Hello

New for 2018/19, this will be the space where PD North members and some special guest Bloggers will share ideas and experiences. Watch this space and, if you would like to write a Blog for us, on the topic of further / adult community education and skills, please contact Chloë at chloeh@pdnorth.org.uk

Writer Guidelines:

WORD: 300 – 1,000 words. Keep it short and engaging. Something folks can read in their break, on the bus or in the staffroom when they have a spare moment.

STYLE: Flexible. We’re interested in: Voices from the classroom/staffroom. Resource explorations. Reviews of books, blogs and events. Think pieces. Descriptions of PDNorth exchange activity. Critical thoughts.

REFERENCES: If you choose to mention other people’s work, events, videos, resources etc please reference them and give them the kudos they deserve.

Twenty years in FE: How Practitioner Research has shaped my professional development.

Cathy Clarkson from our CPD exchange (Yorkshire & Humberside) talks about the impact practitioner research has had on her own continual professional development.

I’m no stranger to practitioner research. It’s formed a valuable part of my CPD throughout my career, with the support of organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, SUNCETT, EMCETT and the ETF*.

iPad set up and storage (screenshot: click to see video)

I was involved in a few of the NRDC projects. I really am a child of the Skills for Life agenda and it seems crazy how critical we were of it at the time. My first foray into practitioner research was with the ICT Effective Practice study. I was one of the nine practitioner researchers, working with the fabulous people at the Institute of Education. Whatever happened to webquests? Just one of those technologies that comes and goes, although the underlying principle of guiding students through the complexities of the internet seems even more relevant today.

I took this model of collaborative action research to my MA dissertation, which I was fortunate to piggy back with an NRDC practitioner-research grant. The Lancaster University tutors were amazing, and the mentoring I got from tutors at Leeds Mets and the Institute of Education was invaluable. The Action Research Network is still viewed through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia by the Dewsbury College gang. With the MA under my belt, I managed the application for the college to become a Cambridge-approved centre offering both the CELTA and the full DTE(E)LLS – the only place outside of London offer the ESOL subject specialism. Because of this, I managed to secure a grant through the Creative Routes project and with this money bought a set of iPads to be used by our DE(E)LLTS trainees to support their CPD. The highlight of this project was a trip to Morocco to run a workshop for IATEFL and MATE where the post-it notes we’d brought were more novel that the mobile technology.

iPads in a maths class

With the demise of NRDC, LSIS picked up the baton of supporting practitioner research. With support from the SUNCETT team, the theme of emerging technologies continued in my practitioner research as I looked at what we could find out about iPads by working collaboratively with tutors and students from different curriculums. I learnt that I couldn’t answer the question about how to use this emerging mobile technology in the classroom, because I had been focusing on how the technology supported independent study out of the classroom.  This led me to apply for an EMCETT grant to explore the question of mobile technology in the classroom. I brought my (now aging) iPads together into a class set and I worked with my beginner ESOL group to find out what this technology had to offer in the classroom. We explored ESOL apps of varying quality and I got some insight into the differing opinions on what 16-18 year olds thought were good or poor apps. My next project, once again supported by EMCETT, broadened this question into other curriculums. I worked with other tutors, who worked with their students, to explore how a class set of iPads could be used effectively.

It may be no surprise reading this, by the end of the year I was pretty tired, I needed a break from practitioner research and I needed to get a little more control of my work/life balance. It’s one thing to get the grants and the college to promise the time, but the reality is that practitioner research eats in to your life. Of course this doesn’t mean that I stopped trying new things. Not at all. It just meant I stopped writing about it, I cut back on blogging and Tweeting although I still ran some sessions for NATECLA for a short time.

English apps in class, at home and on the bus (screenshot: click to see video)

In the summer of 2018 something changed. The universe realigned and the stars pointed me to an EdD, which is basically a taught PhD. This has given me over a year since I started the course to get a feel for what I want to study, and today I have submitted my proposal. I am also dong an OTLAEnglish project, funded through the ETF. It is very interesting doing these projects simultaneously. It feels very different doing a doctorate to doing any other practitioner research. I am both intrigued and scared by the philosophical nature of research. It has taken me about the same amount of time to write my EdD proposal as it has to do the entire OTLAEnglish project. But the start/finish notion of these projects is deceiving. The EdD isn’t just starting, it has started and I can already feel the messiness of engaging in action research. The OTLA project isn’t finished, the report may be written but the activity continues.

Playing games helps English (screenshot: click to see video)

Without funding from organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, and ETF I’m not sure that I would be taking my EdD now. I certainly could not have done these projects without the support of the people working with the organisations who provide the funding. The money is of course always welcome, but as we found out in the Action Research network, a group of willing tutors with a rota of baking, can create the time and space needed to be able to reflect on changes made in the classroom. I would recommend anyone to look for funding opportunities, particularly through the ETF. Twitter is a fabulous place to find out about these things and there is a growing base of FE tutors chatting and sharing. Going to conferences is also useful, look out for a local teachmeet, FEbrewed and the upcoming ReimagineFE conference heading into its fifth year.  There are also the regional Professional Exchange Networks (PEN). Internally you could hunt out your Advanced Practitioner, who I am sure will be more than happy to support you in developing your own practitioner research project or find some like-minded colleagues to create a Research Space to talk about your practice – don’t forget the cake.

Acronym Key

  • CELTA – Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults
  • EMCETT – East Midland Centre of Excellence in teacher training
  • NATECLA – National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults
  • ETF – The Education and Training Foundation.
  • LSIS – Learning and Skills Improvement Service
  • OTLA – Outstanding Teaching, Learning & Assessment programme (ETF)
  • PEN – Professional Exchange Networks
  • MATE – Moroccan Association for Teachers of English
  • NRDC – National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy
  • SUNCETT – University of Sunderland Centre of Excellence for teacher training
  • AP – Advanced Practitioner
  • CPD – Continual Professional Development

Showcasing Digital: Inspiring others to #HaveAGo

by Susanna Brandon, PDNorth Northwest TLA exchange

As part of the PDNorth TLA (Teaching, Learning & Assessment) professional exchange, our Myerscough Director of Quality and procedures Sue Keenan facilitated an afternoon showcase of our latest digital skills projects and teaching tips delivered by members of the Myerscough digital skills team and selected teaching staff with the aim of building further collaborative opportunities to share good practice and really drive the project forward.

At Myerscough, we have a dedicated digital skills team who have been generating some fantastic training opportunities for staff to develop their digital skills and also working on new projects funded by the Education & Training Foundation (ETF) to further embed and use technology, such as Virtual Reality (VR) to bridge skills gaps between training and employment.

Over 20 delegates from colleges and University centres around the North West attended on the day. The afternoon events started with an overview of the Myerscough developed Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Spiral, by Sandy Hunter. Then for the majority of the afternoon the visitors attended five short showcases where they had the opportunity to immerse themselves in some of the VR programmes; including milking at the farm, buying fresh flowers at the wholesaler and also the use of VR to stimulate creativity in creative writing. There was also the opportunity for the attendees to access a range of free Apps that tutors at Myerscough have successfully utilised within their own teaching.

One of my remits as ATP is to liaise with the digital skills team in trialing new technology in my own teaching and then sharing with my team. The digital skills fair allowed the extension of this approach beyond Myerscough and into the wider teaching community.

The close of the session was delivered by Punam, who shared more technology in her briefing in the form of her (Mentimeter) presentation, which linked to the ETF professional standards and also the proposed method of communication (Zoom) to allow all attendees to stay in touch, share experiences and generally support each other in developing outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.

Some of the comments taken from the day included;

 ‘It’s been great, I just wanted to stay and play!’ 

‘…feel more confident about encouraging staff.’

‘Great for my own CPD and how I can share my work with others.’

‘Very inspiring.’

As you can see from the comments, the afternoon proved a great success. Hopefully the energy from the room will continue to filter through all of the educational settings and we have lots to discuss when we next meet. Monthly Zoom meetings have been scheduled to keep everyone on track and we look forward to hosting again in July 2020 when the attendees come back to Myerscough to share the impact of their individual projects.


Susanna Brandon is the Advanced Teaching Practitioner (ATP) for Greenspace and Creative studies at Myerscough College.

Contextualising maths and English within vocational learning – reflections from a professional catering teacher

Robert Broome, a practitioner from our online action research exchange, explores how language and context matters when embedding Functional Skills.

My name is Robert Broome. I’m a level 1 course team leader in professional cookery at North Hertfordshire College and I am also completing my PGCE teaching degree at Bedford college. As part of my course I was asked to complete an action research project of my choice. Because I teach on a vocational course, I decided to see whether adding contextualised examples of maths and English work within my cookery sessions could help students with their maths and English studies. This has been of interest to me not only within my profession but because, I too at 28 years old struggle with English in a general sense (e.g. reading, spelling and breaking down of text).

A report from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Department for Education, and The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP (published 2 July 2014) stated:

‘Many students have problems in maths and English all the way through the progressing to adult life. “40% of pupils do not get GCSE grades A* to C in English and maths by age 16. Worse still, 90% of those who don’t reach this basic standard by 16, don’t achieve it by age 19” (dept. of education, 2018).

Another interesting study made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), states that older generations tend to perform better in maths and English based tasks than younger learners.

I researched into these claims by the government by conducting my own experiment with a few of my level 1 professional cookery students. I asked a few GCSE standard maths and English questions and the average score out of 13 was 7-8, which works out to be 57% of the mark. I then asked the same questions to adult learners, all of whom were over the age of 40. The average score for the older learners was 11-12 out of 13, which is 88% of the mark.’

After compiling data whereby I had asked students GCSE standard questions in both Maths and English, I then used their knowledge of Professional cookery to help them progress and challenge them in these areas. In order to do this I took the GCSE questions and “re-worded” them with terminology based around catering and hospitality. I also gave students visual aids to help them around the kitchen classroom. This process was much the same with maths; my aim was to get students to think of maths in the hospitality industry as opposed to working from a textbook. My hope was that this approach would help learners:

  • See the relevance of maths and English skills within professional cookery;
  • encourage a subconscious style of learning, helping students learn through experience and by what they saw and heard in the kitchens.
  • encourage reluctant students to learn important maths and English skills, without these needing to be explicitly taught.
  • Help close the maths and English skills gap I noticed between younger learners, and adult learners.

Following this period of embedded and contextualised maths and English work, I then asked students the GCSE standard questions again and cross referenced their answers with the previous ones to see if there were any improvements, big or small. With each group of learners there were slight improvements, with most learners scoring at least one point more than they had during the first test. The graph below shows the differences in learners’ scores, before and after they had accessed contextualised English and maths work:

 Whilst the gains in learners’ test results initially seem quite small, perhaps more telling was their improved spelling of contextualised vocabulary. One example I did of this was when I asked the students how to spell ‘Tagliatelle’. Initially, only 1 student out of 15 got it correct. I then posted around the two kitchens a glossary of types of pasta where Tagliatelle was on this. A couple of days later I asked the class to spell Tagliatelle again. The number of students who spelt it correctly grew from 1 to 3. Not a huge leap but then an additional 4 students were only 1 or 2 letters off the correct spelling, a huge improvement in such a short period of time!

If I was to sum up my research it would be that vocational courses can have an impact on a students’ maths and English skills in both a positive and a negative way. The positives are clearly seen in my research, if teachers keep pushing maths and English in their lessons then students will progress. The negative however is that I noticed a lot of my students didn’t realise how important Maths and English is to vocational courses and professions. The mentality is for most was once they have finished maths and English at GCSE then they don’t need to think about it again. This is where students can slip on their skills in Maths and English over the two to three years they are in vocational courses at colleges. This potential for slippage adds to employers’ concerns that college leavers do not always have the maths and English skills they require for the working world. I believe that by constantly reminding students on vocational courses how important Maths and English is in the working world, alongside constantly embedding and contextualising maths and English work (to the point where students may not realise that’s what they are doing) vocational teachers can make a massive impact upon students’ motivation, engagement and success in maths and English, during their time at college and in the future.                   

I also think it’s vital for tutors to keep up to date on their own Maths and English, so we can help students and so we can improve our own confidence to teach these essential skills.