REF2021 23Z_ICS_B : Re-imagining and transforming teaching and learning in further education

    Impact: Public Policy or Services impacts

    Description of impact

    Research by BCU’s Practitioner Education Research Group (PERG) has made a significant contribution to re-imagining and transforming teaching and learning across further education (FE) in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Collaborative research with the FE workforce and its learners has been instrumental in raising awareness among policy makers and the education profession of the value and contribution of a historically marginalised sector, along with informing and improving sectoral and institutional teaching and learning policy and practice. The research led to the Reimagining FE conferences (2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019), one of the largest gatherings of FE practitioners in the UK and the sector-led movement #FEResearchmeet, which supports and promotes engagement with research and the development of research skills among FE practitioners. It has also informed and underpinned the Education and Training Foundation’s national development programmes for FE leaders. PERG research has influenced policy debates: informing the Labour Party’s agenda on promoting the transformative power of FE and directly shaping the policy focus of the sector’s largest trade union body, the University and College Union (UCU).

    Details of Impact
    Working collaboratively with the FE workforce, our research has offered a reimagined vision of FE that places learners, practitioners and their communities at the centre of the teaching and learning agenda. This vision has informed national policy and changed practice across FE providers.

    Capacity building and the professional development of FE practitioners

    Our work has elevated the importance of sustainable knowledge production and dissemination in FE that places practitioners at the centre (R01, R04, R05). This has led to a series of events, initiatives, movements and investments in practitioner-led research and inquiries to inform FE teaching and learning policy and practice. Since 2016, BCU has hosted one of the largest national conferences for FE practitioners, #ReimaginingFE, which has regularly attracted over 100 participants from a range of FE providers across the sector, including adult and community education, offender learning/prisons, general FE colleges, sixth form colleges, college-based higher education providers, training providers, work-based learning providers, private sector as well as higher education, trade unions and local councils [S01]. The conference is particularly significant in the way it, uniquely for the sector, brings together a diverse group of stake-holders including policy-makers, funding agencies, senior leaders, teachers and teacher educators. A key impact of the conference is on FE practitioners’ development as researchers. 38 conference participants were supported to develop their conference contributions into published articles disseminated in two special journal issues, edited by O’Leary and Smith in 2018 and Savage (PhD student supervised by O’Leary) in 2019. Another direct impact from #ReimaginingFE has been the emergence of a nationwide, grassroots movement #FEResearchMeet [S02] that supports and promotes engagement with research and the development of research skills among FE practitioners. Over 450 FE teachers and staff have participated in this movement [S02]. This level of public engagement with our work led to the largest FE trade union in England, UCU, funding FE staff to carry out research into aspects of their own practice related to transformative teaching and learning [S03].

    Our work has shaped the content and focus of national professional development programmes offered by the Education Training Foundation (ETF), the sector’s most influential workforce development body. As part of the ETF’s ‘Advanced Practitioner’ and ‘Leaders of Advanced Practitioners in FE’ programmes, O’Leary et al’s research (R04) has been used to provide the conceptual underpinning for an innovative leadership module and accompanying resources aimed at middle managers to improve FE teaching and learning [S04]. These national programmes were first delivered in November 2020 to groups of 20+ FE practitioners, with O’Leary as a key consultant. Work by Sam Jones and David Powell from the FE Research and Scholarly activity working group at #ReimaginingFE is also referenced by ETF in their learning materials [S04].

    Dame Ruth Silver, President of the Further Education Trust for Leadership, praised the quality and significance of work by O’Leary et al (R04) and highlighted how the research had made a “serious and substantial contribution to the sector’s understandings of leadership, teaching and learning” [S05].

    Shaping institutional practice

    BCU’s research has been instrumental in informing institutional reform in FE institutions in the UK and Republic of Ireland. One example is Central Bedfordshire College’s use of O’Leary et al’s work (R04) “as the main blueprint” to transform the College’s teaching and learning [S06] after an Ofsted inspection that rated the college ‘requires improvement’. The College used the research report to lead a staff development programme designed to “transform from a culture of ‘them and us’ among practitioners and managers to a collaborative working environment fostering support, trust and reflection” [S06]. Subsequent Ofsted monitoring visits recgonised the significance of progress made, which the College’s Principal, Dr Ali Hadawi, attributes directly to the impact of O’Leary et al’s work [S06].

    Another beneficiary from our work is Bedford College Group (BCG) which has benefited directly from staff involvement in the #ReimaginingFE conferences [S02]. Following her experience as one of the convenors of the Research and Scholarly activity working group at #ReimaginingFE, Sam Jones, a teacher educator at BCG, went on to lobby the senior leadership team for the formal recognition and financial support of research and scholarly activity in her workplace. BCG has now “transformed into a research college with funding commitments to its staff to support practitioner research and uses research as basis to make their strategic decisions” [S02]; Jones was appointed BCG research and scholarship lead. One direct impact of this has been the college group’s investment in a practitioner-led research initiative - the Bedford College Group Research Network Blog [S06] – which embodies the key message from our work on the importance of FE practitioners’ role in knowledge production and dissemination. Since its launch in 2017, the blog has developed international reach and regular readership with over 100 views for each blog post [S06]. They also developed a collaborative partnership with Central Bedfordshire College on a funded teaching, learning and assessment project which reached 200 staff across the two colleges and focused on improving the quality of teaching, learning and assessment practices across the two colleges; this was an outcome of their staff participating in #ReimaginingFE conferences [S02].

    Dublin Adult Learning Centre has adopted the digital methods of gathering, exploring and sharing life stories and education biographies [S06] developed by Duckworth and Smith (R03) to “capture the wider benefits of adult literacy” [S06]. The Centre recognises that capturing the wider benefits of adult literacy is a difficult and complex challenge due to the diversity of learners’ needs and achievement but the methodology developed by Duckworth and Smith enables inclusiveness when capturing the diverse range of adult literacy practices [S06]. “It is underpinned by equality principles, it is in their own words, it is accessible and it is powerful”, and “as they are videos they can be understood by the learner, it is not a piece of research done on them that they cannot read” [S06].

    Informing the debate

    Nationally, our research work has informed policy and political debates on a re-imagined vision of FE that empowers learners, practitioners and their communities. Duckworth and Smith’s work (R02, R03, R05) provided tangible evidence which was used to inform Labour’s education agenda at the 2019 General Election on a transformative FE sector that recognises the “substantial social, as well as economic, benefits to lifelong learning” [S07]. This body of work has also provided evidence to support UCU’s campaign for the improvement of FE in the UK and for the provision of high quality education with greater investment in FE teaching [S08]. Jeremy Corbyn (then Leader of the Labour Party) spoke about the party’s support of UCU’s campaign for improving FE provision with reference to Duckworth and Smith’s work [S09]. Robert Halfon (then Conservative Minister of Education) referenced the project in a speech on skills saying “I have been impressed by stories that the UCU are sharing, which demonstrate the transformative role FE can have on people’s lives and shows how it helps us to achieve social justice” [S09].

    Increasing recognition of FE

    In her foreword to Duckworth and Smith’s report (R05), Angela Rayner (then Shadow Secretary of State for Education) welcomed the report for its recognition of the transformative effect of individuals’ micro encounters with FE and the benefits students’ perceive for their lives, families and communities as a consequence of their participation. [S09]. One of the outputs from Duckworth and Smith’s work is an open website sharing resources aimed at raising public consciousness of the impact of FE teaching and learning: It includes many inspiring stories from FE learners and teachers. By June 2019 when the project concluded its research, the website had attracted 14,000 users and more than 87,724 page views accessed from across the UK, Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia [S10].
    Impact date20162020
    Category of impactPublic Policy or Services impacts