How Covid turned CPD into a way to connect

FE educators have taken control over their own CPD during Covid - and now the genie is out of the bottle

Hollie Barnes and Joshua Spears

Teacher CPD: How FE college educators have taken control of their own development

2020-21 – a year that many might want to forget, but a year that saw FE English educators take hold of their own professional learning. With much of the CPD previously available to FE English educators taking a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach (usually run by training providers and awarding bodies), many of the sessions out there meant that educators were leaving the sessions feeling uninspired and demotivated.

So what is it that FE English educators want? It's easy! Bespoke, individualised sessions on current, subject-specific matters and we need it delivered by practitioners who have been there and done that.

Pre-pandemic, many organisations held internal verification days, sometimes augmented by visits from exam board professionals who talked shop about mark schemes and good practice. 2021 has opened opportunities for FE English educators to get together virtually and access further CPD opportunities outside the organisation, and rather than let the concept of crowdsourced CPD go back inside the magic lamp, it’s time to amplify the events that turned CPD into a revolutionary way to connect.

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Crowdsourced CPD has been the key to opening professional learning doors for FE English educators; Teach Meets, Ideas Rooms, knowledge swaps and more, all led and inspired by ardent educators. The key difference between professional learning organised within the organisation and concepts such as Teach Meets and Ideas Rooms was that the latter were the first examples of crowdsourcing.

Changing CPD: The Me+ conference, February 2021 

In 2017 and in response to staff asking for further support targeted at us as FE English practitioners, several organisations in the North East FE+ group came together. 

From this, the first conference in the UK that targeted further education practitioners was put together. Dubbed “Me+”, it was an all-day event set at Middlesbrough FC stadium and featured a day of workshops, networking events and guest speakers from exam boards to leadership groups. This kind of CPD, in which the bespoke needs of FE educators were held up front and centre, was a resounding success. Me+ made us feel like professionals!

In 2021, the Me+ conference was pushed online and was a brilliant example of how professional conferences can learn from crowdsourced CPD methodology. Guest speakers jumped at the chance to involve their audiences in group discussions, and breakout rooms enabled a wider range of participants to engage across organisations.

Me+ took all the successes of the in-person conferences and – merging them with crowdsourced CPD techniques – built something that maintained that professional feeling but was unafraid to adapt to the changing times.

FE English Swap Shop, July 2021 

This event started out of frustration at the lack of acknowledgement for FE English on all grounds: resources, subject-specific CPD for FE educators. From that, an idea sparked and with the help of other educators and Touch Consulting, the event was born.

Within just nine days, the event was a sell-out - despite it being solely advertised on Twitter. The event brought all corners of FE English teaching together: 16-19, adult educators, ESOL, GCSE, functional skills. The day was a sea of learning, with educators able to pick 'n' mix their day and choose their own learning path. From creating a whole college reading culture, to discussing pressing matters of the effects of cultural poverty in the classroom and how to support this when looking at writing skills – matters that some FE English educators know exist but maybe do not know how to handle confidently.

Other than the workshops and teach meets, the day included ideas rooms to consolidate thinking at the end of the event, which brought educators together in an equal environment to process and think through what they had seen during the day.

The joy of this day was that it was curated, led and facilitated by FE English educators across the country, for English teachers in FE. 

So how can I get involved?

We need more educators in FE English who resonate with our experiences to add their voices to this issue. It's been a tough gig for English in FE for many years, but as we come together at events and across regions, we are making a much-needed dent in the sector.

We encourage English coaches, mentors, managers and teams to share the work of others inside the organisation and begin to make those crowdsourced CPD connections. Share good practice, share tips, resources, ask about speaking at events or teach meets, join the swap shops. If we can push the relevance of our sector in the eyes of the wider educator community and in the eyes of the nation, our practice will improve, our profession will improve and hopefully, if you believe in miracles, we may see our funding and pay reach parity with secondary schools.

Check out the list below for how you can get involved and keep up to date with further events

  • FE English Swap Shop part 2 - 29 October 2021: Follow the hashtag #FEswapShop for further updates. Check out the last swap shop here.
  • Upcoming FE English Teach Meets:
    Starting November 2021, running bi-monthly.
  • JoyFE Ideas Room: Step outside of your teaching bubble and think through your creative ideas in an environment of positive equality with other like-minded people. Find out more here.
  • AP Connect: Follow the Twitter hashtag #APconnect for crowdsourced events run by practitioners.
  • PD North: Sign up to its newsletter for all crowdsourced events and its guest blog. Click here.
  • FE English Community Catch Up: Catch up with other FE English educators on the latest FE English matters. Run by Sophie Smithdale @Supersophster1
  • Join EduTwitter: use the hashtag #EnglishFE to connect with everyone!
  • E&M Booth: Tune into the English and maths Podcast. Weekly stories from E&M educators and their tales of the classroom. If you want to be involved, sign up on the website:
  • Me+ 2022. Open to colleges across the UK for English and maths ESOL teachers. Dates to be announced on its website.

​​​​​​​5 rules for rolling out a winning CPD programme

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Hollie Barnes and Joshua Spears

Hollie Barnes is an English Lecturer and Joshua Spears is an English lecturer and staff coach in England

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