Professor Maggie Gregson has been a leading light in a revolution where FE practitioners research their own practice. She spoke to Alan Thomson about the importance of sound evidence and never over-claiming your results.

revolution is under way in further education and training led, in part, by a quietly spoken and reassuringly modest university professor. This particular revolution is not fuelled by strikes and workers’ committees, but by teachers and trainers collaborating to carry out small-scale research into aspects of their practice. “It’s a very quiet, justifiable revolution,” quips Maggie Gregson, professor of vocational education at the University of Sunderland. A fundamental shift is taking place in the way

that the FE and training sector and its practitioners engage with research, with positive and far-reaching implications for the profession as it moves ahead. “There is a growing and critical mass of research-

active practitioners across the sector,” says Gregson, who is director of the University of Sunderland Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (SUNCETT). “These practitioners not only understand what good practitioner research looks like, but they also have direct and


SUNCETT works in partnership with the Education

and Training Foundation, delivering the ETF’s Practitioner Research Programme. The programme has engaged around 500 teachers and trainers to date, with successful participants funded by the ETF to undertake and write up their research. Most recently the ETF-SUNCETT collaboration has

created the opportunity for practitioners to study for an MPhil and to progress to carrying out doctoral research as part of a PhD programme. As Gregson says, the growth of practitioner

My advice to anyone considering research is ‘don’t jump to conclusions’. Keep an open mind.

personal experience of conducting research – by the sector, for the sector.” Gregson, who joined Sunderland in 2000 and helped create SUNCETT in 2008 as part of the former Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) nationwide CETT initiative, has witnessed how FE has begun researching itself. “Twenty, or even 10 years ago, research was pretty much only conducted on the sector by outside researchers, often from higher education,” she says. “But practitioner research is particularly good at dealing with matters of context by taking the experience of teachers and learners as the starting point for enquiry.

“Good educational practice comes from good

research into educational practice in context. That is why practitioner research matters so much.”


research underpins professional practice and, although she would hesitate to claim as much, it has surely helped lay strong foundations for a resurgent and robust professionalism across FE. Indeed Gregson is very clear about not over-claiming anything, especially the findings from practitioners’ research – which is why she calls it a justifiable revolution. “We support practitioner researchers to be careful and modest in their expectations.

As researchers we need to claim only what we can justify,” she says. It is this careful attention to the fundamentals of sound research that gives the practitioner research supported by SUNCETT and the ETF its credibility and strength. “My advice to anyone considering research is

‘don’t jump to conclusions’,” she says. “Try to keep an open mind. “Start with an aspect of your practice you want to

improve. Talk to other teachers and trainers. Try to work out between you what the problem might be.” Gregson suggests using a search engine like Google Scholar to check what research has already been done, if any, in the area in which you are interested. This can guide your inquiries. “Decide where you stand on the issues and

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