Get to know Liam Hill

What is your role within YH ARC?

Member of the Early Life and Prevention team, working within the Healthy Schools project.

What’s your background?

I have a PhD in Child Health and I’m currently a Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of Leeds.

Since 2012, I’ve collaborated closely with the Born in Bradford (BiB) Longitudinal birth cohort and since 2017, I’ve been an honorary research fellow at Bradford Institute for Health Research. Initially, as a post doc, I worked with BiB on implementing programs of assessment, of children’s motor and cognitive skills, at various points during their schooling1,2. More recently, I’ve dedicated more time working on projects that look at the inter-related nature of children’s health, psychological development and educational progress, establishing the Health, Education And Development Interactions Group (HEADING) as part of the Wolfson Centre for Applied Health Research, which opened in Bradford in 2018.

What current YH ARC projects are you working on?

I spend a lot of my time working collaboratively with colleagues from the Wolfson and the, Department for Education supported, Centre for Applied Health Research. Prior to the pandemic, we were close to starting several RCTs in partnership with a network of research active schools we work with across the region. These studies will evaluate the impact of health related interventions delivered in schools on children’s learning and behaviour in schools. For example, programs to increase physical activity or to detect and correct visual deficits.

While these projects are paused we’ve been redirecting our efforts into providing our partner schools with advice on health and remote learning, support them through this challenging year. Later in 2021 we hope to be back in schools, restarting our studies. Evaluation of initiatives that can help to reduce inequalities in health and education has become grown more important, as we see the pandemic has disproportionately impacted on the already disadvantaged.

I’ve also been working with colleagues to study data we’ve been collecting as part of the Born in Bradford project, using it to better understand the links between factors affecting children’s health at an early age and their later educational attainment. This work has included studying the impact of premature birth on children’s school readiness3. These findings have shone a light on the minimal support the majority of children born prematurely receive during the early years. Our work has also contributed to the debate around whether delayed school entry may a difference. Several studies, including ours, have found the evidence in favour of delayed entry is inconclusive at best.

Lastly, since Spring of this year I’ve been involved in efforts to increase our understand the impact the pandemic is having on young people and schools. I’m working with BiB on surveys that ask children and teacher about their experiences of learning during lockdown and returning to schools, and the impact they feel this has had on health, wellbeing and learning.

What are your YH ARC highlights so far?

Over the summer, we recruited an outstanding early career researcher (Clare Copper) to undertake a PhD with us as part of a White Rose Network of PhD’s. The projects of the PhD students involved in this network are all tied to the YHARC’s Early Life and Prevention theme. Clare began her studies in October and her project will look at what can be done to:

  1. help identify children born prematurely who are most at risk, in terms of their educational attainment (through the use of linked health and education data)

  2. improve support for these children during the early years and as they start school.

Clare’s made remarkable progress in just a few months and is in the early stages of undertaking a systematic review of the educational intervention programmes that have been trialled so far with children born pre-term.

What are you most excited about in YH ARC?

Besides seeing where Clare takes her PhD, there are really exciting opportunities to encourage more collaborative and integrated practice across Health and Education sectors. My sincere hope is that this will improve the wrap-around support we provide to children, in terms of both their development and wellbeing. The Connected Bradford dataset, which I played a role in helping to set up, will be an incredibly important resource once it becomes available as it will represent one of the largest linked dataset of routine health and education in the UK. Using linked data is essential if we want to better understand the complex interplay between health, environmental and social factors, and how these influence varied aspects of childhood development.

In recent months, I’ve also been involved in planning the next phase of the Born in Bradford project, following up children and their families during adolescence. As a psychologist interested in young people’s mental health and development, adolescence represents a really critical period of time in individual’s psychological development. The BiB cohort data, with its information on participant’s early lives, gives us a valuable opportunity to try and identify some of the factors that, early on, either help to protect or negatively impact on young people’s well being and life chances. My hope is that, through this work, we can identify modifiable risk factors that we can then try to target using early years programmes, which seek to prevent difficulties and inequalities emerging later in life.

What 3 things inspire you?

  • Working with teachers, doctors and allied health professionals to co-produce solutions to the problem they face.

  • Having the opportunity to supervise and mentor the next generation of researchers coming through our ranks, including PhD students in our White Rose network!

  • The response of the research community to the COVID-19 pandemic. We all suffered disappointments and uncertainty in the immediate fall out but if was really inspiring to see how quickly researchers from across my YHARC theme pivoted into working on projects that, in various ways, tried to help. For example, starting research that will help identify and bring support to the families and children most affected during the pandemic, or initiating projects that will increase support for those working in health and education, on the frontline.