Institute for Social Renewal

Learning for Change

Learning for Change


Education and lifelong learning are crucial to thriving in a time of challenge.

In this theme we investigate what kind of learning is transformational - overcomes barriers. We explore the importance of communication and curiosity. We consider the potential for changing in the way teachers teach and the importance of involving families, young people, teachers and society in the learning process. Our academics have expertise in these areas, and in particular how to develop engagement and democracy in education to ensure the inherent aspirations of every student is recognised.

We are especially interested in the importance of equipping people to thrive in hard times. We are researching this through innovative approaches to teaching and learning in the classroom and through intergenerational learning. Dialogue, partnership and enquiry-based learning are central to the areas we research.

Under this theme we also bring together colleagues across the University whose research concerns what young people bring to today’s challenges.

The Children and Young People Research Hub was established in 2014 by theme champions Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth and Professor Liz Todd. Focusing specifically on Learning for Change, the hub allows like-minded researchers to come together, to swap ideas and best practice, and to explore the possibility of establishing inter-disciplinary research projects to benefit children and young people. 

Theme Champion
Professor Liz Todd
Professor of Educational Inclusion, Research Centre for Learning and Teaching
Deputy Research Director, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

Man reading to his grandson, with a windmill toy.


Enquiry-based Learning and ‘Digital Mysteries’

A collaboration between Professor David Leat and staff in Computer Science is Ahmed Kharrufa’s company ‘Reflective Thinking’. The Digital Mysteries programme works using state-of-the-art technology on tabletop electronic tabletops to encourage Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 children to work together and to think creatively about their answers and the way they work. The software sets the children a task (otherwise known as a ‘mystery’) and they then have to work collaboratively on the answers. Using innovative tools to group ideas together, they can show the reasoning behind their answers.

Boy with a globe


Feelings Count: quantifying relatives’ views of aphasia care

This event organised by Dr Rose Hilton and Dr Julie Morris brought together health professionals and service users to explore the quality of care provided for relatives of people who are suddenly affected by aphasia.

The event facilitated a dialogue between people with aphasia, their relatives, and health professionals, supported by students and speech and language therapists from ECLS. It involved a newly developed tool that used grass roots comments - captured in the literature - to construct an audit checklist to measure care quality.

Health care professionals left the event motivated to change practice and with an evidenced framework to support this, backed up by powerful endorsements from service users who participated. Service users felt that they had been listened to and that their contribution to future care was valued.

Helpful feedback about the audit tool from all the delegates will be incorporated into future versions by the ECLS staff. This event has helped to show health professionals the benefits of taking advice from service users’ and has assured some service users that we want to listen to, and incorporate their ideas for change. You can see more about aphasia on


Intergenerational Learning and Dementia Project Design Workshop

The Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT), co-ordinated a very successful intergenerational learning and dementia project design workshop on March 1st 2013, along with other colleagues in ECLS, the Institute for Ageing,  Investing in Children, VOICENorth and young people and their teachers from North-East primary and secondary schools.

These groups came together to consider ways of working towards intergenerational learning and a dementia-friendly society in what proved to be a stimulating discussion across the generations. Feedback from participants was that the opportunity for real intergenerational communication had been greatly appreciated and had promoted both knowledge-sharing and networking.

This in turn has been a catalyst for school-based projects and research collaborations. The workshop is foundational to the on-going development of a substantial project on intergenerational learning. A newsletter and video from the day are available on the CfLaT website.


The Better Communication Research Project.

In a recent review for the UK government of services for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) the present speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow recommended improving the evidence base for interventions for these children. Changing practice is the key to improving children’s outcomes.

This led to the development of the £1.5m ‘Better Communication Research Programme’ funded by the Department of Education (DfE) with Professor James Law as one of the four principal investigators. By combining practitioner experience and the best available evidence this has led to the production of an interactive website currently being piloted across the UK and internationally by the charity the Communication Trust.

This website has now received further funding from the Department of Education. As an extension of this piece of work, Professor Law has helped to direct the recent All Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language under the chairmanship of Lord Ramsbotham looking at the relationship between SLCN and social disadvantage. This has led to parliamentary questions in January 2013 and will result in a report to the Houses of Parliament later in the year. Prof Law has also recently been funded to complete a policy report for the charity Save the Children, which is interested in developing their programme of work in the same field.