Dr Megan Crawford: Keeping pace with a constantly changing sector

Dr Megan Crawford joined Plymouth University in October 2014, having previously been Deputy Head of the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. She is now Director of the Plymouth Institute of Education.

Q: So what persuaded you to move from one of the world’s elite universities to a very different, modern institution?

I was looking for a head of department role, but I particularly wanted to be somewhere that had good foundations in place that I could work to build upon – and Plymouth certainly fitted that bill. There has been a lot of great work done here in recent years, especially in light of the ever-changing national education policy, and we have first-rate lecturers, researchers and students who can take Plymouth’s reputation as an educator of educators to a whole new level.

Q: What do you think are the Institute of Education’s greatest assets?

Aside from the students and staff I've already mentioned, there is the fact you can now get an education with Plymouth University right from early years to post-16 – through our work with the Mayflower and Marine Academy primaries – through to postgraduate level. Then there is the way we are embedded within our communities, with the majority of our undergraduates coming from, and staying in, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. Add into that the links to our partner colleges and you have an exciting package, which I think gives us quite an exciting offer within the higher education sector.

Q: And in contrast, where do you feel our offer can be improved or expanded?

We are just about to launch a new qualification in early years education, and I think there is potential for expanding our postgraduate offer, but largely I do think we need to have a period of consolidation on the teaching front. However, from a research perspective, while we had a reasonable showing in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework – especially in terms of impact – I would like to create more of an atmosphere in which people feel they can be innovative and bold, taking their existing good work to a new level. Having more strings to our bow is one of the factors that will continue to encourage students to make us their number one choice.

Plymouth Institute of Education

I would like to create more of an atmosphere in which people feel they can be innovative and bold, taking their existing good work to a new level.

Dr Megan Crawford

Q: You’ve already indicated that education is a constantly changing field. Just what impact could national policy decisions have on the Institute of Education over the coming years?

This is a very difficult time for the whole sector, and national education policy can – and does – regularly change at the flick of a switch. That means we have to constantly monitor what we do and will potentially have to revamp the content of our courses each year in line with government decisions. Changes in policy do signal changes that we, as teacher trainers, have to implement very swiftly if we are to correctly prepare our graduates for the world they will enter when they leave the University.

Q: Teachers often get a bad press, and yet our application numbers remain strong each year. Why do you think that is, and how can we maintain that?

I think the people who apply to study here have a genuine love for their subject, and a wish to pass on that enthusiasm to others. But one of the key issues facing the education sector in recent years has been the drop-out rate among teachers, with many new recruits buckling under the pressure placed upon them. We all know schools where those teachers who have been there for decades are the ones who make the school special, but I feel we have a job to do in ensuring our trainees leave full of enthusiasm and with a realistic appreciation of the challenges to come.

Q Tell us something about yourself that people might not know.

My dad was a naval architect who was apprenticed in Devonport, and I had cousins in Plymouth we used to visit. But I spent my mid-to-late childhood in New England, and it gave me a fascinating and first-hand insight into different ways of educating. In the States, things were quite laid-back – t-shirts rather than blazers – and I did then struggle with certain aspects of my schoolwork when I returned to the UK aged 13. But the experience helped me enormously and, I believe, I still regularly put many of the lessons I learned out there into practice today.