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The role of peer relationships in the working lives of post-pandemic primary teachers

   Institute of Education

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  Dr Karen Blackmore, Prof A Kington  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Supervisory team

Director of Studies:

  • Dr Karen Blackmore, School of Education, University of Worcester


  • Prof. Alison Kington, School of Education, University of Worcester
  • Dr Dan Owens, Windsor Academy, Halesowen.


Teacher retention is in crisis and further research is needed in order to explore ways in which this level of attrition can be addressed. These concerns have resulted in an increased focus by policymakers on factors which might influence decisions to leave or remain in the profession, and it is recognised that peer relationships and collegial support can have a positive influence in the professional development and levels of commitment for primary school teachers. However, in March 2020, schools in England were closed to all but vulnerable children and the children of key workers, as part of a national effort to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Many teachers were required to work from home as remote learning was implemented, denying them those supportive relationships that previous literature has acknowledged helps to maintain teachers' resilience and commitment during challenging periods.

Research is beginning to detail the negative effect that lockdown and subsequent disruption had on the well-being and attainment of many pupils (Young Minds, 2020; Rose et al., 2021). However, less attention has been paid to the impact on teacher peer relationships, although there have been indications that teachers sought out supportive relationships with their colleagues in order to maintain resilience during this challenging time (Kim and Asbury, 2020; Klapproth et al., 2020), and that senior leaders reorientated their attention toward relational aspects of schooling (Ferguson et al., 2021). The requirement to teach online had an impact on pedagogy (Greenhow et al., 2020; Spoel et al., 2020; Carpenter and Dunn, 2021), attainment (Ofsted, 2020; Rose et al., 2021), student motivation (Ofsted, 2020; Zaccoletti et al., 2020), and student–teacher relationships (Jones and Kessler, 2020; Moss et al., 2020; Wong, 2020). Headteachers reported that their strategies of leadership shifted becoming more closely aligned to an ethic of care, recognizing the traumatic nature of the crisis (Beauchamp et al., 2021).

This project will explore the influence of these peer relationships on primary teachers in the post-pandemic workplace. Taking a mixed methods approach, this study will advance knowledge and understanding of the educational, social and psychological influences of peer support and collective identity, and the way in which primary teachers construct and perceive their professional lives in relation to these.

Aims and Objectives

Previous research has therefore highlighted the importance of teachers' situated identity within school contexts, and the importance of social support to teachers as a coping mechanism during time of stress. This study seeks to extend previous research by specifically attending to how teachers construct their relationships with peers in the post-pandemic primary school context, as well as the association between these constructions, and how (if at all) this sense of collective identity influences their professional lives. The broad research aims are to:

  • understand the key factors associated with peer relationships and collective identity;
  • explore the perceptions and experiences of primary school teachers regarding relationships with peers and how that influences their working lives;
  • identify variations and commonalities in teachers’ collective identity; and,
  • discuss ways in which teachers can be supported at local and national levels.

In order to achieve this, the study will seek to:

  • provide evidence of primary school teachers’ perceptions and experiences of peer relationships through a rigorous and robust research design;
  • collect data relating to the perceived impact of these relationships on teachers’ sense of motivation, commitment, self-efficacy and well-being using multiple data sources;
  • explore the benefits and challenges of peer relationships on a sense of collective identity through in-depth case studies;
  • identify ways in which the findings have implications for teacher retention.

Potential academic significance and impact of research

This study will contribute to the growing field of study concerning the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on individuals and social groups. It will seek to reveal complex constructions of interpersonal peer relationships and the associations between these constructions, extending previous research on the impact of teachers' peer relationships by employing a methodological stance informed by social (and discursive) psychology. The study will explore the unknown impact of relationships shaped by the pandemic on the lives, experiences and career trajectories (including retention) of teachers within the profession.

In particular, the research will advance theoretical understanding of the way in which primary school teachers construct their collective identity, the basis on which peer relationships play a role, and the role and patterns of verbal and non-verbal collaboration/interaction between teachers. In doing so it will provide a rich and valuable basis upon which to inform policy and practice in the complex and challenging educational landscape. For these reasons, in addition to the immediate implications for teachers’ classroom practice, the project will be of high interest to policymakers, advisors and think tanks, charities, Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Professional Development providers, as well as professionals linked to schools (e.g., Education Welfare Officers and Educational Psychologists).

Application Process

To begin the application process for this studentship please go to and click ‘apply now’ next to the project you wish to apply for. It is expected that applicants will have the following qualifications:

  • A Masters degree in the area of Education or related
  • discipline.
  • A First or Upper Second Honours Degree

It is also expected that applicants will be able to demonstrate the following:

  • A sound understanding of and interest in both the project
  • and the wider subject area
  • Experience of relevant research methods and skills
  • Ability to contribute to the research design of the project
  • Proficiency in oral and written English
  • Proficiency in IT relevant to the project
  • Ability to organise and meet deadlines
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Ability to work independently
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Strong communication skills

Funding Notes

The studentship is offered for a 4-year period on a full-time basis. The studentship is campus based. During the period of your studentship you will receive the following:
a tax-free bursary of £15,609 for 3 years
a fee-waiver for 4 years (expectation that full time students complete in 3 years. If student enters year 4, bursary stops but fees waived)
a budget to support your direct project costs including dissemination costs
a laptop and other IT equipment and software as appropriate to the project
use of the Research School facilities.


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