Learning Together: evaluating and improving Further Adult and Vocational Education through practice-focused research

Gregson, Margaret and Spedding, Patricia (2018) Learning Together: evaluating and improving Further Adult and Vocational Education through practice-focused research. International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET): Yearbook 2018. ISSN 2197-8638 (In Press)

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Abstract

Political and policy professionals responsible for the evaluation and improvement of Further Adult and Vocational Education (FAVE) are currently faced with a number of pressing problems. The first is that top-down, micro-managed approaches to the evaluation and improvement of teaching, learning and assessment in FAVE system, such as those currently used widely in England by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), incur expensive overheads which are becoming increasingly difficult to justify in terms of empirical and robust evidence of educational improvement. The second is that despite significant levels of public investment in FAVE in England, the return on this financial outlay has not yielded discernible value for public money in terms of actual improvements in the form of raised levels of achievement for learners. The former suggests that systemic approaches to the external evaluation and improvement of educational practice in FAVE are in urgent need of review. The latter draws attention to how in-house approaches to the improvement in educational practice and the continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers within organisations are also somehow missing the mark. The financial costs to the taxpayer of an expensive but failing system of educational evaluation and improvement, coupled with significant shortcomings in approaches to the continuing professional development of teachers are high. In the current economic climate, these costs are funded by taxes paid by individuals and by businesses who often find themselves in considerably reduced financial circumstances. This places a duty upon those responsible for educational research to critically investigate current approaches to educational evaluation and improvement in England, including models of teacher CPD, in order to identify how we might go about educational evaluation and the improvement of educational practice in ways which offer better value for money to the taxpayer and improved educational experiences for both teachers and their students.

However, changing the way that we go about educational evaluation and improvement in the FAVE sector is unlikely to be as easy as it sounds. Voices from across the field of educational research warn that such development is hard won and that what appear to be ‘quick fixes’ seldom, if ever, ‘fix’ anything and never ‘quickly’. Furthermore, the relationship between educational research and the improvement of educational practice is complex and contested. In the UK recent proposals to reshape the landscape of educational research and its connections to teaching are placing increasing emphasis upon identifying the impact of research upon educational practice. In addition, the expensive shortcomings of approaches to the improvement of educational practice developed remotely by educational researchers/policy/political professionals, imposed upon teachers from the top-down and evaluated in terms of ‘outcomes-based’ measures are increasingly well documented in the literature. Of particular concern here is the way in which top-down approaches overlook the importance of context and teacher judgement in order to reduce and oversimplify what can and should be measured and valued in education to what can be easily measured. A further concern is that this approach is operating to inhibit real improvements in practice by overlooking subtle, complex and crucially important aspects of the realities of how educational knowledge is ‘transferred’ and how educational practice actually improves.

This paper reports the findings of a programme of practice-focused research, underpinned by an inquiry-based pedagogy, to support the initial and continuing professional development of teachers in the FAVE sector. The aim of the programme is to produce significant, well-theorised and methodologically rigorous research into educational practice and educational improvement in order to generate insightful and illuminative cases of educative value, not only to the teachers engaged in the research but also to other teachers and policy professionals interested in improving educational practice.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Education > Educational Research
Education > Further Education
Education
Divisions: Faculty of Education and Society
Depositing User: Patricia Spedding
Date Deposited: 17 May 2018 12:40
Last Modified: 17 May 2018 12:40
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/9437

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