Katie Spickley

An award-winning PhD student has said she was motivated to start a PhD by a need to right the wrongs that she perceived in the education system.

Katie Spicksley

Katie Spicksley, who studied for a PhD in Education, said she left her career as a primary school teacher and returned to academia because of concerns she had about the direction of education policy nationally.

“I was working as a primary school teacher and was quite unhappy with a lot of the policy changes in education that were being implemented after 2010,” she said. “I saw an advert for a PhD studentship at Worcester looking at new teachers working in academy primary schools. As I was working as a primary teacher in an academy school, I thought it might be an interesting thing to research - so I applied.”    

“I didn't really think I would get the studentship and still feel very lucky to have been awarded it,” she added. “I have loved studying for my PhD at Worcester and would do it all over again if offered the chance.”

Katie analysed more than 300 ministerial speeches to look for patterns in how ministers talk about both teachers and academy schools. She then conducted research within the primary schools themselves to identify how both teachers and school leaders relate to their profession.

“I am interested in how politicians talk about teachers, and how their words impact on how teachers conduct their working lives and construct their professional identities,” she said. “As a result of my research, I found that new teachers were granted a privileged position in the discourse of government ministers - ministers constructed new teachers as being particularly capable, ambitious, and high-performing. This was in contrast to experienced teachers, who were constructed as needing additional training and as being passive.”

“This impacted on new teachers because they appeared to feel a pressure to portray themselves as high performing and as ambitious for leadership,” she added. “New teachers who were struggling, or who were not interested in leadership, therefore found it challenging to construct a positive professional identity and in many cases were considering leaving the profession.”

“My work showed that it is not only workload which has an impact on teachers' decisions to leave the profession, but also the way they are spoken about in political discourse.”

With such impactful and significant research, it is perhaps unsurprising that Katie has been awarded the Deputy Vice Chancellor’s Prize for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis at the University of Worcester for her PhD thesis. She has also been awarded a Career Development Fellowship by the British Educational Research Association, which will allow her to further develop her research skills through mentoring from a more senior academic and a £2,000 grant spend on professional development opportunities. Katie plans to use it to attend a university summer school, a statistics course, and the annual BERA conference, and to invest in resources.

Katie is now moving on to work as a Research Fellow in the Institute of Community Research and Development at the University of Wolverhampton. “I'll be looking at how frontline workers are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a focus on their wellbeing and resilience,” she said.

Find out More about the School of Education at Worcester