Rethinking Education Research Priorities

How do we learn from children and young people’s experiences of education during the pandemic?

~ 5 research priorities from Rethinking Education ~

Rethinking Education: Lessons from Lockdown is a Special Interest Research Group funded by the UKRI Emerging Minds Network. Nikki Chapman, a parent expert by experience, was inspired to start the group after hearing from many children & young people (CYP) and their families that the Covid lockdowns had some unique benefits in terms of mental health and education. The purpose of the group is to bring together all those with the desire to learn from CYP’s experiences of education and mental health during the pandemic. The group aims to catalyse and conduct collaborative research in this area, capturing learning from lived experience, to ensure wellbeing is an intrinsic part of all education provision moving forward.

As part of this mission, we have worked with young people, parents and carers, educators, mental health professionals, and researchers to come up with a list of research priorities in this area. The journey toward developing this list began in June 2021, when we held our launch event. The event focused on building relationships between key stakeholders in the fields of education and mental health. One of the questions we asked groups to consider was their hopes for the future of education. We had one resounding takeaway: regardless of who we were or which group we ‘belonged to’, we all wanted similar things for the future of education. These included more flexible learning, greater focus on relationships, and more emphasis on wellbeing and kindness. 

‘Regardless of who we were or which group we ‘belonged to’, we all wanted similar things for the future of education.’

We followed this up with a workshop in October 2021 designed to kickstart the development of these research priorities. The most important part of the workshop was ensuring that everyone’s voice was heard – and valued – in the process, with a particular emphasis on CYP, families, and educators. Working in groups, the nearly 30 participants came up with ideas for research questions that were important for understanding CYP’s experiences of education during the pandemic. The task was broad, which allowed for as much creativity as possible! Each group then looked at other groups’ lists and ranked their top three favourite research questions/topics.

‘The most important part of the workshop was ensuring that everyone’s voice was heard – and valued – in the process.’

After the meeting, we compiled the top-ranked questions (as rated by any of the groups) into a list of 34 potential priorities. We sent this out as an online survey and from November 2021 to February 2022 received 130 responses. These included 52 young people, 42 parents/carers, 32 education professionals, 21 researchers, and 11 mental health professionals (some belonged to more than one group). Everyone could rank up to five questions they personally felt were most important.

We then took the five questions with the most votes as our top 5 research priorities, which we are very excited to share with you now!

Top 5 Research Priorities

Priority Question #1

What were the experiences of education during lockdown for children & young people with anxiety?

Priority Question #2

Can online and/or flexible learning be available post-pandemic for those who might benefit from it, and what would such as system look like? 

Priority Question #3

What techniques have been most helpful in supporting children & young people’s mental wellbeing in education during lockdown (what works for whom and why?)

Priority Question #4

What were the positives of education during lockdown, and what changes should be continued post-pandemic? 

Priority Question #5

Are there differences in longer-term wellbeing according to schools’ prioritisation of play and/or wellbeing vs. academic catch-up post-lockdown?

So what's next?

We hope that these research questions can help inspire new research on topics that matter to stakeholders. Listening to these voices can help ensure that research is relevant and meaningful to those who are most impacted by it. And, in the long-run, we hope this process can serve as an example for others hoping to collaboratively develop research priorities, as we believe working together is key to improving the lives of CYP.

We at Rethinking Education have some of our own ideas, too. One research question we loved that almost made the cut (coming in at #6) was ‘Given CYP’s experiences of lockdown education, what would their “dream school” look like?’ We’ve decided to have a go at answering this at the Big Emerging Minds Summit. On Monday, 17th October, our group will be hosting a workshop at this (free) conference that asks not just CYP but EVERYONE to design their dream school! We hope you’ll join us in-person or online. 

We’ll have more details to come on this event. In the meantime, though, we want to thank everyone who has contributed to developing these priorities, including those who suggested ideas for research questions, attended the workshops, filled out the survey, or joined the conversation in other ways. We couldn’t do this work without you!

 – Rethinking Education Team

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