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Liberating the teacher to empower pupils as researchers

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The activity described in this case study was delivered through the School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI). Funded by Research Councils UK, SUPI involves 12 universities working in partnership with local schools, with coordination support from the NCCPE. SUPI projects aim to develop more effective engagements between researchers and school pupils, and to inspire a broader range of pupils to develop inquiring minds by engaging them in a diversity of exciting hands-on research related activities.

This case study explores the Lancaster University hosted SUPI project, focusing on how a Sociology teacher was inspired to encourage and engage pupils in research, supported by the Senior Leadership Team at Queen Elizabeth School (QES).

  • Lead organisations
    • Lancaster University and Queen Elizabeth School
  • Project overview
    • The Lancaster University partnership with Queen Elizabeth Teaching School has been a catalyst for allowing a Sociology teacher to take up the challenge of involving pupils in real life research as part of their Sociology GCSE course. The RCUK-SUPI project combines with other factors to act as a stimulus for this shift from the traditional knowledge transference model of teaching about how to do research, to a more active and engaged role in the research process.

      Factors that helped to bring about this shift included:
    • - The inspiring launch of the RCUK-SUPI partnership involving presentations from Lancaster researchers and QES EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) students helped to increase the profile of research in QES and began to raise awareness about the qualities and attributes of a researcher.
    • - A whole school INSET involving contributions from Lancaster researchers helped to extend staff understanding, build confidence and provide an invaluable shared experience for staff to consider their role in preparing the next generation of researchers.
    • - As a Teaching School, QES was already committed to increasing engagement of staff with research and evaluation about teaching and learning, thus the timing and opportunity of the Lancaster University-QES partnership offered ideas for how the school might respond to the research agenda of being a teaching school.
    • - In addition, the regular contact and growing relationships primarily with Senior Leaders influenced the organisational commitment and culture resulting in a strategic School Development Plan which identifies research and development as a key theme.
  • Project outputs
    • The shift in approach resulted in the newly inspired teacher’s pupils planning and undertaking lesson observations and gathering data which they analysed and presented in a ‘mini-conference’ to other staff and a member of the Senior Leadership Team at QES. The research projects provided staff with thought provoking results and challenged some teachers’ expectations of what pupils could achieve.
  • Project outcomes
    • Thanks to the increased awareness and understanding of the potential of pupil research and organisational commitment to research, the teacher at QES enabled her Sociology students to undertake research about the levels of concentration of boys and girls in class. The project was successful in enabling pupils to participate in a real piece of research and to develop valuable research skills that they recognised in their feedback on the activity. They talked about increasing independence, organisational skills, being able to control the direction of their own learning, and linking the work they did in the classroom to the conclusions they found in their own research. This also helped them to learn ‘what it’s like to be a Sociologist’.

      For the teacher in question, and other teachers in the school, there was the recognition that pupils, even those who may present as reluctant learners, demonstrate increased motivation and enthusiasm for research related learning. A senior leader positively reported that an open ended homework where pupils reflected on the experience had produced ‘cogent, passionate, reflective, independent pieces of writing that linked their research experience, the subsequent conference debate and the key learning objective of the syllabus together to a standard beyond GCSE’.
  • Future Plans
    • The teacher mentioned is one of several liberated by the use of research within the curriculum. In addition, QES have now involved their Alliance Schools in gaining access to Lancaster researchers and PhD students to support EPQ students on a diverse range of research topics.
  • Keys to making it work
    • Support from the Senior Leadership Team and a strategic commitment to bringing research into the classroom.