Where is the room for the artist in the researcher?

The #FEresearchPodcast duo invite you to be selfish yet brave in your practitioner research.

Ever since we began recording #FEresearchPodcast together and set about on our SUNCETT journey, one conversation we have returned to a number of times relates to what drives practitioner research and the researchers themselves. Who gets to decide the focus?  Does it always need to be research on the kind of project that has easily measurable impact?  What limits might be placed on practitioner research if we only look at the measurable or take our lead from the political educational agenda of the moment?

Alistair teaches in an art school so often has an artistic metaphor at hand.  This one has been really useful …

“You see a designer usually responds to a clients’ needs considering form, function and audience and how the product may be interacted with; ultimately, they need to please the client before they add anything of themselves to the outcome. On the other hand, an artist is selfish, they do whatever they choose in the pursuit of their creative work, and they are brave, they hang it on a wall and hope that others appreciate it or want to buy it” – Alistair

How does this link to practitioner researchers? How many research projects have you seen from ‘designers’? Yes, they meet a need, but do they move things on? Perhaps the research project looks at the need to get all students a GCSE 4+ in English and Maths, perhaps it looks at assessment strategy. That is design, it has purpose but is driven by the clients; those stakeholders overseeing the sector.

Where is the room for the ‘artist’ researcher? The artist is selfish, they are looking at their students and their practice and are driven by that alone. Perhaps it is looking at the use of language in the classroom and how we challenge it when it oversteps the mark, perhaps they are looking into how they use a digital tool with their own classes. But, just like a traditional artist, I am sure that by hanging that research up, others will show an interest and it will have a wider audience. But that research is brave – it is being selfish but also developing a creative change.

“One of the things I have learnt from running #FEresearchMeets and #BrewEdFE events, co-creating the #FEresearchPodcast and contributing to #JoyFE is that there are always other teachers who are interested in the work of their peers. It isn’t only the practitioner research or action research linked to national agendas such as T levels or GCSE resits that people want to learn from and that in turn have impact through the ripples created when the work is shared and disseminated”.

– Jo

What can we take from this? The message we would like to share is that while we have room for ‘designer’ practitioner researchers, there is also a space for the ‘artists’ – the brave and defiant researchers doing their own thing. In reality, there is a space for a balance of the two, thus forming a strong creative research base that is neither one nor the other.

Our challenge is to be a little more artist in your research. If you feel you are a ‘designer’ then consider how to bring a bit of yourself and your creativity into your research. If you are an ‘artist’ already in your research then be brave, find a suitable gallery in which to share your work, there will be others who appreciate it, and it contributes something back to the sector.

The #FEresearchPodcast ‘gallery’ door is always open.

Jo Fletcher-Saxon


Jo Fletcher-Saxon, Assistant Principal at Ashton Sixth Form College.

Co-Chair for Learning and Skills Research Network, a champion for #FEresearchmeet and one half of #FEresearchpodcast duo.

Alistair Smith


Alistair Smith, Lecturer in Photograpy, Art and Design at Lincoln College.

Commercial photographer, creative producer, and one half of the #FEresearchPodcast duo.