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Researchers in the School of Education have undertaken a range of projects to better understand the experiences of teachers, leaders, students and families throughout the pandemic and to help inform responses to the crisis both in Northern Ireland and across the world.

Studies have been conducted between colleagues in the School of Education, alongside colleagues in other departments in the University and in collaboration with academics at other Universities in the UK and Ireland.

Findings of these studies are being used to inform the work of policy makers, teachers, leaders and other practitioners across educational settings.

Parental experiences of home learning

Various projects have been undertaken to learn about parents’ experiences of supporting home learning with primary school children, post-primary children and children attending special schools.

Dr Barbara Skinner led a study exploring the experiences of working families who had the pressure of balancing home schooling and a demanding professional job. Weekly experiences were recorded by working mothers in a WhatsApp group over a 6-week period. Four main themes emerged: roles and responsibilities, the dynamics of family relationships, re-prioritisation and coping strategies, and suggestions for more effective home-schooling.

Related staff


Skinner, B., Hou, H., Taggart, S. & Abbott, L. (2021) Working parents’ experiences of home-schooling during school closures in Northern Ireland: What lessons can be learnt? Irish Educational Studies, 1-20.

Dr Una O’Connor and colleagues collected survey responses from parents of primary children, post-primary children and children attending a special school in Northern Ireland to learn more about their experiences of supporting home learning during the initial period of school closures. Findings centre around parents’ familiarity with, and confidence in, supporting curricular learning, the type of communication between home and school (including resources used), and the key challenges faced by parents.

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O’Connor Bones, U., Bates, J., Finlay, J., Roulston, S. & Taggart, S. (2020) Ulster University Northern Ireland Parent Surveys: Experiences of Supporting Children’s Home Learning during COVID-19.  [Report]

Bates, J., Finlay, J., & O’Connor, U. (2021) “Education cannot cease”: The experiences of parents of primary aged children (age 4-11) in Northern Ireland during school closures due to COVID-19. Educational Review. DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2021.1974821

O’Connor, U., Bates, J., Finlay, J. & Campbell, A. (2021) Parental involvement during COVID-19: Experiences from the special school. European Journal of Special Needs Education. DOI: 10.1080/08856257.2021.1967297

Alongside colleagues in the School of Psychology, Dr Shauna McGill undertook a study of parental experiences of home education. This study used a panel survey approach and robust data were collected to derive Socio-Economic Status (SES) of families, leading to a more representative sample of parents in Northern Ireland. Results showed a significant association between SES and children’s access to their own technology to complete learning activities. The majority of parents reported worrying about the development of their child’s social skills.

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Cahoon, A., McGill, S. & Simms, V. (2021) Understanding home education in the context of COVID-19 lockdown. Irish Educational Studies, 40(2), 443-455.

Dr Stephen Roulston and Sammy Taggart conducted a study alongside a colleague from Dublin City University to understand how parents of post-primary children were coping with supporting home learning during the pandemic. The survey received 2,424 responses from across the island of Ireland. Findings consider the challenges of home schooling, the school’s role in supporting learning and how parents had adapted to home-schooling.

Related staff


Roulston, S., Taggart, S. & Brown, M. (2020) Parents coping with Covid-19: Global messages from parents of post-primary children across the island of Ireland.

Pupils’experiences of learning during COVID

Dr Barbara Skinner, alongside PhD researchers Maria Stewart and Ronan Kelly recorded a podcast episode which discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted primary and post-primary pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) as well as their families.

The discussion centres on the particular challenges pupils have faced during the home-schooling period and will face as they return to the classroom, with a specific focus on language development, access to support and home-school communication.

Related staff and researchers

Listen to the podcast

School leadership

Alongside researchers in Scotland, England and Wales, Professor Linda Clarke led a UK-wide study exploring headteacher perspectives on leadership and management in the initial stages of the pandemic. Interviews with headteachers took place across schools in each of the four nations, including one secondary, one primary and one special school in Northern Ireland.

The study found that leadership at this time required rapid further development of relationships with staff, pupils and parents, underpinned by trust and fairness, and led by moral imperatives focused on the collective good of the community.

Related staff

  • Professor Linda Clarke


  • Hulme, M., Beauchamp, G., Clarke, L. & Hamilton, L. (2021) Collaboration in times of crisis: Leading UK schools in the early stages of a pandemic. Leadership and Policy in Schools. View on DOI
  • Beauchamp, G., Hulme, M., Clarke, L., Hamilton, L. & Harvey, J. (2021) ‘People miss people’: A study of school leadership and management in the Four nations of the United Kingdom in the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational Management, 49(3), 377-392.

Educators supporting remote learning

Alongside international colleagues across Ireland, Malta and Cyprus, Professor Roger Austin is leading a two-year Erasmus project: Repurposing Education through Blended Learning (REBEL). This two-phase project examines the impact and legacy of the pandemic on teaching and learning.

Phase 1 of the project examined experiences of parents, teachers and pupils in schools in each country. Phase 2 will identify future teacher professional learning needs around blended learning, including the potential use of hybrid/hyflex learning and the development of an evaluation framework for the use of blended learning in schools.

Reports from each of the four partners will be published on the REBEL website (details coming soon). Webinars for HE staff and teachers in the Autumn of 2021 will lead to short courses in the Spring term of 2022.

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PhD researcher Méabh McCaffrey-Lou led a study documenting the experiences of teachers during the initial school closures in Northern Ireland. An online survey was distributed to primary school teachers (334 responses) and post-primary teachers (276 responses). The key messages drawn out of findings were that good partnerships are essential to support remote learning, teachers are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing, online learning requires redesign rather than replication of existing classroom approaches, Northern Ireland need to address the lack of capacity to support the development of digital education and that a regional strategy for inclusive digital education is required.

Related staff and researchers

  • Méabh McCaffrey-Lau
  • Professor Linda Clarke
  • Dr Stephen Roulston
  • Dr Despina Galanouli


McCaffrey-Lau, M., Clarke, L., Roulston, S. & Galanouli, D. (2020) Northern Ireland teacher survey: Teacher experiences of remote learning in Northern Ireland mainstream schools during the initial 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.

Read the report

Dr Xiuping Li edited a special edition of English as a Foreign Language International Journal which allowed EFL/ESL teachers, learners, researchers and educators to share their experiences and the practices used to engage with and overcome challenges presented by COVID-19. Dr Xiuping Li  wrote the forward to this special edition, found below.

Related staff

  • Dr Xiuping Li


New challenges, new strategies, and new prospects in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. English as a Foreign Language International Journal, 25(5) Special Issue

Global outlook

Professor Kelsey Shanks is the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Challenge Leader for education research within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Alongside colleagues at the UKRI, her work considers the interlinking global policy areas which have been impacted by the pandemic and seeks to identify transformative opportunities that the pandemic has presented for policy makers to take responses that cut across these domains.

The following comment piece discusses these challenges and opportunities in relation to the six global challenge areas addressed at the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund; food systems; education; cities and sustainable infrastructure; security; protracted conflict, refugee crises and forced displacement; environmental resilience; and global health.

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Lambert, H., Gupte, J., Fletcher, H., Hammond, L., Lowe, N., Pelling, M., Raina, N., Shahid, T. & Shanks, K. (2020) COVID-19 as a global challenge: towards an inclusive and sustainable future. The Lancet, 4(8), E312-E314.

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