skip to primary navigation skip to content

News Archive

ARCHIVE: This material is no longer maintained and should be viewed for reference only

Play specialists publish resources to take the fear out of taking a COVID swab

PEDAL image of child playing swab game
Thursday 24 September
Free resources that help parents make COVID-19 sample-taking a little less frightening for children by turning it into a playful experience have been published by University of Cambridge researchers.

Read the full story here

Back to top

Faculty research partner CAMFED awarded 2020 Yidan Prize for Education Development

Faculty of Education News
Wednesday 23 September
The Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), whose work to improve the education of marginalised girls in Africa has been supported through a research partnership with the Faculty, has been awarded the world’s largest prize in education.

Read the full story here.

Back to top

Researchers launch live experiment to imagine the post-pandemic university

Faculty of Education News
Tuesday 22 September
Researchers from more than 50 universities have launched a project which aims to piece together a coherent vision for Higher Education’s post-pandemic future, while simultaneously operating as a ‘live experiment’ in how it might work.

The project, ‘Building the Post-Pandemic University’, is being hosted by the Faculty of Education, is open to academics around the world and already involves contributions from scholars in 14 different countries.

Read the full story here.

Back to top

‘Thinking with your hands’ levels playing field for disadvantaged learners in STEM

Tinkering workshop
Monday 14 September
An approach to teaching that encourages learners to ‘think with their hands’ can break down barriers for disadvantaged students who have fewer opportunities to engage with science and maths, according to a new report.

The judgement is one of the main conclusions from the latest phase of a project called Tinkering EU, which is testing the potential of a teaching and learning method called ‘Tinkering’ to help more children and adults engage with STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Read the full story here.

Back to top

Schools wanted to join study of wellbeing and learning in the ‘new normal’

Faculty of Education News
Friday 4 September
Primary schools in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and London are being invited to join a new University of Cambridge study examining how COVID-19 has affected pupils’ wellbeing and learning as education adapts to a ‘new normal’.

Read the full story here.

Back to top

Faculty member Anna Vignoles appointed as Director of the Leverhulme Trust

Anna Vignoles
Tuesday 1 September
Anna Vignoles, who is Professor of Education at the Faculty, has been appointed as Director of the Leverhulme Trust: one of the largest, all-subject providers of research funding in the UK. She will take up her new post in January, 2021.

Read the full story here.

Back to top

Sign up for free September webinars on The Way We Play

Children in refugee camp
Friday 28 August
Bookings are now open for the first in a series of free, Faculty-run lunchtime webinars during September, which will explore some of the many aspects of play research.

Full story and booking information here.

Back to top

Profile: Catherine Ward

Faculty of Education News
Thursday 27 August
Catherine Ward, who studied for an MPhil in Education, Globalisation and International Development (EGID) at the Faculty in 2018/19 has recently had an academic paper published, based on work that she undertook during her course of study. Catherine is now studying at the University of Virginia Law School. She told us a little more about the research, her reasons for studying at Cambridge, and how an MPhil helped her to prepare for a career at the intersections of law, social justice and research.

Read the full interview here.

Back to top

Children’s fiction on terror is leading a youth ‘write-back’ against post-9/11 paranoia

Child reading
Monday 24 August
A wave of children’s fiction which tackles subjects such as suicide terrorism, militant jihadism and counter-terror violence is helping young readers to rethink and resist extremism and Islamophobia, new research suggests.

The study, by Dr Blanka Grzegorczyk at the University of Cambridge, charts the emergence over almost two decades since 9/11 of a distinctive sub-genre in British children’s literature, focusing on themes of terrorism and counter-terror.

Read the full story here.

Back to top

How fairytales helped to break the gender binary in the playground

Gabrielle Spears
Friday 21 August
Gabrielle Spears is a former Primary PGCE and Masters student at the Faculty of Education. The research she undertook for her Masters thesis covered an innovative action research project in which she used fairytales to subvert traditional assumptions about gender in a particularly boisterous playground at the London primary school where she teaches. This work has since formed the basis of an article by Gabrielle which was published in an academic journal.

Here, she discusses how she came to study at the Faculty, the research project itself, and how it helped to change a group of children’s minds about what girls and boys ‘should do’.

Read the full interview here.

Back to top

Faculty researchers to play role in major initiative to help solve UK ‘productivity puzzle’

Friday 21 August
The University of Cambridge is one of the partners in a major new £32.4m Productivity Institute, announced today by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. One of the main research strands will be led by Professor Anna Vignoles, from the Faculty of Education.

Read the full story here.

Back to top

Profile: Gordon Harold

Gordon Harold
Monday 17 August
In an academic career that began in Ireland and has taken him to the United States and the universities of Cardiff, Otago and Sussex, Gordon Harold's most recent appointmen is with the Faculty as Cambridge's first Professor of the Psychology of Education and Mental Health.

He told us a little about himself, the importance and challenges of this exciting research field, and how it may develop in his new Cambridge role.

Read the full interview here

Back to top

Resister boys and modern girls: Academic achievement is influenced by how pupils do gender at school

Pupils getting GCSE results
Friday 31 July
Pupils’ achievements at school are often shaped by the way that they ‘act out’ specific gender roles, according to a new study which warns against over-generalising the gender gap in education.

Back to top

Lockdown learning at the Faculty: Kristi Nourie

Kristi Nourie
Monday 27 July
What has lockdown learning been like for students at the Faculty of Education?

PhD student Kristi Nourie was supposed to be heading to Kansas for fieldwork when lockdown happened. Instead, she has spent the past few months working in her attic. But as she explained in a recent interview, there have been positive sides to the experience – as more talks and lectures have become available online and the Faculty has devised new ways to support students during teaching sessions on Zoom.

Read the full interview here

Back to top

Opening schools – and keeping them open – should be prioritised by Government, report says

Faculty of Education News
Friday 24 July
Keeping schools open from September should be a Government priority as it manages the COVID-19 pandemic, while closures could have severe social and economic effects that endure for decades, according to a new report.

Back to top

Socio-economic status predicts UK boys’ development of essential thinking skills

Boys walking home from school.
Tuesday 21 July
A comparison of children in Hong Kong, mainland China and the UK has found that British boys’ development of key thinking skills, known as ‘executive functions’, is unusually reliant on their socio-economic status.

Back to top

Mixed early progress highlights need for sustained support for pupils with English as an additional language

Image credit: Taylor Wilcox, via Unsplash
Thursday 16 July
Newly-arrived pupils who speak English as an additional language (EAL) often make ‘mixed’ linguistic and academic progress during their first years in British schools, which need a proper framework to give them sustained support, a study suggests.

The finding is one of numerous results and recommendations in a new book about the language development of EAL pupils, and its impact on their attainment and social integration. The book, authored by a team of academics from Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin and Durham Universities, examines the complex relationship between language, education and the social integration of newcomer migrant EAL students. 

According to the School Census, there are currently over 1.5 million EAL pupils in England, and the proportion is steadily rising. The trend is similar in many other English-speaking countries.

The book builds on three years of research involving over 40 schools across the East of England, funded by the Bell Foundation, and highlights much good practice by teachers working in multilingual classrooms. But it also points to inconsistencies and gaps in support for EAL pupils, stemming from an absence of national guidelines, targeted assessment, and systemic problems in areas such as teacher training and school-parent communication.

EAL pupils themselves were found to make uneven progress during their first two years in English schools. While many became competent English-speakers, their written English frequently lagged behind. The authors suggest this pattern may be further exacerbated by reductions in funding for EAL support.

As well as analysing the progress of EAL pupils, the study proposes a model for a more inclusive approach to teaching EAL students. 

Dr Karen Forbes, Lecturer at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said: “At the moment, it is often left to individual teachers or schools to decide how to handle the challenges of a multilingual classroom. While many do excellent work, EAL pupils inevitably have a variable experience. Teachers and schools should be able to draw on a structured framework and a proper knowledge base so that they can give these pupils the sustained linguistic and educational support they often need.”

The research suggests that while many schools rightly prioritise the integration of EAL learners into mainstream lessons, some will need ongoing, one-to-one support, especially with developing more academic English, long past the point where they appear socially-integrated and able to hold a casual conversation.

This is just one symptom of a wider need to provide schools with a structural basis to give EAL learners individualised, ‘child-centred’ support, the authors argue. They stress that the ‘EAL’ label does not describe one type of pupil, but encompasses a wide range of previous educational experiences, interests and skills.

Encouragingly, many of the schools surveyed actively encouraged an inclusive and positive environment for EAL pupils. Teachers also employed various tactics that could form part of a wider framework to support them, such as group learning and buddy systems, translated texts and different visual aids. 

But the study finds that many such interventions are devised locally, by schools or individual teachers, absent more structured or systematic guidance. This can lead to inconsistencies: for example, teachers varied their approach to when EAL pupils could use their home language, which often left students confused about when to use English.

The researchers argue that other mechanisms are needed to give teachers a more solid foundation for working with EAL pupils. Teachers consistently enthused, for example, about the ‘vital’ support provided by dedicated EAL co-ordinators and bilingual support staff. But many schools that the researchers surveyed have struggled to sustain such services given that funding is no longer ring-fenced for this purpose.

The book also highlights the need for more EAL-specific, specialist training for teachers, both for their professional practice and to help them work successfully with local minority-ethnic and migrant communities, especially those unfamiliar with the English system of education. This is only covered briefly in most teacher-training courses, and rarely forms part of their continuing professional development or ‘on the job’ learning.

Critically, the researchers also suggest that parents of EAL pupils and their communities are an untapped resource of knowledge, strong educational values and expertise. 

The researchers found that many parents of EAL children have a high level of interest in their children’s education, but often are not sufficiently supported to understand context-specific curriculum choices, modes of assessment or school expectations. They argue that, as well as providing translated information and induction materials, schools should establish mechanisms such as EAL parents’ networks, empowering parents within school governance structures to inform the way that they support migrant pupils, ensure that they achieve their potential, and promote positive experiences in school.

“Overall, there is a need for a more systematic, whole-school approach to the education of EAL pupils,” Michael Evans, Emeritus Reader in Second Language Education at the University of Cambridge, said. “This includes supporting teachers to develop their skills, providing them with a knowledge base on which to draw, and developing an effective communication system to promote parental engagement in schools. If that can be achieved, the benefits will be felt far beyond schools and EAL pupils alone.”

Back to top

Playtime with dad may improve children’s self-control

Family Equality via Flickr
Tuesday 30 June
Children whose fathers make time to play with them from a very young age may find it easier to control their behaviour and emotions as they grow up, research suggests.

The study, by academics at the Faculty of Education and the LEGO Foundation, pulled together fragmentary evidence from the past 40 years to understand more about how fathers play with their children when they are very young (ages 0 to 3). The researchers wanted to find out whether father-child play differs from the way children play with their mothers, and its impact on children’s development.

Although there are many similarities between fathers and mothers overall, the findings suggest that fathers engage in more physical play even with the youngest children, opting for activities such as tickling, chasing, and piggy-back rides.

This seems to help children learn to control their feelings. It may also make them better at regulating their own behaviour later on, as they enter settings where those skills are important – especially school.

Paul Ramchandani, Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning in the Faculty's PEDAL Research Centre, said: “It’s important not to overstate the impact of father-child play as there are limits to what the research can tell us, but it does seem that children who get a reasonable amount of playtime with their father benefit as a group.”

Dr Ciara Laverty, from the LEGO Foundation, said: “At a policy level, this suggests we need structures that give fathers, as well as mothers, time and space to play with their children during those critical early years. Even today, it’s not unusual for fathers who take their child to a parent-toddler group, for example, to find that they are the only father there. A culture shift is beginning to happen, but it needs to happen more.”

Parent-child play in the first years of life is known to support essential social, cognitive and communication skills, but most research focuses on mothers and infants. Studies which investigate father-child play are often small, or do so incidentally. “Our research pulled together everything we could find on the subject, to see if we could draw any lessons,” Ramchandani said.

The Cambridge review used data from 78 studies, undertaken between 1977 and 2017 – most of them in Europe or North America. The researchers analysed the combined information for patterns about how often fathers and children play together, the nature of that play, and any possible links with children’s development.

On average, they found that most fathers play with their child every day. Even with the smallest children, however, father-child play tends to be more physical. With babies, that may simply mean picking them up or helping them to gently raise their limbs and exert their strength; with toddlers, fathers typically opt for boisterous, rough-and-tumble play, like chasing games.

In almost all the studies surveyed, there was a consistent correlation between father-child play and children’s subsequent ability to control their feelings. Children who enjoyed high-quality playtime with their fathers were less likely to exhibit hyperactivity, or emotional and behavioural problems. They also appeared to be better at controlling their aggression, and less prone to lash out at other children during disagreements at school.

The reason for this may be that the physical play fathers prefer is particularly well-suited for developing these skills. 

“Physical play creates fun, exciting situations in which children have to apply self-regulation,” Ramchandani said. “You might have to control your strength, learn when things have gone too far – or maybe your father steps on your toe by accident and you feel cross!”

“It’s a safe environment in which children can practise how to respond. If they react the wrong way, they might get told off, but it’s not the end of the world – and next time they might remember to behave differently.”

The study also found some evidence that father-child play gradually increases through early childhood, then decreases during ‘middle childhood’ (ages 6 to 12). This, again, may be because physical play is particularly important for helping younger children to negotiate the challenges they encounter when they start to explore the world beyond their own home, in particular at school.

Despite the benefits of father-child play, the authors stress that children who only live with their mother need not be at a disadvantage.

“One of the things that our research points to time and again is the need to vary the types of play children have access to, and mothers can, of course, support physical play with young children as well,” Ramchandani added. “Different parents may have slightly different inclinations when it comes to playing with children, but part of being a parent is stepping outside your comfort zone. Children are likely to benefit most if they are given different ways to play and interact.”

(Image credit: Family Equality via Flickr)

Back to top

Thinking about undergraduate study in Education? Book now for our online Q&A!

Faculty of Education News
Friday 26 June
Bookings are now open for a live Q&A about the undergraduate Education course at Cambridge, at 1pm on Thursday, 2 July. 

If you’re thinking about studying Education at Cambridge, or just want to know more about the course, this is an ideal opportunity to meet and hear from Faculty lecturers and current students.

The Q&A will be taking place via Zoom as part of the wider University of Cambridge Virtual Open Days programme, but to attend, please register separately with the Faculty here. You will need a password to enter the Zoom session, so make sure that you have signed up by 10am BST on Thursday, 2 July!

The Education course provides students with the opportunity to study a degree that cuts across several disciplines, combining the investigation of educational and social issues with one of three specialist areas: the psychology of learning, international development, or English, drama and the arts. 

You will explore how education can drive positive change and growth in the modern world, creating opportunities, unlocking potential, and transforming lives for the better. And you will discover how to engage with and navigate some of the biggest challenges shaping our world today – such as social and economic inequality, human rights, or the need to develop new skills in a digital age. More details about the course are available here.

Please note that attendees at the Q&A are not expected to show their video during the event and will be required to mute their microphones. We also advise prospective applicants who would like to attend with a friend or guardian to join on a single device. 

Attendees at the virtual open days will also be able to access sample lectures in Education – details can be found here.

We hope you enjoy this year’s virtual open days and look forward to meeting you on 2 July!

Back to top

Senior academic promotions

Friday 26 June
Many congratulations to the following colleagues who have all received senior academic promotions, effective from 1 October, 2020.

Promoted to Professor: Ricardo Sabates Aysa.

Promoted to Reader: Sara Baker and Zoe Jaques.

Promoted to Senior Lecturer: Karen Forbes and Bill Nicholl.

Warmest congratulations to all!

Back to top

Trainee teachers praised for ‘stepping up during lockdown’ at year-end celebrations

PGCE students at the ceremony
Monday 22 June
During the most extraordinary period for the education sector in living memory, the Faculty’s PGCE class of 2020 have graduated amid extensive praise for their resilience, professionalism, and their remarkable support for schools and pupils during lockdown.

This year’s teacher education courses reached their conclusion on Friday (June 19), and while the traditional celebrations at the Faculty could not take place as buildings remain closed, trainees, tutors, parents, families and friends were still able to mark the occasion and reflect on their achievements with pride, through a series of specially-arranged Zoom ceremonies for the Primary and Secondary PGCE cohorts.

Several trainees also received Charles Fox Memorial Prizes, which recognise excellence in their course assignments, or an ‘outstanding contribution’ to the course as a whole. Nominations in the latter category are submitted by course tutors, or school colleagues at their placement schools, and there were repeated references throughout to how trainees had ‘gone the extra mile’, especially during the disruption of lockdown.

The Faculty’s Primary and Secondary trainees were affected by school closures in different ways. Secondary trainees were on school placements when the lockdown came into force, and in many cases found themselves providing ‘on the ground’ support as schools rapidly switched to home learning. The Primary cohort were between placements, and many trainees provided voluntary online teaching services or support for colleagues while simultaneously undertaking remote assignments so that they could finish their own course.

Many of the prize nominations alluded to the extra efforts that trainees had made: by developing their own online learning programmes for students, providing childcare support to the families of essential workers, creating distance learning packs for pupils, or taking full responsibility for entire classes as schools sought ways to cope with the demands of online learning.

Other cases cited included those of a trainee who had set up an online taster day with a university for GCSE-age pupils, a trainee music teacher who ran a virtual concert at his school, and primary PGCE candidates who had voluntarily provided online teaching every morning to groups of children during the final stages of the course. Many trainees’ mentors and colleagues at their placement schools also commented on their ongoing professionalism in tough circumstances and how they had been a reassuring source of support to pupils as they transitioned to home-schooling.

As always, the end of year ceremony was a chance to celebrate the hard work and achievements of all the PGCE trainees, the vast majority of whom have already been offered jobs with schools for September. 

More than 600 people took part in the various online ceremonies over the course of the day. Trainees, family members and friends heard from the Faculty’s learning and teaching teams, subject lecturers, Head of Faculty Professor Susan Robertson, and saw short videos and presentations about each trainee group created and introduced by the trainees themselves. The Faculty will also be aiming to celebrate again with all our graduates in person once buildings reopen.

Professor Robertson’s remarks highlighted the challenges, and also the significant rewards, that new teachers entering the profession will face at a time when the shape of education itself is being challenged by unprecedented circumstances. 

“Today is a celebration of the journey you’ve taken and a chance for us to say how honoured we’ve been at the Faculty of Education to be a part of your professional development,” Professor Robertson said. “Around the world, Cambridge is recognised not just for its centuries of learning, but because we nurture aspiration and excellence. You are the bearers of all that and I have little doubt that you will take these qualities with you as a teacher and pass on that legacy to the young people in your classrooms. As your alma mater, we are proud of each and every one of you for having the confidence to take on the role of teachers and to know that the next generation is in your hands.”

To all of our PGCE students this year: many congratulations and we hope to see you again very soon! Thanks also to Delphine Chironi and to Jon Chiffins and his colleagues in the IT Department for their outstanding support in organising (and orchestrating) hundreds of people across five Zoom sessions over the course of the day.

The winners of this year’s Charles Fox Memorial Prizes are:

Outstanding contribution 

Secondary: Catherine Galvin (Geography), Callum Bates (Music), Jack Baldwin (Maths).

Primary: Rebecca Storey, Rebecca Wilkinson, Jessica Eady, Victoria Evans.

Academic excellence

Secondary: Andrew Derrett (Physics), Anja Morrice (Classics), Natasha Crosby (Modern Languages).

Primary: Ellie-Jo Connell and Kirsty Hensleigh.

Further information about PGCE study at the Faculty of Education can be found on our website.

Back to top

Lockdown Learning at the Faculty: Tiong Ngee Derk

Tiong Ngee Derk
Tuesday 16 June
What has lockdown learning been like for students at the Faculty of Education? In this interview, Tiong Ngee Derk, who is 29 and originally from Malaysia, discusses both why he came to the Faculty to study, and how he has been working as a teaching assistant to support the Faculty's remote learning provision during lockdown, while also working on his thesis.

Before coming to Cambridge, I spent four years as an English teacher in Malaysia

As an undergraduate, I read English at the Tunku Abdul Rahman University in Kampar, Malaysia. It’s a lovely little town nestled in the shadow of a green, forested mountain range and the kind of place where you frequently meet people you know just while out for a walk – not too dissimilar from Cambridge, I suppose! I liked it so much that I taught English for about four years in a local school after graduating. 

After four years, I really wanted to spend some time away to think deeply about my practice

I was especially interested to see how research and theory could help me. I was given the opportunity to study for an MPhil in Educational Leadership and School Improvement, through a generous Cambridge Assessment Scholarship through the Cambridge Trust. That brought me to Cambridge back in 2015. At the Faculty, I caught the ‘research bug’ and it troubled me that we don’t have anywhere near the same capacity for research programmes in my country – and others – as there is in the UK. So I decided that were funding to become available, I’d like to do a PhD to train as an educational researcher, so that I could make some sort of positive contribution towards that kind of inequality. 

My research is about the idea of a ‘professional learning community’ for teachers

This is quite a common notion in education policy, where teachers are asked to meet regularly to discuss issues in their practice, or to collaborate in working groups. In theory, it’s supposed to be good for them and good for students, too. In my research, I look specifically at contradiction, or contrasting ideas in teachers’ discussions, trying to understand what consequences they have for learning and decision-making.

I’ve stayed in Cambridge during lockdown

As a third year I have already completed my field research, so I’m lucky to be in a position where I can work on the data and my thesis in the living room. My wife and I share a college-owned flat and from the beginning we set up work spaces within it. We try to work from 9 to 5, and take a proper break for lunch and shorter pauses when we can. There are still challenges: prior to the outbreak, I used libraries and cafés to work as I found these helped me to focus more, and because I am a social learner. Thankfully, both the Faculty and its research students association (FERSA) have provided lots of guidance on working from home, which has really helped. In particular, I found the FERSA-organised workshop featuring our very own Tyler Shores and Nasia Kotsou to be really helpful. COVID-19 has also quite understandably resulted in the cancellation of many of the conferences that my colleagues and I had planned to present at this year, including the British Educational Research Association (BERA). In response, I have just shifted my time and focused on other things.

We’ve all been learning how to plug into Faculty life from a distance

It wasn’t easy for us all to get started on Teams and Zoom, but we’ve adapted pretty well. I know that early on, some people had issues with connectivity and technical problems, and at one level digitally-mediated interaction isn’t the same as face-to-face engagement. It’s been a huge adjustment to shift to remote teaching at speed, and it’s taken its toll on students and staff. In the sessions I’ve attended so far, there’s been a conscious effort to ‘embrace the medium’ – whether by having lectures in shorter chunks interspersed with group discussions in break-out rooms, or using Forums on Moodle as a platform for asynchronous discussion. What surprised me was just how much I looked forward to lectures or the FERSA-led sessions – they were really encouraging and they plugged me back into life at the Faculty, which can sometimes be an elusive feeling for a PhD student, with or without a pandemic!

I have also been helping to support students’ remote learning as a teaching assistant

I was hired to do this precisely out of recognition for the fact that remote teaching can make it hard to facilitate a meaningful discussion and give students individualised feedback. The fact that this step was taken seemed to be a big statement about how the Faculty values student learning. I’ve helped out on two research methods courses that each have about 30-40 participants, collating questions, facilitating group discussions and answering questions when I can. Some students found it helpful to hear from people further along the PhD track, and there were enough research assistants to give a level of individual attention. Due to the diversity of the students’ work, it was really challenging to contextualise their questions and answer them in depth while trying to be supportive to everyone, but the sessions were organised along clear lines that helped a lot.

Participating in social sessions online has been a real lifeline

FERSA and many research groups have moved their regular meetings online: I encourage all graduate students to join FERSA’s tea and cake sessions if they can! My wife also gave me the idea of arranging catch-ups and check-in times with friends and colleagues to keep us motivated and connected. When we reopen, I’m really looking forward to getting back into the Library and more chance encounters with colleagues.

My main message to students who are preparing for online learning at Cambridge is that the experience will still work for you

You do have to optimise your workspace – for your body as well as technologically! But distance or remote learning does not necessarily mean that you cannot achieve what you want to by coming here, educationally or professionally. I love interacting with others and the physical environment of the University has been an important part of my life here. But the fundamentals, like our Library’s online resources, one-to-one supervisions, small group discussions, and small group seminars, are all still happening at a high level, and the longer this goes on the better we all get at adapting. Students have to make their own decisions based on their circumstances, goals and options, but it would not surprise me if a postgraduate degree at our Faculty will remain a viable and worthwhile thing to do, regardless of what happens next.

Back to top

A look back at this year’s Early Primary PGCE course

Sophie Vis
Monday 15 June
This fantastic short film was made by Sophie Vis, a trainee on our Early Primary PGCE course this year.

Sophie decided to make this film a few weeks into lockdown, pulling together a series of video clips that she had captured with her fellow trainees in Group 1 on the course. They all kindly agreed for the film to be shared more widely, and it seemed a shame not to!

Sophie writes: “After the sudden turn of events caused by the pandemic, I decided to make this video to remind myself, and everyone else on the course, what an incredible year we’ve had together. This course exceeded my expectations with engaging lectures and practical seminars that covered activities as diverse as dressing-up, acting and baking, along with numerous visits to a range of settings to explore different teaching approaches that I would never otherwise had chance to discover.”

“I was placed in fantastic schools for my placements and surrounded with a supportive team of trainees who I had fun meeting up with in my free time. Although the last bit of the course had to switch to online learning, our tutors and lecturers continued to work incredibly hard to support and guide us with our teaching. I feel really excited for September and know the support from the Faculty and my course-mates will always be there as I embark on my teaching career.”

For more information about the Primary PGCE course at the Faculty of Education, visit:

Back to top

New module on educational dialogue for practitioners – apply by 3 July

Transforming Practice PPD
Monday 8 June
A brand new, 30-credit module on dialogue in education is being offered as part of the Faculty’s course in Transforming Practice for Practitioner and Professional development.


This module, which will be offered in blended learning and online formats, runs from October to December 2020. Applications are open until 3 July and full details can be found on the course webpage.


The Transforming Practice PPD course is aimed at educational practitioners in any profession who want to refine and transform their day-to-day practice drawing on research-based evidence. Participants can study independent, 30-credit modules on a range of specialist topics. The first of these focuses on dialogue in education and will be led by academics from CEDiR - the Faculty’s world-leading Educational Dialogue Research Group.


Participants will be supported to bring dialogic theory and debate to bear on their own teaching practice, reflecting on and assessing dialogue exchanges in their own education setting, and using cutting-edge, practical tools developed by Faculty researchers to analyse talk in the classroom, and other forms of dialogue. The teaching will be through highly interactive, multimedia sessions. This means that participants will need to be able to join some online sessions at specific times (afternoons/evenings in a European time zone). 


The module is the first of three on the Transforming Practice PPD course. The other two modules are Learning Without Limits, which examines the development of approaches to teaching and learning free from the constraints imposed by fixed ability thinking and ‘ability’ labelling; and Art, Nature and Wellbeing, which looks at the role that a sense of connection with nature and art can positively influence wellbeing in children and young people.


Full details about the entire course are available on the dedicated webpage. Credits from all three modules can also be accrued to study on the second half of the Faculty’s Transforming Practice MEd programme.


If you have questions about the course and would like to know more, please write to For questions specifically about the educational dialogue module, please write to the module leader, Sara Hennessy:

Back to top

Estimating learning loss by looking at time away from school during grade transition in Ghana

Photo: Henry Donati/DFID
Tuesday 2 June
This article is a blog post written by Ricardo Sabates, Reader in Education at the Faculty of Education and a member of the REAL Centre, and Emma Carter, Research Associate at the REAL Centre. It is part of a series from the Centre reflecting on the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on research work on international education and development.

Across the world, countries are facing unprecedented and changing times in trying to support the education of millions of children outside of schools. Several methods for reaching children at distance have been implemented in diverse countries, ranging from the use of radio and television in locations of limited internet penetration to full online provision for the better resourced schools. The use of off-line educational resources has also been central to delivering education to the most marginalised students, whether this is with self-instructional printed based materials to supplement textbooks, or exercise books. How much children will learn during this time remains unknown, although it is expected that the poorest will be hit the hardest.

How are school closures affecting marginalised children?

A number of recent blogs have described many groups of marginalised children who are expected to suffer most due to school closures. In the case of Kenya, girls in rural marginalised communities and refugee children in camps are learners likely to face consequences as a result of COVID-19. In Ethiopia, girls from the poorest rural households may be at higher risk of sexual exploitation, early marriage and labour, all which will impact their future learning possibilities. Children living in stressful home environments, as well as children who experience stress and anxiety as a result of school closures, are also likely to be negatively impacted in their opportunity to learn. This is partly due to their own emotional instability as well as their lack of a supportive home learning environment. Children with disabilities are further expected to be at a high risk, not just of having limited learning opportunities through inclusive online platforms, but also through reduced support from health professionals currently focused on the COVID-19 crisis.

We do not argue against the higher risks faced by these and many other children who are in a position of relative disadvantage. Researchers in the field have solid historical and empirical foundations to support the claims made in these and other blogs and published on social media platforms. Yet, it is unknown how much learning is likely to be lost as a result of school closures, what the role of the home environment may be, and what the expected learning recovery will necessitate once schools resume (obviously under new social distancing rules).

Estimating the learning loss

In an attempt to shed some light on these unknown factors, we provide an estimate of the potential learning loss which happens when children transition from one school year to the next. In most countries, children spend between 6 to 9 weeks of what is known as a “long school break” between the end and the start of the academic years. It is this transition time that we use to measure learning loss.

Results below are for out-of-school children who entered the Complementary Basic Education programme in Ghana in the academic year 2016-17. At the end of that academic year, children spent about 3 months out of school before making the transition into a government school for the academic year 2017-18. By measuring foundational numeracy skills at the end of the CBE programme in June 2017 and again in October 2017, at the start of government school, we are able to estimate learning loss during this period. Our estimation of the learning loss serves as an indication of what is expected, as a minimum, from the current school closure situation in Ghana.

Similar estimates are being provided by colleagues in RTI. They are also measuring learning in two consecutive school years and estimating how much learning loss is expected due to the transition time. While their work will be cross-national, we focus here on marginalised children who accessed complementary education and transitioned into government schools in Ghana. We also provide insights into children’s motivation for learning as well as home learning resources as potential factors which may impact on the equity dimensions of learning loss.

The context of Complementary Basic Education

Complementary Basic Education (CBE) is a programme initiated by School for Life (SfL) in 1995 and scaled up in 2013, with support from the Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The CBE programme provides nine months of accelerated learning in basic literacy and numeracy in eleven mother tongue languages. Classes are set up in remote and deprived areas for children who would normally be unable to attend school. Children are generally aged between 8-14 years and the curriculum aims to equip them with the knowledge and skills equivalent to those learnt in the first three years of formal school. Following completion of the CBE, children transition into nearby primary schools at a grade level compatible with their achievement at the end of the programme.

We assessed foundational literacy and numeracy skills for children who undertook the CBE programme during the academic year 2016-17, both at the beginning and at the end of the programme. After the transition into government schools, children were re-assessed again at the beginning and at the end of the first school year. For the results below we use information from 1,166 children for whom we have complete assessments over the course of these two academic years.

Measuring numeracy

We use foundational numeracy skills over time to measure learning loss during the transition from CBE into government schools. The learning assessment used for the four rounds of data collection were based on the Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) for numeracy. EGMA was designed to provide information about basic reading, writing and mathematics competencies — those competencies which should typically be mastered in the very early grades of primary school and without which, pupils are likely to struggle to continue to achieve higher academic competencies.

Due to minor differences between the assessments used in the first and second year of data collection, we only use results from missing number identification, two-digit addition and two-digit subtraction which were comparable over time. We estimate the percentage of correct responses in each of these tasks and aggregate across to generate a score of numeracy proficiency.

Learning gains in numeracy during CBE programme

Our results revealed important gains in foundational numeracy skills during the nine months of the CBE programme (October 2016 to June 2017). For example, at the beginning of the programme, 46% of students achieved correct responses in missing number identification and at the end of the programme, 62% achieved correct responses. In terms of addition and subtraction, at the beginning of the CBE programme, only 32% and 26% achieved correct responses in each of these numerical tasks, respectively. At the end of the programme, 59% and 53% of children achieved correct responses in addition and subtraction. Overall, the learning gain across all tasks was a 27 percentage points increase during this period.

Learning loss due to three months not in school

But was there any learning loss between June 2017 and October 2017, that is as children finished their complementary education and moved into a government school? When children were re-assessed at the beginning of the first year in government schools we found a significant reduction in numeracy skills. This reduction was equivalent to 18 percentage points, which means that 66% of the learning gain during the CBE programme was lost.

More striking are the differences that we found according to key factors that constrain home learning, which during the current COVID-19 crisis are extremely relevant. Among these, we found:

  • Children who did not have books or reading material at home, or access to reading activities, had a learning loss equivalent to 100% of the previous learning gain. Those who had these only experienced around 58% learning loss.

  • Children who never asked adults for help in the household when they did not understand things at school had over 90% learning loss. Those children who did seek support had a learning loss of only 34%.

  • Children who responded that they were not given enough time to study and review at home had a learning loss of 81%. Children who were given this time had a learning loss of 65%.

  • Children who lived in a household without a mobile phone or tv had a learning loss between 80 to 90%. Those with these assets had a learning loss of only 40 to 50%.

  • There are no differences in relative learning losses for children living in households which had access to radio.

Our previous published research on the CBE programme has also shown significant learning losses for particular children. For instance, that learning loss over the three-month period was particularly harmful to low achievers. Similarly, a significant learning loss was found for children who changed language of instruction as they transitioned into government schools.

A bright future?

Even without the pandemic, our estimate of the learning loss due to time not in school for disadvantaged children was significant. On the bright side, our analysis showed that children who actually made the transition and remained in school managed to overcome the loss and actually continue to improve in foundational numeracy. At the end of the first year in government schools, the achievement in missing number identification for all children increased to 73% correct responses. In terms of addition and subtraction, the percentage of correct responses increased to 80% and 75%, respectively. These are substantial gains that are not just recuperated, but also enhanced if children remain in schools.

Inequalities will remain in terms of the children who may be able to catch up in their learning after the transition into government school. As we expect, not all children will return to school after the long school closure. In fact, the expectation is that the current COVID-19 situation will increase economic pressures on households, which will impact on their ability to send children to schools. As we have shown, the provision of off-line reading materials and activities at home could be one way to limit the learning loss for many children who are likely to remain out of school for the foreseeable future.

The Complementary Basic Education Programme was funded by DFID and USAID and managed by the Management Unit at Crown Agents, in partnership with the Ghanaian Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service. The evaluation data which is used in this blog was commissioned and funded by DFID, Ghana.

Back to top

Surging numbers of first-generation learners at risk of being left behind in education systems worldwide

Faculty of Education News
Thursday 21 May
‘First-generation learners’ – a substantial number of pupils around the world who represent the first generation in their families to receive an education – are also significantly more likely to leave school without basic literacy or numeracy skills, a study suggests.

Research by academics at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Addis Ababa University and the Ethiopian Policy Studies Institute, examined the progress of thousands of students in Ethiopia, including a large number of ‘first-generation learners’: children whose parents never went to school.

The numbers of such pupils have soared in many low and middle-income countries in recent decades, as access to education has widened. Primary school enrolment in Ethiopia, for example, has more than doubled since 2000, thanks to a wave of government education investment and reforms.

But the new study found that first-generation learners are much more likely to underperform in Maths and English, and that many struggle to progress through the school system.

The findings, published in the Oxford Review of Education, suggest that systems like Ethiopia’s – which a generation ago catered mainly to the children of an elite minority – urgently need to adapt to prioritise the needs of first-generation learners, who often face greater disadvantages than their contemporaries.

Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre in the Faculty of Education, and one of the paper’s authors, said: “The experience of first-generation learners has largely gone under the radar. We know that high levels of parental education often benefit children, but we have considered far less how its absence is a disadvantage.”

“Children from these backgrounds may, for example, have grown up without reading materials at home. Our research indicates that being a first-generation learner puts you at a disadvantage over and above being poor. New strategies are needed to prioritise these students if we really want to promote quality education for all.”

The study used data from Young Lives, an international project studying childhood poverty, to assess whether there was a measurable relationship between being a first-generation learner and children’s learning outcomes. 

In particular, they drew on two data sets: One, from 2012/13, covered the progress of more than 13,700 Grade 4 and 5 students in various Ethiopian regions; the other, from 2016/17, covered roughly the same number and mix at Grades 7 and 8. They also drew on a sub-set of those who participated in both surveys, comprising around 3,000 students in total. 

Around 12% of the entire dataset that includes those in school were first-generation learners. The researchers found that first-generation learners often come from more disadvantaged backgrounds than other pupils: for example, they are more likely to live further from school, come from poorer families, or lack access to a home computer. Regardless of their wider circumstances, however, first-generation learners were also consistently more likely to underperform at school. 

For example: the research compiled the start-of-year test scores of students in Grades 7 and 8. These were standardised (or ‘scaled’) so that 500 represented a mean test score. Using this measure, the average test score of first-generation learners in Maths was 470, compared with 504 for non-first-generation pupils. In English, first-generation learners averaged 451, compared with 507 for their non-first-generation peers. 

The attainment gap between first-generation learners and their peers was also shown to widen over time: first-generation learners from the Grade 4/5 cohort in the study, for example, were further behind their peers by the end of Grade 4 than when they began.

The authors argue that a widespread failure to consider the disadvantages faced by first-generation learners may, in part, explain why many low and middle-income countries are experiencing a so-called ‘learning crisis’ in which attainment in literacy and numeracy remains poor, despite widening access to education.

While this is often blamed on issues such as large class sizes or poor-quality teaching, the researchers say that it may have more to do with a surge of disadvantaged children into systems that, until recently, did not have to teach as many pupils from these backgrounds.

They suggest that many teachers may need extra training to help these pupils, who are often less well-prepared for school than those from more educated (and often wealthier) families. Curricula, assessment systems and attainment strategies may also need to be adapted to account for the fact that, in many parts of the world, the mix of students at primary school is now far more diverse than a generation ago.

Professor Tassew Woldehanna, President of Addis Ababa University and one of the paper’s authors, said: “It is already widely acknowledged that when children around the world start to go back to school after the COVID-19 lockdowns, many of those from less-advantaged backgrounds will almost certainly have fallen further behind in their education compared with their peers. This data suggests that in low and middle-income countries, first-generation learners should be the target of urgent attention, given the disadvantages they already face.”

“It is likely that, at the very least, a similar situation to the one we have seen in Ethiopia exists in other sub-Saharan African countries, where many of today’s parents and caregivers similarly never went to school,” Rose added.

“These findings show that schooling in its current form is not helping these children to catch up: if anything, it’s making things slightly worse. There are ways to structure education differently, so that all children learn at an appropriate pace. But we start by accepting that as access to education widens, it is inevitable that some children will need more attention than others. That may not be due to a lack of quality in the system, but because their parents never had the same opportunities.”

Back to top

School segregation by wealth is creating unequal learning outcomes for children in the Global South

Students in class in Burkina Faso. Credit: Global Partnership for Education (via Flickr).
Wednesday 20 May
Millions of the world’s poorest children are leaving school without mastering even basic levels of reading or maths because of an overlooked pattern of widespread, wealth-based inequalities in their countries’ education systems, new research suggests.

The University of Cambridge-led study shows that children from the very poorest families, in what are already some of the lowest-income countries in the world, consistently perform worse in basic literacy and numeracy tests than those from more affluent backgrounds.

The overwhelming reason, the study found, is that poorer children are disproportionately clustered in the lowest-quality schools, which often lack even basic resources – such as textbooks, electricity, or toilets.

The researchers say that there is an urgent need to ‘raise the floor’ in global education, by focusing both national-level efforts and international aid on students from the most disadvantaged communities.

Institutions like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the World Bank have long referred to a ‘learning crisis’ in the Global South. While growing numbers of children in low-income countries now attend school compared with previous generations, many still lack basic literacy or numeracy skills.

Until now, most analyses have looked at the factors that explain low learning outcomes in general, rather than differentiating between groups of children. But the new study suggests that there is a huge gulf between the quality of education that children from the poorest families receive compared with wealthier children, and that this is directly linked to their ability to read, write, add, or subtract, by Grade 6.

Dr Rob Gruijters, from the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, who led the research, said: “There is a high level of social segregation in many of these countries’ education systems. The pattern is similar to the UK, where rich children tend to go to better-resourced schools. But the differences in school quality are much more pronounced, and they are strongly linked to family background”

“Global reporting on the learning crisis often pays little attention to these inequalities, focusing instead on average differences between countries. But if we really want to fix things, there needs to be a commitment not only to investing in education, but to raising the floor: to ensuring that every school has a minimum level of support, in staffing, training, and resources.”

The study analysed data from the Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC), a survey managed by the association of education ministries in francophone Africa. The survey assessed more than 30,000 Grade 6 students in more than 1,800 schools in 10 countries: Benin, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Ivory Coast, Niger, Senegal and Togo. All 10 have ‘received scant attention’ in previous analyses of the learning crisis, the study says.

The data provides the pupils’ scores in basic maths and reading tests. The researchers cross-referred this with additional information about their socio-economic backgrounds, their health, and the quality of their schools; dividing each country’s sample group into fifths based on their families’ relative wealth.

Overall, pupils from the poorest 20% of families consistently performed worst in the tests, while those children who – although often poor by international standards – fell into the wealthiest 20%, consistently had the highest test scores. Poorer students also tended to fail to reach PASEC’s Grade 6 ‘proficiency threshold’, meaning that by the time they leave primary school, many still struggle with basic sums and reading.

The researchers then explored possible reasons why this link between household wealth and performance exists. They found that differences in the quality of schooling explained almost the entire learning gap between poor and wealthier children.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds were consistently found to be clustered in educational settings that scored low for school quality in the dataset – meaning that teachers’ own education levels were often poor, classrooms overcrowded, and critical resources and facilities, from textbooks to running water, often unavailable. Wealthier children, on the other hand, were much more likely to attend better-resourced private schools.

Importantly, in cases where children from the wealthiest 20% and poorest 20% of families attended the same school, there was almost no difference in their test results.

“The problem is that most of them are not attending the same schools, and that’s why we are seeing these learning gaps" said Dr Julia Behrman of Northwestern University, who co-authored the study. “Wealthier children learn more largely because they are going to better schools, with better resources.”

The researchers say that their assessment of the impact of socioeconomic status on learning outcomes is almost certainly conservative, as the PASEC data only covers children who reach Grade 6. In countries like Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, where fewer than half of all children finish primary school and many never attend, the poorest children face a ‘double hurdle’: first, getting to school; and second, finding a school that is sufficiently equipped to give them a basic education.

The study therefore argues that policy initiatives and aid efforts aimed at solving the global learning crisis should focus on equalising access to learning opportunities for all children.

“One silver lining is that our research emphasises there is nothing inherent in being poor that stops children from learning,” Gruijters added. “Give them a better place to learn, with better resources, and they can do just as well as children from the wealthiest end of the scale.”

Back to top

Two Faculty members scoop CUSU teaching awards

James and Riikka
Friday 15 May
Many congratulations to James de Winter, lecturer in Science Education, and Riikka Hofmann, University senior lecturer at the Faculty, who both picked up CUSU student-led teaching awards during a virtual ceremony last week!

The awards celebrate outstanding teaching and student support across Cambridge and its Colleges, and provide a unique opportunity for students to nominate and recognise the contributions that staff have made to their time at Cambridge. More than 500 students put forward nominations this year. James and Riikka both received their awards during a vintage year for the Faculty, which had four short-listed staff in all, and a further 17 long-listed members.

Riikka, who won the award for Postgraduate Supervisor, said: “What motivates me most about my work with my postgraduate students is that they always bring new insights into my research group, and they are one of the greatest pathways through which I can contribute to a positive impact on the world, by helping them develop the tools to make a difference. It was really heart-warming to have my work recognised in this way, especially as this award is student-led, making it extra special to me. The online ceremony CUSU had created was fabulous, and it was so lovely being able to share it with my wonderful children, who have so often during this lockdown had to patiently wait while I attend to my students!”

James, who won in the ‘Lecturer’ category, said: “It really is about the most wonderful professional thing that has happened to me since I started working here many years ago. I’ve always felt that I worked for the students, rather than the University, which is why it matters so much.”

Further details about the awards are available from the CUSU website. You can play back the awards ceremony, and see what James’ and Riikka’s students had to say, via YouTube here.

Back to top

“Now more than ever is a good time to take a step back, to reflect and reconsider”. Cambridge Quaranchats creator Simone Eringfeld on studying for three degrees, and the making of her lockdown podcast.

Simone Eringfeld
Thursday 14 May
Simone Eringfeld, an MPhil student in Education, Globalisation and International Development, was planning fieldwork in Uganda before the COVID-19 lockdown put paid to her research plans. Undeterred, she has adapted her research project to look at how Cambridge students and staff are experiencing the epidemic and as part of this has launched the already popular ‘Cambridge Quaranchats’ podcast. The series explores life under lockdown through conversations with fellow students and staff and is available on Anchor, Spotify, and numerous other platforms (search Cambridge Quaranchats). Twitter: @CamQuaranchats. 

Here, Simone tells us a little about her story so far, her current work, and the experience of making and recording the series. You can also read more about her research in this recent blog post.

I grew up in the Netherlands, in a small city called Breda. 

Before coming to Cambridge, I was on a challenging academic rollercoaster: I completed three different bachelor’s degrees with distinction in three years! I studied Philosophy and Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Simultaneously, I studied International Relations at the University of London through their distance learning programs. I spent my final year of undergraduate studies in New York City, where I was on exchange at The New School. I completed all my degrees from there and spent most of my time doing street photography. Photography one of my major passions. 

People often ask me why I did three undergraduate degrees instead of one? One of the main reasons is that I have many interests and simply couldn’t pick just one subject! I strongly believe in the importance of transdisciplinary learning, but in the Netherlands the system still doesn’t accommodate much flexibility. I also wanted an international, multilingual education. I’ve always seen education as an adventure, and I wanted to create my own learning journey rather than follow a pre-created system. In high school I quickly learned that institutions can be quite rigid. Many of my teachers tried to discourage me from taking on more courses, thinking I would fail. But I perform best when I feel challenged, and I’ve always been a bit of a rebel who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. In the Netherlands, you don’t pay more tuition fees if you do more than one program (and tuition is already low). It was a demanding project but ended up being an unexpected success!

This awakened a strong interest in the study of education itself. 

I am fascinated by the question of how education can help human beings flourish and fulfil their potential, but the many systemic, social injustices that stand in the way of providing equitable and inclusive opportunities for all is a huge issue. There are many ways in which education often does more harm than good. I feel committed to using my own privilege to address these injustices and to supporting platforms that strengthen voices that aren’t heard enough. That’s what led me to apply for the MPhil in Education, Globalisation and International Development at the Faculty. A faculty member once told me that many of the applications they receive for this MPhil are written by people with very idealistic mindsets. I am definitely one of them. Perhaps there is a naivety in being so aspirational, yet I think it’s one of the most valuable qualities one can have. The actual trick is not to lose sight of this larger purpose or sense of hope.

‘Cambridge Quaranchats’ addresses a lot of these bigger questions. 

Hope and purpose are important themes in many of the episodes. I started the podcast after I had to cancel my fieldwork in Uganda, where I had planned to do a photographic project with refugees. When the pandemic started, many of us at the Faculty had to drastically change their research plans, and some of us had to rush home without the opportunity even to say goodbye. The podcast is intended as a way of staying in touch and maintaining community. Every episode, I invite a new guest to join me and talk about how they have been affected by the pandemic, how they are coping with life under lockdown, and how we can start to reimagine the future of education as a consequence of this rupture of ‘business-as-usual’. Now more than ever is a good time to take a step back, to reflect and reconsider, especially at institutions like Cambridge, and to remind ourselves of what kind of educational systems we ultimately want in this world. It’s essential that we keep asking ourselves the simple, but core question of ‘what is education for?’ I consciously decided to invite a variety of guests ranging from students and professors to post-docs and college porters. We all have our unique perspectives and contributions to offer, and I designed ‘Cambridge Quaranchats’ as a platform that embraces a wide diversity of voices, all forming part of the Cambridge landscape.

When I started the podcast, I had never worked with audio before. 

Since we are all social distancing, I had to find ways to create podcasts remotely. I learnt a lot along the way, from how to record the interviews themselves to how to edit the episodes and go through the process of postproduction. I am blessed by the fact that I am spending this time of lockdown with a computer scientist as one of my housemates! He helped me with a lot of the technical challenges like how to record my own voice and my guest’s voice separately. But there is so much more that goes into making ‘Cambridge Quaranchats’: it’s about preparing for the interviews themselves, such as reading into recent work by my guests and formulating questions, but also publishing the episodes across all my channels and creating visual output for Twitter and Facebook. Social media and promotional work are a big part of my workflow, and it’s hugely rewarding to see my audience grow around the world! 

Every episode has been vastly different, and I love this diversity of stories. 

I really enjoyed the episode with Angana Das on the importance of hope during this uncertain time. We had a beautiful, vulnerable conversation that gave me goose bumps when we recorded it! Her story about learning to live with a chronic pain disorder whilst maintaining hope for the future and enjoying the present moment is truly inspiring. I also really enjoyed the episode with Professor Karen Pinkus, who speaks very frankly about her 30-year career as a humanities professor and her struggles of taking up space within the field of climate change studies. I also highly recommend the newest episode with Deena Newaz: she is a fellow student I highly admire for the way in which her personal values are expressed in her professional and academic work. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with and learn from my peers. 

It's been great to see the audience grow.

Within 4 weeks, it has had nearly 1,000 listens from over 35 countries, from the UK and the USA, to India, Brazil, Taiwan, South Africa and Egypt, just to name a few. The Cambridge community has dispersed across the world and I love how the podcast reflects that, even though we may be miles and continents apart, we are still connected to each other. I have received incredible feedback from both friends and strangers, who are reaching out to tell me that listening to the podcast is keeping them sane, inspired, hopeful and in touch with peers, friends and colleagues. I was very encouraged when the vice-chancellor Stephen Toope shared the podcast in his email to students and staff at the University! I have received wonderful feedback from the podcasts guests themselves, who felt like I created a space for them to share their own stories, hopes and fears, at times really personal concerns. That to me is the biggest compliment I could ever wish for!

For my dissertation I am researching how students and academics at our Faculty are reimagining the future of Higher Education and the ‘post-coronial’ University after the pandemic. 

For this project, I am using both the podcast as well as private interviews online. I created a compilation episode with fragments of the podcast and sent this episode to my research participants, who listened to it before I interviewed them. It has really helped to ground big questions about an uncertain future into this more ‘tangible object’ of the podcast that one can refer back to, and it has been great to see how my research participants have been able to formulate their own thoughts and ideas sparked by the podcast fragments. This experience has reconfirmed for me the importance of making more resources openly accessible, so that we can start to collectively reimagine and envision the changes we want to see in a post-pandemic society. Podcasts are different from the more standard interviews typically done in qualitative research, because as a researcher you are more actively involved in the conversation itself as a dialogic participant. My biggest learning moments always occurred in conversations with peers or teachers, and I like the idea of research being a learning process for everyone involved. 

After completing my Masters, I want to remain involved in the effort to redesign the future of Higher Education.

There are a lot of organizations currently asking similar questions, such as UNESCO and WISE but also universities themselves. I would love to do a PhD in a few years’ time, but before I go back into academia, I want to work on projects dedicated to increasing access to quality education online. Having completed a full degree online myself, I am deeply aware of the opportunities that this current wave of rapid digitization brings along. I want to continue giving positive spins to this global educational shift in whatever way I can.  

Back to top

Children must be free to play with friends to ease stress of lockdown, Ministers told

Children playing
Thursday 7 May

Government ministers are being urged by an expert panel to prioritise children’s play and socialising over formal learning as the UK’s Coronavirus lockdown measures ease, to reduce the impact on wellbeing and mental health.

Among several recommendations published today, the panel, led by child mental health experts at the Universities of Sussex, Cambridge and Reading, say that children must be given ample opportunity for play and interaction with their peers in order to avert a nationwide mental health crisis.

The panel of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other academics have also written to senior ministers, strongly recommending that small gatherings of children for outdoor play should be permitted as soon as it is safe to do so, as one of the first steps in loosening the lockdown.

Re-opened schools should ensure that all children have opportunity to play and interact with their peers each day and throughout the school day, they add.

Sam Cartwright-Hatton, Professor of Clinical Child Psychology at the University of Sussex, said: “All the research indicates that children’s emotional health is suffering in the lockdown and it seems likely that this suffering will, in many cases, continue into the long term. We are urging ministers and policymakers to ensure that children are afforded substantial, and if possible enhanced, access to high-quality play opportunities as soon as possible.”

Dr Jenny Gibson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge said: “It’s easy to dismiss play as unimportant, but for children, playing with friends and classmates has a very significant impact on their social development. Critically, it is an important way of working through emotions and will therefore be one of the principal ways in which they cope with the isolating effects of the lockdown.”

“For that reason, it’s important that whatever steps are taken to ease social distancing restrictions, children are given time and space to play with friends. My own research suggests that social play skills are directly related both to children’s social-emotional adjustment and their academic achievement, so it is a concern that this is something that has been missing from many children’s lives for a number of weeks.”

The authors formed their recommendations following a review of relevant academic literature which confirmed the harmful impact of isolation on children and the alleviating benefits of play. One of the most striking findings came from a study examining parental reports of their children’s mental health following social distancing measures in countries affected by previous pandemics. This found that children who experience quarantine or social isolation measures were five times more likely to require mental health service input than those who did not.

The therapeutic benefits of play on child mental health have been shown in studies of children in war zones and survivors of Romanian orphanages.

Recent polling data shows that around two-thirds of primary school children are currently feeling lonely – an increase of approximately 50% compared with normal levels.

Dr Kathryn Lester, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of Sussex, said: “Although many children may be spending more time playing during lockdown than usual, they may currently have a play deficit because the physical and social restrictions in place deprive them of the chance to play with their peers. We know that play with peers is critically important for children’s development. Play has substantial benefits for children’s emotional wellbeing especially during periods of anxiety and stress. It provides a sense of control, it helps children make sense of things they might be struggling to understand, and importantly it makes children happy.”

Helen Dodd, Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Reading, said: “Returning to school after a long period at home will be challenging for lots of children. It will be especially challenging if they are expected to remain 2 metres away from their friends. It is vital that this is recognised and that schools are given the time and resources necessary to support the transition carefully, with children’s wellbeing in mind. We ask that, once it is safe to do so, the loosening of lockdown is done in a way that allows children to play with their peers, without social distancing, as soon as possible. This may mean that close play is only permitted in pairs or small groups or within social bubbles that allow repeated mixing with a small number of contacts."

Back to top

PGCE trainee launches fundraising campaign to support home learning for vulnerable families

Child writing
Thursday 7 May

A PGCE trainee at the Faculty of Education has launched a fundraising campaign to support home learning for children from refugee, migrant and asylum seeker families.

Sadhia Islam, who is currently training on the Faculty’s Primary PGCE course, is aiming to raise £1,000 to provide home learning kits and individual online access to learning to children from vulnerable families in her home city of Norwich. She is organising the initiative through New Routes, a social and cultural integration charity. Donations, no matter how small, would be very welcome and can be made now through a dedicated Just Giving page.

Sadhia, who is 22, has been volunteering for the charity for the past two years. Since the lockdown began, she has been helping to deliver online classes that give children from refugee, migrant and asylum seeker families extra learning support, supplementing the home learning arrangements provided by their school. These have proven hugely popular with parents, in particular because their children often have English as an additional language.

Worryingly, many of the children involved lack even basic resources, like pencils or exercise books, with which to do their home learning. With support from the Faculty, and one of its suppliers, the Cambridge-based firm, Landmark Office, Sadhia has secured access to low-cost items that will go into home-learning kits for her pupils. The children will receive equipment like stationery, exercise books, mini-whiteboards so that they can share ideas with their teacher during the Zoom sessions, and simple school maths kits.

“These supplies will include essential stationery resources to facilitate their home learning, and we also hope to give some children who need them electronic devices such as tablets,” Sadhia said. “As well as helping them, we want to provide a level of reassurance for their parents as well, many of whom are worried about their children’s learning amid all this uncertainty.”

Donations to the fundraising campaign can be made, entirely anonymously if preferred, through the Just Giving page. Further information about New Routes Integration is available here.

Back to top

Study on regional higher education in Latin America wins best dissertation award

Ali Barlete
Tuesday 5 May

“I wanted to know what this regional system really was – how to analyse something without knowing what it is, where it came from and why?”

A study of the process of building a region-wide higher education system in Latin America, undertaken by Faculty member Dr Aliandra Barlete for her PhD, has won an award from the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES).

The research, which explored higher education system-building across the ‘Mercosur’ trade bloc in South America, was recently named Best Dissertation of 2020 by the CIES Higher Education Special Interest Group

Ali is a Faculty researcher who studied for her PhD within the Culture, Politics and Global Justice research group. Here, she discusses her examination of Mercosur, the relationship between education systems and their regional context, and where she is taking her research next.

Higher education was part and parcel to Mercosur’s development – but even though I am from Brazil I rarely heard much about it

I am from the southernmost part of Brazil, near the ‘Pampas’ – which is a good place to study Mercosur, a South American trade bloc that comprises Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and (currently suspended) Venezuela, plus several associate members. For the research, I could get a lift to the border from my family home and take the bus to Buenos Aries or to Mercosur’s headquarters in Montevideo.

Mercosur was established in 1991, at a time when regions across the world were trying to make new agreements as the Cold War came to an end. There’s a story that Jean Monnet, one of the architects of the European Union, said that if he was to start the EU again, he would begin with education. That inspired the policy-makers behind Mercosur to push for the creation of a defined regional education sector (SEM). Part of the logic is that if you need qualified workers who can transit between different parts of the bloc, each country has to recognise the other’s qualifications. At the same time, education is a transmitter of cultural values, believed to ‘glue’ the Mercosur region together.

I wanted to study the relationship between Mercosur and SEM as its education project, how one related to the other as they grew together from 1991, with a focus on the overall effect on higher education policies. Interestingly, despite being a Brazilian citizen, I had not encountered it very much.

My supervisors, Professor Susan Robertson, (currently Head of Faculty) and Professor Roger Dale, have done a lot of work on region-building and education.

They argue that an educational region can only exist in relationship to the wider regional structures of which it is a part. So, for example, the Bologna Process in Europe (the system by which higher education is harmonised across Europe) must be considered in relationship to the EU, even if Bologna emerged independently.

I started my project trying to apply that thinking to Mercosur: when I left for my pilot study, I had a beautifully-prepared series of questions which I wanted to ask people working in higher education in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. But nothing seemed to make sense. Some said Mercosur and its education sector were a strongly coherent region, others thought it was a waste of time to research it.

So we decided to change the direction of my project. The question became what exactly is this sector? I wanted to know what this regional system really was – how to analyse something without knowing what it is, where it came from and why?” I did this by tracing the history of Mercosur’s higher education region-building from the early days of the trade bloc in May 1991, through to more recent times, navigating over almost 30 years of history.

Everyone considers Mercosur from the perspective of national gain

The member states are all trying to get different things from it. If you look at higher education, in 1991 Paraguay was leaving dictatorship and needed new regulations and structures to be put in place. Similarly, Uruguay’s education system was very limited: the national higher education law was largely the law of the only public institution in the country. On the other hand, Brazil has hundreds of universities and a complete Higher Education system. So, for Paraguay and Uruguay, the creation of a regional system meant the reshaping of their national higher education system. In many ways, they are ‘region-takers’. For Brazil and Argentina, as ‘region-makers’, the advantages were more about positioning themselves as regional leaders and contributing to it with resources and ideas.

The region as a whole works based on different national capacities and interests. And it has been weakened further by explosive politics: Mercosur is a body which spends a lot of time managing the relationship amongst its member states – Venezuela is not a full member at the moment, for example.

This means that Mercosur has weak legitimacy, which has played out in efforts to build a higher education region.

In essence, the things that the Mercosur Education Sector promotes are not absorbed consistently at the national level. Everyone ends up participating in initiatives according to their political will and their capacity. The accreditation project is a good example of this: it worked and became successful after the member states built on their national differences, rather than on their similarities.

In Brazil, there is a law that if you have a degree from another country, your degree is only valid if a Brazilian public university approves it. So regardless of the Mercosur programme, if you wanted your degree to be valid in Brazil, you had to go through that process. By contrast, Argentina recognises the accreditation system and makes every effort to implement it. In Paraguay and Uruguay did not have the structure in place, so had to create them first. Even if the members supported the idea of regional accreditations, astonishingly, it took them 10 years to enable its implementation! So there is a broad mismatch in how the decisions are made and then implemented.

Those responsible for SEM are passionate about it, but its visibility is low

It was clear that the people trying to make Mercosur higher education happen system-wide work hard to make it happen and are devoted to its mission. But a lot of their work rarely translates into effective initiatives on the ground due to low political support, and SEM’s visibility remains quite low - with the exception of Argentina. Across Mercosur, there are millions of students – but only a few hundred have taken advantage of the opportunities for mobility that the accreditation system is supposed to make possible.

The region continues to struggle

The latest blow is Brazil leaving SEM altogether (in November 2019) which again speaks to this focus on national political decisions rather than wider regional judgements: the argument was the lack of efficiency and results, despite the investment of national funds.

Overall, the study demonstrates the relational connections between political and economic regions and HE regions also happens in Mercosur. However, they are largely influenced by the political leaders of the time, and by external bodies, such as the Ibero-American States Educational Organisation (OEI) and the EU. These are the ones that grant the necessary legitimacy, as well as funds and capacity to carry out the work – not Mercosur, as the region which hosts SEM.

I’m now taking a teaching position at the University of Edinburgh

Since finishing my PhD, I have been supervising undergraduates for the Faculty, and working as a consultant for UNESCO’s Higher Education Office in Latin America (IESALC). I have recently taken a Teaching Fellow position at the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education and Sport. It is an exciting opportunity and I am really looking forward to working with students and supporting them the best way I can.

Back to top

Multilingual families asked to join nationwide study of languages under lockdown

Monday 4 May

Families who speak more than one language are being invited to join a UK-Irish study to understand how school closures could affect multilingual children’s education and language use during the coronavirus lockdown.

The research is being carried out by a team from several different universities and language associations, including members of the Faculty of Education. Although part of the aim is to gather evidence about how the closures may affect multilingual children’s English language development, the researchers believe that it may also highlight other issues – including the possibility that some children may benefit from increased exposure to their home language.

Approximately 300 different languages are spoken in the UK. According to the Government’s School Census, more than one fifth of children speak ‘English as an additional language’ (EAL) – and another language at home.

While some teachers and parents are concerned that these children could be at risk of missing out on education while mass home-schooling continues, there is little evidence available to show how multilingual families will respond to the lockdown, or what the results for EAL children will be.

“At the moment, we don’t have a good picture of multilingual families’ attitudes towards language in general, so it’s difficult to understand what impact the lockdown will have,” Professor Ludovica Serratrice, Director of the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism at the University of Reading, said.

“So much of this is shaped by parents’ feelings and beliefs. Families might, for example, change their policy on what language is spoken in the home while schools are closed. We want to understand what is driving their approach, and what this might mean for children’s education.”

Co-researcher Dr Elspeth Wilson, from the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, and a part of the Cambridge Bilingualism Network, added: “This is clearly a situation in which young people’s exposure to language is changing massively, but it’s not simply about English language development. Spending more time with their home language could have a number of effects, including possible benefits. By finding out more about this, we should be able to provide useful information both for education professionals, and multilingual families themselves.”

The researchers are inviting multilingual families to take part in an online survey. Any UK or Irish-based family with at least one child under 18, who are living together during the lockdown period and speak a language other than English, can participate. All contributions will be anonymous.

Participants will be asked to complete online questionnaires at three different stages: during the closures, when schools reopen, and in April 2021. They will also be invited to participate in an optional interview. Through this, the researchers hope to document changes in their patterns of language use.

Some parents and teachers have expressed concerns that EAL children’s English language development may be negatively affected by the closures. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, about 30% of children’s time was typically spent in childcare, school, or extracurricular activities. For some EAL children, this would have been their main experience of an English-speaking environment. Researchers have also suggested that many teachers who are used to delivering lessons in mixed, multilingual classrooms may struggle to adapt their approach to online teaching.

On the other hand, the drawbacks for EAL pupils may have been exaggerated. Attainment data released by the Department of Education has shown that these pupils often perform well at school and may even outperform their non-EAL peers – although this generalised data often masks significant regional and demographic discrepancies.

Researchers believe that the real impact for EAL pupils is therefore likely to vary across different communities, ages and groups. Some may benefit from concentrated exposure to their home language – and it could provide them with a stronger foundation for developing their English, as well as for learning other languages, when they return to school.

In addition, the research team point out that languages act as vehicles for identity, and that a strengthened relationship with their home language may deepen EAL pupils’ connection with their relatives, their community, and their cultural heritage.

“There is an argument that for some children there could be positive gains, particularly if the situation doesn’t go on for too long,” Dr Wilson said. “More contact with their home language may actually improve their interest in language learning, and it could lead to stronger relationships at home and in their wider family. For many, speaking more than one language is a wonderful gift and resource. This may be a great opportunity for them to embrace that multilingualism and share it with family and friends.”

The participating institutions are the Universities of Reading, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London, the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum, Mother Tongues Ireland and We Live Languages. Further information is available at:

More information about current research into multilingualism is also available on the Cambridge Bilingualism Network’s website:

Back to top

Zoom reunion captures powerful experiences of MPhil alumni amid coronavirus outbreak

Alumni under lockdown
Thursday 30 April

While Faculty members may be locked down all over the world, students from last year’s MPhil in Education, Globalisation and International Development didn’t let that stop them from holding a virtual reunion by Zoom earlier this month! The gathering, which involved participants from six continents, provided some fascinating insights, and powerful stories, about how these colleagues’ careers have changed direction dramatically, within a few short weeks, as a result of COVID-19. Here, former student Rachel Zink provides a brief overview of their experiences:

This month, the EGID 2018-2019 MPhil students held a virtual reunion over Zoom, coming together from across 6 different continents. Despite the various time zones, 17 members of the cohort were able to join the reunion, creating a virtual room full of smiling faces and laughter. Most of the conversation focused on giving personal updates and sharing how COVID-19 has impacted our work, communities and countries, as this global health crisis has affected everyone in some way.

Some of us are now working from home or had to return to their home countries. British resident Caroline Breeden has been working on English language learning programmes in Mexico City, but she is now working remotely from the UK. For others, work has been cancelled or postponed indefinitely due to the crisis, especially those working in international education programmes. Bethan Morris-Tran and I were within a few days of leaving for Japan to facilitate an empowerment programme in schools when the Japanese government closed down schools nationally. Originally Morris-Tran envisioned she would be helping students build public speaking skills, but instead she is now helping fight the public health crisis by working the frontlines at a hospital.

Those who went into education in emergency zones, like Siddharth Pillai working in Afghanistan, are in environments where ‘emergency education’ now includes delivering education during a pandemic. Pillai suddenly finds himself advocating for Afghani students to receive free mobile data to empower their online learning, “Telecom service providers in Afghanistan shall be doing a world of good for students and teachers if they could grant free internet data to access select educational sites.” His recently published article can be found here.

Worldwide school closures not only affects teaching and learning, but also research conducted within schools as well. Although Judith Hannam has found the pandemic to inhibit her ability to collect data, it also brings opportunities for positive change, “It is forcing all of us to be more creative and possibly to be more able to expect the unexpected.” Those, like Jong-Woo Lim who are working from a policy level, are now creating and revising educational policies to respond to COVID-19 and address the needs of our rapidly changing world.

While for some their workload has increased, others are forced to slow down from their busy lives, like one of our members who has been self-isolating with symptoms of COVID-19. Others are also using this time for writing or revising their MPhil thesis for publication. Many have also started online learning or taking free online classes, such as quantitative data analysis and human rights courses.

While COVID-19 has impacted our cohort in a wide variety of ways, we all seem to be reflecting on the essential role education plays in our daily lives, whether it takes place within classrooms or within homes, or whether it is teaching a group of children about germs or educating entire communities on public health safety. While schools stand dormant from temporary closures, we remember what a privilege it is to have access to schools and what it means for those who do not.

Although this pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our lives, it can also inspire positive changes, opportunities to help in unexpected ways, and joyful moments—like a virtual reunion. No matter where our group is in the world, we continue to support each other and learn from one another. Whether we are in Cambridge, our hometowns or in an unexpected place, we are still collaborating, exchanging ideas and sharing practices. We are still celebrating each other’s achievements, life events, and during challenging times like this, we are still encouraging one another. The bond that originated in Cambridge continues to transcend borders and have a far-reaching impact all over the world.

Back to top

(Re)Discovering Children’s Nonfiction in lockdown

Kids reading
Wednesday 29 April

With schools closed, millions of parents are having to adapt to the considerable challenges of home schooling – something that, according to recent research by the Sutton Trust, most find a daunting prospect.

But if worksheets and video learning are wearing you down, there are alternative ways to keep young people engaged with education. Here, Karen Coats, Director of the Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Cambridge, explains why the relatively unsung world of children’s non-fiction is a rich resource just waiting for children (and their parents) to rediscover it.

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably been bombarded with advice and tips to keep your kids occupied and on track academically during this time of public isolation. And I’d be willing to bet that most of you are frustrated and maybe even frazzled as you struggle to be an employee learning to work remotely, a parent who hasn’t spent the long daylight hours alone with your kids for a while, and a personal tutor who never learned any techniques for teaching.

But you know what you used to be an expert in? Learning stuff you were interested in. Maybe you feel as though you weren’t a great student in school, but back when you wanted to build a slingshot, or tie complicated knots, or make an origami crane, you pursued your interest with diligence; you tracked down source materials, ran experiments, and persisted through failures until you were satisfied or bored. And when boredom overtook that project, you sought out another. This is most often the pattern of childhood interests, driven by a brain hungry for novelty to drive its growth.

This is where the wonderful world of children’s nonfiction literature plays a special role. While children’s novels get most of the attention (and awards), children’s nonfiction has come into its own in recent years, offering everything from cookbooks, to how-to manuals, to histories and biographies that children and teens actually want to read.

Think about it: unlike textbooks, trade books have no guaranteed market. To sell well, they have to focus on subjects young people will find interesting, and in entertaining and accessible ways. In other words, they must be designed for pleasure reading. Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t enhance the curriculum, or spawn new ideas for revision. So, if worksheets and video lectures are getting you and your kids down, try some of these. Best get copies for yourself as well – you’re going to want to read these with your kids. And remember—this is reading for pleasure, so no quizzes: just sharing what surprises and delights you.

It’s not just knowing your children, but being aware of some concerns that are tied to their developmental age, that are two keys to choosing good nonfiction. It’s often good to follow, rather than lead, by making selections based on subjects that are catching their attention at the moment. That may be very different from what they are learning about at school. It may be something that’s not in the national curriculum at all, or it may be something that they weren’t able to go into more deeply before the teacher moved on.

While lists and reviews abound online, here are some of my all-time favorites for readers of different ages:


Young readers

For the little ones, pictures are everything. Don’t worry if they aren’t interested in the text—let them browse through the books and ask questions, which they will do sometimes simply by pointing or lingering over a picture rather than forming words. Linger silently with them, allowing them to enjoy or puzzle over the pictures. Steve Jenkins’ Actual Size and Prehistoric Actual Size are guaranteed kid-pleasers. Children won’t be able to resist comparing the size of their hands, eyes, and noses with the stunning, life-sized collage representations of these parts in the world’s largest and smallest critters! You may also want to check out his website, where you and your kids can find information on how his books are made from inspiration to completion. Have some craft paper available in case your kids get inspired.

Books illustrated with photographs by Nic Bishop also rank high for young browsers. He gets up close and personal with frogs, spiders, snakes, and butterflies, often using a sequence of stills to slow down the action of, say, a frog capturing its prey or a ladybird taking flight. His photographs elicit reactions ranging from disgust to delight, and encourage viewers to pay closer attention to the natural world.

Older children

In middle childhood, say around 8-13, children often develop passionate (if fleeting) obsessions. Reading and the internet have opened the whole world to them, and that’s overwhelming. Researchers have explained how focusing their attention on one thing enables them to gain a sense of mastery; they become experts as they memorize names of dinosaurs, collect all the books in a series, or immerse themselves in the French Revolution. Some kids are more hands-on, they want to learn to make things and take them apart. But there is a strong case that children at this age want a human element in their nonfiction. They are seeking how knowledge is built, who builds it, and how they might become knowledge builders themselves.

For this reason, you might direct their attention to books from the Scientists in the Field series. These books take readers beyond the facts reported in their textbooks to the behind-the-scenes stories of success and failure as scientists strive to understand and intervene in the natural world.

For children more interested in the A in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), try Joyce Sidman’s remarkably beautiful mixed media book about a woman who was an artist, scientist, and explorer at a time when those interests condemned her as a witch, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, or Janine Atkins’ imaginative accounts of three famous women and their daughter rendered in verse, Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madame C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and their Daughters.

Of course we mustn’t neglect aspiring athletes. Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball or Philip Hoose’s Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team that Awakened a City might inspire British kids to investigate similar histories of their favorite sports and the athletes who had to struggle to gain a place on the field. These books also draw attention to the active role sports can play in making the world a more socially just place.

Another timely topic for contemporary young people is the need to sort out reliable information from the fake stuff. Ammi-Joan Paquette’s series (two so far) Two Truths and a Lie offers an opportunity for the whole family to guess which of three barely believable accounts of animals and events are true and which are cleverly crafted fictions. Dust off your research skills or learn some new ones as you enjoy these tales of the weird.

For more hands-on learners and budding architects and engineers, try The Lego Architect, by Tom Alphin, or learn the basics of computer coding with Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders series (okay, these aren’t nonfiction, but they do offer logic puzzles and a kid-friendly introduction to coding, so I slipped them in!)


For older readers, learning to navigate personal relationships and thinking through larger societal problems take precedence. What’s perhaps most important for teens is a frank portrait of the failures and emotions that were often part of famous people’s experiences, or of famous events. Hence a shift toward narrative nonfiction and original forms, like graphic narratives, is in order.

Turing 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March is a richly illustrated story of a teen who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. Although the context is American, the lessons imparted about nonviolent protests and the ability to be part of a movement that changed history are extremely relevant to today’s worldwide attention to climate change.

For a detailed look at the Manhattan Project that reads like a spy novel, you will be enthralled by Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. In addition to creating heart-thumping suspense for a story whose outcome we already know, Sheinkin is terrific at explaining the science behind the different kinds of bombs in development.

Want a fresh look at World War I? Try Chris Duffy’s edited collection Above the Dreamless Dead: WWI in Poetry and Comics. He commissioned leading comics artists to illustrate poems by Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brook, Robert Graves, and Rudyard Kipling, among others. Different styles evoke the various emotions of soldiers as the war progressed.

Nobody does biography for young people like Deborah Heiligman. Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Macmillan, 2011) explores how the schism between religion and science worked its way through the Darwin’s own marriage. As one review puts it: ‘Come for the science, stay for the love story.’ She also explores the loving but fraught relationship of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo in Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers. Though Heiligman writes with the style of novelist, she sticks to her ethic of not making anything up, but instead draws from letters and other primary sources to craft rich and absorbing narratives that flesh out the humanity of people whose work changed the world.

Finally, while it might be a little too fresh to consider catastrophic disasters and manmade tragedies, Don Brown’s graphic treatments of Hurricane Katrina, the Syrian Refugee crisis, and the dust bowl years in America might help some readers realize or remember that humans are resilient, that this present crisis will also pass, and that while we will make mistakes, understanding comes retrospectively, and we can take what we’ve learned to make better decisions going forward.

Whatever age your child is, whatever your child is passionate about, there’s a book for that, and it’s likely that you will rediscover a few passions of your own along the way.

(Image credit: Neeta Ling, via Flickr)

Back to top

COVID-19 school closures may further widen the inequality gaps between the advantaged and the disadvantaged in Ethiopia

School in Ethiopia
Thursday 23 April
This blog was written by Dawit Tibebu Tiruneh, Research Associate at the REAL Centre, University of Cambridge and member of the RISE Ethiopia research programme, for the UKFIET website. It is part of a series reflecting on the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on research work on international education and development. 

There are major challenges around equitable access to learning for all children during the COVID-19 crisis. Most governments have now temporarily closed schools and universities to slow the spread of the virus. As of the first week of April 2020, UNESCO reported that 1.6 billion learners (nearly 9 out of 10 children) are out of school worldwide due to the school closures. In Africa, almost all the school children and university students are affected by the pandemic as of mid-March 2020. In Ethiopia, for example, schools have been closed from 16 March 2020, and nearly 25 million pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary-level learners are staying at home.

It is too early to fully understand how the COVID-19 school closures are affecting particularly disadvantaged children in low-income countries such as Ethiopia, but there are signs suggesting that it could have a lasting impact on increasing inequality. My observation over the past month in Ethiopia is that the less wealthy and digitally-illiterate families are, the further their children are left behind. There were already pre-COVID-19 inequalities in access to quality education between children in urban and rural localities, and children from parents with higher and lower socio-economic status. My fear is that COVID-19 school closures could further increase the inequalities between the advantaged and disadvantaged children.

The Ministry of Education in Ethiopia has been encouraging schools and parents to help all children continue to learn from home through remote learning. However, there are limited mechanisms in place to ensure that ALL children can continue to learn from home. Home-schooling is particularly challenging in low-income countries like Ethiopia because many parents have not themselves been to school and there is a lack of the necessary infrastructure to support remote learning.

What are the attempts to support home-schooling in Ethiopia?

Because the great majority of students in Ethiopia lack computers and Internet access, the Ministry of Education has recently advised primary school children to follow radio lessons, and secondary school children to follow television lessons that can be accessed from home through satellite television. Although radio and television lessons may work for some children in the urban areas, there is no clear evidence on how many parents in the rural areas have access to radios and satellite television. Given that more than 80% of the Ethiopian population lives in the rural areas with limited or no access to electricity, it is least likely that radio and television lessons would reach all primary and secondary school children in the rural areas. Even when radio and television lessons reach some of the rural children, it is unlikely that those children get sufficient support from their parents at home because their parents have never been to school.

Most private schools in urban localities are finding temporary solutions to continue teaching their students from a distance by uploading reading materials and assignments via Google Classroom and e-mail, and by using some social media platforms, such as WhatsApp and Telegram. Many private schools in major urban cities of Ethiopia such as Addis Ababa, Adama, Bahir Dar, Hawasa, and Mekelle are sending learning materials directly to parents’ WhatsApp or Telegram accounts, and the parents are helping their children to access the learning materials from their phones. On the contrary, there are no efforts by the public schools in urban and rural areas to keep their students learning from home. It is understandable that most of the public schoolteachers and parents have limited or no access to Internet connectivity, but most importantly the teachers lack the preparedness to work in such unprecedented circumstances. It is also worrying that we haven’t yet heard from schools and local governments in Ethiopia on their planning to address the diverse needs of children with disabilities during the school closures. We have many primary and secondary school children in Ethiopia with special educational needs, who may not benefit equally from the radio and television lessons.

How should schools and local governments respond during the COVID-19 crisis?

Public schools in urban areas need to devise strategies to try to reach as many children as possible during the school closures. I understand that public schools will have difficulties reaching all their students from a distance due to logistical and financial challenges, but the choice can’t be to do nothing, as this may worsen the existing inequalities between the rich and the poor. The local governments and school heads should try to establish communication lines between public school teachers and parents in order to follow up closely as children try to learn from home, and to offer some advice on appropriate hygiene practices and social distancing.

In addition, public schools in both rural and urban areas need some support at this critical time from the local governments, universities in their localities, and other ongoing national programmes such as Productive Safety Net and One WaSH National programme. Given that public school teachers, like everyone else, are now living in a stressful situation due to the pandemic, professionals in local universities need to provide them with some training on how to support learning of their students from home in these difficult times. Unfortunately, Ethiopia does not have the infrastructure in place to support online learning, but it is possible to consider low-tech approaches. Because nearly all the children may have their textbooks with them at home, teachers could send guiding questions and additional reading materials that may encourage the most marginalized children to read their textbooks. Teachers could also continuously contact parents through phone and enquire how their children are coping with the radio and television lessons and the kind of support parents are trying to offer to their children.

It is also vital to emphasize that many disadvantaged children such as girls from low income families and from rural areas can be at a higher risk of sexual exploitation, early marriage and forced labour. I’m also afraid that both boys and girls in most rural areas may be forced to be fully engaged during the school closures to support their parents in farming and livestock herding. School teachers in collaboration with district and kebele education officers need to keep close contact with parents to make sure that children are safe at home during the school closures and trying to learn as much as possible. I hope such efforts can help address the challenges related to the equitable provision of education for all children during the present COVID-19 crisis.

How should the school system respond to the post-COVID-19 period?

Introducing evidence-based interventions to recover lost learning

Because of the lack of required support during the COVID-19 school closures, it could take a very long time for children from low-income and illiterate parents to fully recover their lost learning when they are back to school. The school system should therefore design and implement some evidence-based interventions that aim to facilitate the recovery of the lost learning when schools reopen. For example, schools may design some catch-up courses particularly for those disadvantaged children.

Putting strategies in place to ensure children return to school when they reopen

Children from low-income families are at a double disadvantage during the COVID-19 school closures: interruption to class time and economic uncertainty. There is some new evidence coming out that the economic impact of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa is going to be devastating. It is highly likely that some children from low-income parents could decide to work as daily labourers to support their families economically and may never return to school when schools reopen. Parents from rural localities may be reluctant to send their children back to school because they may prefer their children to continue to support them in farming and livestock herding. It is necessary to trace those children who do not return to school and devise some strategies to encourage parents to send their children back to school.

Preparing teachers, students and parents in advance of future crises

What the current pandemic may have taught school officials, teachers and parents in least income countries is that establishing communication lines between teachers and parents before crisis and maintaining them during this type of crisis is key to support the learning of children from home. I informally asked a few teachers in public schools in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa whether they frequently communicate with parents before the COVID-19 crisis. Unlike private schools, public schools don’t seem to communicate frequently with parents. This needs to be improved. Besides, the education system needs to devise strategies – before crisis – on how to prepare teachers and students to respond effectively and efficiently during a time of crisis. Teachers may not teach all the time in a face-to-face classroom environment; students may not learn in the ‘traditional’ classroom all the time. When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the education system needs to prepare everyone to be flexible and adapt quickly to various learning modalities during a time of crisis. The global community may need to support the Ethiopian Ministry of Education and other local educational institutions in their efforts to prepare schools, teachers, students, and parents for future crisis.

Back to top

Think Local: Support for learning during COVID-19 could be found from within communities

Monday 20 April
This blog post was written by Ricardo Sabates, Reader in Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and member of the REAL Centre. It is part of a series reflecting on the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on research work on international education and development, produced for the Education and Development Forum (UKFIET)

Over the previous weeks, there have been several blogs with ideas for continuing to provide learning opportunities for the majority of the world’s children whose schooling has been affected by COVID-19. Whether this is about the challenges and opportunities imposed by COVID-19, or how education systems are managing this situation, including how Ministries of Education are collaborating with private service providers, a strong focus tends to be on the use of educational technologies, both online and off-line to reach the majority of children. While I agree on the use of educational technologies (EdTech) as an aid to learning, there are important lessons that I would like to highlight from our ongoing research at the REAL Centre which I believe should also unleash the potential of communities to tackle this crisis, in many cases by boosting the potential of technologies to reach many.

Supporting volunteers to serve their communities

First, our research with the PAL Network has highlighted the importance of volunteers who are willing to support children’s learning. These volunteers are usually members of the communities who have supported the collection of 7.5 million citizen-led assessments in more than 40 languages, have translated information from assessment into actions and have themselves supported children’s learning with extra-curricular activities. We estimate that the PAL Network members have mobilised around 690,000 volunteers in 14 countries across the Global South. While social distance remains an important medical advice to abide during this COVID-19 pandemic, many of the PAL Network volunteers are young people, and more likely to be connected via social media and other means of communication available in more remote areas. How can we unleash the potential of volunteers to serve their communities, particularly in terms of their role as intermediaries between information or availability of educational materials and the use of these by parents in children’s homes.

Engaging with locally-trained facilitators

Second, we have researched the potential of locally-trained facilitators to support the education of out-of-school children and young people, whether this is through Speed Schools in Ethiopia, the Complementary Basic Education Programme in Ghana or the Siyani Sahelian Programme in South Punjab, Pakistan. Our research has demonstrated that local facilitators are able to enhance foundational literacy and numeracy skills for children who have never been to school or those who have dropped out without completing basic education. The power of local facilitators lies in their ability to communicate and use mother tongue with learners and establish a solid foundation for literacy. For many learners, the linguistic environment of the school takes place in a different language, and many do not have the resources to be able to understand what is being taught in class. Mother tongue education has been central for early learning in many multilingual contexts of the Global South. Are there resources developed in mother tongue available for local facilitators? Can technology be used to deliver resources to local facilitators to unleash their potential to serve their communities in terms of pedagogical support?

 Engaging with parents

We have also undertaken research with parents, as key stakeholders of the educational system. The short route of accountability in systems of education place parents at the centre of monitoring and decision-making for school improvement plans. This is in the form of parent-teacher committees or associations. While many of these parent-teacher associations have been dysfunctional, our research with ASER Centre about Pratham, the largest educational NGO in India, suggests that there is a massive potential for parents to support their children’s learning. Pratham has been working with parents and producing resources to be used at home, even for parents who are illiterate. Our research indicates that overwhelmingly, 95% of parents believe that the responsibility to a child’s education was theirs. Even in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh we found that 67% of the parents checked their children’s notebooks and 56% of children got some help with their homework – mostly from their parents (68%) and siblings (31%). Therefore, there is a massive potential for parents to support the education of their children, which is likely to take place in mother tongue and use less traditional methods for knowledge sharing and practices.

Measuring learning

We have also engaged with broad measures for the concept of learning. For several of our projects, we have measures of literacy and numeracy, but we have also included measures of non-cognitive skills. Many of our programmes have an important component for life skills enhancement, such as the CAMFED programme in Tanzania and Zimbabwe which we have evaluated. The Siyani Sahelian Programme in Pakistan focuses on girls’ empowerment and gender equality. For the Research in Improving Systems of Education (RISE) in Ethiopia, we have measured several psychosocial scales suitable for the Ethiopian context. Therefore, while learning is taking place outside of the schools due to COVID-19, we must be committed to understanding the potential of children to learn with their families a broad set of skills, whether these are for livelihoods, life skills, or indeed by enhancing literacy and numeracy across and between generations (from parents to children and between siblings). Perhaps we may expect a deficit in certain indicators of learning, but we should not undermine the role of volunteers, local facilitators, parents and other community leaders in supporting most children who will be out of school for an unknown period of time.

Support through off-line methods

Overall, while social distancing measures prevail, the role of parents is essential. While there are many schools which are providing resources online and many open educational resources, these are usually only available to those who are able to access them. For the majority of children living in areas with no connectivity, it is indispensable to put together resources that are accessible to parents, potentially via text messages or WhatsApp. Volunteers and local facilitators have a role to play in this situation, potentially as intermediaries between the designers of educational resources and parents. We should also think about traditional ways of information sharing, as many communities still use audio amplifiers to inform the community about diverse news and events. While these can be used for communication about social distancing and personal health care, their role for learning should not be ignored.

This blog was written by Ricardo Sabates, Reader in Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and member of the REAL Centre. This blog is part of a series reflecting on the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on research work on international education and development. It has also been posted on the EdTech Hub website.

Back to top

21 Faculty members receive student-led teaching award nominations

Faculty of Education News
Friday 17 April
The Faculty of Education is extremely proud to announce that 21 members of its staff have been nominated for this year's student-led teaching awards, which are managed by the Cambridge University Student's Union (CUSU).

As the name suggests, these awards rely entirely on the feedback and testimonials of students themselves and over 500 students across the university put forward nominations this year.

Of the 44 university staff members who made the final shortlist, four are based at the Faculty of Education, while a further 17 were long-listed. This is really welcome news at a time when so many of our staff are working extremely hard to ensure that teaching, learning, assessments and support can all continue under lockdown. Thank you to all our students who put suggestions forward.

The Faculty nominees are:

Short-listed: James de Winter; Arathi Sriprakash; Jo Dillabough; Riikka Hofmann.

Long-listed: Andreas Stylianides; Bill Nicholl; Carol Holliday; Elaine Wilson; Helen Demetriou; Hilary Cremin; Jennie Francis; Karen Forbes; Kristine Black-Hawkins; Mark Winterbottom; Nidhi Singal; Pam Burnard; Rachel Foster; Ricardo Sabates Aysa; Susan Robertson; Tyler Denmead; Zoe Jaques.

This year's awards ceremony will, of course, be taking place virtually. Further details can be found at:

Back to top

New Faculty Gates Scholars announced

Morgan and Julia
Friday 17 April

Two of the 2020 cohort of Gates Scholars – one of the world’s most prestigious scholarships for postgraduate students – will be studying with the Faculty of Education, it has been announced.

Morgan Healey, from the United States, and Julia Jakob, from Austria, are among 77 new scholars from 30 different countries who have just been announced by the Gates Cambridge Trust as the programme’s Class of 2020.

Gates Scholarships are awarded to academically outstanding and socially committed postgraduates. The programme was launched in 2000, with a donation to the University from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and since its inception has supported the postgraduate education of more than 1,700 scholars at Cambridge, from more than 100 different countries.

Morgan graduated with a Masters in International Education Policy from Harvard in 2019, and worked at the Harvard David Rockerfeller Centre for Latin American Studies in Brazil, where she led strategy and content redesign work on their Certificate for Early Education Leadership. Her PhD will focus on the development of a play-based parenting intervention that helps young children to develop key higher cognitive capacities (executive functions) – partly with a view to addressing gaps in early childhood programming in Brazil and elsewhere.

Julia is a graduate of the University of Vienna and has worked with refugees, teaching German as a second language. She is interested in the many different forms that accessibility barriers in education can take and the ways in which what appear to be the characteristics of individual learners – such as motivation – can sometimes be symptoms of much wider, systemic accessibility issues. Her research will focus on understanding how male refugees perceive their own identities and the relationship between this and their motivation to learn languages, with a view to making second language education more accessible and inclusive.

Stephen Toope, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “The Gates Cambridge Scholars are an outstanding group of people. They have not only demonstrated exceptional academic abilities in their fields, but have also shown a real commitment to engaging with the world – and to changing it for the better. They truly embody the values our University cherishes – excellence, a global outlook, and an aspiration to contribute to society; values that are needed more than ever at this terrible time.”

Professor Barry Everitt, Provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust, said: “The Scholars-elect fully meet the aspiration of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s generous and historic gift to the University of Cambridge. This year’s selection process has taken place against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, which more than ever shows the vital need to bring together from around the world the most brilliant minds from the most diverse backgrounds to work on global challenges.

“This year’s cohort, like its predecessors, is an impressive group of individuals who have already made their mark in their academic studies and demonstrated strong leadership qualities. We are particularly delighted that we were able to offer awards to a large number of PhD scholars. We are certain that our 2020 Gates Cambridge cohort will flourish in the vibrant, international community at Cambridge and go on to make a significant impact in their fields and the wider global community.”

Further information about the scholarships programme is available here. More information about Graduate study at the Faculty can be found here.

Back to top

Rethinking education in the time of COVID-19: What can we contribute as researchers?

Wednesday 8 April
This blog post was written by Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the REAL Centre in the Faculty of Education, for the Education and Development Forum (UKFIET). It is the first in a series of posts reflecting on the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on research work on international education and development.

As the Director of a multi-connected and vibrant university Centre, I have been struck over the past couple of weeks by how our staff, students and international partners have been forced to quickly adapt, as a result of the current global COVID-19 pandemic. While the most immediate direct and visible effects of the pandemic are inevitably on health systems, it also has short- and long-term effects on education systems that are vital to understand and respond to. As a research Centre, REAL focuses on understanding the nature of inequalities in education systems and look to evaluating approaches which can improve access and the quality of education for the most marginalised. Therefore, it will be essential for us to learn from this global crisis – which has the potential to further widen existing inequalities and affect the provision of education indefinitely.

Efforts to support the continuation of education during the crisis

No education system is untouched by the global education emergency. According to UNESCO data (as at 6 April 2020), 1.6 billion learners around the world are affected by school closures due to COVID-19 (91% of total enrolled learners), and 188 countries have closed down schools. In addition, a further, 258 million children were already out of school. I have been struck by how many organisations have swiftly developed resources to inform the global community on the immediate impacts of COVID-19 with respect to school closures, and to share materials aimed at keeping education going. Given that they are often criticised for being slow, and overly-bureaucratic, it’s great to see UNESCO’s leadership in bringing together resources on educational disruption and response., as well as solutions and tools for distance learning. UNESCO’s International Institute of Education Planning (IIEP) is keeping a record of national education plans.

The Center for Global Development is providing an informative ongoing assessment and analysis of what countries across the world are doing in response to the crisis, with data made publicly available to researchers looking at specific country level.

It is also notable to see examples of some governments responding rapidly to trying to keep education going when schools have closed. These include the adoption of relevant technologies where there is limited internet connectivity. For example, Ministries of Education in Liberia and Kenya are rolling out radio programmes for distance learning. The DFID-funded EdTech Hub – a collaborative partnership seeking to address gaps in our understanding of how technology can be used in global learning – is developing a curated database of response efforts that will be shortly released through the Hub’s COVID-19 Response page.

Schools are not only a place of learning but also provide other forms of support to children. Recognising the potential impact that stopping school feeding could have on the vulnerable, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development in Nigeria has announced that the school feeding programme will keep going.

Need for more evidence of lessons learned

While this is by no means the first crisis or pandemic that has had a serious effect on education systems, there is a woeful lack of evidence on how these systems cope, including lessons for how they need to adapt when schools re-open. Sadly it also won’t be the last crisis. It will therefore be important to monitor the effects of government programmes to learn lessons for other contexts, and for the future. This monitoring needs to pay attention in particular to the implications for current and future inequalities.

To give a couple of examples of areas where evidence is needed: first, what are the implications of school closures where parents have not themselves been to school? Here in the UK, we are hearing the challenges that schooling children at home is bringing to parents, where juggling work and schooling proves demanding. Teachers are now being appreciated more than ever! But what about in contexts where parents have lower levels of literacy, and also have more limited access to technology and internet connectivity? In Ethiopia, thanks to a wave of government education investment and reforms, primary school enrolment has more than doubled since 2000. As a result, many children are ‘first-generation learners’, that is children whose parents never went to school. Drawing on Young Lives data, our analysis shows that these children are already amongst those least likely to be learning. The ability of their parents to support education is likely to be severely constrained, even more given they are also amongst the poorest and so least likely to have access to any form of technology or other potential sources of learning.

Second, how can the potential negative effects on marginalised girls be mitigated? A 2019 paper from the World Bank Group, The Economic Lives of Young Women in the Time of Ebola: Lessons from an Empowerment Program, showed how the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone had a wide range of negative impacts for adolescent girls with implications for increased teenage pregnancy, resulting in fewer girls returning to school after the crisis. Schools were closed in the country for an entire academic year in 2014-15. Clubs where young girls could participate in life skills training, assisted with dampening the impacts of the crisis: helping younger girls to stay in school while working, and avoiding the increased likelihood of them becoming pregnant. This important paper is now being widely cited in the context of the current pandemic but appears to be a rare example of such evidence.

What can we contribute as researchers?

As researchers working on education, we have been considering what we at the REAL Centre can contribute at the current time. There are so many immediate priorities, and clearly key amongst them are ones related to ensuring the poorest countries have the necessary health personnel, sufficient ventilators, and so on. Working at home on our own can give a feeling of helplessness amongst the enormity of such challenges over which I at least feel I have limited expertise to offer.

In discussion with our partners in different countries, such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Pakistan, we realise that there are things that we as education researchers can do now. Notably, it is important to gather evidence to ensure that policy actors are informed with respect to the ongoing implications of COVID-19 for education given these will continue for the foreseeable future, as well as to inform planning when another pandemic sadly inevitably comes around.

A number of our research projects were midway through quantitative data collection, such as for the World Bank-funded Early Learning Partnership programme in Ethiopia, and the Mastercard Foundation-funded Leaders in Teaching initiative in Rwanda. In both cases, data had been collected at the beginning of the school year, with the intention of a second round of data collection at the end of the school year in order to identify the added value of learning from being in school for children from different backgrounds. With school closures, such data collection is clearly not possible. Even if schools do open again within this school year, the type of analysis that was envisaged is not likely to be relevant.

In both cases, funders and partners have been keen to show flexibility in adapting to the new reality. Rather than seeing a hindrance to our plans, we have worked together to identify how we can collect data in real time that could be informative for the governments in these countries. In Ethiopia, for example, together with colleagues at Addis Ababa University and the Ethiopian Policy Studies Institute, we are considering the use of phone surveys to see how information is flowing through the system such that school principals have information they need and can act upon, and whether information is also flowing back upwards. In Rwanda, with Laterite, we are planning to use phone surveys with teachers to help identify the challenges they are facing in the context of school closures, and whether education in any form has been possible to continue. The intention in both cases is to gather data that will hopefully help inform policy actors as schools start to re-open, recognising that there might well be a stop-go-stop process in the coming months and even years.

As with others, we are trying to adapt quickly to the current realities, while also learning as we are doing so. We need to learn from previous experience of research of education in emergency situations, for example. This includes how local solutions for adapting education has been possible, for example, where technology isn’t necessarily available or the answer. Importantly also, we need to place at the forefront consideration of ethical issues of whether and how to undertake research in the current circumstances. Where data collection is continuing, we are learning how to adapt our research methods from ones where data are being collected on the ground to remote data collection.

Through this blog series, we will aim to share the voices from our research partners and students across different countries. We would welcome your thoughts and insights from your experience and hope to open up a wider discussion on how researchers working on education can contribute to an evidence base that will be of relevance to policy actors now and in the future.

Back to top

Free-to-access study opens up insights into coding classroom dialogue

Classroom dialogue
Friday 3 April

A detailed analysis of different approaches to ‘coding’ classroom talk – which includes two tools that education professionals can use or adapt for this purpose – is being made freely available online for the next few weeks.

The paper, which is free to access and download until April 28 from the journal, Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, was written by researchers from the Cambridge Educational Dialogue Research Group (CEDiR), in the Faculty of Education.

Alongside in-depth practical guidance about the many issues that need to be considered when coding classroom dialogue, it shares two open-source tools developed by the group. These can be used by any researcher or education professional to code dialogue, and through this study classroom interactions and student participation.

Interactions that support dialogue in the classroom – such as asking open questions, or encouraging shared reasoning and thinking – have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ learning. To improve our understanding of how best to apply such approaches, researchers record and then analyse interactions, which inevitably involves categorising, or ‘coding’ sections of dialogue.

The challenges of doing this effectively are, however, seldom discussed. “Published reports rarely report on the trials and tribulations involved,” the authors of the new paper point out – adding that readers could be forgiven for assuming that it is reasonably straightforward. In fact, coding dialogue is a complex process. To support anyone undertaking such a task, the paper covers various approaches and their respective pros and cons, while stressing that there is no one-size-fits-all ‘recipe’.

It highlights a number of issues to bear in mind. For example, any coding system will have limits of scope (what it can and cannot measure). The granularity of systems also varies: while many researchers prefer detailed, micro-level coding that focuses on snippets of dialogue, a wider purview will consider the often-critical context and trajectory of a classroom discussion. Any system also needs to be tested thoroughly to make it as reliable as possible – not least because classifications of dialogue are often vulnerable to being inferred, or over-interpreted.

The paper offers insights from two related systems, both developed by CEDiR researchers. The Scheme for Educational Dialogue Analysis (SEDA) was created by the paper’s lead author, Dr Sara Hennessy, and a large team of researchers in Cambridge and Mexico with British Academy funding. Among other things it strikes a balance in granularity by combining 33 coding categories for micro-analysis in partnership with a set of more general descriptors.

Importantly, SEDA has not just been used in its ‘out of the box’ form, but adapted by researchers internationally for various different analyses of classroom dialogue. It recently provided a basis for the development of the Cambridge Dialogue Analysis Scheme (CDAS), through which researchers (Howe, Hennessy, Mercer, Vrikki & Wheatley, funded by ESRC) analysed 9,000 minutes of video-recorded lessons in 48 state-funded British primary schools, to study the relationship between different dialogic approaches and student outcomes in standardised tests.

The paper shows how these tools were developed, tested, and used. In the case of CDAS, it also explores how it adapted parts of the SEDA system. For example, coding techniques originally developed within SEDA for micro-level analysis were employed at a broader level in the CDAS rating scales to capture the context and ‘classroom ethos’ in which dialogic exchanges were taking place. The multi-level coding approach has enabled some significant research insights.

The article therefore demonstrates how building on existing tools “allows researchers to shortcut the initial development process and consider how best to modify them to address new needs arising in new contexts.” As new technology continues to open up exciting possibilities in the analysis of classroom dialogue, such techniques are likely to prove increasingly important. As the authors add: “The time is ripe for researchers, practitioners and professional development leaders to explore creative and complementary new approaches for analysing and developing dialogue in classrooms, both micro-level coding and other approaches.”


Sara Hennessy et al. ‘Coding classroom dialogue: Methodological considerations for researchers.’ Learning, Culture and Social Interaction (Vol. 25, June 2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.lcsi.2020.100404

Back to top

Cambridge student wins BERA Masters Award for second year running

Thu Thu
Thursday 26 March
“The Masters programme really shaped me as a researcher”

For the second year running, a student from the Faculty of Education has won the British Educational Research Association’s Masters Dissertation Award, which recognises academic excellence and rigour in research by a Master’s student.

The 2020 award was given to Thu Thu, who is 22 and studied for her MPhil on the Education, Globalisation and International Development ‘track’. She follows in the footsteps of Joyce Kim, who won the same award in 2019.

Thu was born and raised in Yangon, Myanmar. Here, she tells us a little bit more about her research – and what she hopes to do next.

Since 2011, the civilian government in Myanmar has brought in a wave of reforms. The primary aim is to modernise the country and make it competitive. Education plays a big part in this because the Government has stressed the importance of investing in human capital. I’m interested in the rationale behind these reforms, and their impact.

My research pushes for a new theoretical approach when it comes to the relationship between Government policy and education. Typically, when we look at these things we are interested either in the institutional structures and networks that enable the process of governing (the ‘governance perspective’), or the ideology behind certain policy agendas. But the way that we rationalise policy is important, too, because the work of governing is increasingly about inciting us, as individuals, to take on certain desires or anxieties, and to change the way we do things (the ‘governmentality perspective’). My argument here is that combining the governance and governmentality approaches allows for a far more nuanced understanding of the various ways in which the mechanisms of the state influence individual conduct, and vice versa.

One of the big changes we are seeing in Myanmar is the privatisation of education. That’s really interesting because if you look at their reform policies, they don’t mention a privatisation agenda. I think it’s a hidden privatisation and I have explored some reasons for why that might be the case. There has been a massive increase in the number of private schools. Suddenly, this has created an education market that enables students – or their parents – to invest in their education.

This is being presented as necessary, but it also creates competition and inequality. For my research, I consulted a large number of the relevant policy documents and interviewed some of the key players. It was really interesting to see how they rationalised it: all of them saw this as essential to helping Myanmar to modernise and move its citizens towards a better future. But privatisation also creates a competitive mindset: private school students get an advantage because they have access to better resources, and more social capital, perhaps, than those who just go to the local school. This, of course, has a lot of implications for social justice within the education system. 

I think people should see this bigger picture when considering these reforms. I want to do more research before drawing conclusions about whether the changes are for better or worse. Myanmar’s education reforms are ongoing and contested, and they are constantly developing in response to various political and economic influences. My work captures the processes of governing involved in the reforms at a particular stage within that development. And my hope is that this encourages readers to consider the rationalities, programmes and technologies of governing that seep into our lives and, consequently, to reflect on what is really going on and the possibility of thinking otherwise.

I’m now pursuing some of these issues in my PhD.  I’m exploring the emergence of new private schools and their efforts to internationalise with (and through) edu-businesses in the global North. Again, I’m interested in understanding the ways in which education in Myanmar is implicated within neoliberalism; taken not only as an economic, political and ideological project but also a governmental project aimed at constituting ‘ideal’ subjects. 

Winning this award made me feel that I’m making a valuable contribution. There is so much research in these areas, and what I’m doing feels like a drop in the ocean. I’m very thankful for this recognition, and delighted that someone considers it useful!

The Faculty’s Masters programme really shaped me as a researcher. I had a fantastic supervisor: Dr Liz Maber. The way she critiqued my work was really valuable, but so was her general advice and personal support. Beyond that, every lecture, seminar, even conversations during coffee breaks, changed the way I saw things and made me the researcher I am. I’m really thankful to the Faculty and to my College, Homerton, for everything that they have given me.

Back to top

Our buildings are closed - but the Faculty is open!

Faculty of Education
Friday 20 March
The Faculty of Education's buildings will be closed from 5.00pm on Friday, 20 March, 2020, as part of wider measures implemented by the University in the context of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Fortunately, the Faculty will still be very much open! From this date, we will be doing as much of our work as we can remotely.

If you are interested in finding out more about our courses or our research, please take a look at our website and do get in touch.

Current staff and students should check their email regularly for updates. The latest information about University-wide arrangements is available at:

Please do follow the latest public health guidance. We look forward to seeing and talking to you all soon!

Back to top

New title explores different approaches to researching educational dialogue

Research Methods for Educational Dialogue
Thursday 19 March
A new book which analyses various approaches to studying ‘educational dialogue’ has been published.

Research Methods for Educational Dialogue was co-authored by Ruth Kershner, Sara Hennessy, Rupert Wegerif and Ayesha Ahmed, all of whom are members of the Cambridge Educational Dialogue Research Group (CEDiR) in the Faculty of Education.

It aims to fill a gap in the existing literature by providing accounts of different research methods that can be used to study talk and dialogue between students, between students and teachers, and between professional colleagues, sometimes mediated by microblogging and use of video. Many research examples are included, with critical discussion of a wide variety of research methods in different face-to-face and online educational contexts. 

Alongside contributions from Faculty members, there are numerous other expert contributions from international researchers, who comment on the chapters and expand the methodological discussion with reference to their own research.

As the book’s introduction explains, the Russian philosopher Bakhtin, who inspired much of this research, suggested that: ‘if an answer does not give rise to a new question from itself, it falls out of the dialogue’. In keeping with this principle, educational dialogue is about how people can engage in conversations that allow speakers and listeners to explore, question, and build on, each other’s ideas. This leads to the creation of new ways of understanding the world as well as deepening social relationships.

In the broadest sense, educational dialogue is about how we can all be more open to learning, and develop new insights by allowing different perspectives to converge. The Faculty has a long history of world-leading research in this area and CEDiR exists both to develop this further and to work with international partners to extend the influence of this research on theory, policy and practice.

In addition to student-teacher dialogue in classrooms, many of the ideas in the book can be applied, for example, to the study of dialogue between parents and children, or between education professionals. And as the range of topics implies, dialogue is also not always verbal: interactive technologies have transformed the ways in which individuals collaborate and problem-solve in multimodal communication.

Research Methods for Educational Dialogue is part of a wider series on research methods (Bloomsbury Research Methods for Education, series editor Melanie Nind), It is aimed at researchers, at any level, with an interest in this subject. Among other topics, it includes chapters on dialogue in the classroom, technology-mediated dialogue, online dialogues, and dialogue in educational decision-making. 

“This book makes a distinctive contribution to the growing body of work on educational dialogue by focusing on research methodology in both theoretical and practical terms,” Ruth Kershner said. “There are many examples throughout of our own and other people’s research, expanded by chapter commentaries from a team of experts. We are making a case for developing a repertoire of research methods that are dialogic in themselves, and the book is built firmly on theoretical foundations.”

Research Methods for Educational Dialogue is published by Bloomsbury and available now.

Back to top

“As a BAME trainee teacher, I worried about fitting in. I’m glad I didn’t let my fears hold me back”

Tahmena Miah
Friday 13 March
For many people, applying to study for a PGCE at Cambridge can feel like a daunting proposition, and so can the experience of starting your course! Tahmena Miah, a current student at the Faculty, was no different. In a candid blog post, she discusses the nervousness she felt when she first arrived in Cambridge – and why she is glad that she took the leap.

Tahmena, 21, is originally from East London, and is training for a Secondary PGCE to teach English. She wrote about her experiences for a recent post to the PGCE English blog.

As a BAME student, she arrived in a state of nervous excitement, worried in particular about whether she was ‘here for the right reasons’.

“When I first got accepted onto the course, I did have people question if I had got into Cambridge to ‘tick the diversity box’,” she recalls. “I know that there are many others who are afraid to apply, because they are afraid that Cambridge is not for them.”

She soon discovered that her ‘imposter syndrome’ is something that all sorts of people at Cambridge go through. But from the very beginning, her lecturers made it clear to Tahmena and her fellow students that the only reason they had been accepted was ‘because we were going to make great English teachers’. “I can’t explain how much I needed to hear that, and I imagine it was what a lot of us needed at the time,” Tahmena writes.

She describes her PGCE group as a ‘family’, in which diversity is a strength, because people of different cultural, religious and racial backgrounds can bring a variety of perspectives to the classroom and the subject. Similarly, Tahmena is learning to encourage her own students to see the classroom as ‘a safe space’, where people can speak openly about their backgrounds.

The course is, she says, ‘probably the most difficult thing I have done in my life’ – but deeply rewarding. Tahmena adds: “Every day I am thankful for those who pushed me to apply for Cambridge and told me that I am good enough – because Cambridge is for everyone.”

You can read the full blog here. And if you are interested in finding out more about studying for a PGCE at the Faculty of Education, or on any of our other courses, please visit our 'Study With Us' pages.

Back to top

Cambridge creates new Professorship in education and mental health

Gordon Harold
Thursday 12 March
The University of Cambridge is creating a new Professorship in education and mental health, to further strengthen a growing research programme aimed at improving the wellbeing, and associated life chances, of children and young adults.

The post was announced by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, as he opened the Yidan Prize Conference: Europe, a major, international gathering of leading education researchers. The university, he said, had a ‘critical’ role to play in addressing the challenges of mental health.

The Yidan Prize Conference Series is linked to the Yidan Prize, the largest international prize in education, which is made annually to two outstanding individuals responsible for transformational changes in education research and development. The European conference is hosted by the Intellectual Forum at Jesus College, Cambridge. 

One of the Yidan Laureates honoured this year was Usha Goswami, Professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience at the University, and a Fellow of St John’s College. She received the award for her work deepening understanding of children’s early language acquisition, which has created a basis for new, effective interventions for dyslexia.

The conference more broadly aims to profile world-leading research that demonstrates how education can address major global challenges, and this year focused on wellbeing and education as one of its main themes: examining how schools, teachers and the education system in general can support children with mental health problems. 

Opening the event, Professor Toope announced that the University will be creating a new role – Professor of the Psychology of Education and Mental Health – which will be based in its Faculty of Education. The first post-holder will be Professor Gordon Harold, currently at the University of Sussex, who has led several, field-changing studies into the relationship between domestic adversity and young people’s mental health, enabling schools and teachers to do more to support pupils with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.

He will join a wider research network on wellbeing and inclusion within the Faculty of Education which is aiming to develop practical interventions and guidance for education professionals by addressing key, unanswered questions: such as how young people’s social relationships affect their learning, and how pupils and teachers can be better supported to cope with the various pressures of the education system.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that mental health, as well as a scientific challenge, is also one of social science and education,” Professor Toope said.

He added: “This goes beyond developing interventions for depression, anxiety, or other disorders. The promotion of positive mental health goes hand-in-hand with the task of helping future generations to enjoy greater opportunities and to become everything they can possibly be.”

Although many countries treat mental health as a matter primarily for health and social care services, education researchers and professionals have long highlighted its relevance for education. 

That relationship was highlighted again in February, in Sir Michael Marmot’s ’10 Years On’ review, which directly links poor physical and mental health in deprived parts of England to a pattern of social inequality that includes cuts to education funding and children’s services. His findings echo recent NHS research into children’s mental health, which suggests that 12.8% of five to 19-year-olds experience at least one mental disorder, and that these are more common among those from low-income backgrounds.

Professor Harold’s work has demonstrated the significant impact that adversity early in life – such as conflict between parents – has on depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders, and, through this, young people’s attainment at school.

He also led years of research that successfully challenged a thesis, popular among some education policy-makers, that young people’s academic attainment and behavioural development are principally governed by genetics. Professor Harold’s research has contested this assertion by studying the progress of children with biologically unrelated parents, such as IVF babies or those adopted at birth. This research has reinforced the significance of a child’s upbringing and environment for their mental health and development and how these experiences interact with and shape their genetic make-up.

He is now leading the national ‘enurture’ network, a UKRI funded initative, which aims to provide effective advice to parents, teachers and policy makers about how emerging digital tools and social media can be used to influence their mental health positively, rather than hinder it.

“One of the most exciting things about coming to Cambridge is that there is so much globally impactful work on education and wellbeing already being done here, offering a unique opportunity to complement and enhance the focus on families, schools and mental health that my research and impact activities represent,” Professor Harold said. 

“There are still big questions that we need to answer to help promote positive child and adolescent development, both from a scientific and a social perspective. By drawing on all of these different areas of research we can start to equip parents, teachers, practitioners, and policy-makers with the evidence, support and resources they need to promote positive mental health among young people today – and the adults of tomorrow.”

This year’s Yidan conference also honoured the work of the 2019 Laureate, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, who died in January this year. Sir Fazle was the Founder and Chair of BRAC, one of the world’s largest non-profit development organisations, which has set up hundreds of early childhood development centres, where close to 40,000 children are presently enrolled.

Dr Charles Chen Yidan, the founder of the Prize, said: “The 2019 Laureates represent two very different approaches to ensuring that our children go on to lead happy, productive lives, but they also intersect. Both point to the need to achieve a better, deeper understanding of children’s needs. Through their work, we now see promising ways to help millions of lives around the world.”

Further information about the Prize is available from the Yidan Foundation website

Back to top

Allocation system is source of socio-economic divide in schools access

School entrance sign
Thursday 27 February
A system that favours wealthy families because they can afford properties closer to higher-achieving schools is helping to fuel a socio-economic divide in schools access across England, a study has found.

The report, School Places: A Fair Choice? has been published by The Sutton Trust as part of a wider analysis of the social make-up of state schools. It was co-authored by Professor Anna Vignoles, Professor of Education in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, alongside lead author, Professor Simon Burgess, and Ellen Greaves, both from the University of Bristol.

The study illustrates what the authors describe as ‘high levels of socio-economic segregation across schools’, caused, in particular, by flaws in the current allocation system. Among various possible solutions, they raise the possibility of schools reserving a proportion of their places to be allocated by ballot.

England operates a system of school choice, in which parents submit an ordered list of preferences, and places are then allocated. While there are enough places overall, the system means that some schools are oversubscribed, and decisions have to be made over final allocation.

For 15 years, the Sutton Trust has analysed the social make-up of the top-performing comprehensives. Last year, the Trust’s research found that the highest-performing schools accept around half the rate of disadvantaged pupils as the national average. 

To inform its work for 2020, the Trust has published School Places: A Fair Choice? The report provides new evidence showing that more children from disadvantaged families attend schools where a much lower proportion of pupils achieve the benchmark of at least five A* to C grades at GCSE. This points to a socio-economic divide, suggesting that students’ chances of attending a better school are in many cases determined by their family income. 

The researchers also find that a large proportion of parents across the socio-economic spectrum are using England’s school choice system to attempt to secure a preferred school for their child. They find that 65% of parents make more than one choice, and 27% make the maximum choices allowed (usually 3 or 6). Families on free school meals make, on average, just as many choices about school quality as wealthier families, and appear to be applying roughly the same logic in their decision-making.

This implies that rather than parents’ choices, the school allocation system is responsible for the socio-economic gap. When children are allocated to over-subscribed schools, the criteria used to choose between children tend to emphasise proximity to the school. This system favours wealthier families, because whoever can afford to rent or buy closest to the highest-achieving schools tends to ‘win’ under that system.

The study also examines the benefits and disadvantages of a number of proposals for reforming the system, including:

Ballots, where schools reserve a proportion of their places to be allocated by ballot.

Priority for disadvantaged families, where schools admit pupils based on their eligibility for free school meals.

Banding, where schools admit equal numbers of pupils from each attainment band.

Simplifying faith school admissions, tackling socio-economic gaps at faith schools by working with the various faith communities to assess barriers to entry and develop more straightforward criteria for parents.

“It’s clear that disadvantaged children are less likely to end up in a high-performing school,” Professor Burgess said. “Our research has shown that rich and poor use the school choice system in the same way. The problem is that the core element of our school admissions system, allocating places by proximity to the school, favours the wealthy. Better-off parents can essentially buy access to high-performing popular schools through where they can choose to live.”

“In this report, we review different options for reform, and believe that the use of marginal ballots offers a promising way forward.”

Back to top

Global coalition needed to transform girls’ education - report

Image: UNICEF/UNI175116/Vishwanathan
Tuesday 25 February
A ‘global coalition of parliamentarians’ needs to be set up to meet the urgent international challenge of delivering a quality education to millions of girls who are currently being denied access to any at all, a new report says.

The study, written by academics in the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, and commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, urges politicians to collaborate ‘across geographical and political divides’, in a concerted drive to ensure that all girls gain access to education by an internationally-agreed target date of 2030.

According to data gathered by UNESCO, an estimated 130 million girls are currently out of school. Over half of all school-age girls do not achieve a minimum standard in reading and mathematics, even if they do receive an education.

The call for collective, inter-governmental approaches to address this is one of seven recommendations in the report, which together aim to provide a framework for ‘transformative political action’. 

Among others, the authors also stress that marginalised girls will only be able to access education if governments adopt a ‘whole-system’ approach to the problem. That means addressing wider societal issues that currently limit women’s life chances beyond education – such as gender-based violence, discrimination, or social norms that force young girls into early marriage and childbearing.

The full report, Transformative political leadership to promote 12 years of quality education for girls, is being published on 25 February, 2020, by the Platform for Girls’ Education. It is being launched in Geneva, as ministers convene for the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council.

Co-author, Pauline Rose, Director of the University’s REAL Centre said: “Everyone – or almost everyone – agrees that improving girls’ access to quality education is important, but progress has been limited. The report aims to provide a framework so that governments and those in power can turn goodwill into action.”

“More than anything, we need to look beyond what individuals, or single Governments can do, because we will only address this challenge successfully through bipartisan coalitions and collective approaches.”

The need to improve girls’ access to education is recognised in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, set in 2015. These include commitments to provide inclusive and quality education to all, and to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, by the year 2030.

With the clock ticking on that deadline, initiatives such as the Platform for Girls’ Education have been launched to lobby for quality education for girls. The Platform is part of the international ‘Leave No Girl Behind’ campaign, which calls for all girls to receive 12 years of quality education – an ambition restated by the present British Government in the December 2019 Queen’s speech.

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, however, the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), which provided feedback on the study, observes that: “Political momentum is not being sufficiently translated into reforms that will put us on track to achieve our Global Goals by 2030. The world is failing to deliver on its promise of quality education, and girls remain the most marginalised.”

Building on earlier studies, the new report identifies seven ways in which governments can take concrete, sustainable and effective action to resolve this.

It was based on a global review of current efforts, with a focus on low and lower-middle income countries. The researchers also carried out interviews with 11 current and former political leaders involved in championing girls’ education.

Its seven main recommendations are:

1.Heads of government, ministers and MPs must use their platform to demonstrate commitment to the development of policies supporting the aim of 12 years of quality education for all girls. Senior civil servants should be equipped to ensure that this continues across election cycles.

2.Women leaders should be represented at every level of government to improve gender-balance in decision-making and to act as role models.

3.A global coalition of parliamentarians should be established to advocate for girls’ education, working across political divides.

4.Senior civil servants should invest in and use data on education that separates out information on gender and other sources of disadvantage, so that this evidence can inform policy-making.

5.Political leaders must collaborate with key stakeholders in gender equality and education issues – such as women’s and youth organisations, civil society organisations, and religious leaders.

6.Government ministers and civil servants should take whole-system approaches to embedding gender equality in national plans and policies, given the multiple barriers to girls’ education.

7.Governments should implement gender-responsive budgeting, that ensure sufficient domestic resources are applied to girls’ education.

“Successful reform rarely depends on individuals acting alone,” the authors add. “It relies on alliances, collective action and advocacy. Networks and coalitions are vital to tackle issues that are beyond the capacity of individuals to resolve, as well as to provide a stronger, collective voice.”

The full report is available here.

Back to top

Faculty members appointed to Government advice panel

(Left) Riikka Hofmann and (right) Sonia Ilie
Thursday 20 February
Two members of the Faculty of Education have been appointed to the Government's What Works Trial Advice Panel (TAP) to improve the quality and quantity of impact evaluation across central government.

Dr Riikka Hofmann and Dr Sonia Ilie will both be part of the panel, which comprises around 50 experts from outside government (mostly academics) and the Civil Service.

The panel provides free advice to policy teams and analysts, helping them to design robust evaluations to test potential new policies, or changes to policy. TAP also provides training to civil servants on the benefits and technicalities of impact evaluations.

Since its launch in 2015, the panel has advised on 72 projects across 24 departments and public bodies, spanning policy areas including energy, adult social care, housing and family service. The members are all appointed for two years, starting from 20 February 2020.

Riikka is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education, where she leads the Research Strand, 'Dialogue, Professional Change and Leadership' in the Faculty's Cambridge Educational Dialogue Research Group (CEDiR). Her research focuses on leadership and professional change in educational and medical settings.

She was selected as an expert member of the panel in at its inauguration in 2015 and has been selected to continue serving. Riikka has previously contributed to a blog post about her experiences on the panel.  

"Using academics to advise on policy trial design in such a centralised systematic fashion is very innovative," she said. "As academics, we often question how much our work matters, so having an impact on policy and professional learning in the Civil Service is really rewarding. It's shown me that education research has wide benefits, and given me a valuable insight into how policy-making works, as well as new relationships."

Sonia, who is joining the Panel for the first time, is a senior research fellow at the Faculty of Education and research leader at RAND Europe, an independent not-for-profit research organisation. She researches educational inequality and runs large-sale experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations of programmes tackling the socio-economic attainment gap in schools, and inequitable access and outcomes in higher education.

You can read more about the full panel here

More information and examples of TAP's work are available in its three year update report.

Back to top

Knowledge, Power and Politics in Education

Old world globes
Monday 9 December

Following a successful launch at the Faculty’s post-graduate open day, applications are currently being received for the Faculty’s new full-time MPhil route in Knowledge, Power and Politics in Education.

The course presents an exciting new offering in the Faculty MPhil programme, drawing on an interdisciplinary approach to examine the dynamics shaping knowledge formation in formal, non-formal and informal education settings around the globe – from governmental structures to social movements.

Coordinated by Dr Liz Maber, the course draws on the research and expertise of colleagues across the faculty including Dr Hilary Cremin, Dr Jo-Anne Dillabough, Dr Eva Hartmann, and Prof Susan Robertson to explore fundamental questions relating to:

  • the roles of education in societies;

  • transnational debates about the nature of knowledge formation and its circulation;

  • and the consequences for social justice. 

Drawing on varied theoretical perspectives and empirical approaches, the course engages with different understandings of the education/knowledge/power nexus, its implications for societies and the interactions with major global issues including social and spatial mobility, urbanisation, sustainability, and conflict.As underlined by Prof Susan Robertson, Head of Faculty, and Professor of Sociology of Education;

Knowledge, Power, Politics has to be at the top of your list – as a course which engages in cutting edge conversations about education in ways that matter

Find further information on our MPhil Kowledge, Power and Politics in Education and how to apply for the course.

Share this story

Back to top

A Jar of Teddies - Live webinar introduces learners to mathematical problem solving

green jelly teddies stand around a red jelly teddy
Monday 18 November
NRICH is an innovative collaboration between the Faculty of Mathematics and Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, part of the University’s Millennium Mathematics Project. We are hugely proud of NRICH, its a brilliant example of cross-faculty partnership that benefits both faculties and ultimately the young learners of mathematics in the education system of today and tomorrow. 

Live webinar (Unofficially) breaks world record

No surprise then that last week the NRICH led team set themselves the hugely ambitious target of a live webinar that reached almost 200 schools and 15,000 KS2 and KS3 learners - unofficially smashing the world record for a live webinar of its kind (currently 4076 students over multiple locations).

A Jar of Teddies

Following the success of similar webinars in December 2018 and June 2019, NRICH hosted another event on 13 November 2019 as part of Maths Week England.  The team introduced problems, including this example of 'A Jar of Teddies' and invited students to work on them for between 5 and 10 minutes. During this time, teachers commented online and asked questions on behalf of their class and shared any ideas that have arisen in their classroom.

Watch the webinar

Huge success

The event was a huge success with some extremely positive feedback on social media from participating schools including:

'Great morning for our mathematicians in Year 8 and 9 @WorleSchool. They got involved with @maths_week by joining students all over the country to problem solve in a live webinar ran by @nrichmaths. Fantastic work!'

@WorleSchool (Twitter)

'So much problem solving and collaborative discussion among our pupils.  Who would have thought estimating teddy bears could create such a buzz!'

@Meadow_Balsham (Twitter)

Official world record attempt 2020

The NRICH led team hope to recreate this buzz and officially break the world record with another event planned for 2020. Your school can get involved or find more information on the NRICH resource of rich mathematics.

@nrichmaths #nrichwebinar

Share this story

Back to top

Faculty partnership school wins Educational Innovation award

Nazarbayev International School in Kazakhstan
Monday 18 November
The 2019 Wenhui Award, Promoting University and School Partnerships in Advancing the Education 2030 Agenda, recognised successful university-school partnerships that have contributed to quality education and lifelong learning in preparing children and youth for life, work and global citizenship. 

We are delighted to announce that Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) in Kazakhstan, a partnership school from the Faculty of Education, Education Reform and Innovation (ERI) Network, were one of two winners of the Wenhui Award for Educational Innovation 2019.

The partnership between NIS and ERI at the Faculty of Education was first established in 2011 and has gone from strength to strength. Their programme at 19 schools across Kazakhstan was developed in partnership with the Faculty as well as with Cambridge International and Cambridge University Press. We have hosted many of their teachers and principals in the UK on school placements and also run many teacher development workshops offered through NIS’ Centre of Excellence.

NIS beat some seriously strong competition and won the Wenhui Award for their building of 'School-University Partnerships for Students Benefit'. Since their creation, NIS have partnered with national as well as international universities to support their graduates and recognise students’ achievements. Congratulations to Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools for their fantastic achievement and winning this award.

Find further information about the work of ERI in Kazakhstan.

Share this story

Back to top

PGCE 2019 off to flying start

Hot air balloons rise in to blue sky
Monday 4 November
Having battled through rigorous interviews over the last 12 months, yet another exceptional cohort has embarked upon the Secondary and Primary PGCE courses, comprising many of the very best new entrants to the teaching profession in this country.

They arrive alongside new course managers (Mark Winterbottom and Shawn Bullock) leading the secondary PGCE team. Jane Warwick and John-Mark Winstanley extend their fantastic leadership of the primary PGCE team into another year. And we’re also delighted to welcome Tabitha Millett (Art and Design – a former Cambridge PGCE student) and Daniel Moulin-Stozek (Religious Studies) to the secondary PGCE team while Kate Rigby has already made a valuable contribution to the primary team.

Since September, our trainees have been cutting their teeth in school, gradually building up their teaching in a personalised programme with their excellent school-based mentors. The level of commitment of those mentors was described by external examiners as ‘almost unique within PGCE courses nationally’.

On both primary and secondary courses, alongside and integral to their school development, Professional Studies is well underway, with trainees learning how to ‘Teach without Disruption’ from Roland Chaplain and getting stuck into behaviour for learning workshops.

And in subject studies on the secondary PGCE, our trainees have been thinking, and thinking hard, about teaching and learning in their subjects. From speed-dating workshops to a classroom crime scene, from inclusive design to engaging learners in Latin through video, and from whole class composing to preparing exhibitions of art work, our trainees have been very busy indeed. And that’s without even thinking about skateboards, lungs, and explosions in science, or the link between pie charts and trigonometry in maths!

On the PGCE Primary course, trainees have been getting to grips with understanding how children learn and the diversity of  the primary curriculum,  exploring the different teaching and learning approaches and practical ideas for each subject: making maps in geography, clay models in art, recreating the last supper in RE, designing pop-up books in DT, getting to grips with coding and programming in IT, launching rockets in science, teaching ball handling skills in PE, developing knowledge of children’s literature, reading comprehension and phonics in English. 

All that and inspirational speakers - Dame Alison Peacock, the CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, on ‘Why teaching is the best profession in the world’ and Morag Styles, the first Professor of Children’s Poetry for a poetry at teatime event.

So, with the first few weeks of the PGCE term complete, our trainees head into the second half of term, ready to work hard and think hard in Faculty and in school. We look forward to finding out what happens next!

Share this story

Back to top

Play Well - Hopscotch Project featured in new Wellcome exhibition

Data grid of numbers in coloured squares
Thursday 24 October
Play Well - a new exhibition from The Wellcome Collection opens on Thursday 24th October.  The exhibition features the work of Dr Jenny Gibson from the PEDAL Centre while working on the ESRC funded HOPSCOTCH (Hi-Tech Observation of Playground Social Communication Trajectories in Children) Project investigating children’s social interactions on the school playground using sensors that track position and movement. The research team on the project included Dr Jenny Gibson (Principle Investigator), Prof Stephen Hailes and Prof David Skuse (Co-Investigators) from University College London (UCL) and Dr Behzad Heravi (postdoctoral researcher).

The exhibition displays some of the hardware; 3D printed housing to make the sensors wearable, printed circuit board with accelerometer, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) antenna and a visualisation of the data.

Share this story

Back to top

Young women writers celebrated at BBC Awards

The shortlisted candidates for the BBC Young Writers' Award 2019
Thursday 24 October
October saw the collaboration between the BBC and University of Cambridge alongside charity organisation First Story for the Young Writers’ Award 2019 which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 Front Row and featured on BBC Radio 1 Life Hacks. Representing the University and Faculty of Education, Elizabeth Rawlinson-Mills, University Lecturer in English and Education and Subject Lecturer for PGCE Secondary English spent the day with the shortlisted young writers. We caught up with Elizabeth and asked about her involvement, what the Young Writers’ Awards mean to her and to the young people and their families.

The shortlisted writers for the Young Writers’ Award had a whole day at the BBC before the awards ceremony. During the morning, they spent some time in a studio, creating radio sound effects and working with an actor reading from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Elizabeth commented, "This was an apt text choice because, not for the first time – and like the adult award – the Young Writers’ Award had an all-female shortlist this year".
Later in the day, Dr Sarah Dillon from the Faculty of English and Elizabeth led a mini seminar. This gave the young writers an opportunity to talk through Woolf’s ideas about the conditions in which women’s writing can flourish, and to discuss the radical structure and style of Woolf’s prose. Elizabeth says, "Unsurprisingly, given the wonderful qualities of their own writing, the young people impressed both of us with their insight and sensitivity in this conversation".
Virginia Woolf was passionate about enabling access for women to education, as well as to the kinds of privileged spaces of protection from everyday household worries that enable creativity to flourish. Elizabeth reflects, "As a woman academic in the midst of the complex balancing act entailed by our commitments to research, teaching, homes and children, and aware of the gender pay gap in academia, it’s easy to feel acutely how far we are, as a society, from some aspects of Woolf’s idyllic visions. It was heartening to hear these young women’s conviction that their gender constitutes no limit on their voices and their writing".
Sarah and Elizabeth enjoyed a chance to talk more informally with the shortlisted young people and their families, about their writing, their future hopes and plans, and about university applications and admissions. "Several of them spoke warmly of the role of individual teachers in prompting them to pursue their ambition to write, to practise self-discipline in establishing effective writing habits, and to submit their work to competitions such as the BBC Young Writers' Award". As the Subject Lecturer on the Secondary English PGCE, Elizabeth spends a lot of time telling the Faculty’s PGCE students about their potential to influence people’s lives, she adds, "it was wonderful to have in front of me such inspiring examples of these positive teacher influences".

Elizabeth also speaks passionately about being a champion of young writers, the benefits of the competition and why it’s important for the University to support initiatives like the Young Writers' Award, "It’s vital that aspiring young writers have outlets for their creativity. The research is clear that an authentic audience – somebody outside a classroom – has an inspiring and galvanising effect on developing writers, at all levels. Their work becomes more than a school exercise intended to develop technical skills and is transformed instead into a chance for their voice to be heard, sending the message that what young people have to say is valuable to, and valued by, society. Competitions like the BBC Young Writers’ Award provide such opportunities for writers to share their work – and in the case of the shortlisted authors, whose stories are recorded by professional actors and distributed via BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 4 and the BBC website – with an extraordinarily wide audience. But they do more than this. By requiring young writers to comply with a particular set of rules – in this instance, the formal constraint of length – a competition like this challenges a writer to develop her or his craft. We know that creativity flourishes when it comes up against new tests and limits. The high standard of the writing in the BBC Young Writers’ Award is the result of talented and hard-working young people honing their craft in the encounter with a new set of formal requirements. That is why it is so important that the University supports such initiatives by working in partnership with the BBC, and alongside First Story, a charity dedicated to supporting the voices of young people growing up in disadvantaged communities around the UK". She adds, "I have no doubt we’ll be seeing the names of some of this years shortlisted writers again as they develop. It’s exciting to be involved in a competition which both celebrates and promotes this development".

Listen to all the shortlisted stories on BBC radio 4 Short Story podcast.

Elizabeth Rawlinson-Mills is the Subject Lecturer for PGCE Secondary English. Find out more about our PGCE courses and outstanding (Ofsted) teacher education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.

Share this story

Back to top

Bridging the gap between theory and practice in a complex world

Barry Rogers
Wednesday 2 October
The pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence is part of our core mission. Yet the application of ideas in a world increasingly defined by distraction is an increasing challenge. A recent industry award for a Cambridge doctoral student addressed this issue.

Faculty of Education EdD student Barry Rogers won a gold award for excellence at the 2019 Brandon Hall Group Human Capital Management [HCM] Awards for Excellence. The award, in the Best Results of a Learning Program category, was a joint submission with a leading European multinational company. It is based around Barry’s research on developing a visualisation tool for practicing post-program learning commitments in the workplace. The results were highly encouraging in terms of day-to-day impact and evaluation – a significant challenge for both theory and practice in the field. The learning program is part of the company’s ongoing strategy to redefine its relationship with wider society in an increasingly challenging and complex world.

On winning the award Barry said "I am delighted with this (award). It is a form of validation from industry peers who appreciate the nuance and messiness of putting knowledge to work in practice. It also comes at a time when the academic field surrounding the ‘transfer’ of knowledge is at a crossroads. Hopefully this research can contribute in some small way to moving that debate forward".

A Brandon Hall Excellence Award is fiercely competitive in the field of learning. It attracts entrants from leading corporations around the world, as well as mid-market and smaller firms.  This year submissions were received from 25 industries in over 30 countries. Now entering its 26th year, the Excellence Awards are the most prestigious awards program in the industry and are often referred to as the academy awards for their field.

The awards cover a range of categories including Learning and Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition, Workforce Management and HR, Sales Performance and Corporate Initiatives.

Elaine Wilson, University Senior Lecturer in Education and EdD Programme Manager at the Faculty of Education commented 'For me this award displays the potential of the EdD to extend Cambridge’s reach into diverse fields education and learning. It provided the necessary rigor and relevance to explore grounded, creative approaches to real-world problems that have day-to-day impact across a wide range of settings. It also plays to what we do best at Cambridge - providing a nurturing environment that facilitate rich interdisciplinary connections, something many institutions talk about but few can deliver on’.

Awards are evaluated by a panel of experienced, independent industry experts, analysts and executives based upon the following criteria: fit the need, design of the program, functionality, innovation and overall measurable benefits. See the winners in all categories

Excellence Awards winners will be recognised at Brandon Hall Group’s HCM Excellence Conference in the USA on February 4-6, 2020.

Find out more about the Faculty of Education EdD programme and read more about Barry Rogers.

Back to top