Challenging orthodoxies of teacher knowledge and stimulating debates in educators’ professional communities

Submitting Institution

University of Brighton

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education

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Summary of the impact

The research in this impact case study has affected discourses concerning professional development and pedagogy from early years classrooms to higher education. By challenging orthodoxies, researchers have delivered new and generative understandings of teacher knowledge that have influenced debate in educators' communities and professional associations. Consequently, these bodies have used our research to guide their approach to the advancement of policy, practice and professional development in all education sectors. The impacts of our research have reached out to a range of national contexts including the UK, Australia, Cyprus, and South Africa.

Underpinning research

Education research over the last 20 years has offered new perspectives, challenging orthodoxies that portray teacher knowledge as unproblematic, decontextualised, and instrumental, achieved through research into the interrelated areas of professional development and pedagogy.

Professional Development: This research investigated professional life, education reform, reflective teaching in adult education, and doctoral supervisor practices. The FP6 Programme PROFKNOW project was initiated in response to education reforms that did not account for the problems in their administration and delivery by teachers. The programme commissioned research into teachers' professional expertise, knowledge and experience at work (2002-2008). GOODSON's contribution to this research demonstrated the complex juxtaposition of reform initiatives and educational restructuring (systemic narratives) with portrayals of professional knowledge (teacher narratives). Employing life history methodology, it developed the concepts of `refraction' and `narrative capital' to characterise the spectrum of practitioner responses to policy initiatives in the domain of teacher professional knowledge, and to conceptualise the nature of distinctive national responses to these initiatives [reference 3.1]. Research into professionaldevelopment by HILLIER through the Learning and Skills Research Network (LSRN) worked to contest the expectation that delivery of subject knowledge without research and scholarship was sufficient for teachers in post-compulsory settings. HILLIER's research with Appleby and colleagues (2006) revealed that these networks contributed to critical and expansive lecturer knowledge in contexts where professional qualifications were not mandatory until recently, and showed that incorporating research and reflection into practice required a cultural change [3.2]. WISKER's research into professional development focused on conceptual thresholds and well-being in doctoral study. Research as part of the HEA Doctoral Learning Journeys project (2007-10) demonstrated that supervisor practices and examiner behaviours could be challenged and improved when underpinned by understanding the complex relationships between students' learning approaches, the empowerment afforded by communities of doctoral students, and supervisor responses to differences in gender, culture and discipline [3.3].

Pedagogy: The decontextualised teaching of the mechanics of reading in early years was challenged by DOMBEY's research, published, eg by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). DOMBEY's analysis of the evidence indicates that the most effective approaches to teaching phonics combine synthetic and analytic approaches, and teach word identification in a context of making sense [3.4]. Further research into pedagogy was linked to concerns in government agencies for curriculum (QCA), ICT (BECTA) and teacher development (TDA) about the pedagogical challenges of using digital technologies in active learning and the absence of explicit approaches to creativity in the school curriculum. LOVELESS' research focused on case studies of interventions and literature reviews in the use of digital tools for creative activity in school classrooms and teacher education. The findings demonstrated the complex relationship between teachers' subject knowledge, pedagogic knowledge and ICT capability. This challenged instrumental models of subject knowledge in teacher education and drew attention to the affordances of digital tools for representing conceptual depth and creativity beyond teaching technical skills [3.5].

Key researchers:

Ivor Goodson: Professor of Learning Theory (Oct 2003–to date).
Yvonne Hillier: Professor of Education (May 2006–to date).
Gina Wisker: Professor of Higher Education and Contemporary Literature (May 2006–to date).
Henrietta Dombey: Principal Lecturer (Sep 1972–July 2003), Professor of Literacy in Primary Education (Aug 2003–July 2004), Emeritus Professor (July 2004–to date).
Avril Loveless: Senior Lecturer (Sept 1989–Feb 2002), Principal Lecturer (Mar 2002–May 2003), Reader (May 2003–July 2006), Professor of Education (Aug 2006–to date).

References to the research

[3.1] GOODSON, I. F. and LINDBLAD, S., eds (2010) Professional knowledge and educational restructuring in Europe. Rotterdam, Boston and Taipei: Sense. [Quality validation: edited book collection based on PROFKNOW project financed by EU FP6, reference. 506493.]


[3.2] APPLEBY, Y. and HILLIER, Y. (2012) Exploring practice — research networks for critical professional learning Studies in Continuing Education 34 (1), pp.31-43. [Quality validation: leading peer-reviewed journal article]


[3.3] WISKER, G., MORRIS, C. et al. (2010) Doctoral learning journeys: final report. London: HEA [Quality validation: output as result of tendered external funded work.]

[3.4] DOMBEY, H., MOUSTAFA, M. et al. (1998) Whole to part phonics London: Centre for Language in Primary Education. [Quality validation: published by authoritative organisation and favourable reviews of outputs from authoritative sources. Available at:].

[3.5] LOVELESS, A. (2007) Preparing to teach with ICT: subject knowledge, Didaktik and improvisation Curriculum Journal 18 (4), pp.509-522 [Quality validation: leading peer-reviewed journal article.]


Details of the impact

By their involvement and leadership in a range of networks our researchers have changed debate in professional associations and education communities. Our research has also contributed to the development of resources and courses by these associations and communities which they use to advance policy, practice and professional development.

Challenging debates with alternative understandings: Impact through debates has developed in local and international networks. The model of the teacher as a critical, reflective practitioner engaging in practice-based enquiry, developed by HILLIER and colleagues in their research, has underpinned the work of LSRN, which debates and supports the legitimacy of research in FE practice and professionalism in the UK. The influence of HILLIER's research on professional debates and communities extends to Australia through the `sister' organisation Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association (AVETRA), and government-sponsored agency National Council for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), Australia's principal provider of vocational education training research. HILLIER was invited to further the debate on how research networks can foster professional development in the FE sector through leading an international study of innovation in teaching and learning in VET (2009) (source 5.1). This included leading a series of workshops for NCVER, and a keynote at the Big Skills Conference (Sydney, 2009). Another invitation followed to give a keynote at the Training and Further Education Development Centre of Victoria's annual conference for practitioners in September 2012. The Director of the Work-Based Education Research Centre at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia said: `[our] six-year-long Community of Practice project has adopted many of the aspects Hillier has consistently highlighted as key to innovation — reflective practice, collaborative learning and research networking. ..visits to England in 2008 and 2011 have built a small international network of VET practitioners and researchers, and information has continued to be shared about FE, HE and VET policy, research and practice through meetings, seminars and conferences such as the LSRN National Research Event' (5.2).

Debates about professional knowledge in leadership have been shaped by GOODSON'S research, which was the basis of an event he led with members of the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) (February 2013). The Critical Education Policy and Leadership Research Interest Group (CEPAL) has acknowledged its reliance on GOODSON's methodological work in a funding proposal to BELMAS for a collective research project on how leaders both resist and comply with policy, and the narrative biographical resources they draw on in order to make their decisions about action (5.3).

GOODSON's research on professional knowledge was central to the Cyprus Educational Research Association (CERA) inaugural Congress (December 2012). This brought together teachers, teacher educators, researchers and Education Ministry delegates from North Cyprus, Canada, Australia, Algeria, Iran and Turkey to debate education policy and practice. GOODSON gave the inaugural keynote and participated in the discussions about using the theories of refraction and narrative life history methodologies to articulate a distinctive educational identity in North Cyprus. These debates helped the governing body of CERA to realise that the Association could be the neutral ground to bring researchers from diverse backgrounds together in overcoming barriers in education (5.4).

LOVELESS' work contributed to debates about alternative understandings of teacher knowledge, creativity and pedagogy with digital tools. Creative Partnerships (CP), the Arts Council of England's flagship creative learning programme (2002-2011), commissioned LOVELESS to produce a provocation paper within an expert seminar, and a publication for teacher, teacher educator and policy audiences (2008). On the basis of this paper the EC Joint Research Centre Institute of Prospective Technical Studies invited LOVELESS to contribute to an expert seminar and to produce a paper to inform the debates leading to the preparation of the Centre's 2009 report `Innovation and creativity in education and training in the EU member states: fostering creative learning and supporting innovative teaching'. This report provided an overview of the theoretical foundations to the programme of work of the European Year of Creativity 2009 to raise awareness of creativity and innovation, including stimulating education and research (5.5).

DOMBEY's research has been mediated through debates about the teaching of reading in professional associations and government agencies, informing the debates, advisory role and lobbying of the UK Literacy Association (UKLA) using the publication Teaching reading: what the evidence says to support the UKLA President's `Respond and Lobby NOW!' campaign (Feb 2011) (5.6).

Developing resources and courses for professional development: In the UK, the UKLA and National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) worked with the TDA, using DOMBEY's research to inform resource material for the online Teacher Training Curriculum Resource Network and Induction Pack for English. It was developed for the induction of teacher educators and also used by student teachers and teachers from 2002 to 2010. In 2009-2010 the English site had 112,691 visits, with 569,792 pages viewed. In 2010, the UKLA and NATE asserted that this material was high quality and `has had much to contribute to work at masters level in the teaching of English in general including the Masters in Teaching and Learning. In addition to its use by university tutors, it has also been heavily drawn on by trainees and practising teachers' (5.7). Other UKLA publications drawing on DOMBEY's work include The handbook of primary English in initial teacher education (5.8).

LOVELESS' research has informed pedagogic design in the training of educators through the activities of the UK Association of Information Technology in Teacher Education (ITTE), which has 48 institutional members who represent teacher educators. ITTE also works with sister associations such as the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) (US) and the Japanese Society for Education Technology (JSET). The Chair of ITTE 2008 - 10 (and Outgoing Chair 2011-12) testifies that: `the network, which ITTE is plugged into and manages at a national level, liaises directly with government agencies, policy makers and also teacher practitioners based in schools. [LOVELESS'] research has influenced elements of course design in initial teacher education and CPD, both in content and pedagogical approach to subject knowledge, ICT capability and creativity. Two specific examples of this would be the MA in `Creative and Critical Practice in Educational Settings', at Keele University from 2010, and the MA in `Education Practice' at De Montfort University from 2009' (5.9). LOVELESS' CP provocation paper has become a resource for professional development and, in 2008, was translated into Japanese by JSET in a text for teachers and teacher educators (5.10).

In the HE sector, WISKER's research has informed material to support postgraduate education. The HEA Escalate Wellbeing Project led to the development of a practical toolkit in 2011 for postgraduate supervisors (5.11). WISKER's research on conceptual thresholds has been used in the establishment and development of a range of programmes and resources for supervisors (2009-13). The South Africa-Netherlands Trust (SANTRUST) developed 14 HE postgraduate supervision courses based on her research. The SANTRUST Academic Programme Manager testifies that: `Conceptual thresholds have been reported as being one of these concepts that they [supervisors] have found useful and liberating in understanding the stages that both they and candidates have encountered in their scholarly journey together' (5.12). The research also informed the design of postgraduate supervision workshops in Gothenburg, Sweden (5.13).

Sources to corroborate the impact

5.1 Link to NCVER (Australia): `Innovation in teaching and learning in vocational education and training: international perspectives.' Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]. Hillier's report is disseminated through this website.

5.2 Testimonial available from Director, Work-Based Education Research Centre, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia confirming adoption of research networks.

5.3 Testimonial from BELMAS CEPAL Research Interest Group confirming the use of the concept of refraction and use of life history methodologies.

5.4 Testimonial from External Relations Secretary, Board of Directors, Cyprus Education Research Association which confirms that the research raised awareness of the theories and methodologies, and widened the international reach of CERA.

5.5 `Creative Learning & Innovative Teaching: A study on Creativity and Innovation in Education in EU Member States'. Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]. Link to EU report with contributions from LOVELESS and its relation to the EU Year of Creativity.

5.6 UK Literacy Association, `President's blog'. Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]. The 2013 Catalogue p.14 Teaching reading: what the evidence says. Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013].

5.7 Research with a primary focus. Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]. Tender for Contract submitted to TDA in February 2010 on behalf of the consortium composed of NATE and UKLA. This refers to the resource on TTCRN website. Document available on request.

5.8 UK Literacy Association The Handbook of Primary English in initial teacher education. Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]. Resources are available here.

5.9 Testimonial available from Chair of ITTE 2008 - 10 confirming that the research influenced elements of course design in initial teacher education and CPD.

5.10 Creative Learning Creative Partnerships publication. Available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013].

5.11 HEA Escalate Project Final Report and Toolkits available on request.

5.12 Testimonial from SANTRUST Academic Programme Manager, confirming use of WISKER's research in postgraduate supervision programmes.

5.13 University of Gothenburg `Advice for Doctoral Supervisors'. available at: [Accessed: 8 November 2013]. This references the course and WISKER's contribution.