Transforming Further Education

Working alongside key stakeholders across Further Education (FE), BCU’s research has not only improved teaching policy and practice in the sector, but also shed light on the transformative power of FE to improve the lives of students.

Transforming education research highlight

Research summary

The Practitioner Education Research Group (PERG) have identified key factors leading to the inequality of educational practices in the FE sector, and provided frameworks to re-imagine further education teaching and learning with a focus on collaboration between teachers and students.

Their work is the foundation for one of the largest national conferences for FE practitioners, #ReimaginingFE, which has served as a knowledge production and development hub for stakeholders across the sector since 2016.

PERG’s contributions to the sector have increased the recognition of FE’s importance to students, shaped institutional practice to improve the performance of FE colleges and informed debate at a national level by supporting the University College Union’s (UCU) campaign for the improvement of FE in the UK.

Research background

FE is a historically marginalised sector in education, despite its incredibly positive outcomes for young adult and mature learners. Research carried out by PERG at BCU identified how austerity measures introduced in 2010 have had a damaging effect on FE policy and practice.

Ongoing funding cuts led to FE colleges reducing full-time staffing and resources for teaching and learning. Studies also revealed a lack of practitioner input in central government policy, meaning expert knowledge about the needs of the most vulnerable students was not being heard.

In some cases, this lack of practitioner representation has resulted in policy reform that has negatively impacted vulnerable students.

With the aim of showcasing how transformative FE can be, BCU - along with Edge Hill University - conducted the Transforming Lives project, which collected testimonials of students’ experiences of FE and its transformative effect on their lives, families and communities.

Building on this research, PERG conducted several studies designed to produce and disseminate knowledge on how FE might be improved. As a result of a project with the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL), they found that FE practitioners were best placed to advise on how teaching and learning could be improved, and that management should learn from the expertise and experience of those who teach.

Outcomes and impact – Influencing FE policy locally and nationally

With the #ReimaginingFE conference, PERG have provided a platform to deliver on their research findings that the future of further education requires collaboration between management, policy makers and practitioners.

The conference, and the resulting movement #FEResearchMeet, resulted in the largest FE trade union in England, UCU, providing funding for FE staff to carry out research related to transformative teaching and learning.

PERG’s research has also served as an evidence-base for the UCU’s campaign to improve FE in the UK, as well as the call for greater investment in FE teaching to provide higher quality education.

BCU’s work on the Transforming Lives project was key in showcasing the positive effects of FE on learners and their communities. This project not only informed Labour’s education agenda in 2019, but also highlighted the importance of FE more widely.

In her foreword to the Transforming Lives report, Angela Rayner (then Shadow Secretary of State for Education) celebrated the report for its recognition of the transformative effect of FE and the benefits students’ perceive for their lives, families and communities as a consequence of their participation.

BCU’s work with FETL has also benefitted FE colleges throughout the UK and Ireland. The team’s work on leadership in FE to lead staff development programmes in Central Bedfordshire College that encouraged a more collaborative working environment. According to the College’s Principal, Dr Ali Hadawi CBE, the research was used  ‘as the main blueprint to transform the College’s teaching and learning…’ This transformation is directly attributed to the college’s improved Ofsted performance.

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Professor Matt O'Leary

Professor in Education

Matt O’Leary is Professor of Education and co-director of the education research centre CSPACE at Birmingham City University. His main research interests focus on the impact of education policy on teaching and learning and the interface between the two, especially in the context of professional learning and the development of pedagogic practice.

Rob Smith

Professor Rob Smith

Professor in Education

Rob Smith is a Professor of Education at Birmingham City University based in the Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education (CSPACE). Rob supervises students researching a range of doctoral topics. Rob positions a concern with social justice at the centre of his work. He has extensive experience of writing and publishing collaboratively. His body of work explores the impact of funding and marketisation on education with a particular focus on further education provision.

vanessa cui

Dr Vanessa (Fengqiao) Cui

Research Fellow

Vanessa is the co-author of a recently published independent research report to UCU on ‘Understanding, recognising and rewarding teaching quality in higher education: an exploration of the impact and implications of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework’. This research study and report was commissioned by UCU to gather evidences which were submitted to the Independent Review of the TEF led by Dame Shirley Pearce. She is currently working with Professor Matt O’Leary and Dr Amanda French on alternatives to the teaching excellence framework.

Fadia Dakka staff profile

Dr Fadia Dakka

Senior Research Fellow, Deputy Director of CSPACE

Dr. Fadia Dakka studied International Relations (BA, MA) at Bologna University (Italy) and King’s College London (MA) before obtaining a Doctorate in Social Sciences from the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. Her thesis examined the 2012 English Higher Education Policy reforms, theorising marketisation and competition as the key drivers of its ongoing institutional, cultural and systemic transformations and introducing ‘polarised convergence’ as a paradoxical outcome: a condition of differentiation without diversity in the English HE system.