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Blog post Part of series: Independent researchers: The challenges of accessing ethical approval

Enabling research in post-16 and beyond

Jocelyn Bailey

During my continuing professional development (CPD) evaluating digital learning in the further education (FE) environment a valuable piece of research emerged, which referenced Laurillard’s conversational framework. For ethical practice I followed prior knowledge and BERA’s Ethical Guidelines (2018), and became interested in publishing. A PhD supervisor I knew became interested in co-authoring. However, it was not clear how I would gain ethical approval that would ensure I could publish.

Research in FE colleges may emerge in a range of ways. Staff in FE often select, fund and undertake CPD which includes research independently and in their own time (Straw, 2017; SET, Spring 2019); others undertake no CPD (Greatbatch & Tate, 2018). There has been inconsistency in the sector, including in the qualifications required in order to teach in FE (Tummons, 2015). There are, however, research-ready professionals in FE colleges.

Research roles aren’t funded within FE, and in many cases those practitioners who are self-motivated toward research leave the sector in order to become funded researchers in higher education (HE) (SET, 2019). The lead professional body for FE, the Society for Education and Training (SET) offer a program whereby one can register as a student in HE, for an MA/MPhil degree. This is good, but it’s not independent research.

Action and practitioner research is celebrated and published online – for example, by the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE). Gathering learner voice, observing learning behaviours and action research are common practice in FE colleges. However, it is not clear where support for ethical appraisal and practice, with respect to both designing research and sharing findings, is offered. Neither is it apparent whether there is, in FE, the aspiration for publication in peer-reviewed journals, which is a factor for quality in methodology, reliability and being taken seriously. In HE, research is submitted to an independent ethical review panel. With reference to independent research in FE, sometimes the BERA Ethical Guidelines (2018) are advocated or used (SET, 2019; Jisc, 2019). Eventually, word-of-mouth sources told me that only the college principal could award ethical approval, and that describing adherence to BERA’s Ethical Guidelines was ineffectual in and of itself.

In FE, principals are chief executives who respond to the ‘yo-yoing’ of government policy (Panchamania, 2012), to annual funding value and methodology changes, and to Ofsted performance indicators. This challenging national situation raises questions about impartiality, approachability and, perhaps arguably, engagement in research, (Elliott, 1997; Smith, no date), in a context in which some staff already report feeling unsupported by management in terms of CPD (Straw, 2017). Mergers have resulted in mega-colleges with hierarchies that are potentially both geographically and culturally distant.

‘Development in FE could be facilitated by peer-reviewed and ethically-approved research by FE professionals: accessible advice on research ethics, and the setting up of an independent ethical clearance committee, would enable this.’

Development in FE, (such as measuring digital learning for learner benefit) could be facilitated by research conducted by FE professionals that is peer-reviewed and ethically-approved. Accessible advice on research ethics, and the setting up of an independent ethical clearance committee, would enable this. Having devised a minimally-funded, independent educational project, I believe this would also enable the production of evidence on the impact of the work of the many entrepreneurial educators who are self-employed, or on ideas that are likely to be innovative or interdisciplinary. Bid requirements for cultural, arts or community education funding may develop and improve as a result.

Practitioner researchers and innovative authorship should be recognised and supported in developing robust and ethical studies, without having to register as a student in HE.


References

Elliott, J. (1997). Quality assurance, the educational standards debate, and the commodification of educational research. Curriculum Journal, 8(1), 63–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.1997.11070762

British Educational Research Association [BERA] (2018). Ethical guidelines for educational research (4th ed.). London. https://www.bera.ac.uk/researchers-resources/publications/ethicalguidelines-for-educational-research-2018

Greatbatch, D. & Tate, S. (February 2018). Teaching, leadership and governance in further education: Research report. London: Department for Education. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/680306/Teaching__leadership_and_governance_in_Further_Education.pdf

Jisc. (2019). Engaging respondents in your Insight surveys. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1c0NP1o1bGiOCtptI_Nz8-B4LwRmQE1C44CKqPxO7Izs/edit?usp=sharing

Laurillard, D., & Kennedy, E. (2018, October 30). A new tool to help teachers as digital learning designers [blog post]. https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/a-new-tool-to-help-teachers-as-digital-learning-designers

Panchamia, N. (2012). Choice and competition in further education. London: Institute for Government. Retrieved from https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/FE%20Briefing%20final.pdf

Society for Education and Training [SET] (2019). intuition Spring Research Supplement. Research in further education, what’s all the fuss about? Retrieved from https://set.et-foundation.co.uk/publications/in-tuition/intuition-35-spring-2019/intuition-35-spring-research-supplement/

Smith, R. (no date). Quality assurance in FE: inappropriate cultures and the responsibilities of leadership [blog post]. Retrieved from https://set.et-foundation.co.uk/professionalism/resources-and-webinars/cpd-resources/cpd-resources-from-across-the-sector/quality-assurance-in-fe-inappropriate-cultures-and-the-responsibilities-of-leadership/#

Straw, S. (2017). Career progression in the further education and training sector: Findings from an online survey of members of the Society for Education and Training (SET). London: Education and Training Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.et-foundation.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Career-progression-in-the-further-education-and-training-sector-FINAL.pdf

Tummons, J. (2015, July 21). Teachers in further education: More standards, not yet a profession? [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/teachers-in-further-education-more-standards-not-yet-a-profession