Using Evidence and Research to Remove Barriers to Learning

Why this is an issue

Bradford is home to world leading research infrastructure including the Wolfson Centre partnership between the universities of Bradford and Leeds, and the Bradford Institute of Health Research (BIHR). BIHR hosts one of the world’s most important ongoing cohort studies (Born in Bradford) providing a large and live platform for testing the impact of different interventions on outcomes for young people.

By linking health and education data at pupil and city level, the Born in Bradford team has developed new approaches to early identification of health issues known to impact on learning. In Bradford, these include higher than average incidence of neurodevelopmental problems, such as autism, as well as uncorrected eyesight issues and underdeveloped fine motor skills. These issues are proven to affect behaviour, cognition, reading and writing, as well as creating additional challenges for teachers, schools and support services.

For fine motor skills, we already have evidence that shows the potential for interventions to improve handwriting accuracy and speed, and in turn improve educational outcomes. At present, these interventions are not well known or widely delivered in schools.

The Born in Bradford team are already trialling innovative approaches to providing support more quickly to children affected by those issues, by enabling collaborative working between health and education professionals. In the simplest example, this means bringing optometry services into schools, responding to an estimated one third of the children in Bradford who have sight issues not attending appointments to get help (and then facing an obvious and serious challenge to reading and writing).

We see Born in Bradford’s work with schools – which in many cases appears to have an immediate impact on learning – as genuinely innovative and potentially transformative, especially where we can look at ways to share best practice elsewhere. By investing to develop their research, help teachers learn from effective practice and – through communication and our influence as an OA – helping schools build their relationship with health professionals, we believe we can remove barriers to learning and social mobility for pupils across the city and beyond.

What we’ve done

Investing in Bradford as a City of Research

Working with Bradford’s EEF Research School, Born in Bradford and Bradford Council, with support from local universities, the clinical commissioning group and the Education Endowment Foundation, we will support the creation of an Education Innovation Hub, which will have two key aims:

  • Link and use health and education data to identify opportunities to improve diagnosis of health issues affecting attainment, as well as driving development of innovative practice to help children, teachers and other professionals address these issues.
  • Lead and commission action research programmes to expand our understanding of what works in linking health and education; and by engaging more teachers, health professionals and the community in research, support Bradford’s ambition to become a ‘City of Research’.

The first areas of work for the hub and our partnership will be:

  • Improve literacy and reading by working with the EEF to promote evidence-based interventions on handwriting and to train teachers, teaching assistants and special educational needs co-ordinators in 50 schools.
  • Extend the current programme of support for children with uncorrected eyesight problems across 80 schools where take-up of glasses and other corrective interventions is low.
  • Work with schools to identify and support pupils with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions, expanding the existing trial of this work to at least 30 more schools.
  • Ask participating schools and the local authority to help design an efficient approach to sharing pupil data to aid diagnosis.
  • Offer training to teachers on supporting children with autism, so that they are more confident and capable in responding to their needs.
  • Evaluate the impact of different interventions to assess which have potential to be effective elsewhere, and expand them to other areas if possible.

Our targets 

  • There will be an improvement in writing and attainment of pupils participating in the handwriting programme by at least 1% a year.
  • Over 100 schools will be participating in educational research activity.
  • We will attract additional inward investment of at least £1m (in addition to OA funding) for educational research.