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Research Unlocked 2016 - What we discussed, what you thought

The third Research Unlocked event took place at Whitefield Research and Development Centre on the 29th November 2016. As always, the symposium looked at how recent research could be employed within real-world classrooms, but in particular this year there was a recurring theme of improving student access to the curriculum.

If you were one of the attendees, we would love to hear your comments - leave them at the bottom of this piece. 

Presentation 1:  Helping autistic children access the curriculum

Rebecca Wood, a Research Fellow at the Autism Centre for Education and Research (University of Birmingham) was our first speaker. She is also the Project Manager of the Transform Autism Education project.   Rebecca's research questioned how autistic children access the curriculum and tests in mainstream primary schools and how inclusion can be improved. 

She examined the support that pupils get in schools and compared the reasons staff gave for the type of support given to how it is perceived and experienced by children. This highlighted that one of the most effective ways of supporting children with autism is to focus on their interests and perspectives. This will enable them to be more active in their learning and also develop a greater sense of well- being and independence. 
Rebecca also highlighted that primary school tests such as SATs do not consider the learning styles of children with autism and how it is important to facilitate access to curriculum and tests to ensure that children progress. She has worked on a short term project with the Standards and Testing Agency to consider how to facilitate this further. 

Presentation 2:  Looking at teacher’s self confidence and pupil progress.

The second presentation was given by Evelina Dimopoulou.  Her PhD research explored “the self-efficacy and collective efficacy beliefs of teachers of children with autism in the UK”.  She gave the definition of self-efficacy as being “an individual teacher's expectation that he or she will be able to bring about student learning” (Gadella, 1996)  and collective efficacy as the “performance capability of a social system as a whole and to people's shared beliefs that they can work together to produce effects” (Bandura,1997) 
Evelina gave an interesting and detailed account of the literature and theory behind her research and the methods used to collect her data.  
As a result of her research, she came up with a wide range of findings. For example, teachers highlighted that experience played a big part when working with pupils with autism and also managing challenging behaviour.    She emphasised that self and collective efficacy is strong when the quality of teaching in a school is outstanding, pupils are achieving well, the leadership is strong, managed well and staff are working together to meet the needs of the children with the support from parents and other professionals.

Presentation 3: Using Pupil Voice to improve the design of augmentative technology

Seray Ibrahim, is a PhD student and is currently researching how to involve children in the evaluation of augmentative communication.  Seray considered the sparse literature currently available on how children with disabilities have been involved in technology design research. She also examined a range of ethical and practical hurdles that have to be crossed when trying to enable children with SEND to share their views and participate in the design research of augmentative communication devices.  

Seray highlighted that using vignettes (stories that presented characters of a similar age and context to the children participating in the study) was a very effective way of prompting the children to share their views about their current communication systems and what they would prefer to use in an honest way. She also emphasised that she needed to be flexible and adaptable when gathering information from children and that she needed a range of techniques at her fingertips.   Seray is continuing this research and so we will be looking forward to hearing how it progresses in the future. 

Presentation 4:  How coloured tents can improve engagement and awareness of children with multiple disabilities

Our final speaker was Suzanne Little who has twenty years’ experience of working with children with multiple disabilities and cerebral visual impairment.   Suzanne has found that a single plain ‘colour tent’ has consistently ‘opened doors’ to the mind for children with severe brain damage. Suzanne feels strongly that the value of these tents needs to be shared as often cerebral visual impairment is overlooked in meeting the needs of children with multiple disabilities and complex needs.  
Suzanne has co- written a paper, which was published in January 2015 in the British Journal of Visual Impairment about the positive responses of these children when offered an uncluttered environment such as a tent.   
Suzanne is currently involved in a national project with three sites including the Joseph Clarke Educational Service (which is part of Whitefield Academy Trust.) The aim of the project is to determine the role of using colour tents to bring about attentional responses in children with complex disabilities, by providing a clutter and sound free environment to facilitate their visual awareness.

Your feedback

We would like to thank everyone who spoke at or attended the event.  If you attended, we would be  very interested in your feedback.  In particular, if you have thoughts on 

  • Whether any of the research presented  will have an impact on your practice     
  • Any ideas about how some of the research ideas could be shared more widely
  •  Any ideas for future Research Unlocked events
  • Any other comments

Do leave them in the comments box below, or e-mail Geraldine O'Grady at


  • Seray Ibrahim 4 years ago
    Really informative and interesting talks. Perhaps a longer day for more interactive discussion may have been useful too. Really liked having break and time at start /end to network. Thanks!
  • Daryl Maisey 4 years ago
    Thoroughly enjoyable! Interesting and thought provoking. It would be helpful to have some links to the papers mentioned in the course of some of the presentations. My fault though, I should have written them down!