Intuition - Winter Supplement 2020

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In partnership with

Winter 2020

An inTuition supplement outlining opportunities to take part in practitioner-led research and development


How engaging with research and development can benefit practitioners and learners alike

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In partnership with

Another level

Winter 2020

An inTuition supplement outlining opportunities to take part in practitioner-led research and development


How engaging with research DQG GHYHORSPHQW FDQ EHQHͤW practitioners and learners alike





The empowering and engaging effects of practitioner-led collaborative projects

Two teachers who made the leap towards transforming their teaching practice





Practice Development Groups are shaping the delivery of further education nationwide

How one college’s journey of discovery ended in success

6 PRACTITIONER-LED DEVELOPMENT Three research initiatives to increase knowledge, skills and confidence


14 CENTRES FOR EXCELLENCE IN MATHS The power of action research to uncover alternative solutions




The benefits of Outstanding Teaching Learning and Assessment

Understanding how to systematically test evidence makes better researchers

Effective practitioner-led research and development can help teachers and trainers become better at their job, and improve the overall quality of further education in England ne of the legacies of the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to be the underlining of the importance of further education (FE), and ensuring that those in post-16 education have access to the level of teaching that will help them develop the skills to compete in an ever-tighter jobs market. For those working in the sector, one way of ensuring this is through effective research and development – taking the time to think about things differently, try out new approaches and document the results. This can benefit not only the individual concerned – and, of course, multiple years’ worth of students – but also others who learn from that research project. As Paul Kessell-Holland explains on page 15, being able to demonstrate the difference something makes toward a more effective way of delivering a lesson or structuring a course is a world away from merely having a


EDITOR: Nick Martindale

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hunch, and can help ensure that practitioners help to shape the debate around the delivery of FE. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) already offers a number of programmes designed to help people engage in practitioner research and development, outlined on page 3 by Dr Catherine Manning, national head of practitioner research and development, and covered in more depth in this supplement. At a time when effective teaching has rarely, if ever, been more important, we hope a renewed focus on research and development – led by those working in and around the profession and with the appropriate support structures – can help to ensure that practitioners are able to raise their own performance levels, and others are able to share in that success.


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Changing lives ‘Inspirational’, ‘innovative’, ‘career-changing’: just three ways FE practitioners have described their experiences of practitioner-led development. Dr Catherine Manning provokes such p positive responses? g asks: what p hen I worked in further er education, a few years rs ago now, CPD typically involved volved attending a one-off workshop with a trainer on an area of teaching hing and learning that had been identified as a weakness across the organisation. on. While these workshops were helpful in the short term, I found it difficult to implement ment lasting changes to my practice as a result of attending them. Once I started working at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) I thought, here e is an organisation that champions ns a range of CPD approaches. I recognised early on that one approach proach reported by participants as being g particularly empowering and engaging gaging was the use of ‘collaborative projects’. Here, groups of teachers worked together on an area of practice they had chosen to develop. Teachers and trainers tell us that this approach is effective because they are in charge of their own development; they get to exchange ideas with colleagues inside and outside their organisation, while learners – and their practice – are at the heart of the process. It is my priority to ensure that the potential of collaborative, teacherled CPD is realised through the ETF’s programmes. One of my first tasks has been to set out three types of practitionerled development and research. First, we have practitioner-led development projects, where, teachers or trainers meet regularly to review an area of their practice. Between meetings, they try out different teaching and learning


strategies or resources and evaluate them. They may produce new resources or ideas that can be drawn on by other practitioners. Examples of this approach are supported experiments (Petty, 2020) and joint practice development (Fielding et al, 2005). At the ETF, a number of our programmes draw on practitioner-led development projects. In this edition you can read about Practice Development Groups – PDGs – (pages 4 to 5), Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) and T Level Resource Improvement Projects (TRIPs) (pages 6 to 7). Second, there are small-scale research projects. These allow teachers or trainers to undertake a systematic investigation into an area of practice. Teachers/ trainers will design and conduct their own research project, analysing evidence from their own practice and reading existing literature.

A common example of this CPD com approach approac is action research. You can read pa participants’ experiences of the Outstanding Teaching Learning and Outstan Assessment (OTLA) (pages 8 to 9) and Assess Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) (page 14) 1 programmes. Third, some practitioners opt to undertake underta a university research programme. Find out more about pro the ETF’s Practitioner Research th Programme on pages 10 to 11. P Finally, some teachers and trainers may find one of these t approaches works well for them a so stick with it, or.they may move between betwee these activities during their career. O On this note, do read about Dom Thompson’s voyage from action research Thomps to running PDGs (pages 12 to 13). Many of the outputs from the ETF’s practitioner-led research and development can be found on our practitioner research and evidence portal (PREP). For more information, visit

DR CATHERINE MANNING is national head of practitioner research and development at the Education and Training Foundation

References and further reading Fielding M et al. (2005) Factors influencing the transfer of good practice. University of Sussex. Available at: Petty G. (2020) Supported experiments. Available at:


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Tangible impact With nine regions and seven organisations delivering Practice Development Groups, these programmes are helping to shape the delivery of further education across the UK he ETF is establishing Practice Development Groups (PDGs) across England, designed to promote practitioner-led, collaborative professional development across the further education (FE) and training sector. PDGs consist of action learning sets of practitioners, who work together on a short-term, small-scale project to improve an aspect of their teaching, learning and assessment. The projects can cover any


programme of study, but need to develop an aspect of teaching, learning and assessment to enhance the teaching of English or the embedding of maths or English in that area. The aim is to create an expansive learning environment (Fuller and Unwin, 2004) that will facilitate professional growth. A new round of practice development groups are starting in January 2021. Contact your region lead to ďŹ nd out how to join.



The PDG brings together those with an interest in developing their practice focusing on the teaching of English and/or the embedding of maths and English. Participants present their problems to peers, then reflect on and refine their practice based on the questions and feedback within the action learning sets. This gives them a chance to make small changes that, hopefully, will have a big impact. We are working with the University of Portsmouth to embed this into the Cert Ed/PGCE programme running at the university and also at five local colleges. We show trainee teachers how the programme helps evidence the professional standards needed for their teaching file.

The Association of Colleges is delivering the programme in the London and South West regions. We believe this is a great opportunity for practitioners to take some time out to reflect on their practice while networking and sharing with other FE practitioners. The PDG programme gives practitioners the chance to tap into a great wealth of knowledge – it can almost be considered as free consultancy! Groups in this region are exploring topics such as blended learning and digital technologies, which all practitioners can relate to in the current climate. We hope that by the end of the programme some great resources are created to further enrich the sector.

Dom Thompson

Barbara Baidoo


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We are committed to collaborating and sharing practice across the sector. We believe this helps ensure that all learners have access to the best learning and teaching. Our commitment is unwavering and we are delighted that, through this project, we can share the wide range of fantastic practice across the region, work with colleagues from different elements of the sector, and learn and grow ourselves throughout this process. Examples of the projects include a music lecturer looking at how learners can present research findings in a mathematical way, an English lecturer helping vocational students with report writing, and an electrical installation lecturer using digital technologies to get students to engage and complete equations.

Andrea Quantrill

Within the North East of England, we are focusing the PDGs around a number of key themes. The majority focus on developing maths and English skills within a vocational setting: in construction, sport and uniformed services, creative arts, health and social care, and digital technologies. The remaining projects are focused on maths and English staff collaborating around specific themes. This initiative brings a vital opportunity for teachers to collaborate with colleagues from different organisations to support each other to provide solutions. It also allows teachers to develop networks across the sector – a vital element for a teacher to develop both their subject knowledge, and also their broader understanding of the sector.

Sarah Condren

Jonny Rees

The Yorkshire and Humber PDG will bring focus to the embedding of maths and English within the curriculum and support the bridging of gaps between the subjects. Embedding maths and English within the vocational curriculum has decreased in momentum after a surge of input and initiative over the past five years. Our students need to build a skill-set that will ready them for life and work, and seeing the value and place of maths and English within that skill-set is key to a successful future. The PDG project will provide a space for educators to take a problem and work through it to an action, be that a resource, strategy or next step. These actions will make learning experiences richer and further support learner progress.

EAST AND WEST MIDLANDS The team at touchconsulting has recruited a team of 16 brilliant facilitators, passionate about practitionerled enquiry. Each facilitator is gearing up to run a PDG in the Midlands. Members will meet approximately four times from October to January 2021 and participate in a January 2021 celebration event. Meetings will take place online, face-to-face or a combination of the two. Some of our PDGs are already full. Others are still recruiting. They include: Embedding maths in practical vocational programmes Making maths and English fun, interactive and practical Exploring non-written methods of digital feedback Digital storytelling Teaching ESOL online. A Twitter chat #FEMidlandsETF will create an expansive learning environment, based on networks of collaborative professional growth and development for participating providers.

Joss Kang

EAST OF ENGLAND Our PDG programme will consist of action learning sets of practitioners who work together on short-term, small-scale projects. These will improve an aspect of teaching, learning and assessment to enhance their teaching of English or their embedding of maths and English into other programmes of study, over a four-month period. PDG activity will encourage peer-topeer collaboration, sharing ideas and innovation to change the way that maths and English is taught and/or embedded. In the early stages of the programme, Covid-19 restrictions will mean that peer-to-peer working and collaboration will be within a single provider. As the PDG develops, and restrictions allow, the ambition is to extend across different providers to share effective practice.

Simon Feneley-Lamb For more details on PDGs, visit: etfoundation.


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Inspiring achievement Practitioner-led development projects࣢come in many forms. Here, we profile three different approaches



T Level Resource Improvement Projects (TRIPs) are a part of the ETF’s T Level Professional Development (TLPD) offer for further education providers. TRIPs are providerled projects that enable colleagues currently delivering T Levels and those who will be delivering in 2021 and beyond to identify a problem that would benefit from further investigation through collaborative working. TRIPs are suitable for practitioners, managers and business support staff directly supporting T Level delivery. They help colleagues to deliver high-quality learning experiences, ensuring that learners develop the knowledge, skills, behaviours and occupational competencies

to be work ready. Teachers are supported as dual professionals to update their subject specialist knowledge and skills, pedagogy and to raise their awareness of local, regional and national priorities. TRIPs also ensure that teachers work in partnership with employers to contextualise learning, co-designing and planning the curriculum, and embedding technologies and practice that are occupation and industry sector relevant. Here are two examples:

The use of mathematics in drone technology TRIP led by The Mercian Trust in collaboration with Walsall Studio School, Droneworx, Painsley School and Access to Music (now known as Access Creative) The TRIP aimed to upskill teaching staff delivering digital and construction T Levels. Colleagues were supported to develop their knowledge of drone technologies and the mathematics that underpins flight, together with the software developments that have allowed this to occur. Provider colleagues in this TRIP had recognised that drone technology was shaping working practices in their industry sectors.

Teachers reported increased knowledge, skills and confidence. Participants have shared their learning and resources with organisational and wider FE sector colleagues, as well as with learners. A key recommendation from this TRIP was to ensure that teaching and learning is facilitated in a creative and stimulating way, using technology where possible to bring learning to life.

Anticipating inclusion needs (SEND) in T Level delivery TRIP led by Derby College Group in collaboration with BMet, Chesterfield College and Nottingham College The intention was to explore the potential barriers for learners with SEND in accessing and achieving T Level qualifications. The aims were to develop and deliver CPD sessions on the social model of disability, explore the potential barriers for individuals with SEND in accessing and achieving a T Level, create a social model ethos in the planning and the development of its use in T Level planning and delivery, and ensure full inclusivity. The TRIP created many outputs, including a CPD presentation for T Level teams in FE providers on the social model of disability and T Levels, and industry placement guidance supporting employers in providing industry placements for students with SEND to include autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and social, mental and emotional health needs. CERIAN AYRES is national head of technical

education at the Education and Training Foundation

For further information on TRIPs, please visit


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To achieve Advanced Teacher Status (ATS), participants undertake a developmental process, which includes a quality improvement (QI) project. Participants focus on an improvement area in their organisation and follow a structured approach to trialling and evaluating a new strategy or intervention. We have seen some fantastic projects since our first cohort in 2017. Here are a couple of examples:

Annie Pendrey Job role: Freelance and initial teacher trainer and member of SET’s Practitioner Advisory Group (PAG). Improvement project title: Developing effective teaching strategies for reflection/ reflective theory for trainee teachers and teaching assistants and its impact upon their professional practice. Why you chose this: Self-reflection is an integral part of all early years and teacher training modules. It was my aim to ensure my learners were part of a positive revolution of change. Outline of project and findings: My learners formulated a plan to explore five pedagogical approaches to reflection. One of these, ‘Me in a Box’, resonated with all the learners and saw them embedding Professional Standards and reflective theory to their writing, using artefacts. Impact across the wider organisation: The wider impact of my research has been cascaded to #FEResearchMeet, conferences and academic papers, and my book proposal.

Giles Bennett Job roles: Teacher of HE business courses; PGCE teacher educator at the University Centre, Salford City College and University of Manchester; member of SET’s PAG. Improvement project title: Developing scaffolded support and differentiation for Level 6 vocational learners in a pilot-degree programme within an HE in FE context. Why you chose this: I could use my subject specialisms (economics and accounting) and critically apply different pedagogical approaches while working collaboratively with teachers and Level 6 students. Outline of the project: The BA (Hons) Media Make-Up Artistry degree draws primarily from the college’s Level 5 foundation degree. The course develops students’ technical skills to a high degree, preparing them to work in TV, film and advertising. The project aimed to support students’ scholarly approach, academic writing and their business analysis skills. Findings and takeaways: The importance of targeted individual learning plans, scaffolded support and differentiation for nontraditional adult learners. Impact across the wider organisation: The project has contributed to us achieving 100 per cent retention on the course and participants have become professionals in media, industry – and even teaching! For further information on achieving Advanced Teacher Status, visit




Lockdown saw practitioner-led development come into its own. The best of our sector’s senior leadership enabled advanced practitioners (APs) to follow their expertise in the sprint to online learning, freeing themselves to focus on more strategic matters. We are now into our third iteration of the ETF’s Advanced Practitioner programme (#APConnect), and every year the ambition of APs to transform quality improvement cultures grows. In a recent blog, Marsida Horeshka of Birmingham Adult Education Service writes about the rippling impact of her #APConnect quality improvement project: “Metaphorically, #APConnect has demolished the walls of my organisation and opened up a world of possibilities for me as an individual and practitioner. #APConnect is a brilliant amalgamation of work towards an improvement project linked to your workplace, developing as an individual and creating a sense of community.” With each iteration, #APConnect has flexed to accommodate sectoral culture change. In Year 1, the focus was on collaborative projects, bringing learning providers together in quality improvement initiatives which also promoted the warp and weft of a national networked community. Jennifer Thetford-Kay, who teaches health and social care at Shipley College, introduced Thinking Environment practices to improve classroom attention and professional learning engagement in her role as an AP, having received Thinking Environment mentoring as part of #APConnect. “We were ready,” says Jennifer, about lockdown. “Using Thinking Environments meant that staff and students were genuinely on the same page and we learned from each other in those early days. There was no challenge we were not able to meet.” Summarising her experience on both an #APConnect project and the subsequent Constellations scheme, Susanna Brandon, head of teaching and learning at Myerscough College, says: “The energy that is created when like-minded people work together to support, encourage and share resources – but most of all to listen – is phenomenal and it’s this that powers our engines.” LOU MYCROFT is an FE specialist and Communities of Practice lead For further information, visit


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Fresh thinking The ETF’s Outstanding Teaching Learning and Assessment (OTLA) programme enables practitioners to undertake their own research projects. Dr Andy Convery outlines some of the benefits im Boyd teaches at The Sheffield College, and last year he joined the English project team, who were challenging the thinking and expectations of some GCSE resit students. He was experimenting with strategies – such as adding the word ‘yet’ to students’ ‘can’t do’ statements – when he realised that he needed to work on his own language. His classroom research showed him that when he used encouraging phrases to students such as ‘just try it’ when setting a task, he was “sending a message that they are going to find it difficult and might not be able to do it – which now seems to be the wrong message to send”. Tim explored how to avoid this well-meaning language that actually reinforced the potential for failure, and his changes seemed to change learners’ expectations. As a result, he detected a real lift in learners’ attitudes – and all the team, who had been working on similar confidence-boosting strategies, noticed a significant improvement in attendance at their compulsory English classes. Emma Ireland led this OTLA English project and is thrilled by its success. “It gave us all the opportunity to work more closely as a team, to recognise common challenges and to share our different solutions,” she says. “It has helped everyone – students and staff – by giving students more responsibility for their learning.” Last year’s project also gave staff the confidence to use action research, and this has certainly helped them to meet the new


Covid-19 challenges – staff are now openly sharing their experimental strategies for motivating students in online groups. Emma says that the project dynamic gave valuable protected time for staff to work freely, and this has paid off – working on changing students’ mindsets has also raised the teachers’ expectations and boosted their pride in doing a difficult job. In this year’s followon project, English staff are pairing with colleagues in the maths department to explore whether their resit learners can be similarly inspired.

Effective feedback Helen Rankin is based at ELATT, an adult and community learning provider, and is new to OTLA. Working with tutors Evie Ackuaku and Imtiaz Shafique, their project aim is to develop learner capacity and skills to give feedback about their learning experiences. Much of ELATT’s work is with people who have English as an additional language, young people with SEND and other disadvantaged learners, so there are often additional barriers to getting meaningful feedback. This is more so


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now that the team have to be “socially distanced but digitally connected”, so the OTLA project presented itself as “the obvious thing to do”. The team value the project framework, meeting regularly with their project mentor and pushing the initiative forward step by step, as it could easily have been lost in the tumult of pandemic pressures. The team have been lively contributors to national cross-project research meetings, where they have raised the challenges of doing action research in a very diverse organisation.




Added value So what does the OTLA project add to these centres that are already ambitious providers? As part of a national programme, the project provides funded recognition within the organisations. This encourages a wide range of staff to take time and to feel pride in investigating their teaching, and helps Emma, Helen and Tim to prioritise the importance of personal professional refreshment. Both Emma and Helen, as project leaders, acknowledge that all teachers – like all

The OTLA mentors also support teams in gathering project evidence, which inevitably leads to further insights and professional self-awareness. They then help teams to write up research reports, and encourage practitioners to share their illustrative ‘souvenirs’ from the learning experience. These project appendices become treasure-troves of resources, strategies and learners’ work, which offer other practitioners fascinating access to another teacher’s thinking. We believe that, through the OTLA programme, we can help all staff move from shortterm practice development to a sustained and refreshing professional development stance.

Outstanding effort

learners – have different starting points, interests and needs, and they can all be constructively motivated through a collaborative project as staff learn from and with each other. Importantly, the programme provides a year-long ‘rhythm’ of project CPD activities that offers a structure to keep each one on track. Part of these professional development activities involve national or regional research meetings that create a collaborative reassurance as project teams identify shared challenges and generate a communal enthusiasm to work on potential solutions. The programme has also invested heavily in subject specialist mentors. Mentors fill a supportive and encouraging role but they also bring a range of subject specialist resources, which can open doors for hard-pressed project teams, and inspire committed teachers to risk alternative ways of working.

Outstanding learning is not about whether the students trigger a Grade 4 and above or a pass in English, but that they are now fully active in society, contributing confidently in all aspects of social interaction. Likewise, outstanding teaching is not merely a matter of adopting strategies and resources that guide learners to the Grade 4 and above, or pass. It is also about developing teachers’ professional confidence to make judgements about when to introduce different strategies. The programme can generate ripples of excitement as teachers discover how they can open doors that seemed closed to change by simply risking one small change – and then getting positive feedback from learners and colleagues. Finally, an outstanding action research programme in education does not simply focus on finding out what works, where and why. Rather, it is about equipping everyone who supports learning to develop the skills and confidence to continue to investigate teaching, learning and assessment beyond the life of a single programme. Further information on the OTLA programme can be found at

DR ANDY CONVERY is an associate at Claire Collins Consulting


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Research in action

Beth Curtis and Dr Michael Smith have both benefited from the Practitioner Research Programme (PRP) and have gone on to prosper in their careers BETH CURTIS is programme leader for drama and performing arts at Exeter College, has completed the PRP and is currently embarking on a PhD Picture the scene: a cold morning in November 2017. Outside the hotel, the rolling waves of the North Sea break dramatically against the sand. It’s taken a gruelling six hours of travel to get to Sunderland, but I have awoken fresh with anticipation to begin my first day of study on the PRP delivered on behalf of the ETF by the University of Sunderland Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (SUNCETT). I initially applied to the MA short-course PRP as part of a joint project with a fellow A Level lecturer. Once bitten by the research bug, I didn’t hesitate in applying to the MPhil-level PRP in 2018 and have continued to develop my thesis under the expert supervision of the SUNCETT team. The programme is carefully designed to support educators on their research journey, broadening your critical thinking about issues of pedagogy, epistemology and methodology. The tutors generously

share the wealth of their knowledge and expertise, drawing on a wide range of academic and real-life sources to help participants find their own voices. While being hugely interesting and inspiring, the PRP residentials are by no means easy. We work hard. Really hard. But there is something special about the way the programme is designed that means time feels stretched, allowing you precious headspace to think and write in a supportive environment. The team recognise that teachers need to be given permission to leave the demands of the classroom behind for a few days, and this is what makes the programme such a unique and valuable form of CPD. Over the course of each residential, I have seen myself grow and extend my professional learning. From refining my academic writing style to developing the ability to articulate what my research is and why it matters, the programme has reinvigorated my practice and directly impacted the learning experience of my students. I now have the confidence to speak of myself as a researcher as well

as a teacher. A core strength of the programme is the team’s ability to help you recognise that practice-focused research isn’t something reserved for academics, but an invitation to educators to tell the story of their classroom in an authentic and meaningful way. I have embraced this, sharing the narrative of my research journey not just within my own faculty, but with the wider college community at staff development sessions. The opportunity to present my findings at the ETF annual research conference has been another unique feature of the PRP. Cut to the present and you find me extending my research to PhD level with the University of Sunderland, alongside a new role within Exeter College’s teacher education team. My current thesis examines the extent to which the theory-practice divide can be addressed by crafting a culture of critical dialogue in the classroom. There is also potential for the research to shine a light on the issue of T Levels. It is time to leave behind educational structures that seek to pit academic learning against vocational, and instead design curriculums that provide a direct line of sight to industry and offer a holistic and personalised learning experience for students. The PRP has been transformational, and I remain ever-grateful I hit the ‘send’ button on that application four years ago. I would encourage any teacher to embrace the opportunity and view practitioner research not as something that is done to us as teachers, but something we engage in ourselves to illuminate the stories of our classrooms.



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DR MICHAEL SMITH is head of teaching and learning innovation at Barking & Dagenham College, and completed his PhD last year after undertaking the PRP Fundamental to all practitioner researchers is to find a burning issue, a problem, a challenge, within your practice. My research interests have always been firmly grounded in my practice as an English teacher. Fundamental to the process is a support network and wider expertise to draw upon. I was fortunate to engage with the ETF’s PRP on two occasions, the first in 2014 and the second in 2017, through which I had access to support and expertise in abundance. The PRP encouraged me to engage in rigorous enquiry, challenge my preconceptions and take practical steps to improve my teaching practice. Through involvement in the programme my understanding and appreciation of teaching, and of being an English teacher, evolved. My first research project centred on the then forthcoming compulsory study of GCSE English for specific 16- to 18-year-old learners in the sector. This was a collaborative effort – my colleague Paul Roberts was an invaluable source of enthusiasm and expertise – and together we explored how we could best assess new GCSE English learner starting points. We both held an unease towards the often prescriptive and technical emphasis placed on the subject in FE subject contexts. To have a grasp of language is more than just knowledge of SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) rules, or the ability to ‘feature spot’ metaphors or alliteration in a text (Christodolou, 2019). Our experiences when working with learners is that genuine


interest and passion for studying English could be kindled when looking beyond the technical, and promoting language as a way in which we make meaning and help us to better understand our world. It was with this understanding that we set about challenging current initial and diagnostic practices at the college, and made informed changes to the college’s initial assessment process. I used the phrase ‘research journey’ earlier, and did so with the intention of demonstrating the change in my understanding and appreciation of what complexities I was encountering in my practice over the course of my involvement in the PRP. Exposure to wider reading as a result of the programme led me to a greater understanding of how I viewed English as a subject. One example, the Newbolt report, published in 1921, argued that English ‘connotes discovery of the world by the first and most direct way open to us, and the discovery of ourselves in our native environment’. The argument here is that there’s more going than technical constructions of language for functional means. As the report goes on to state, ‘the writing of English is essentially an art’. Richard Sennett (2008) speaks about us becoming ‘problem attuned’, which comprises the ability to problem-find, problem-solve and critique, as one engages in dialogue with others about a subject. This captures for me how the first PRP project led me to a place where I could undertake a meaningful second research project that built on the work of the first. This project formed the basis of the PhD thesis. This research

THE PRP ENCOURAGED ME TO TAKE PRACTICAL STEPS TO IMPROVE MY TEACHING PRACTICE explored assessment practices within English language, and drew into the matter considerations around assessment integrity, professional expertise, relative educational value, and what makes a judgement correct and meaningful. What this research demonstrated to me is that good assessment practice, and by extension many aspects of a teacher’s practice, are enhanced by greater collaboration, co-operation and dialogue between teachers. These represent essential tenets on which I maintain all good educational practice is based. Further information on the PRP can be found at

References and further reading Christodolou D. (2019) GCSE English Language: feature-spotting. No More Marking [blog]. Available at: Departmental Committee of the Board of Education [The Newbolt report]. (1921) The Teaching of English in England: Being the Report of the Departmental Committee Appointed by the President of the Board of Education to Inquire into the Position of English in the Educational System of England. London: HMSO. Sennett R. (2008) The Craftsman. London: Penguin Group.


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Quite a journey... Taking part in an Outstanding Teaching Learning and Assessment (OTLA) programme proved to be the start of a research journey for Havant and South Downs College. Dom Thompson takes a look back early four years ago, the then director of teaching and learning at Havant and South Downs College (HSDC) asked the teaching and learning coaches, “Do you fancy getting involved in some research with the ETF?” Little did we know that this would be the catalyst for our research and reflective journey with the ETF over the coming years. Before this conversation, it was clear action research was being completed at the college, but this was done in ‘silos’ where individuals did not feel confident or have the opportunity to discuss and share their findings. Schulman (1993) suggests this “pedagogic solitude” is often seen in education and was something that we were very keen to attempt to break. In 2017 we took part in our first OTLA project and stumbled across the concept of joint practice development (JPD). Fielding et


al (2005) developed the concept where, rather than CPD/research being developed and enforced centrally, teachers are able to take ownership of their own development via the creation and fostering of links between practising professionals. Fielding argues that collaboration is a “return to the key values of education” and, through our experience (and an attempt at the application of it), we could not agree more.

Initial steps

addition, by adopting the JPD process, staff would hopefully feel a part of the project, which would significantly enhance their ‘professional capital’ through collaboration with professionals from a variety of organisations (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012) and consequently have a positive impact on teaching, learning and assessment. When focused on teachers learning with and from each other, Fielding (2005) identified four elements of positive transfer as especially significant. These included the need for the process to be social and built on trust, the sense of identity for both teacher and institution, support available for learner engagement and, finally, an understanding of time investment. Throughout all further research, projects and training, this was at the forefront of our mind when considering the way forward. Over the next two years, HSDC completed further OTLA projects which included: investigating progression from Level 2 to Level 3, student and staff engagement with audio/video feedback, the application of Google Classroom to teach maths and English and, finally, developing a culture of reading. Not only were these projects immense fun, but they built up our network and put us in touch with people with a wealth of experience in education, including the ETF’s regional specialist leads.

The culmination of the first OTLA project (and the application of JPD) led to the creation of, an online platform showcasing instances of good practice where short videos have been designed, filmed and shared by teachers for teachers with no top-down pressure. It was thought that such a resource would counter the traditional, ubiquitous response of “I don’t have the time”. In


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Additional research OTLA projects seem to identify more questions than answers and can also plant the seeds of research or investigation into participants’ minds. Key findings from the progression from the Level 2 to Level 3 OTLA project demonstrated the impact that parents can have on the decisions of 16- to 18-year-olds. This research was shared with the National Collaborative Outreach Programme’s (NCOP) local consortium, which then funded the college to complete three interventions in 20182019 and three interventions in 2019-2020 to further understand parents’ involvement in FE student decision-making. We are taking this a step further this year and collaborating with the University of Portsmouth to complete more robust, empirical research attempting to apply business decision-making theory to the choices made by 17- to 18-year-olds when considering options post-FE. Interestingly, groups of practitioners, sometimes spread across the country, kept in touch after the programmes finished and formed “communities of practice” (Wenger, 2011) where their passion for their subject and area enabled them to further discuss challenges and identify future opportunities for improving practice.

Further progress Alongside the OTLA programmes, we have also been involved in the ETF’s partnership with the Sunderland Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (SUNCETT). Here, there is the opportunity to complete short-course, fully funded MAs and MPhils. This meant travelling to Sunderland, meeting the amazing team they have there (Maggie Gregson, Trish Spedding and Lawrence Nixon) and further developing our critical thinking and research skills to, hopefully,

DOM THOMPSON is higher education manager/ teaching and learning coach at Havant and South Downs College


give more credence to the work being done at the college. Eight staff have now completed the MA, one has completed the MPhil and another three are working towards this. More recently, we have just launched the SE region Practice Development Group on behalf of the ETF. This group seeks to apply the Action Learning Set (Revans, 1982) methodology to support practitioners in their teaching of English and their embedding of maths and English. In order to break the “pedagogic solitude” visible in education, HSDC has attempted to foster, through practitioner initiatives, a culture of research, investigation, development and innovation. This passion and enthusiasm for investigation and change feeds

through to the students, who also enjoy being “experimented” (a student’s own word) on. HSDC was shortlisted for the 2020 Tes FE awards under the teaching and learning initiative with the title Creating a culture of research: From pedagogic solitude to joint practice development. We recently won a bid to deliver webinars on our application of Google in the curriculum to vocational teachers in Hong Kong, and are in talks with practitioners/organisations in India and Serbia to support their teaching and learning. It’s worth noting that all these projects started with OTLA. Find further information on regional specialist leads and OTLA at etfoundation. and



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The power of action research Undertaking action research is more important now than ever, enabling teachers to improve their performance in their own teaching and learning environments, says Cath Gladding hat is action research capable of? Why do people do it? And what’s in it for the individual and the organisation? These questions have never been more important, given the radical changes brought about in further education (FE) by Covid-19. FE teachers taking part in the Department for Education-funded Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) – run by the ETF this academic year and last – are finding that the pandemic has disrupted teaching and learning. But they have also seen that their action research projects are an opportunity to address the implications of these changes head-on. When dealing with immediate and essential issues such as staff shortages or sudden switching to and from remote online delivery, Kemmis and McTaggart (1982, 1985) sum up the mindset of teachers that underpins action research. They say that teachers “should have a desire to learn about their own practice in its natural social context through collective self-reflective inquiry with a view to improving practice and as a means of obtaining new knowledge”. The power of action research comes partly from individual teachers or groups investigating a part of their daily practice whose improvement really matters to them. At this early stage in the academic year, teachers taking part in the CfEM programme are encouraged to reflect on what is actually happening while teaching, what worked, which parts didn’t


go so well for which students and then envisaging how something could be better. Conversations with colleagues and reading up on evidence behind alternative solutions are informing what teachers try out for themselves. Action research gains power from being done not by ‘outsiders’ but by teachers themselves, who are most knowledgeable about the complexities and realities of their own teaching and learning environments. This is substantively different to traditional forms of research, conducted by those outside FE organisations, and means that findings have a greater chance of being highly relevant, suitably and sensitively contextualised and therefore straightforward to implement. In terms of wider benefits that action research can potentially deliver, my own and others’ experience suggest a number of possibilities. For example: Gaining knowledge and skills for personal professional satisfaction Making incremental improvements in the quality of their teaching and learning Improving examination results and so career prospects of learners Accumulating evidence for a professional status such as QTLS and ATS. Additional potential benefits for leaders and managers or organisations that support action research can be seen in terms of:

A model for CPD, primarily focusing on raising the quality of teaching, learning and assessment Teacher retention and motivation through the sense of autonomy, fulfilment, self-development and pure enjoyment that usually comes from collaborative participation in action research projects Deeper appreciation of the complexities of FE – innumerable variables, interdependencies and so on Bringing together evidence from a wide variety of variables and perspectives to solve a seemingly perennial problem. Precisely which benefits will be gained depends on the motivations and goals of the individuals and circumstances involved. The main point for anyone embarking on action research is to have real clarity on what action research is capable of for the FE sector – a highly relevant, personalised, evidence-based approach to professional development. It is also important for individuals to be clear why they themselves are doing it, so they have the essential motivational drivers to carry them through the good times and the challenging ones.

CATH GLADDING is national research advisor, Centres for Excellence in Maths, at the Education and Training Foundation Further information on the ETF’s Centres for Excellence in Maths can be found at


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What and why? The need for effective research to help inform the practice of education is well established. But what should you focus on, and why? Paul Kessell-Holland offers some thoughts here is very little in the world we can claim is empirically ‘true’. Proving something ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is often a challenge, but in education it is particularly tricky. There is a considerable amount of effort going into randomised control trials (RCTs) in our sector now, much of it in maths: for example, Teach for Life, 5 Rs and the ETF’s Centres for Excellence in Maths. On one level this is a really welcome development in ‘levelling up’ what we know about the further education sector. However, it is worth remembering that the RCT model, developed in medicine, takes a large number of people with the same condition, randomly splits them into groups and treats them with a medicine or a placebo. After studying the outcome, we can determine that usually treating X condition with Y drug will succeed. Unless, of course, you are someone for whom a different drug is more effective, or you have underlying health conditions, or any one of a number of caveats. In other words, medical science gathers all this powerful and important data on what normally works, to guide their profession in making individual context-based decisions. How does this relate to what you should research, and why you should do it? Context. Even if there is evidence that something usually works, there is often no one but you to judge if it actually worked in your context. The leap between ‘I think it works because it worked for me’ and a national programme of careful and painstaking


research is enormous, and that is why the more people who ask the question ‘What should I research and why?’ the better. There is a considerable weight of evidence (including from large trials) that teachers who understand how research works will engage with research more readily, and tend to be more effective – a virtuous loop. It also stops us blindly following things that simply ‘look okay’ or that someone suggested because ‘it works for me’. Being thoughtful about what you want to know about your own classroom or workshop is a precursor to being a much more engaged teacher, and being able to be evidence-based in your own practice. So, what should you research? I would say the answer is ‘whatever you want to understand’. It is worth bearing in mind first that many people have already done a fair amount of education research that might be looking at the same thing you are interested in. Before designing some elaborate classroom experiment, it’s probably wise to do some judicious searching around to see if you can find any previous projects or papers that you could start from – a chat with colleagues or at an ETF event is often a great start. It is also useful to have a sense of what you are trying to find out. If you are baffled why the Tuesday afternoon class is always a lot less responsive than the Thursday morning group doing the same lesson, it may have more to do with the lunch choices than anything you are doing as a teacher – pizza rather than pedagogy. It may be that in looking for

a logical answer to a simple question, your ‘experiment’ is to persuade the owner of your timetable to change the time of a session and see if it makes things improve. How do you follow up on your hunch? To use the example above, it isn’t to say you should not research why the classes are so different – it’s that you will need evidence to justify such a request to your management and to help you work out what the issue is likely to be. How would you go about beginning to prove there was a need to change the time, not your teaching? What data do you already have? Do you need to ask your students about this? To go back to the point about evidence, is there a study on this anywhere you can share that backs you up? Why should we all look to get involved in educational research in some way? Until we begin to systematically test whether the (very good and robust) evidence that is emerging from other sectors really does work for us in our context, we will continue to be told by other well intentioned experts ‘We know what works’, and expected to use these techniques and methods. They may be the best thing that happened to our teaching practice for the past 50 years, but it would be great if we took the time to check, to engage in a dialogue with these researchers, and to share what we know in return.

PAUL KESSELL-HOLLAND is national head of higher level education and T Level design at the Education and Training Foundation


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