and schools,” she said. “We’ve had really good feedback on events. Schools look for time to engage with us but also with each other.”
This last point was something “that has somewhat lessened” with the demise of local authorities’ role in schools, she said. “Networking between schools is patchy. Providing a forum for schools to interact with and learn from each other is also what they value.”
60 – the number of schools in the UCL Institute of Education’s Research and Development Network
University of Glasgow
Scotland’s former education secretary has taken up an academic post at the University of Glasgow. Michael Russell, who served as education secretary in the Scottish government between 2009 and 2014, took up the appointment as part-time professor of Scottish culture and governance on 11 May. The role involves teaching and research. He will also deliver an annual public lecture.
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
The University of Wales Trinity Saint David has been appointed to lead the teaching of the Welsh language to adults. The new role will see the institution set up the Wales-wide strategic direction in Welsh for adults, provide leadership for teaching providers and raise teaching standards. UWTSD submitted the winning bid for the role after an independent review recommended the appointment of a national body to oversee Welsh language provision. The university will also be responsible for developing a national curriculum for Welsh for adults and producing resources.
University of Birmingham
A partnership between a UK university and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of high-speed trains has been forged with the aim of developing new railway technology. The University of Birmingham’s cooperation agreement on railway research and education with the Chinese firm CSR Sifang sets out plans to commission research undertaken through the Birmingham International Railway Academy. The scheme is expected to lead to an increase in the number of Chinese engineers graduating from Birmingham in railway engineering and risk management.
University of Bristol
Stressed students at a university in the West of England have become the latest to be offered cuddles with animals to ease their worries. The University of Bristol has set up a “puppy room” offering students the chance to spend 15 minutes with puppies to combat exam and deadline stress. Charity Guide Dogs is helping with the scheme and participants will be asked to make a suggested donation of £2 to the organisation.
Manchester Metropolitan University
One of the largest higher and further education partnerships has been formed in Manchester in response to the government’s devolution of the skills budget to the city. The “strategic alliance” between Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester College “aims to offer an innovative response to the opportunities presented by devolution, placing the two organisations in a strong position to meet the skills agenda in Greater Manchester”, said the university. The partnership will involve university-level courses delivered by Manchester College and validated by MMU.
Sheffield Hallam University
A South Yorkshire university has teamed up with a local healthcare company to provide school-leavers with the opportunity to earn while they learn. Sheffield Hallam University’s corporate degree programme, in partnership with B. Braun Medical, will encourage companies to sponsor students through a degree at the institution while also providing them with a job and training.
Anglia Ruskin University
A primary headteacher has become the first person to complete the revised version of a university’s doctorate in education. Nick Rudman, head of Maylandsea Primary School in Essex, became the first graduate of the Anglia Ruskin University course after studying part-time over the past three and a half years. The qualification was reshaped four years ago to ensure candidates made more rapid progress.
University of Brighton
A university has pulled out of a planned new campus near Gatwick Airport after it failed to get support for the venture. The University of Brighton had hoped to develop the pharmaceutical company Novartis’ former site in Horsham. After unsuccessfully applying to the Regional Growth Fund – with the support of the Coast to Capital Local Economic Partnership and Horsham District Council – the university looked for other ways to fund the development but has now withdrawn its plans.