For a part of the FE sector that has historically attracted little attention, research has achieved more than its fair share of column inches in 2019.
The year started with the launch of the Networking the Networks website, an initiative to promote research in and about the further education sector.
Later that month, the issue was brought well and truly into the spotlight, after Ofsted’s review of research for its new inspection framework acknowledged that the document was “is in large part drawn from that done in schools and early years settings”, owing to the “relative paucity” of research in FE” – a rather unhelpful message, as I pointed out at the time.
While statements made by the inspectorate ahead of the launch of the framework served to exacerbate the frustration among active FE researchers in the sector, the subsequent announcement of Ofsted’s FE research reference group went some way towards making amends (although, as Joel Petrie points out, not as much had the group actually consisted of FE-based researchers).
Read more: New website launches to promote FE research
FE research: on the rise
But it can’t be denied that FE research is rising up the agenda of the sector. In March, Bedford College’s Sam Jones – founder of the #FEresearchmeet initiative – was named teacher of the year at the Tes FE Awards 2019. The judges rightly pointed out that Jones’ impressive work in this field “contributes to the national conversation”.
Just today, Bedford Sixth Form hosted the latest #FEresearchmeet – and more events are planned for later this year.
One aspect that is particularly growing in prominence is action research. In academic terms, this is a method of systematic enquiry that teachers undertake as researchers of their own practice; in simple terms, this is teachers and the institutions trying out new approaches, and seeing what impact they have.
You don’t need me to tell you that there’s no shortage of innovative pedagogical practice going on in the FE sector. The problem is that we don’t hear enough about it – so much exciting work remains hidden to everyone outside the institution in question.
Pedagogy: Sharing best practice
Work is afoot to increase the sharing of research knowledge and best practice – not least through the recent map of FE research doing the rounds on social media. But we can all do more to cultivate the positive and productive sharing of work and resources – and I include Tes in that. So I intend to do something about it.
From the autumn, we’ll be devoting over a weekly slot in Tes magazine to focussing on sharing best pedagogical practice in post-16 education – whether it be in colleges, sixth forms, training providers, adult and community learning or specialist providers.
This will shine a light of teachers and institutions doing things differently to the norm, and changing practice as a result of their findings or research. There are no hard and fast rules: from small-scale practitioner research or sizeable cross-institution collaboration, all ideas are welcome. If it’s interesting, and could have a wider relevance in the sector, we want to hear about it.
Spreading the word
To kick things off, I’ll be hosting the #ukfechat debate on Twitter at 9pm on Thursday 4 July – if you want to share your ideas and initiatives, do join the conversation.
But that’s just the start. We’re relying on members of the FE community to share your action research projects with us. In return, we hope to raise awareness of them across the sector, and facilitate the sharing of ideas and best practice to a wider audience. Please do get in touch with me by Twitter or email if you have an idea you’d like to be featured.
FE providers across the UK are doing some inspiring and important work – it’s time more people heard about it.
Stephen Exley is FE Editor at Tes