IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Transcript: Supporting inclusive education through knowledge exchange

Part of the Psyched about Education podcast series for IOE120.

00:00:02 Female voiceover 

You're listening to an IOE podcast. Powered by UCL Minds. 

00:00:12 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

Welcome to the podcast Psyched about Education. This series celebrates the academic excellence of the work carried out at the Department of Psychology and Human Development and the impact this work has on policy and practice. In other words, how can psychology make a difference? 

I'm Dr Jo Van Herwegen and my own research focus is on how we can improve educational outcomes for children with Special Educational Needs. I'm your host for today and I have the great pleasure to introduce the work at the Center for Inclusive Education. The center's mission is to develop and implement evidence-informed inclusive practice in education, and today I am joined by Gill Brackenbury, Director of the Center for Inclusive Education; Dr Amelia Roberts, Deputy Director of CIE and Vice-Dean for Enterprise [for IOE]; Elisabeth Herbert, programme leader for the MA SPLD, Dyslexia and MAISIE SPLD Route, as well as facilitator of the knowledge exchange programme, PALAC, that we'll be discussing later on; and, last but not least, Dr Rob Webster, lead on the knowledge exchange MITA programme.

In this podcast we will focus on why we use knowledge exchange frameworks to facilitate change in schools. So, Gill, I'm going to start with you and ask why are knowledge exchange school-university partnerships so important? 

00:01:37 Gill Brackenbury 

Thank you, Jo, for the question. So, within this context we are working to enable teacher capacity to engage in and with research to establish more evidence-informed practice in schools, as well as empowering teachers to support children with identified needs in areas where they particularly feel unprepared and lack the skill and confidence to address all the needs of children with Special Educational Needs and Disability. Understanding and then addressing the challenges of the research-to-practice gap demands that teachers, practitioners and policymakers all consider their role and contribution to this challenge. With this in mind, in 2013 we set up the UCL Centre for Inclusive Education, a model of school-university partnership, working together to investigate and develop knowledge, in particular, developing an increased understanding of aspects of inclusive pedagogy with both practice and research. 

Our process to achieve this goal is through our knowledge exchange framework, a two-way exchange of learning between researchers and professionals to share knowledge, formalized as co-constructed activities and outputs. Through stronger partnerships we aim to make a meaningful contribution to schools, MATs [multi-academy trusts], colleges and local authorities. Collaborations and partnerships with the wider community are founded on a recognition of these partners as producers of knowledge in their own right and not just recipients of university wisdom. This also speaks to what has been described as the third, or civic, mission of universities, apart from teaching and research, where the university is concerned with not just what it is good at but what it is good for.

So, to address your question, Jo, why knowledge exchange programmes are important: the programmes provide a forum for knowledge exchange between professionals and researchers. We facilitate a shared language based on a theory of change model to support a consensus from all involved, including school leaders, teachers, TAs [teaching assistants], parents and children to address the identified challenges in areas for development. Through the use of a bespoke audit for each knowledge exchange programme we work with schools and teams to identify and support areas for improvement at school level to embed change. Finally, the development work being undertaken by the schools results in a co-produced published case study to showcase each school project and to strengthen the evidence base. The longer the relationship between professionals and researchers, the more likely capacity is built in the organization to sustain and embed change. 

00:04:35 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

That partnership, the two-way street, is so important.  Amelia, can you explain a little bit more about what you've done about knowledge exchange, and what are your knowledge exchange programme models? 

00:04:51 Dr Amelia Roberts 

Yes, absolutely. Although we work in different areas, such as supporting looked after children or thinking about teaching assistants or thinking about spoken language or well-being, all of our models follow a very similar format. The format starts with published, peer-reviewed research. In some cases that's a body of research, such as the spoken language project, which is very much based on the Better Communication research, or the MITA project, which is based on Rob Webster’s and Peter Blatchford’s and other great colleagues’ work on teaching assistants. Our other programmes are based on a scoping literature review. For example, the well-being programme is based on a scoping literature review by Professor Jane Hurry and Dr Catherine Carol. So, we start with a really strong evidence base. From that evidence base we generate a set of domains which are, if you like, interlocking principles that enable a school or a setting to examine their practice against what we know to work and to be really effective within that context. Those domains then form an audit tool and the audit tool has sets of criteria within each domain to help schools and settings and local authorities make really informed decisions about where their strengths and weaknesses are and where they want to develop. With their facilitator, we turn this into an action plan and we help them to think about the data that they might need to collect in order to record their progress and evidence their impact. Also, it's worth saying, Jo, that the role of the facilitator is incredibly important. We act as a critical friend, we challenge, we help schools to come up with an action plan that's both meaningful and manageable. 

Then the two final components of our knowledge exchange framework, one of them is that we do work with schools to think about a theory of change. By this I mean a theory of organizational change. We help schools to think about, how are you going to sustain change within your setting? And that is all about sharing the vision, communicating it, celebrating short-term wins, making sure you've got a really good team of people around you. Then the final element is that we have a review day where schools showcase their trials, their tribulations, and their great practice. They talk about what they've done and we then publish them, as Gill said, in documents so that we end up with this wonderful bidirectionality. And that, of course, is true knowledge exchange: we start with the research, but then the practitioners add to that body of research for a much wider audience. 

00:07:47 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

That sounds so interesting. I would love to hear some examples of these case studies. Rob, can you start and give some examples from MITA? 

00:07:57 Dr Rob Webster 

Sure, thanks Jo. MITA stands for Maximizing the Impact of Teaching Assistants, and this was a programme that was set up in 2014 and it was a response to findings from two projects that we carried out in the department. The first was the large-scale Deployment and Impact of Support Staff [DISS] project, which found that the ineffective deployment and preparation of teaching assistants was related to poorer outcomes for pupils. It was the pupils who received the most support from teaching assistants, so, those who had Special Educational Needs were disproportionately affected by this arrangement, who fared less well than the kids who had a little or no support from the TAs. And the other project was the Effective Deployment of TAs project, which was a smaller action research project based on the DISS research, and that was aimed at uncovering and addressing what schools were doing and what they could do better in relation to TA reform and preparation. 

At the heart of the MITA approach is a way of rethinking the way schools use TAs in the classroom. Our take on this is that TAs are best deployed to support problem solving alongside the delivery of the curriculum by the teacher. So, TAs aren't teaching pupils; that’s left and teacher. What TAs are doing is adding value to the lesson by supporting people to become increasingly more independent and able to scaffold their own learning. We trained TAs to use an approach that's been developed by our colleague Dr Paula Bosanquet. And we estimate that we've trained several thousand TAs, now, with this method. Some of the TAs that we trained in schools took part in an independent evaluation of MITA funded by the Education Endowment Foundation. TAs in 20 schools received the training and we gave strategic support to the leadership team on making positive changes to TA deployment and practice, using the model that Amelia described in terms of implementing and embedding new approaches. A similar number of schools acted as a business-as-usual control condition. By the end of the trial the evaluators had found that the TAs in the treatment schools that had MITA had significantly improved their practice. The TAs were working more in line with this scaffolding approach. They weren’t spoon feeding children, which is what we saw in the DISS project, for example. And the pupils in the schools that got the MITA intervention improved in terms of their engagement, too. 

So what we saw in the trial was a very encouraging move away from the less effective practices that we know are related to poorer pupil outcomes to something that is more positive – there's more positive impact on pupil engagement and independence. Equally important, we found that MITA gives TAs a renewed sense of purpose and a professional identity around that purpose and practice. 

00:10:50 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

Teaching assistants are so important aren’t they, when they have a purpose in the classroom. Gill, coming back to you and your work with knowledge exchange programmes, can you tell us a little bit more about supporting spoken language in the classroom? 

00:11:07 Gill Brackenbury 

Thank you, Jo. Yes, we're very good with our acronyms, so we called it SSLiC. This was set up in 2017 and this was in response to the Better Communication research programme published in 2012, led by Professor Julie Dockrell, who works with us in PHD, and her colleagues. There is a huge body of research evidence showing that strong oral language and communication skills underpin children’s overall well-being and achievement. To further demonstrate the drivers of the importance of oral language, the 2019 Ofsted framework focuses on the importance of speech, language and communication needs. 

So, we set up the SSLiC knowledge exchange programme, which aims to foster a good language learning environment and so provide support for literacy, support for learning and ultimately promotes positive academic outcomes. By creating effective language learning school environments we can prepare children for the more challenging demands placed on oral language as they proceed through school and can reduce the number of children experiencing speech, language and communication needs. 

Currently, in 2021, SSLiC has learned lessons from our pilot and we've now undertaken further work in Cambridgeshire Primary Education Trust. One of the key messages was that we were successful with all our oral language projects because the schools were committed to their projects. They were committed as a whole trust to focusing on all language in their development programme for their five-year plans. 

So the five domains – Amelia talked earlier about our domains for each one of our knowledge exchange programmes – the five domains for oral language were language leadership, staff professional development and learning, communication, supporting classrooms, identifying and supporting speech language communication needs, and working with others.

I'm just going to give a couple of examples. One of these schools took the domain ‘working with others’ and they show the success of the TA training session in one school was expressed by their constructive feedback and collaborative interactions. The greatest impact observed was on the children’s learning, especially those children who were identified by the teaching assistants as of concern. The schools plan to continue the training activity again next year, not just for TAs, but to include teachers, because, as MITA has shown us, that collaboration between teachers and TAs is absolutely vital. Now the lead headteacher is going to use part of her leadership time to share and extend these activities across the whole trust. 

The other domain that was also looked out was working with parents. The school developed some new videos which they are now making available on the trust’s website to share with parents. Another school is now seeing evidence of higher levels of confidence amongst parents and carers in how to support their child’s language learning at home. So, we're now seeing parents beginning to engage more fully with the school in developing partnerships for language learning. 

00:14:54 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

That is absolutely fascinating. I look forward to hearing more about the next stage of the project and the findings from that.

Liz, I'm going to come back to you because you also have a knowledge exchange project. Could you tell us more about what the Promoting the Achievement of Looked After Children, the PALAC project, is about and maybe if you could outline a few of the case studies. 

00:15:22 Elisabeth Herbert 

Thanks Jo, yes, yet another of our acronyms for you to learn. I've worked on many of CIE’s knowledge exchange projects and I'm going to talk about PALAC. PALAC is a pioneering research-led knowledge exchange programme and it aimed to support professionals to enhance the achievement and well-being of care-experienced or adopted children and young people. The way we did this was through supporting schools to develop evidence-informed practice. We also hope to contribute to a limited evidence base. Like Rob said earlier in the case of MITA, there was also a paucity of research in the field when the project first started. 

The project started up in 2014 and it was led by the amazing Dr Catherine Carroll from CIE and colleagues, including a few of us here today. One of the key drivers for beginning PALAC was knowledge we gained from national statistics that showed that this group of learners were really underperforming compared to their peers. We really felt that this needed explaining and it needed addressing. Now PALAC is in its seventh year, and we are reaching more and more local authorities across the UK, which is fantastic. 

A little more information for you: our PALAC projects involve schools from a local authority or groups of local authorities together – for instance, in Wales we covered quite a few local authorities at the same time and virtual schools. Just to say, virtual schools, this is a body that fulfills the corporate parenting role on behalf of the local authority. We all joined together in a collaborative programme that spans across the school year. Schools engaged with the research findings, as Amelia said. With UCL's support we used the evidence-informed bespoke audit tool that, again, Amelia explained to you what this tool was, which schools used to identify strengths and areas for development in the education of care-experienced children. The UCL team links with the local authority to support development practice in a more systemic way and ensure that this learning can be sustained once the programme comes to an end. 

A few examples I can share: OK, firstly we've got one school which chose to focus on the school environment domain. This is a comprehensive school that had a sixth form attached to it, based in Reading. Their project investigated the contribution and design of a safe space that would meet the needs of pupils and professionals. But, Jo, thinking about psychology’s contribution: it's really critical here, as attachment theory and trauma-informed approaches clearly underpinned the development of this safe space. All the staff received training on attachment theory and pupils were directly involved in the research, which was fantastic. Data was collected to inform what this safe space might look like. Another project concentrated on another domain, and this domain I'm going to talk about is the ‘effectiveness and deployment of staff’, linking to Rob's MITA project. The case study focus here was on developing the role of the social care mentor. The team considered how the impact of introducing such a role could be evaluated. 

All in all, we've developed numerous case studies, tapping into all the different domains. Some other examples include embedding emotional coaching into the life of the school; another, ensuring there's a key adult for children in care; also, making personal education plans. We also did another project on creating a network for carers, relatives and adopters. If you want to find out more about these case studies, do check out the CIE website and have a good read of some of these because there are lots of them on there. 

00:19:41 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

Thanks so much, Liz.  I think there's another one that CIE does in terms of knowledge exchange projects. Amelia, could you tell us more about the SWIRL programme that you're running? 

00:19:59 Dr Amelia Roberts 

SWIRL stands for Supporting Well-Being, Emotional Resilience and Learning. SWIRL was piloted across London schools and London boroughs, but it's been really popular in Suffolk, so we've worked with the Ipswich Opportunity Area, which is wholly DfE funded. That's a really nice way of practitioner work then feeding into policy, because it's something that the DfE administers, have become aware of, and I think it's tweaked their thinking around whole-school approaches to well-being and mental health. 

SWIRL has several domains and I'm just going to share my three favorites. One of my favorites is the graduated response to need, and it's the role of the teacher in the classroom. Because we don't think that well-being can be separated from enjoyment in learning. So, one of our domains is all about how teachers can design lessons that engage children and help them to feel clever and included. Another domain that I really like is that of building relationships. We think about friendships between pupils and children, but we also think about the relationships between staff members and pupils and students, relationships between staff members and other staff members, and also between schools and families. 

One really interesting case study that came out of that domain was a number of schools, actually, wanted to look at the relationship between midday staff and academic teaching staff. It was felt that the midday staff weren't de-escalating conflict in a particularly positive way. So, children were arriving back into lessons unsettled and unhappy. When this was considered as a whole school approach, schools did some really exciting things like doing restorative justice training across all staff members and improving the communication between midday staff and teaching staff, so that all staff members felt much more invested in the well-being of pupils. That had the knock-on effect of really improving the relationship between midday start and teaching staff, so I thought that was a really lovely project. 

And the third domain that I really like, although I do of course love all of the domains, is that of planned transitions. We've done a lot of work with schools looking at big transitions, like from junior school to high school, and how you can support children to make that transition – by perhaps going into their senior school and having a look round it when it's quiet, maybe taking photographs on the tablet and then bringing that back and doing a presentation for their classmates so they feel less anxious – but also looking at micro transitions. So that might be the transition from lunch time back into lessons or even from one activity to another activity. We found with schools that by really focusing on where transitions might be stressful for staff as well as pupils, schools have been able to make a real impact. 

And I'll just share one other element of a case study that again I really like, but this was all about a very collaborative approach. This particular school took the domains, printed out each domain, and put them on a sheet of A3 and they invited all of their staff members to use red, amber or green Post-it notes to make a judgment as to how well they thought the school was performing in each domain, and then write on the Post-it note what they thought was either great or needed development. Then the school took that information and they ended up giving children – so this is not only looking at staff voice, but also looking at pupil voice – they gave children a map of the school and they asked them to identify in color where they felt happy, sad, safe, anxious or lonely. That was a really wonderful way of really understanding what was important to children. It turned out that there was a cloakroom that nobody liked, so they redesigned the cloakroom, incorporating lots of stakeholder views. That became a forum for a really good dialogue about what made for a really good playtime and unstructured time. So some really great stories coming through there. 

00:24:21 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

So, Amelia, could you explain what some of the challenges might be with the case studies and how to overcome these?

00:24:30 Dr Amelia Roberts 

There are a couple of main challenges with case studies. One of them involves the implementation for schools. We know how busy schools are and it's sadly all too easy for exciting projects to get sidelined because of the urgency of COVID regulations or exams or Ofsted. So there's something there about keeping them at the forefront of schools’ minds. I would say that the facilitator role really helps that because it leads to an accountability. 

Associated with that is also the data collection. We really encourage schools to use data that they already collect, but also to think creatively about how could we capture pupil voice, how are we going to look at the process. So, it's not just about from pre-intervention and post-intervention data, it's also about the process, it's also about observing. 

One school did a beautiful thing and I love this so much: they did, again, Post-it notes, but they asked their staff to look around the playground and just jot down what they saw. What do you see in the playground? And then what do you see in the corridors? That kind of intuitive, narrative data is actually really powerful in identifying both the changes that take place but also how they take place. 

That's partly how you would overcome the challenges of case studies. The other challenge with case studies is the question about whether we can consider them to be generalizable or not. The word generalizable is a bit tricky for me because that speaks to me about experiments and whether we can get a certain amount of understanding and then say we know this variable has made a difference and therefore we can generalize. Case studies work in a wholly different way, and there are some quite nice phrases we might use. We might think about naturalistic generalization, and the focus there is on a case study that is so well described that the reader can make an inductive understanding of whether or not it's going to be useful to them. So that can be really, really helpful. Another area that we are hoping to move into is thinking about how we use a theory of change model in a more meta way, whereby we encourage schools to use the evidence to chart very clearly their logic model so that we can explain why they think a certain change will happen. Then when they outline their data collection, we can see whether the change does or doesn't happen, and why it does or doesn't happen. We think that can feed into the larger body of research as well. 

00:27:21 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

Amelia, it is so fascinating to hear about these different case studies and how you can generalize from them. Just before we go, I want to ask one more question and that is, how is your work or psychology research in this area making a contribution to policy or practice? Gill, would you mind starting off on that one?

00:27:47 Gill Brackenbury 

Yes. I'd like to answer it, Jo, slightly more generally, and I'm picking up on where Amelia left off. I want to summarize this. Because this isn't CPD as we usually think of it. It's not the one off or a couple of sessions. It's all about longevity. It's all about collaboration. It's about working relationships. We have made a difference. How do we know that? It's from the evaluations in the first instance. We have got from all of our knowledge exchange programmes many evaluations that are showing they would not have done what they did without our support. 

I'm not saying that we've got magic dust. What I'm saying is all those professionals out there, they know what they want to do, they know the direction of travel, but they need space to do it, they need time to do it. And really, by leadership saying ‘we are giving you permission, work with UCL colleagues, this is your time together over the year’, I think that what's made the difference. We are working with leadership with these great professionals and through that relationship change is happening. It doesn't matter whether it’s language, looked after children, well-being, teaching assistants; all of our work is making a difference, and we know that through the evaluations of our participants, because they're saying we have done the changes. The most important thing, as Amelia is saying, is, through the theory of change it becomes embedded in schools. We want to be further supportive by looking into additional research now to prepares ourselves for further evaluations. So, watch this space folks, this is where we're going. We've got a KE report that is going to give more details about our work. 

00:29:47 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

It's fantastic Gill. Amelia, I don't know whether you've got anything to add to that. 

00:29:52 Dr Amelia Roberts 

Yes, just to say that while we do of course use our knowledge and our research to input into policy, and we do write consultation papers-. I think one of those powerful things is that we empower practitioners to know what is making a difference in their schools. So, there's this groundswell from practitioners that will eventually, in a drip-feed fashion impact on policy. As Gill says, watch this space. 

00:30:23 Dr Jo Van Herwegen 

Thank you all so much for your time today and for sharing your interesting work. That's it from us today. You've been listening to Psyched about Education. For other podcasts from the Department of Psychology and Human Development, please see the links at the end of this podcast. Thank you very much for today. 

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