Polly Bell

  • Polly BellPolly Bell is from Cheltenham. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2017 and her thesis title is ‘Exploring creativity in teaching and learning in innovative science and arts primary practitioners’ lessons’.

    How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

    I live locally and when considering further postgraduate study, someone mentioned the School of Education at Oxford Brookes University. I visited the campus and spent time looking at course options online, as well as speaking to other graduates from Oxford Brookes about their experiences.

    What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

    When discussing potential postgraduate research with others, I was told that Oxford Brookes University has a large and vibrant School of Education with a reputation for producing excellent teachers. The Harcourt Hill campus being so close to where I live was also a massive draw for me as I have three young children. When I started exploring the possibility of doing a PhD in Education at Oxford Brookes, I spotted a studentship in creativity in science education, advertised online by Professor Deb McGregor. The description sounded fascinating as an area of study and the funding meant that I was able to take a career break from teaching to do a PhD full-time in a topic that I am passionate about. My PhD links to Deb McGregor and Sarah Frodsham’s creativity project and it has been great to be involved in that.

    What were you doing before?

    I had returned to work part-time as a mainstream primary school teacher in Oxford, following maternity leave with my third child, when I applied for and was accepted onto the PhD. In the preceding year, I undertook a part-time postgraduate research module with the Open University to refresh my academic research skills. Prior to my primary teaching position in Oxford, I worked in an independent primary school in London and completed an MA in Education at Durham University, where I also achieved my PGCE qualification.

    How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

    I was immediately made aware of support available to me when I started at Oxford Brookes. The Upgrade service and workshops, networking events and training sessions are free to attend and made me feel part of an academic community. This in turn smoothed my transition into a research role from my previous position as a teacher. It was a big step for me to change career direction and increase to full time hours. As a result, my everyday life and routines changed dramatically which has been a huge challenge for both me and my family. Knowing there is support available is of paramount importance when life gets complicated. I would urge any new research students to attend these optional sessions because not only have these allowed me to develop relevant skills, but also to meet other PhD students with whom you can share your experiences and build friendships. It helped me to feel that I am not alone in having to juggle so many things in my life as a mature student alongside a PhD and that it is possible.

    A few other resources I would highlight are the library request system because it means if you work regularly on the Harcourt Hill Campus you can order in books for collection instead of having to travel to Headington when time is short. In addition, as an Oxford Brookes PhD student I have the privilege of being able to obtain a Bodleian library reader card which is invaluable because anything I cannot get from the Oxford Brookes library, I can usually find there.

    Tell us about your research.

    I am undertaking a full-time PhD supported by the Primary Science Teaching Trust (funded by Astra Zeneca) and Oxford Brookes University, exploring creativity in teaching and learning in primary classrooms. My doctoral study focuses on exploring and exemplifying creative practices within the context of science and arts education. This involves thinking about the many and varied ways that teachers and learners express their creativity in the classroom. In addition, my project will review how teachers support the development of pupil creativity in the classroom in the subjects of science and the arts. I am drawing on a range of theoretical models related to paradigms of creativity, dialogue, features of inventiveness, curiosity and agency as well as habits of mind to make sense of my data. My working title is currently ‘Exploring creativity in teaching and learning in innovative science and arts primary practitioners’ lessons’, although inevitably this will evolve as my research progresses. I am using a mixed-method design with several means of data collection used to build up a detailed picture to help answer my research questions and look for further insights into creative teacher practices. The in-depth exploration in my research will inevitably result in a critique of policy and offer insights for creative pedagogies that could be utilised by teachers across UK classrooms (and hopefully beyond). My research findings will contribute to a research base that informs future guidance for teacher training and continuing professional development for primary (and even lower secondary) school practitioners.

    What do you enjoy about being a research student?

    Being a research student means that I have the perfect excuse to immerse myself in a topic that really interests me. I can spend hours reading about something I am passionate about. A PhD takes you on a journey - intellectually - to places you never expected to go. You get to see things from a fresh perspective and question things you took for granted. When I first started, I asked my supervisor about the steps required to complete a PhD to allow me to map out the journey I would take over three years. I quickly realised that there is no map and often the route I plan gets blocked or diverted. It is important to plan; however, I have had to learn to be more adaptable. I am now more resilient when I encounter an unanticipated issue. I have determination to overcome these when they occur and I am continuing to work on being more open to constructive criticism and considering alternative ways of approaching theories, methods or interpretations.

    What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

    I attended lectures on research methods which were useful in increasing my awareness of the possible methods I could use in investigating my research area. These sessions allowed me to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches; to allow me to determine which methods would best address my research questions. This year, I am attending a ‘writing for academic practice’ course. PhD students are free to request to attend any series of lectures in the University therefore it is worth investigating what might be useful for you, to brush up your knowledge in an area. The training I attended on NVivo and SPSS have both proven helpful in understanding how to use these packages to analyse data. In addition, I found research conferences very valuable in learning more about the research of others and meeting colleagues in the School of Education and other departments within the University.

    What are your future plans?

    I have just started the second year of my PhD and have yet to decide in what direction I will go after completion. Luckily, there appear to be lots of options when I do approach that end, and events such as the Life Design training sessions that Oxford Brookes runs are brilliant for focusing on what is important to me in a future.