Do you have a great idea?


The 21st Century Learning Alliance is once again offering teachers the opportunity to apply for Fellowships to help them turn ‘great ideas’ into action research projects with the aim of developing and sharing best practice. Martin Ripley explains.

It is often said that government policy follows teachers’ good ideas. 

Now more than ever, schools should be developing new ideas, implementing successful changes and inventing tomorrow’s learning.

In our current times of government-directed curriculum, Ofsted-inspected schools, and “rigorous” accountability, the 21st Century Learning Alliance sets out to encourage and enable action-based research in schools. 

In 2009, the 21st Century Learning Alliance started to listen to all the great ideas that teachers were coming up with and in that year launched its Fellowship programme. 

Now in the third season of awarding Fellowships, the Alliance continues with its stated straight-forward aims of giving support and encouragement to teachers and school leaders to enable them to achieve self-directed research and learning programmes. 

The Fellowship programme, under the leadership of our co-chair, Sir Tim Brighouse, is a dynamic scheme that brings together mentors, contacts across education and industry, and the Fellows in a collegiate based system. 

This support has helped to turn some “great ideas” into projects that have generated considerable interest in the education world and built communities of interested educators.

Previous Fellows act as mentors to new Fellows to help them plan their work and discuss difficulties and possibilities. Fellows meet at regular intervals with Sir Tim and Alliance board members to discuss their work as it develops and to explore suggestions for the successful completion of their work. 

In addition, the Alliance provides support and introductions to ensure that the Fellowship forms part of a excellent ongoing professional development programme.

In July 2013, the Alliance will award further grants for the financial year 2013/14 and readers of SecEd are encouraged to apply to join the programme.

SecEd has generously supported the Fellowship programme and readers will be familiar with the research of some of the Alliance’s Fellows as their work, together with our board members’ contributions, have been published in these pages over the last few years. 

After reading about the projects, many readers have contacted the Fellows and have become involved in growing and developing their research by forming communities which continue to swap ideas and experiences on an ongoing basis.

Recently, SecEd has followed the Imvoto Fellowship, which used pupils’ own handheld devices to deliver curriculum-rich mathematics questions to A level students.

This proved so popular that teacher Jamie Freeman, the Fellow involved, could not believe the number of emails from readers that popped into his email following publication of his two articles in SecEd. These initial enquires have developed into a community that includes an extension of the project and its ethos into other subjects.

Other readers have followed the difficulties and rewards of Claire White’s introduction of 100-minute lessons in her Cornish school, or how Neil Mackintosh used his Fellowship to evaluate and establish the first Combined Cadet Force in a state boys’ secondary school in Birmingham (see below for more on these projects).

These are just the most recent Fellowships published in SecEd. Previous Fellowships have included diverse and challenging research, including:

  • What skills actually constitute A* achievement?

  • The introduction of age not stage at key stages 3 and 4

  • Demonstrating the improvement of boys’ literacy through using interactive ICT and improving the learning skills of year 7 by using netbooks. 

  • The effects of, and the interaction with, the built environment of a school on pupils’ learning experiences.

The above are just the research projects carried out by our secondary school Fellows – the programme is open to teachers across the age ranges and you can follow their activities on our website.

All the Fellows demonstrated in their innovative projects that given time, resources and financial support they are able to generate ideas and outcomes to stimulate their own teaching and increase the learning opportunities for their pupils. 

The Alliance continues to develop learning communities to further and support the work of the Fellowship programme, which is an important part of our work and is funded and supported by a number of key commercial and charitable organisations. So if you have a “great idea” and want to develop it further now is your chance to apply to become a Fellow from July 2013.

Further information on selected Fellowships  

Cadets: Neil Mackintosh has seen the impact of his school’s Cadet Force on low student aspiration over the past few years. His project focused on expanding this idea, including offering an elective curricular option at key stage 3 to reach more students. He wrote: “The cadets feel part of the institution; they have ownership of what goes on, take pride in their achievements and collaborate with staff to strive for continual improvement.” For more, see

Mobile assessment: The Imvoto Fellowship Project looked at developing the use of mobile devices for assessment within lessons. Imvoto is an app that uses students’ mobile phones in the classroom, offering them real-time assessment feedback. It has been developed by mathematics teacher Jamie Freeman, who used his Fellowship to engage with other teachers to adapt the tool for wider use in other subjects and settings. The app aims to encourage all students to get involved in the lesson. It asks them to respond to questions via their mobile devices, and Jamie is now looking to create a library of resources, including the use of more open-ended questions. He wrote in SecEd: “Within minutes, I can now get 30 explanations (for a concept or idea) projected onto the board, which we look through as a class, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in each. It has been fascinating to observe how ordinarily shy pupils, who would never voluntarily contribute to a class discussion, come alive when they see their comments on screen, aware that they are not alone in their views. For more, see

100-minute lessons: A project led by assistant headteacher Claire White at her school in Cornwall focused on the impact that 100-minute lessons can have on student outcomes and school improvement. In her article for SecEd, Claire discussed how the lessons allowed for more opportunities for students to review progress. She added: “Our Student Teaching and Learning Group, which was against the change 12 months ago, now talks positively about the 100-minute lessons, noting that the pace of learning is faster than before and that they leave each lesson feeling as if they have achieved something, while also having a clear idea of what they need to do next.” For more, see 

  • Martin Ripley is a board member of the 21st Century Learning Alliance, a unique forum with representation from practitioners, government agencies and industry which stimulates improvement and change through contributing expert, evidence-based challenge and advice at the highest level.

Further information
The 21st Century Learning Alliance is accepting applications for Fellowships until June 24. For details (including a list of current Fellows and their projects) and for information on how to apply, visit


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