Submitting InstitutionBirmingham City University
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
A corpus of research developed over twenty years brings together
experience and expertise of staff, students and researchers at Birmingham
City University in the Early Years (EY) cluster. This has had effects on
practice in contexts in which national and international EY policy,
leadership and pedagogy are developed and produced, enacted and contested.
It has affected specific areas of learning and development, e.g.
mathematics, including thinking skills, creativity, information and
Research that was policy, programme and issue-focused has stimulated
discussion and action, locally, nationally and internationally, for
instance in Europe, Central and South-east Asia and Australia.
Research over the previous RAE period has continued to have an impact up
until the present. Impacts are derived from an approach that is
collaborative and participative, focuses on issues of concern to
stakeholders, is grounded in an analytical account of the state of current
public knowledge and of interest to other researchers and practitioners,
as a result of gathering and analysing relevant and trustworthy evidence.
CRE's approach to EY research can be characterised by an ESRC study
(2005-2006) investigating EY leadership that has contributed to the REF
corpus (Aubrey et al., 2013). Professionals and researchers pool
knowledge and research questions before joint implementation and
dissemination. User groups become first and primary beneficiaries. A
case-study approach using twelve sites and multiple methods (survey,
interview and video vignettes) documented realities of leading EY
settings. Different leadership roles emerged and different working styles
associated with training and qualifications. Fundamental was
moment-by-moment thinking and decision- making, creating a tacit knowledge
or `practical intelligence' not part of a formal knowledge-base. Two
subsequent studies, sponsored by Creative Partnerships, Arts Council,
England and British Educational and Communications Technology Agency
[Becta] (both Aubrey and Dahl, 2013) utilised the same model. The former
demonstrated the benefits in terms of teaching and learning of artists
working with teachers in EY classrooms, generated networks and led to new
ways of working. The latter made policy recommendations on the use of new
technologies in the EY Foundation Stage to Becta as a government agency.
Stakeholders reviewed evidence on collaborative partnerships between
artists and teachers and the impact on children's creative responses in
one and the use of new technologies in the other. Both identified and
explored relationships between current EY curriculum guidelines,
children's access to and possibilities of developing more creative and
CRE's EY research addressed key questions related to policy, process and
outcome related to UNICEF's family education programme in Uzbekistan,
based on both quantitative and qualitative approaches, specifically
targeting reported behavioural change brought about at household level.
Impact data were compared with baseline data on major indicators of health
and nutrition, early learning, family relations and child protection. This
informed future programme directions for 2010-2015. Later, Aubrey (2012)
used post-colonial theory as a tool to uncover the complexity and
multiplicity of historical and cultural forces at play, with local Islamic
and Uzbek traditions overlaid with Soviet early learning and development
methods that collided with Western notions of `developmentally-appropriate
practice' of donors.
Another significant piece of work was the Esmée Fairbairn funded
thinking-skills-in-mathematics project (Aubrey et al, 2012) that used a
BCU practitioner conference as a springboard and was stimulated by
previous international investigations of early numeracy (Aunio et al.,
2008). Applying number knowledge in real-world problem-solving had most
stable predictive value. A case-study approach used multiple methods
(interview, observation and assessment) to investigate two thinking-skills
programmes in schools in England and Wales over 2009-2012. Conditions
supporting change and sustainability included: national policy;
high-quality professional development and a whole-school approach; with
coaching, systematic observation and feedback (Aubrey et al., 2012). A
visiting Chinese scholar benefited from placement with Aubrey to learn
about thinking skills programmes and these were subsequently developed and
influenced pedagogic practice of teaching and learning in Mainland China.
Meanwhile, a review of UK EY policy structures, inputs, processes and
outcomes to prevent early school-leaving has been prepared for the
European Commission. A first and second interim report from member states
have been submitted and will contribute to recommendations for actions at
European and national level to improve effectiveness of ECEC services.
A nascent well-being and landscape study using the model with BCU
Education and Art and Design staff, students and nature-reserve officers
is now considering how adults might mediate, build upon or transfer
children's experience and/or appreciation of the natural environment.
References to the research
Aubrey, C. and Dahl, D. (2013) Creative Partnerships: Image and Text, Thinking
Skills and Creativity, 9, August, p. 1-15 (ISSN.
Aubrey, C., Godfrey and R. Harris, A. (2013) How do they manage? An
investigation of Early Childhood Leadership. Educational Management,
Administration and Leadership, 21, (1), 5-29. (ISSN 1741-1432).
Aubrey, C., Ghent, K. and Kanira, E. (2012) Enhancing Thinking Skills in
Early Childhood. International Journal of Early Years Education, 20,
(4), 332-348. (ISSN 0966-9760).
Aubrey, C. and Durmaz, D (2012) Policy to practice in reception class
mathematics. International Journal of Earl Years Education, 20,
(1), 59-77. (ISBN 0966-9760).
Aunio, P., Aubrey, C., Godfrey, R., Yuejuan, P. and Liu, Y. (2008)
Children's early numeracy in Mainland China, England and Finland, International
Journal of Early Years Education, 16, (3), 203-221. (ISSN
0966-9760). (Now selected to appear in academic work entitled Early
Childhood Education I. Siraj-Blatchford and A. Mayo, (Eds.) London:
Sage, October, 2011)
Aubrey, C. (2012) Early childhood care and education in Uzbekistan. In T.
Papatheodorou (Ed.) Debates on Early Childhood Policies and Practices:
Global Snapshots of Pedagogical Thinking and Encounters. London:
Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-415-69100-0 (HB); 978-0-0415-69101-7 (PB);
Recent Grants which have contributed to the approach to impact adopted by
the EY cluster include:
• European Commission, DG Education and Culture (2012) Study on the
Effectiveness of Early Childhood Education and Care in Preventing Early
School Leaving (with PI, Public Policy and Management Institute),
• Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (2010-2013) Cognition in Mathematics.
• United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF (2010) Evaluation of a Family
Education Programme in Uzbekistan. $18,235.
• British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) (2008)
Review on the Evidence of ICT in the Early Years Foundation Stage. £20,000
• Creative Partnerships/Arts Council England (2008) Early Years
Practitioners as Researchers. £4,200; Working with Artists in Children's
Centres (2006-2008) £15,000.
Details of the impact
As noted above, impact was derived from the participatory approach
adopted, in which education stakeholders, as main beneficiaries were
centrally involved in questions asked, design and implementation, study
interpretation and dissemination. The impact case study thus brings
together findings of trustworthy studies on a significant topic of concern
to those most affected, then disseminated through user-friendly reports
and conferences and local networks, as well as fully peer-reviewed papers.
The aim has been to inform critical thinking of stakeholders, stimulate
discussion and worthwhile education action, to offer a new perspective,
locally, nationally and internationally. In accordance with the CRE's
approach to impact, policy-makers have been impacted upon
directly. As have leaders and teaching and learning. This
has been achieved by building on major beneficiaries of professional
organisations, education professionals and students, locally, nationally
The intention has been to increase critical understanding of the
interplay between policy and practice within political, ideological and
educational contexts that are complex, situated and interactive; and to
contribute new conceptualisations and understandings.
The work for UNICEF aimed to provide reliable, accurate and comprehensive
quantitative and qualitative data on the impact, achievements and
constraints of a family education programme (2005-2009) to assist the
Government of Uzbekistan and generated relevant recommendations for
further programme directions (for 2010-2015) at national, regional and
community level. Upscaling the project from regional to national level,
ensured that key informants were major beneficiaries, in this case,
government ministers, regional, district and local officials but primarily
by empowering families and communities with knowledge and skills to ensure
that they thrived.
`... Provision of reliable, accurate and comprehensive data on the
working of UNICEF's Family Education Project (FEP) for the Government of
Uzbekistan with broad aim of family empowerment and increasing families'
knowledge of child-rearing practices through community volunteers'
[Advisor for UNICEF]. At a subsequent British Academy-sponsored conference
it provided an inspirational example for practitioners contemplating their
own policy-to-practice interface at a time of economic decline that
challenged upgrading of existing EY provision, (Aubrey, 2012). Impact has
been enhanced by an explicit strategy to engage major beneficiaries from
the start and throughout the research process. The ESRC-funded EY
leadership project has had a continuing impact that served as a model for
projects undertaken in the REF period. Development of training materials
formed the basis for uptake by a wider group of professionals,
disseminated through local and national conferences held by British
Association for Early Childhood Education (2008) and EY Workforce Group
The research has informed and continues to inform iterations of the
NPQICL programme (National College for Teaching and Leadership, 2008,
2010, 2013-in progress). The textbook (Aubrey, 2011) is a key text
nationally used by NPQICL participants and is still one of the few
leadership textbooks where the children's centre leaders voice is central.
The book is also widely used to support leadership research at Master's
An invited keynote at a professional Round Table conference was hosted by
Universities of Griffith, Deakin and Melbourne (2009) to `...contribute
concepts relevant to multi-agency leadership to local multi-agency teams
... interrogate their practice ... inform implementation strategies to
promote health.' [conference organiser and chief investigator on
project with colleagues from Griffith University] and professional
seminars were organised by international educational organisations
Learning Capital and Kinderland in Singapore. `...Influences policy
debate, increases practitioners' and leaders' ... critical
understanding... encourages practitioners to continue professional
development and upgrade skills through accreditation' CEO, KLC
Invitations to write for professional electronic networks, e.g. the EYP
Forum (2009) and the Children's Centre Leader Reader (2012) followed. A
single-authored textbook for professionals and NPQICL students is already
in its second edition (Aubrey, 2011). Related chapters in nationally-
popular EY textbooks also run to further editions (Pugh and Duffy, 2013;
Maynard and Thomas, 2014). Most recently, a request was received from the
DfE (2013) to comment on EY leadership for the Nutbrown Report (2012)
[electronic communication available].
The regional conference that launched the thinking-skills-in-mathematics
project (Aubrey et al., 2012) involved one of the original
programme designers and distributors to secure an interest in
participation by English and Welsh schools. Research questions generated
allowed advisers, head teachers, co-ordinators and class teachers to
explore, analyse and reflect upon their own professional practice and
indeed one head teacher later incorporated findings in an inspection
submission. Dissemination of findings at local, national and European
practitioner conferences in 2011 raised awareness and a dedicated website
to the project has been established. An invitation to write a chapter on
EY policy-to-practice mathematics in an influential Australian text has
been negotiated in 2013 and participation as distinguished academic in a
recent EY policy and practice debate served to increase students' critical
understanding of interplay between policy and practice and create a
teaching resource that will influence future student groups. A visiting
Chinese scholar working with the team on the thinking skills project also
applied our model: `the pedagogical approaching (involving group
discussion and problem-solving, critical evaluation of responses and
forming independent judgements) was found suitable for Chinese
classrooms and developed in Shandong Province' [Visiting Scholar,
Shandong Broadcast & TV University].
Strategies and questions underpinning the studies that explored the
evidence on the use of ICT in the EY and creative partnerships between
artists and EY teachers were negotiated with sponsors in advance. Data to
be gathered and analysed and dissemination formats were agreed in advance,
for the former, a practitioner website and the latter, local teacher
workshops, creative networks established and exemplar creative
Meanwhile, at national and European level providing evidence and
supporting work of the Commission has contributed to `developing new
data and analysing relevant policies across Europe, providing
recommendations for actions to improve effectiveness ECEC services and
contribute to comprehensive approach to tackling underachievement'
[PI, European Commission project].
A new project is being planned to capture multi-vocal perspectives of a
multi-disciplinary and cross-departmental team of BCU staff and students
on an outdoor environment together with nature research officers. In line
with the Trust's remit to work towards connected spaces: bigger and better
and more joined people, the goal will be towards creating `connected
communities' of researchers, reserve staff, students and children
In summary, the overall aim has been to inform critical thinking of
stakeholders, stimulate discussion and worthwhile education action, and to
offer a new perspective, locally and nationally that, over time, has also
had an impact internationally, as demonstrated.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Corroborating Statement, Former UK Government lead adviser for
behaviour and attendance in schools. Member of an international team of
trainers for UNICEF and the Council of Europe to help countries
implement different aspects of the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child (impact statement on UNICEF project)
- Corroborating Statement, Conference organiser and chief investigator
on project with colleagues from Research Centre for Clinical and
Community and Practice Innovation, Griffith University, Queensland
(impact statement on multi-agency leadership).
- Corroborating Statement, CEO, KLC School of Education, Singapore
(impact statement on policy, leadership and practice).
- Corroborating Statement, Visiting scholar, Shandong Broadcast & TV
- Corroborating Statement, PI at Public Policy and Management Institute,
Vilnius, Lithuania (impact statement on ECC project).