UEL proved a turning point for my career, says Guardian columnist and Schools Week editor
For most students, completing a final-year dissertation is an end itself. But for University of East London (UEL) graduate Laura McInerney (pictured above) it proved a gateway to becoming a leading educational thinker, Guardian columnist and editor of Schools Week magazine.
Laura credits starting a part-time MSc in Positive Psychology at UEL in 2008, and becoming an early adopter of Twitter to undertake her dissertation, as helping to get to where she is today.
After growing up in Widnes, Cheshire, Laura studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Oxford University before moving to Birmingham to work for accountancy giant KPMG. After a few years and several postgraduate degrees from the Open University, she moved to London to join Teach First.
“I was placed in a school in Stratford that had really aspirational students and families who valued education, but there were lots of challenges within the school and the local community,” said Laura.
“It was dealing with the fall-out of the 7/7 terrorist attack and radical Islamism in the area. There was prostitution and a lot of violent crime, too. It got me thinking about behaviour management and change.
“It was also the first time I came into contact with UEL as it was pretty nearby and lots of UEL PGCE students were on placements with the school. It was a real turning point.”
After some research, Laura discovered and applied for the MSc Positive Psychology degree. At the time, UEL was the only university in the UK to offer such a programme.
“My dissertation was going to look at how students and teachers used metaphors to talk about education, but I needed a way to build-up a database of these words. That’s when I discovered this new thing called Twitter.”
At the time, Twitter was still new and growing, having started just two years earlier in 2006. Laura joined Twitter and used it to research her chosen topic. She now has more than 40,000 followers.
Using Twitter for brought her into contact with leading influencers in education and expanded her knowledge.
“I found myself writing more on education, and a UEL lecturer invited me to write a chapter for the Oxford Handbook of Happiness,” said Laura. “I was getting occasional invites to speak at events, and I started writing a blog on education.”
After six years, Laura left teaching to take up a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to study new schools in the USA, spending time at the University of Missouri.
Laura now writes a monthly education column in The Guardian and two years ago she was appointed editor of Schools Week, a leading weekly educational newspaper.
She said, “I was the original creator of the #edselctte hashtag and live-tweeted almost every education select committee between 2012 and 2014 – something which Schools Week continues.
“The education select committee is now the most popular of all parliamentary committees. It is more followed, more discussed and more tweeted about than any other. There is no evidence this has anything to do with me, but I’m going to try and claim the credit anyway.
“I suppose my advice to current and future UEL students is to take your education seriously, and make the most of your opportunities. Think about the best way to do an assignment, and don’t be afraid to ask your tutors for help, go and see them during office hours and ask questions.”