Centre for Teaching and Learning Research (CTLR)


Educational research clearly shows the benefits of schools and universities working together to generate knowledge through research. The British Educational Research Association and Royal Society of Arts' report (2014) describes how engaging teachers in researching their own classrooms is a particularly powerful way of improving teaching, learning and pupil attainment.

CTLR and the Department of Education at the University of Sussex is part of an inovative partnership with seven local schools. The Sussex Research Network engages schools in researching their own practice, learning from research, and engaging in large-scale research projects with university-based colleagues.

The partnership hosts events, such as the 6th Annual Teacher Research Conference which, this year, took place on Saturday 17 June, 2017 in Fulton building at the University of Sussex. This innovative conference is designed for teachers and education practitioners to share the latest research conducted locally by members of our Sussex Research Network, exploring implications for practice, policy and theory.

This year, the keynote speakers were Professor Michael Fielding, University College, London and Professor John Pryor, University of Sussex, in dialogue with each other and delegates on the themes of student voice, radical/democratic education, formative assessment and dialogic pedagogies.

Conference themes included:

  • Innovative pedagogy and assessment in primary and secondary contexts
  • Diversity, inclusion and social justice
  • Listening to voices, readers and writers
  • Enhancing transition from KS2-3
  • Approaches to improving learning in STEM and other subjects

The following are recordings of presentations from the 6th Annual Teacher Research Conference:

6th Annual Teacher Researcher Conference 2017

The 6th Annual Teacher Researcher Conference took place on 17 June 2017. Designed to enable the sharing of practitioner research to enhance children’s educational experience, develop pedagogy and embed a rich research culture in schools, promoting evidence-based practice, the event was attended by a record number of delegates: 80 teachers, senior leaders and education researchers from 45 schools, covering the full spectrum of secondary, primary and early years settings. Not bad for one of the hottest Saturday mornings of the year!

This year's conference had three themed areas: (i) Innovative Approaches to Reading and Writing, (ii) Teacher Development and Research; (iii) Research on STEM subjects. Speakers included teachers in the final year of their Education MA and a group from St Richard’s Catholic School. The conference started with an innovative, dialogic exchange between keynote presenters Professor John Pryor (University of Sussex) and Professor Michael Fielding (University College London) and conference participants which was chaired by Dr Julia Sutherland utilising PollEverywhere.

The event was highly valued by all those in attendance and received some very positive feedback, including the following:

"The whole-group discussion with John and Michael was hugely inspiring. Also great to hear a passionate discussion with other teachers. Excellent presentations by teacher researchers doing such valuable research in schools."

Teacher researchers were specifically commended for their 'excellent research', 'impact', 'original methodology', 'new ideas for practice' and 'very high quality of presentations' with one delegate stating that she felt 'humbled' by the quality of research teachers were doing, and 'their 'energy and 'idealism on top of full-time jobs'. All evaluations said that teachers would take the findings back to their practice and share them with colleagues.


Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM)

Session chaired by Fi Branagh, Teaching Fellow (Science Education) and Matthew Westgarth, Teaching Fellow (Primary & Early Years Education)

  1. Claire Watts
    Exploring teachers' understanding of mastery, in relation to primary mathematics

    Following the changes to the Primary Mathematics National Curriculum in 2014, the government have funded Mathematics Hubs to act as regional focal points for the development of excellent practice in mathematics. A focus is to develop a mastery curriculum or mastery approach to the teaching and learning of primary mathematics. Teaching on the Primary PGCE course I have observed that, although the term 'mastery' may be used by all trainees and their mentors and is becoming part of educational discourse, many practitioners find the term difficult to define and are using it in different contexts with different meanings. Therefore, this small-scale, interpretive investigation uses semi-structured interviews to explore teachers’ understanding of mastery and how this impacts their planning and teaching of primary mathematics.

  2. Hannah Sumpter
    To what extent does group intervention influence the confidence of students in answering science examination questions?

    This mixed-method case study looks at whether students who participate in a group intervention improve their confidence in 6-mark examination questions. The study includes consideration of teacher and student viewpoints, the role of motivation, importance of group dynamics and how question-wording affects students.

  3. Cassandra Dorricott-Juniper
    To what extent does inquiry-based learning facilitate learning in mathematics in a primary school setting?

    This action-research study explores the effectiveness of using Inquiry Based learning (IBL) as a teaching and learning strategy in mathematics with Year 4 children. A range of methods are used to evaluate whether IBL is an effective pedagogic strategy, including written assessments, focus groups, annotated marking and observational tick lists.

  4. Charlotte Smith
    Which form of homework is more supportive of learning: paper homework or homework on a digital platform?  
    This mixed-method study, combining questionnaires, interviews and homework results, aims to compare traditional, paper homework with homework set on a digital platform. The study focuses on which format is most likely to be handed in on time, which gains the highest scores and what are students’ opinions and preferences about homework.

Innovative Approaches to Reading & Writing

Session chaired by Dr Julia Sutherland, Senior Lecturer (Education)

  1. Nathan Honeycombe
    Elevating Vocabulary: Teachers’ perceptions of word learning in KS4 English classrooms
    Vocabulary breadth and depth is a key determiner of higher-cognitive thinking and therefore, of children’s future potential economic status and social standing, yet relatively little is known about the best practices and classroom conditions for fostering word knowledge, particularly in the secondary-school phase. This illustrative case study captures teacher voice and perspectives on three factors of vocabulary instruction: what strategies are used to promote vocabulary in KS4? How successful are these strategies? What inspires or hinders the promotion of word knowledge in KS4 students? Combining innovative, collaborative interviews with documentary evidence, a picture is beginning to emerge of a diverse pedagogical field, united by some common themes: the importance of reading (independent and shared aloud), the value of discussion and the imperative to apply new vocabulary in a motivating context.
  2. Jess Bray
    How does the explicit teaching of peer feedback (Peer Coaching) affect Year 5 children’s writing?
    The literature surrounding peer assessment is vast and wide-ranging, yet relatively little of it focuses on the primary classroom. This small-scale research project used the existing literature to design a model of peer-to-peer feedback to support writing in upper Key Stage 2. The model was adapted and developed through three reflective spirals of action research. Emerging findings highlight the value of a rich dialogue between peers and the importance of modelling effective peer assessment. Further, the pairings within a class were considered and an optimum grouping format of learners was identified.
  3. Pete Adil-Smith
    Engaging lower-attaining, secondary-school boys with reading
    This is a mixed-method action-research investigation, designed to explore the issues around engaging boys with reading. Are the stereotypes true? Do boys ‘hate’ reading? If so – why? And what, if anything might be done to improve boys’ attitudes to reading? The project, conducted in an all-boys’ comprehensive school, aimed to combine the principles of dialogic talk and faster reading methods with whole texts to engage and motivate lower-attaining readers.
  4. Rhian Williams
    Adolescent students’ attitudes to reading extended texts
    Extensive research indicates the relationship between enjoyment of reading and success in reading: the National Literacy Trust (2017) has identified an average three-year reading-attainment difference between 14-year-old students who enjoy reading and those who don’t. So why do many adolescent students no longer read for pleasure or read extended texts? This interpretivist case study explores Year 9 (13-14 years) students’ attitudes to reading, using creative approaches to focus groups to listen to students’ voices and perspectives. 
Teacher Development & Research

Session chaired by Dr Rob Rosenthal, Senior Teaching Fellow (Education) and Director of Teaching and Learning for the School of Education and Social Work

  1. Tom Holloway, John Steele & Joanne Calladine-Evans
    Making Research Stick
    Since attaining the Research Leaders’ Masters in Education at the University of Sussex, Tom Holloway and John Steele have established a rich research culture at St Richard's Catholic College. This has been achieved through St Richard’s ‘Teaching School’ status, in collaboration with the Sussex Research Network, a partnership between a group of local, research-active schools and the University of Sussex.

  2. Jess Reynolds
    The role of the female teacher in an all boys' school
    This mixed-method study focuses on the issue of gender in an all boys’ school. Using interviews, an anonymous questionnaire and small focus groups, this study investigates the perception of women in a male-dominated school environment, from the perspectives of staff working at the school. It involves looking at institutional issues, particularly the challenges of sexism and established, patriarchal attitudes as an obstacle for women workers and for developing a more socially progressive culture.

  3. Laura Carney
    What is effective feedback for teachers? 
    In OECD countries, classroom observations are the most common source of evidence used to provide feedback to teachers on the quality of their teaching. The benefits of formative peer observations are emphasised in the research literature, as supporting, for example, a culture of collaboration and collegiality, with the potential for professional development. However, there is equal focus in the literature on the potentially threatening aspect of observation feedback in the context of a performative education system. The Department for Education (2017) has recently published Standards for Teachers’ Professional Development, which promote the use of formative feedback to teachers to support CPD.  This small-scale case study in a community secondary school in SE England, investigates teacher perceptions of the most effective ways of providing feedback from peer lesson observations. Feedback in the school is typically given to teachers following senior-teacher or peer ‘learning walks’ and formal observations and is designed to be used as a form of professional development. This research aims to explore the factors which can impact the value and effectiveness of observation feedback in school, from teachers’ perspectives.

Teacher Researcher Conference 2017: wordle