18 JANUARY 2015

Colleen McLaughlin

Could you tell us a little about your background?

I began my career in education as a school teacher, where I taught English. I very quickly became interested in young people who challenged the school because of their behaviour or lack of engagement. This led me to realise that there is always a reason behind a behaviour and it is fascinating to study - the beginning of my interest in research. I then undertook a Masters in Counselling and this proved to be the most powerful knowledge. I moved into becoming an advisor in the local authority but did not enjoy the lack of community in this role. I then worked at the Cambridge Institute of Education, an extraordinary organisation that combined work on research, policy and practice and was way ahead of its time. I stayed there and the Institute merged with other branches of education in Cambridge and we became the Faculty of Education. I became Deputy Head of Faculty, a Cambridge syndic too and was briefed with working on developing an international profile of direct work in the Faculty. This was the beginning of the considerable and rewarding partnership with Kazakhstan. Three years ago I moved to the University of Sussex as Head of Education where I still am.

Why did you become interested in education research?

Because it is the most extraordinary learning and a real opportunity to influence practice and policy.  I have always been fascinated with why things are the way they are and research gives you a chance 'to make the familiar strange'. It is so satisfying.

What do you find most interesting about cross-country projects and working?

Again this is a real opportunity to see your own work and culture afresh. The connections that are formed, both professional and personal, are very strong and rewarding, they enrich life. It is also so important to see the strong sense of purpose and commitment around education often found in other cultures.

What tips would you give to educators and policy makers involved in educational reform?

Listen to the teachers and the students who are the real actors if you want to really make it work.

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