Part of the Stamford Park Trust
The story so far … by Jo Fletcher-Saxon
Ashton Sixth Form College is located 8 miles east of Manchester city centre. We offer A levels and Vocational courses to school leavers age 16-19 and a small range of adult and higher education programmes to those age 19 plus. We became the lead organisation in a multi academy trust in 2020. We introduced practitioner enquiry into the professional learning offer for staff in 2018.
How it started …
Back in 2017, we were exploring opportunities for the small numbers of HE staff to be more actively engaged in scholarship. What became clear was that scholarship should really be for all and that any opportunities for research engagement should be a cross college affair and so we began.
We began with a big bang! Realising we could not take this journey alone, we reached out to make connections beyond the institution and joined forces with Sam Jones at Bedford College and the Learning and Skills Research Network (LSRN). In 2018 we ran our first a #FEresearchmeet. This brought teachers, lecturers and academics to the college to share research and to showcase their work and make connections. A small group of college staff were part of that event and from there we have built.
For the 2018/2019 year, we offered colleagues the opportunity to undertake a small scale project as their “CPD” choice for the year or attend one of the workshops offered, workshops being the traditional mode of CPD up to that point. These sessions run at least 6 times a year and span the academic year. 12 staff joined the ‘research group’ in that year and started to reshape what CPD (we now use the term professional learning) could look like. It was a succesful year with staff projects being shared, having impact in the classroom or across college and enthusing colleagues about professional learning. Some of the sessions doubled up as LSRN meets and involved teachers and lecturers from other institutions. This was all part of the strategy to build a community of teacher-researchers.
2019/20 came and we rolled out the same offer. The college was inspected in January 2020 and received Outstanding across the board. The college’s approach to professional development and training was commended. Sadly, the impact of the March 2020 lockdown meant colleagues didn’t get to complete their projects as their focus and energy understandably had to move to teaching from home. A number of those colleagues therefore rolled forward their projects into this year, 2020/2021.
How it’s going …
For the 2020/2021 year we had a big overhaul of the professional learning offer. Not least with the appointment of a cross college role to champion and support teacher research – a Teacher and Learning Mentor for Research. With that appointment, we rolled out “Be Curious”. We began in September by asking staff what they are curious about in their practice, what they would like to know more about, what they would like to solve, what they would like to improve. We deliberately did not reveal any information about the professional learning offer at this stage. We wanted colleagues to begin with the thinking about their practice.
Once the answers were in we were able to shape and build the Be Curious offer for 2020/2021. There are 5 pathways. Colleagues can choose which pathway best enables them to respond to the issue they identified. The offer includes coaching, workshops, an early career teacher pathway, an enquiry pathway (for action research) and a journal club (reading). This was well received and began well. The Enquiry group are the action researchers. As we hit lockdown again in January 2021 there have been further disruptions and amendments to the professional learning pathways, but not all halted their research this time.
It is important to note that this is only a part of the college’s professional learning. The college invests significantly in training and development. The Be Curious programme is the regular element through the year. In addition, there are programmes for new staff joining us, aspiring middle and senior leader programmes and a rich variety of individualised professional development along with cross college days and an end of year professional development week.
We are looking forward to sharing our professional learning from this year in whatever shape or form that has ended up taking, at our summer development week in June.
Empowering colleagues to believe they can make a real difference, not only within their own classrooms and with students, but also at a cross college level is an ambition at the heart of the Be Curious model. The college is currently on a journey to obtain recognition from Leeds Beckett University for the coaching and mentoring culture at the college. Where did that begin? As an action research project in 2018.
Where next …
To keep building. To further build capacity and engagement with practitioner research that responds to teacher and student needs and interests and informs college decision making.
To connect with other sixth form colleges around action research.
To truly embody the concept of being a learning organisation – with our students.
To share – a few colleagues have presented their work at events or written pieces for blogs or publications. Building the confidence in staff to do more of this is part of our ambition. There is little point doing good work and not telling anyone about it.
Words from the college principal, Anton McGrath:
“I believe teacher research should be at the heart of continual professional development for all teachers. Practitioners working with students on a day-to-day basis are ideally placed to add to our collective pedagogical understanding. I understand the impact that this approach could have on our students. I have a clear and focused ambition to develop a research culture in all our staff. Our strategic aim [now] is to embed research based learning into all our working practices over the next few years. I can feel a real sea change in education, as those in the classroom take a more active role in the development of the profession. We want to play our part in this and are excited for what this could bring. As a college leader, I want to build the confidence of our teachers and provide support in the development of research skills over time to gain the most from this approach. Trusting the professionalism of our teaching staff is an important starting point as it leads to greater innovation in teaching practice which is what we all want to see”.