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Blog post Part of special issue: Transformational Further Education: Empowering People & Communities

Transformational Further Education: Empowering People & Communities

Vicky Duckworth Rob Smith

The Further Education in England: Transforming lives & Communities research project, is commissioned by UCU and aims to understand and provide evidence of how the further education (FE) sector is vital in transforming lives and communities in 21st century Britain. To provide a frame of reference, which is underpinned and driven by excellence in the sector, the study provides learners, teachers, family members and their communities with the opportunity to tell their stories, linking the distinctness of FE to the impact it has on individuals, society and the economy, and strongly drawing out the role of the teacher in making a difference to quality teaching and learning.

The voices in our study clearly illustrate transformative learning and teaching.

For teachers, transformation evolves by discovering new knowledge, creatively using that knowledge, and self-confidently facilitating action by taking responsibility for what one learns. Because teaching always involves action, learning can become a flow of discovery, a transformational process of lasting and positive impact and change. For example: in Jimmy’s case, treating young and sometimes disaffected people with respect while providing firm boundaries is key.

 Jimmy recognises that simply recreating a school environment in college isn’t the way forward. Instead, FE has to offer a distinctive learning experience that includes a well-defined pastoral aspect. Students’ background stories need to be taken account of while a new educational identity is constructed, one that is positive, engaged and forward-looking (see Jimmy’s story and video here).

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Importantly the learner is central to the process of transformation. However, the juxtaposition of being poor and having little social capital to support them to break out of their conditions, can mean many of the learners feel anxious, have low self-esteem and a belief they were stupid and failures. The narratives in our study have exposed the contradictions, complexities and ambivalences they experience in their daily lives and how they try to make sense of them from their structural positioning as learners in a society based on inequality of opportunity and choice.  As illustrated by the voices of the participants, the learners had to re-discover agency in their learning process before transformation could occur.  The challenge for teachers and policy makers is, therefore, to establish the conditions in which learners are empowered to take agency within the field of education. This has implications for curriculum and for funding. The curriculum needs to connect at an important level with learners’ lives and experiences. The funding has to support small step progression. Some learners from our project have been facilitated by colleges to take a series of small steps and achievements leading to full engagement with a mainstream qualification. Claire, for example, found in her Access course a new world in which for the first time she was listened to and was able also to find her own voice.

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This led to her positioning herself differently in a world she could see from a fresh perspective. This change in her view of herself in relation to the world was integral to her transformation and to her success as a learner. See more of Claire’s story and a video about her experiences here.)

Challenging inequalities in learners’ lives and communities, adult and 16-19 education at its best reflects a transformative critical pedagogy and provides a curriculum, that is culturally relevant, learner driven, and socially empowering.

Non-critical courses are criticised for ignoring the political, social, and economic factors that have conspired to marginalise people in the first place – our research shows that these courses are also less effective because they are not as successful at engaging learners. Challenging inequalities in learners’ lives and communities, adult and 16-19 education at its best reflects a transformative critical pedagogy and provides a curriculum, that is culturally relevant, learner driven, and socially empowering.   For further information on the ‘FE: Transforming lives and communities’ research project – open the link.

Drawing on the theme of transformation that we have explored above, the editorial blogs provide us with lenses to further probe different dimensions of transformation. Professor Vini Lander and Dr Francis Farrell’s timely and critical exploration asks What do fundamental British values mean to teachers of RE and year 11 RE students? Whilst Dr Martyn Walker explores, with passion, the transformative nature of adult working-class education and its relevance today. Dr Sheine Peart shares voices of hope in her examination of Stories of Change and Transformation and in Further Education. Tim Cain reflects on the role of music education.