Interview with Sarah Brownsword, Lecturer in Primary Education

Read what Lecturer in Primary Education and mum of three Sarah Brownsword thinks of education in the UK, and why she was inspired to help organise TEDxNorwichED.

What’s your career background?

After graduating with a languages degree, I went abroad and taught English as a foreign language for several years.

We moved back to England when I was pregnant with my second child and had a few years of not really knowing what I wanted to do. I worked in a bookshop and ran my own business for a while before deciding to go back to University to train as a primary school teacher.

When I left my school in June this year I was senior teacher, English subject leader and SENCo.

How did your career change when you became a mum?

My career didn’t really change that much when I had children; at that point I still hadn’t worked out what I wanted to do!

What attracted you to teaching?

I first started teaching because I wanted to travel, it was definitely more about that to begin with. But there’s nothing to compare with watching a child grow, learn and succeed and when I tried other careers I just didn’t get as much satisfaction out of it.

What are the pluses (and minuses) of teaching as a career as a mum?

I was a single parent of two young children when I decided to train as a primary school teacher. The PGCE is a really intensive year-long course and it was hard to juggle all the work and find time for my girls.

Teaching can seem like a family-friendly job from the outside because of the holidays but actually, I never went to school assemblies, sports days or other school events because I was teaching. I owe a lot to the fantastic nurseries and childminders my children have had over the years!

Teaching is also one of those jobs it’s really hard not to take home; teachers’ workloads can be huge and many teachers I know work long into the evenings on marking. But the rewards you get from it are like no other job.

Where do you work now?

I work at the University of East Anglia as a Lecturer in Primary Education.

How do you balance your career with your family?

It’s hard! I have thee children. My eldest is 16 and doing her GCSEs this year and my youngest son is four and just started in reception so they have very different needs. One of my daughters dances competitively and trains two nights a week so our evenings are busy too.

I leave early in the morning and sometimes get back late. We try to sit down and have dinner together as often as possible as a family during the week as I think that’s a really important time to catch up and just listen to each other. My partner has another three children who sometimes come over at the weekends so it can all get quite hectic!

What does an average work day look like to you?

I drop my son off at his childminders at 7:30 and head off to work leaving my other two children to get themselves to school. Depending on the time of year, I’m either on campus all day giving lectures, workshops or tutorials; or visiting students on placement in schools to do lesson observations.

The schools can be anywhere in Norfolk or Suffolk so they can be long days with lots of driving. I usually get home in time to pick my son up at 6pm.

You’re one of the team behind TEDxNorwichED. What’s your aim with the project?

The theme of our first event in March this year was ‘Thinking Differently’, and the idea was to hold an TEDx event which would stimulate discussion and action surrounding how we can think and do differently in education.

There is a lot that happens in education and schools that isn’t working, but there is also a great deal that is and the hope is that events like ours can get people thinking and talking about education in a positive way.


How did your 2016 event go?

It was fantastic! We had a great venue, the speakers were amazing and the day ran really smoothly thanks to an amazing team of volunteers. The event was livestreamed for people who couldn’t attend and had a combined audience of over 5000 on the day itself; since then the videos have been watched almost 19,000 times.

And what do you have planned for 2017?

Our next event in March 2017 is on the theme ‘Inspiring Generations’. Speaker applications are open now until October 25th so there’s still time to apply. I’m looking forward to the speaker selections as it’s always interesting to read people’s ideas and stories.

 Who inspires you?

Children. Mine of course, but also children in general. Adults can be so narrow minded and judgmental and I love how honest and abstract children are.

If you could change three things about education in the UK, what would they be?

  1. I’d like the decisions that are made at policy level to be made by people who have actually worked in schools.
  2. I’d like schools, but teachers in particular, to be trusted to know what they’re doing and be allowed to just get on with it.
  3. And finally, I’d get rid of homework!

You can find out more about TEDxNorwichED (and apply to be a speaker) on their website.