IPDA awards Professional Development in Education prize to Michael Lowes and Laura Anderson
At the 2015 International Conference IPDA awarded the Professional Development in Education Prize for first-time publication to Michael Lowes and Laura Anderson. Read below to find out more about their research.
Michael carried out research in his own workplace which considered whether the use of teaching assistants in his school supported the school’s ethos of inclusion and developing pupil independence. Focusing on those pupils who are the most vulnerable in the education system (those who receive funding for specific special educational needs) Michael used research in the area to explore the current situation in relation to the preparedness, deployment, and practice of the teaching assistants working with these pupils.
As Michael is the SENCO within his school, his research methodology needed to be sensitive to the views and feelings of the TAs and teachers that he gathered data from. The work used a case study approach which included a range of data gathering methods, including questionnaire, interview and observation. His work reflects very effectively on his unique position and the possible effects on the validity and reliability of the data (both positive and negative).
His findings are interesting in that they highlight a number of issues for the school to work on, as might be expected. However, of particular importance is that the main area to work on is the preparedness of TAs. This, he suggests, is not sufficiently highlighted within the research. He also suggests that the three key areas of deployment, preparedness and practice are more interconnected than might be suggested by the literature. Finally, Michael makes the point that his school is considered one of the most inclusive schools within what is seen as one of the most inclusive local authorities in the country. The school has been rated as outstanding by Ofsted in relation to its inclusive practice and work with pupils who have SEND, and has already provided substantial CPD for TAs. Yet he makes a number of recommendations for the school. He rightly points out that this suggests that other schools who have not reached this point in the development of an inclusive environment are likely to require more significant changes to be made, and that this is still an under researched area.
The changes that Michael suggests are focused, practical and clearly underpinned by relevant theory and research. He sets them out clearly in a document produced specifically for the school. Most importantly, he makes the point that, just as the school does not want to make pupils dependent on adult support, the school does not want to make TAs or teachers wholly dependent on the support of the SENCO and specialist support services. The suggested CPD and changes to management practices reflect this.
The independence, hard work and commitment that Michael has shown in carrying out this study have been impressive. In particular, Michael was supervised by a nationally and internationally published researcher in the field, and yet did not shy away from drawing his own conclusions and challenging the existing literature. The study, if published, will be of significant interest to schools across the country.
I am an English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher for Glasgow City Council. My role is to both support children whose first language is not English to access the curriculum and to build the capacity of schools to support EAL learners.
In the inner city primary school in Glasgow where I previously worked, parental involvement was a noted area for development in official inspection. 33% of pupils had English as an additional language and some of their parents had limited proficiency in English. These parents did not take an active role in school, and felt disempowered in supporting their child’s literacy acquisition. They were unaware of the value of the first language in their child’s development and the potential cognitive benefits of bilingualism. I aimed to empower these parents and build confidence via establishing a positive, supportive partnership with the school. Professional development was key to this partnership being both effective and sustainable.
I undertook a piece of small-scale Action Research (AR), appropriate as the purpose of AR is to implement positive change within an organisation, improve practice and enable professional development. Initial data found parents’ greatest concern was feeling unable to support their child with school literacy practices and homework due to the language barrier. I ran workshops on strategies to develop literacy skills at home, using both the child’s English reading text and dual language story bags as resources.
The data found that parents’ confidence did improve. Parents felt better equipped to support literacy, although expressed concern at the growing demands of the curriculum. Positive relationships were forged between home and school and lines of communication opened. My own practice improved, and, crucially, the learning was shared with colleagues to develop the school’s overall practice in supporting bilingual learners and families. Awareness of the challenges facing these parents and the school’s professional responsibility to involve them in their children’s learning was raised, and more inclusive homework practices were engaged with.
I have subsequently gone on to complete my M Ed, via a second piece of AR in which I worked collaboratively with a class teacher to explore how bilingual pupils’ first languages and culture could be used in the curriculum to enhance literacy and identity. Data was collected on teachers’ understandings of this pre and post action and, crucially, how both my own and my colleagues’ practice developed as a result.