Blog: Oxford University Press and DPhil school improvement collaboration

Susila developed an interest in school improvement processes while working for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and was successful in gaining a place to study a DPhil in the subject with Oxford University’s Department of Education. 

Susila Davis

Keen to pursue a business partnership to widen the scope of her work and, as a self-funding student sourcing financial support, finding the right organisation to partner with was a priority for Susila. 

At the same time, leading educational publisher Oxford University Press (OUP) was developing an innovative new digital platform for school improvement, Pathways.  

OUP was investigating ways to link this project with evidence-based educational research and following an application and interview process, offered Susila a studentship covering her DPhil fees.  

Susila’s partnership with OUP focused on studying primary school practitioners’ perceptions and understanding of professional development. Since this research was taking place while OUP developed Pathways, it was ideal timing for a mutually beneficial collaboration.  

Thanks to Susila’s work, OUP was able to explore the use of Pathways in more depth at pilot stage, through the lens of models of school improvement – and to refine the platform’s design and functionality for optimal impact before launch. 

Susila benefited from the partnership with a pool of primary schools to draw on for her DPhil research, the knowledge exchange with stakeholders and the OUP team – and funds to support her DPhil work. 

Following a successful start to the DPhil element of Susila’s project, she agreed with OUP to expand the project’s remit to include research. Susila applied her research expertise and analytical skills to translate academic material into practical, original content on the Pathways platform¸ ensuring it was fit for purpose and user-focused. 

This work was of great value to OUP as Susila provided real-time feedback while the platform was under development and updates could be made. Susila gained significant data for her DPhil project – while honing her critical thinking, analysis and research skills. 

Susila’s advice for other researchers 

  • Be open about what you would like to gain from your involvement from the planning stage onwards - and ensure that you understand what the organisation wants to achieve from it too. 
  • Set clear milestones and include both academic and engagement-focused outputs. 
  • Communicate with the partner organisation frequently and, if possible, work face-to-face with the team to develop relationships and maximise opportunities. 
  • Maintain regular communication with your research supervisor, to receive support and a useful perspective on any challenges. 
  • Create a clear separation between research and knowledge exchange. Some academics may question findings from collaborations and it is important to critically reflect on this from the very beginning, take appropriate measures and prepare to answer potential questions.