Advancing Equality in Further Education

An online course to support and develop knowledge and understanding of the role of equality and diversity work within Further Education.


The northern Professional Exchange Network (PEN)

Deeper Thinking and Stronger Action

A Personal and Organisational Commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Citizen Literacy

Imagine living in a world of written words you do not understand?

Practitioner Research

Practitioner-led Action Research

We have led national practitioner research programmes in England since 2014. Our programmes aim to support teachers, trainers, support workers and managers from post-16 learning providers to:

  • develop rigorous, transferable action research approaches that inspire sustained professional development for all practitioners in the sector; and
  • generate learner-friendly strategies and resources that address critical issues in current post-16 provision. 

This year we are facilitating the Step Forward programme on behalf of CDN supporting Scottish Colleges. There will be three thematic strands to the programme with the first (current) being transitions. In future cycles of the project, practitioners will explore themes of tackling poverty and climate change.

Find out more about previous and current practitioner research programmes by selecting the titles to the right.

Action research is just a couple... It's you, and us, in collaboration that will make the world a better place

  • Step Forward

    Step Forward is the CDN Research and Enhancement Centre’s action research programme; enhancing the practice of college practitioners by providing opportunities to undertake their own action research projects, and nurturing Scotland’s emerging network of college researchers.

  • Doing Action Research: A Guide for Post-16 Practitioners

    Written as part of the Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment (OTLA) action research programme, this guide is written in an accessible and straightforward way that we hope will help put aside any worries you may have about doing research in your own practice.

  • OTLA 8 (English, ESOL + EDS)

    This is the final phase of the OTLA (Outstanding, Teaching, Learning and Assessment) action research projects funded by the Education and Training Foundation. With partners: NATECLA, That Reading Thing, Skills for Life Network + Real Time Education.

  • EDS 1

    A short action research programme focussing on Essential Digital Skills (EDS) in further education/ community learning contexts, on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation. With partners: That Reading Thing and Skills for Life Network.

  • OTLA 7 (English and Maths)

    This is the seventh phase of OTLA (Outstanding, Teaching, Learning and Assessment) projects funded by the Education and Training Foundation. 36 projects are researching approaches for teaching English and Maths in the post-16 sector.

  • OTLA 6 (English)

    This was the sixth phase of OTLA (Outstanding, Teaching, Learning and Assessment) projects funded by the Education and Training Foundation. Twelve projects researched new approaches for teaching English in the post-16 sector.

  • OTLA 4 (digital)

    In 2018, we supported action research projects focussing on digital practices in post-16 contexts, working with our partners the Newcastle College Group. 19 organisations collaborated across 5 projects on topics as diverse as ‘unlocking social capital to support outcomes in maths and English’ to ‘engaging staff with using digital technology within teaching, learning and assessment’.

  • OTLA 3 (North East + Cumbria)

    As part of OTLA Phase 3, working in the NE of England and Cumbria, practitioner-led action research took place with a focus on attainment, retention and progression. Thirteen projects took place,  involving 42 providers and over 200 practitioners from colleges, adult and community learning, offender learning, third sector and independent training providers.

  • PLAR 2

    Working with a team from emCETT, we supported 63 providers through the Education and Training Foundation’s Practitioner Research Programme to to undertake practitioner–led action research.

  • PLAR 1

    Working with a team from emCETT, we provided blended support through the practitioner–led action research programme to 63 practitioners or groups of practitioners from organisations, reflecting the diversity of the education and training sector across England.

Situating Practitioner Research

The Padlet nest below includes links to three Padlets:

  • OTLA Showcase with blogs, podcasts, articles, presentations and other publishings from past and present OTLA cohorts.
  • Coffee Time Reads includes a variety of quick reads and recommendations relating to research
  • Reading Recommendations is a list co-created by teachers from FE, for teachers in FE (and beyond). It contains a vast range of reading recommendations.

From Our YouTube Channel

Reading the Way

ScreenSkills ‘Train the Trainer’

Shaping Success

On behalf of The Education and Training Foundation (ETF), between 2014 – 2021 we have written/ co-written a wide range of CPD courses and resources to support Maths and English delivery. The courses were for practitioners at all levels and stages of their development.

Side by Side Evaluation

Digital and Blended Learning Project

A collaborative collective working together to share and develop digital and blended learning practices.

Post-16 Phonics Approaches: A Toolkit

This toolkit is intended to support practitioners wishing to use phonics approaches with post-16 learners.

Maths and English in Prison Work and Training

A collection of innovative task-based learning approaches used in secure estate workshops.

Prevent Duty and British Values for Adult Learners

A guide to support the embedding of British Values and the Prevent Strategy

Doing Action Research

A Guide for Post-16 Practitioners

SEND Mindfulness Toolkit

A toolkit designed to be used with prisoners with a range of SEND needs (with a particular focus on mental well-being)

Effective Practice Guidelines

Assessment for Learning

OTLA 8 (English, ESOL + EDS)

The OTLA 8 (English, ESOL and Essential Digital Skills) Action Research Programme

The OTLA (English, ESOL and Essential Digital Skills) programme was delivered by ccConsultancy in partnership with That Reading Thing, NATECLA and Skills Digital. This was the 8th phase of OTLA projects we delivered on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation and funded by the Department for Education. This was the 5th OTLA phase that we were involved in as delivery partners.

Fifteen clusters researched new approaches for teaching English, ESOL and Essential Digital Skills (EDS) in the post-16 sector and focused upon driving professional development for staff through encouraging practitioners to use action research to explore and integrate those approaches into teaching, learning and assessment.

You can now download all the reports from the Excellence Gateway’s Practitioner Research + Evidence Portal (PREP).


Seeing the wood and the trees: the contributions of OTLA 8 practitioners towards the growth and development of action research in further education (Editorial)

Dr Vicky Butterby and Claire Collins

OTLA programme manager and programme director.

#OTLA over bamboo forest looking up to the sky

Sharing and Celebration Event 2022

Event Landing Page

You can also read the final event curated programme.

Cultivating professional change through action research (Editorial)

Dr Andy Convery

Research and Professional Development Lead

NATECLA 22 Conference

Action Research Posters

Exhibited at the NATECLA Conference, 2022.


Our collective (+ reflective) action research tree

The Action Research Forest

Seeing the wood and the trees: the contributions of OTLA 8 practitioners towards the growth and development of action research in further education

Claire Collins + Dr Vicky Butterby

Project Director and Programme Manager

Anthology of Practitioner Action Research Reports 2021-22


As each iteration of the Outstanding Teaching Learning and Assessment (OTLA) programme draws to a close, we hold a celebration and sharing event. Our sharing event is one of the highlights of our work on the OTLA programme, as it is a rare opportunity for us to come together as a collective to connect with, and learn from, one another. Over the course of the day, individual project teams share their research findings, reflect upon their professional and personal journeys and consider their next steps as action researchers. Our celebration and sharing events are usually a noisy affair, punctuated with laughter, deep discussion and challenging questions about what it means to be an action researcher in our highly complex, and wonderfully diverse, Further Education (FE) sector.

Professor Emerita Jean McNiff recently described action research as ‘not a technique to be applied, but a practice to be lived’ (McNiff, 2022) and this year, we employed the metaphor of a forest to help guide us through the day and situate our research practices as lived experiences within our teaching and learning communities. Drawing on the work of forester and author, Peter Wohlleben (2016), we were able to appreciate some of the similarities between forest networks and action research communities, extending some of Wohlleben’s reflections on what is required for healthy forest growth and development to consider how action research as a ‘lived practice’ can help create conditions that have the capacity to breathe new life into tired teaching spaces. Just as healthy forest networks are intricately connected through their canopies and root systems, and buzzing with life, action research activities and connections can invigorate and energise educators to free themselves (at least in part) from imposed practices: firstly, about ‘what works’ in education and secondly, about who is qualified to make these judgements. Just as growth within a forest is simultaneously visible and invisible, with feelers sent into open spaces and deep underground, the work of action researchers within FE occurs both in plain sight and deep within its undergrowth. Hidden between the cracks of long-established systems and approaches, action researchers are able to push their way through the dead wood, working together to reuse, recycle and repurpose educational curricula to ensure that learner-centred practices are at the heart of FE.

At the end of this year’s programme at the final sharing event, we facilitated a roots and leaves activity, which helped us to appreciate and understand how engaging in action research can make a difference to professional practices within FE. First, we asked people to share their ‘action research roots’, to tell us about the connections they had made and nurtured throughout the programme. Then later in the day, we gathered our‘canopy of leaves’, helping illuminate what practitioners wanted togrow from theiraction research projects moving forwards. Throughout this think piece, we draw on responses to the roots and leaves activity, alongside our day-to-day work on the OTLA 8 programme, to consider how action research within FE has the potential to:

  • Seed and grow sustainable research communities.
  • nurture safe and respectful spaces for developing and sharing practice.
  • encourage compassionate, social practices within teaching and learning spaces that centre relationship building, promote social justice and critique marketized approaches to education.
  • ignite curiosity and support the deepening of contextualised, co-created knowledges within our sector.
rocks and moss

Growing sustainable research communities in Further Education

A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods.

– Tim Flannery (in Wohlleben,2016)

This year’s programme has once again necessitated practitioner action researchers working against a backdrop of uncertainty, as teaching and learning communities have had to adapt to the various ‘new normals’ that the Covid-19 global pandemic has bestowed upon them. In many instances, learners and teachers were back in face-to-face contact, with others taking tentative steps towards their physical classrooms and workshop spaces. In some instances, teaching was still taking place remotely, with a mix of blended learning, online classes and one to one work. The pandemic has cast, and continues to cast, its shadow over both our working and personal lives; many learners and colleagues have lost loved ones, and staff and learner absences through sickness or through shielding have been inevitable, leading to ever-widening gaps in learning, short notice cover work, and increasing withdrawal from re-energising Continuous Professional Development (CPD) opportunities.

In this extremely testing climate, described by one teacher as ‘surviving rather than thriving’, asking people to ‘go above and beyond’ their day-to-day roles to critically explore their teaching and learning practices as part of an action research project seemed a very big ask. When trees are unhappy, they shed their leaves to conserve energy, and for some, the shedding of anything other than an immediate concern for supporting learners to progress was an entirely understandable course of action.

But action research has an uncanny way of bringing people together, particularly when resources are scarce and there is a real and pressing need to think outside the box. Given the exceptionally challenging circumstances described above, could action research be considered as a form of personal as well as professional nourishment, as a gentle way of building community and offering mutual support and comfort to one another in a time of crisis?

For those who were involved in this year’s projects, the formation of practical research communities -particularly those that were created across diverse departments and between those with very different roles -were highly valued. These communities, which were championed and/or facilitated by mentors, enabled learners and teachers to connect beyond assessment outcomes and learning criteria, to consider not only what they were learning, but how they might apply their learning within other aspects of their lives. For example, learners at Haringey Adult Learning and Skills Service supported one another to apply their language learning so that their voices could be heard in relation to housing issues within their local community, and deaf learners at City Lit applied their English, British Sign Language and digital skills to re-imagine a college-wide charity event so that it became more inclusive. Staff teams were also able to work more closely together, with research meetings providing much needed time and space for colleagues to reflect on past action and discuss ‘what next?’ Staff in diverse roles and from different departments were able to draw upon one another’s guidance and expertise, helping in some instances to ‘tackle old problems in new ways’ and move towards a collective responsibility for practice improvement, as these responses to the roots and canopy activity illustrate:

Q. What connections have you made and/ or deepened during OTLA 8?

Staff across subjects and departments, external agencies (now partners)’

Q. What will grow from your work this year?

‘I hope a desire for more action researchers to come forward within our organisation. I also hope the great relationships we have built with important stakeholders. I hope a better environment for our learners.’

The development of these cross-organisational working practices through action research activity can help contribute to refreshing and strengthening collaborative working culture within organisations (described by Kemmis et al, 2014 as understanding the site’s ‘practice architectures’). We can again compare this to a healthy forest, which is nurtured and nourished through the mutual relationships that are established and grown between flora and fauna. Furthermore, widening stakeholder involvement in relation to the development of effective teaching and learning strategies, also encourages a shift away from siloed (individualistic) practices towards holistic educative practices that are firmly rooted in, and deeply responsive to, learners’ lives.

trees in a forest

Cultivating safe and respectful spaces for professional and practice development

When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. If you “help” individual trees by getting rid of their supposed competition, the remaining trees are bereft.

– Peter Wohlleben

In a forest environment, information is continually shared, which supports the health and development of the entire ecosystem. These ‘rhizomatic connections’ are equally important in our own work in FE, as they forge important lines of communication that enable and encourage shared learning within and across organisations (Sidebottom and Mycroft, 2018). Over the course of the OTLA 8 programme, it was exciting to notice where and how these connections developed, with practice being discussed, shared and critiqued both in the open (through organised meetings and dissemination events) and below the surface (through informal in person and/ or online conversations between practitioners). In many instances, OTLA 8 Research Group Leads (RGLs) and mentors were able to operate as metaphorical switchboards, linking those who had similar research interests, common experiences or shared teaching and learning challenges. These new (or in some cases, renewed) relationships between participants within and across organisations helped cultivate fresh ideas and sparked innovative approaches to teaching and learning support. Nurtured by action research as a methodology that encourages questioning, risk taking, critical thinking, self-reflection and challenge, the OTLA 8 programme was able to provide much needed space and time for FE practitioners to act as critical friends for one another, access mentoring support and actively engage with learners and colleagues as co-researchers. In several cases, practitioners spoke about feeling energised by the process, as they felt that their working practices and professional values were becoming more closely aligned:

Q. What connections have you made and/ or deepened during OTLA 8?

‘Connections with other programme teams all working to try and make FE an even better place to work and study’.

Q. What will grow from your work this year?

‘A desire to challenge inequalities within educational spaces (and beyond)’.

In a similar vein, the OTLA team were able to work closely this year with colleagues facilitating other ETF programmes, including the Advanced Practitioner Programme, Maths and SEND Centres for Excellence and the Essential Digital Skills team. Coming together with other programme facilitators helped generate a collaborative understanding of the current challenges within FE, the internal and external support systems being developed in response, and where programmes needed to stand together to better understand and help meet the needs of our participants. Our joint meetings also enabled good news stories to be shared, collaborative CPD opportunities to be promoted, and respectful challenge to be offered to one another regarding how programmes could be further strengthened and developed. Working in this collaborative, non-competitive way helped us to stray across boundaries and appreciate fresh growth across the sector, helping to rhizomatically unite previously disparate patches of woodland to further develop, encourage and extend the rich and diverse forest of home-grown research that is currently being produced by those who are working and learning within FE.

Rhizomatic working has energy, it brings an activist focus by tunnelling its way out of the flowerbed, crossing disciplines and refusing to differentiate between gardens and wasteland: it is essentially democratising, revealing unseen demarcation lines before breaching them.

– Mycroft and Sidebottom, 2018, p.2

Paramount to the success of these spaces within the OTLA 8 programme (and also between the different research-based programmes on offer through the ETF) was the careful creation and nurturing of conditions that fostered respect and trust between practitioners (Donovan, 2021). This was especially important in instances where research topics and/ or findings threatened the status quo, either in their divergence from well-established practices/ dominant academic literatures and/or by their challenging of organisational policies/ hegemonic ideas about FE. In the current political climate, which posits education providers as businesses and learning as something that can be bought and sold (Smith, 2014; Kulz, 2017), the use of action research as a way of forging safe and respectful spaces for dialogue between individuals, organisations and professional development programmes felt extremely important. Through their engagement in action research, practitioners were able to challenge and reject some of the invasive knowledge systems that have been imposed upon FE from the outside, moving instead towards a more holistic form of learning about how to improve and develop teaching, learning and managerial practices, which stems from within.

bluebell field

Action Research as a social practice

Nevertheless, I have learned from this just how powerful a community of trees can be. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Trees could have come up with this old craftsperson’s saying. And because they know this intuitively, they do not hesitate to help each other out.

– Peter Wohlleben

We have established above that action research carried out through the OTLA programme enabled and nurtured relationships and collaborative development in FE settings. If we view action research through a ‘social practices’ lens, one that has been more commonly applied to the teaching of adult literacy over the last 30 years(Papen, 2005) we can also start to explore the power that it gives teachers and learners to work together to identify for themselveswhat works, where andwhyand, thereby, to improve teaching, learning and assessment from a situated and grounded perspective. Social practice theories refute the idea that there are forms of knowledge that, if learnt correctly, can be applied anywhere. By viewing action research as a social practice, we can also challenge the idea that the purpose of research in education is “to change educational practitioners’ practices so they will conform to educational theorists’ theories about how practice should be conducted.” (Kemmis, 2009, p.5) Instead, action research foregrounds the socially and historically-constructed nature of knowledge and gives teachers “intellectual and moral control over their practice” (IBID, p.6).

The importance of positioning teachers (and learners) as knowers, with the resources and aptitude to identify effective teaching, learning and assessmentpractices, cannot be understated. There is much rhetoric at the moment in FE about the use of ‘evidence informed’ practices, which can be interpreted narrowly and, as Wrigley (2016) argues far too simplistically and mistakenly, as being about teachers adopting approaches ‘proven’ through ‘objective research’ to work at a large scale. Knowledge is seen differently however on the OTLA programme. Here, we focused on teachers (as well as other professionals and, at times, learners) gathering and analysing their own evidence of what works or doesn’t work in particular contexts and with particular learners.

Viewing action research as social practice is not just about identifying/ developing ‘effective’ forms of teaching, learning and assessment it is also about understanding and responding to the consequences of our actions on ourselves and others (Kemmis 2009). It is, thereby, a practice rooted in our individual and collective values. This understanding can help us to problematise what it means for an educational practice to be ‘effective’ (effective as in ‘this assessment for learning practice really works!’) When considering the effectiveness of their actions, OTLA researchers tried to understand what consequences these actions had on their learners and on eachother. Virtues such as sensitivity and compassion were shown by those who took part in the OTLA programme. This was evident in their reports; that talked about how the action research had influenced and affected others and what was done to ensure people were included and their views understood and represented. Often, as McNiff notes in her editorial for ‘Value and Virtue in Practice-Based Research’ (2013), people’s values are not illuminated clearly enough during action research. McNiff (IBID) explains the importance of expressing our work in terms of our values so we can ‘shine where the light and life are’ and argue clearly that we are engaged in ‘virtuous practices’. In his closing piece for the same book, Julian Sternfurther stresses the importance of doing action research in our communities, where we can ‘live divided no more’.

An example of a virtuous OTLA project is illusrated here by the team at NOVUS (it was hard to choose one to share, as value-based decisions and virtuous actions were evident everywhere we looked in the OTLA 8 anthology of reports. The project involved people from across the prisons where it took place. People who had previously often been excluded from taking part in digital developments, such as vocational trainers in the prisons, were included from the outset, alongside prison learners as key creators and evaluators of the approaches being trailed. The action research “opened up an opportunity for the production of learner-led, co-designed digital skills development strategies and resources, which can be incorporated into future schemes of work as learners suggest the platforms and digital tasks they would like to explore next.”

Q. What connections have you made and/ or deepened during OTLA 8?

‘Building a community and sense ofshared understanding with learners.’

Q. What will grow from your work this year?

‘Really involving learners from the outset in new and authentic ways’

Conceptualising action research as social practice on OTLA encouraged us to create space for people(with each other, with their mentors and research group leads and with people from other projects) to identify what they knew and needed to find out in order to move their practice forwards in virtuous ways.

trees in a forest with some purple flowers in the background

Action research as a curiosity igniter

Perhaps we are poorer for having lost a possible explanation or richer for having gained a mystery.

– Peter Wohlleben

Throughout the programme activities, from our large events, to more intimate research round tables and project-level mentoring meetings,we expressed action research as a way to explore the unknown, to be curious. In doing so people ‘changed their practices, their understandings of their practices, and the conditions under which they practiced’ (Carr and Sometimes it's nice to be lostKemmis, 1986) This action research curiosity, to explore the unknown, is different to traditionalist social science, as it can lead to more questions than answers. However, as we noted above, action research processes or ‘meta practices’ (Kemmis, 2009) are, in themselves, enactments that can be virtuous and, also, incredibly fulfilling. There is ajoy in being able to wander along different paths and have the opportunity to explore lesser trod areas. Action researchers often had a general idea of where they wanted to go but they appreciated that they could take many different paths and that what they found there might not be what they expected (or hoped for!)

We, the OTLA programme team, reminded people that sometimes it’s good to be lost! They could re-route and that was OK. We encouraged people to appreciate that, in getting lost, they would almost always learn knew things and make new discoveries about their practice. As Jean McNiff reminded us recently (2022), ‘all movement is movement’ and it is the job of action researchers to identify the significance of what they are learning for themselves and others.

Thinking about the significance of our work is not always straightforward. As Jean McNiff outlined in a summer school we ran this year (McNiff, 2022), questions of significance invite us to consider the criteria against which our work will be judged and the standards that will be employed in that judgment. Jean also invited us to critique the notion of ‘impact’ and think instead of the influencethat our action research has/ could have on others. It is important, as many of the OTLA action researchers reminded us this year, to work with others to understand our influence on them so that, when we share more widely, we can express the trustworthiness and relatability of our work. This is in contrast to more widely held research values of reliability and validity and of the notion of rigor. Rigor, like ‘evidence-based’ is a concept in research that seems so ‘obviously correct’ and we had no wish to present ideas of research that were not rigorous. We interpreted this in different ways, however, using such concepts as ‘trustworthy triangulation’ (thanks to our colleague Dr Andy Convery for introducing us to this idea) when it came to identifying evidence of what was working or not (triangulating evidence in terms of time (before, during and after an intervention) and people (our own reflections, that of our peers and that of our learners.) Again, the ideas of trustworthiness and relatability were central here.

Q. What connections have you madeand/ or deepened during OTLA 8?

‘With myself! Thinking about my own impact (positive and negative) on my world’

Q. What will grow from your work this year?

‘More curiosity, greater space for creative, learner-centred thinking. Activism and further challenging of inequalities.’

Concluding thoughts

This year there was a tinge of sadness within the team, as the OTLA programme is coming to an end. However, action research is always more of a comma than a full stop, and we are excited to see how our forest of FE research will continue to grow and self-sustain left to its own creative devices. We will each take what we have learnt during our time on OTLA into our future work and lives.We have shared our reflections above on the symbiotic relationships between action research and community; the idea of knowledge co-creation, how we see action research as social practice and an ignitor of curiosity, and why this matters. We can see in the OTLA 8 anthology countless examples of projects that were values-driven and positioned teachers (and other educators), along with the learners they teach as ‘knowers’ and ‘effective practice’ asdeeply rooted in context and social purpose.In our often marginalised, ‘second chance’ sector, where we typically work with learners who are less heard, who are pushed to the peripheries of society and who feel less valued by education (Duckworth and Smith, 2019), the development of contextualised, learner-centred pedagogies and practices that feel meaningful and relevant is of the utmost importance. Through action research, we have an opportunity to work withlearners rather than doing tothem, to embrace our curiosities about teaching and learning and (rather than mindlessly following pre-determined routes and irrelevant signposts of success) explore the forest that is the further education sector together.

red mushroom

Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming Critical. Education, knowledge and action research. Lewes: Falmer.
Donovan, C. (2021). Professional Trust. [accessed 30.8.22].
Jones, S (2020). TES: How to put teacher-led research at the heart of FE [accessed 1.8.22].
Kemmis, S. et al. (2014). The Action Research Planner Doing Critical Participatory Action Research. 1st edition. Singapore: Springer.
Kemmis, S. (2009). ‘Action research as a practice‐based practice’. Journal of Educational Action Research.17(3), pp.463-474. DOI: 10.1080/09650790903093284.
Kulz. C. (2017). Factories for learning. Making race, class and inequality in the neoliberal academy.Manchester: Manchester University Press.
McNiff, J. (2022). Action Research Summer School 20.7.22.
McNiff, J. (2013). Value and Virtue in Practice-Based Research. Dorset: September Books.
Meaby, V., (2018) ‘Establishing Professional Learning Communities to Support the Promotion of Equality and Celebration of Diversity: Reflections from a North-East Community Learning Teacher’, Teaching in Lifelong Learning8(2). DOI:
Mycroft, L. and Sidebottom, K. (2018) ‘Constellations of practice’. In Bennett, B. and Smith, R. (eds) Identity and Resistance in Further Education. Abingdon: Routledge, pp170-179.
Papen, U. (2005). Adult Literacy as Social Practice. Oxon: Routledge.
Smith, R.(2015).‘College re-culturing, marketisation and knowledge: the meaning of incorporation’.Journal of Educational Administration and History. 47(1), pp.18-39. DOI:10.1080/00220620.2015.974145.
Wohlleben, P. (2016).The hidden life of trees: what they feel, how they communicate: discoveries from a secret world. William Collins: London.
Wrigley, T. (2016). ‘Not so simple: the problem with ‘evidence-based practice’ and the EEF toolkit’. Forum58(2), pp.237–252.

An interactive thinking tool for prison teams

Bringing teams together to promote and support rehabilitative learning in the Secure Estate

Andy’s Thinkpiece: Cultivating Change

Cultivating Professional Change Through Action Research

Dr Andy Convery

Research and Professional Development Lead


Welcome to our new environmentally-friendly, freely accessible and shareable compendium of OTLA action research accounts from all corners of the Further Education and post-16 sector. This digital platform is liberated from the constraints of the 15th Century Gutenberg printing press technology, and gives busy staff immediate access to the illuminative appendices which accompany each report. At the click of a mouse you’re invited into living classrooms filled with recognisable students – young and old, rowdy and reserved, nervous and noisy. At the beginning of their stories, these learners often share a common initial frustration that success in education will be out of their reach. Then gradually, through the illustrated appendices, we see these learners blossoming as teachers and support assistants build learners’ trust – learners’ trust in the teachers, learners’ trust in their changing classroom experiences, and increasingly, learners’ trust in themselves to actually achieve success.

“in some cases we had reduced our expectations of our students’ capabilities and therefore reduced the challenge too much….

We are now beginning to push learners more and expect more of them.”

Through the clickable links, readers may recognise painfully familiar teacher experiences of being faced with negative students rejecting prescribed approaches within ‘one size fits all’ systems. However, time after time on their research journeys, the accounts and appendices document how staff fire learners’ sense of their potential as curious readers, as more assured writers of English, or as digitally confident communicators. Readers will recognise teachers’ delight when they make breakthroughs and spark learners into believing in themselves. In the following accounts, we see how these triumphant moments are almost always triggered by teachers searching for – then investing in – their learners’ feedback. Both teachers and learners enjoy ‘eureka’ moments as they realise what fresh possibilities await. These OTLA 8 accounts are brought to life by teachers providing examples of annotated learners’ work, highlighting learners’ and colleagues’ comments, and sharing candid commentaries and perceptive reflections about their changing classroom relationships. Teachers reading these will seize on these lively supplements as intelligent insights into what is pragmatically possible in similar circumstances – and begin to plan their own changes.

Refining teachers’ pedagogical practices

We see teachers adopting and adapting new teaching strategies (such as encouraging target-setting, introducing ‘resilience’ materials, or introducing new online applications) and such ‘pedagogical processes’ are often the starting point across our 41 projects. We often see teachers agreeing to explore a strategy – such as target-setting – and then negotiating how best it can be applied and evaluated in their particular settings. The findings are revealing: teams find themselves confronting their own assumptions about how strategies work; how learners can use these strategies; and what they, as teachers, need to do to help these learners. For example, through investigating target-setting in practice, colleagues on different projects quickly realised that target-setting was not straightforward, and that it could become dominated by ‘teacher targets’. Such research gives teachers confidence – and a sense of responsibility – to devise personal pedagogical approaches that are effective and meaningful in their classrooms.

Across almost all the following accounts, the major shifts in teachers’ pedagogical understanding – and their classroom decision-making – resulted from their emerging and renewed insights into their learners’ potential. As they revised their appreciation of how learners actually experience the learning process, they began working together to recognise and remove the barriers that block learners’ engagement and stifle their commitment to learn.

Listening to (and learning from) learners

The catalyst for teachers changing their pedagogical approaches was when teachers began meaningful conversations with learners about learning. When teachers created a space to listen attentively to learners’ feedback about the practical initiatives they were introducing, this inspired Cycle to show the power of consulting learners.the teachers to work with the learners to experiment with changes.

In practice, teachers built working research relationships with learners.

The successful development of all teaching strategies depended upon the teachers’ willingness to listen and learn about the learners’ experience, and to design activities that learners found more engaging.

For example, Preston College’s delight that classrooms became workshops’ typically illustrates how learners’ passive expectations could be transformed by working together to design inspiring learning activities that boosted learners’ belief in who they could become.

In many accounts, projects became successful when learners got onboard to fashion their learning activities and teachers learned to place more trust in learners’ feedback.

Learners became both motivated and receptive in response to teachers’ genuine concern to improve learners’ skills and confidence. When staff listened carefully to learners, and then acted on the learners’ thoughtful responses, teachers were able to adapt their approaches to introduce more relevant strategies in a receptive environment.

Developing improved professional development

Across the English, ESOL and Essential Digital Skills projects that follow, teachers reveal their emerging awareness of the complexities of post-16 learning settings, and of their potential to take further steps to help their learners. Project teams are inspired to help learners who have often – for a complex variety of hidden reasons – been failed by the dominant pedagogical approaches practised elsewhere. The OTLA 8 programme frees teachers to invest energy in designing more relevant activities that are not directly prescribed by the content of the syllabus or assessment criteria. For example, investing their energies in encouraging reading cultures, or working through resilience activities to boost learners’ self-esteem. The principal pedagogical change evident across the OTLA projects (and especially so from OTLA 8) is teachers’ confident capacity to make professional judgements – and take actions – that address their learners’ fundamental interests. Put simply, through joining action research projects, teachers’ eyes are opened to what hinders – and helps – learners’ progress.

“One of the comparative strengths of the OTLA8 project was the creative freedom it offered.”

In the accounts that follow, we see staff and learners developing greater empathy. When teachers initiate meaningful discussions about learners’ relationship with their subjects and their learning environment, staff began to appreciate and value learners’ complementary cultural capital. Teachers’ professional expertise stems from their capacity to establish learners’ starting points; the action research investigations provided even deeper insights into learners’ lived experiences so they could better understand how dominant academic forms of expression and representation might be inhibiting learners’ potential. Consequently, across a range of projects, responsive teacher researchers negotiate reading schemes to build upon learners’ preferred interests; technology staff rephrase obstructive terminologies; vocational staff are invited onto project teams to help overcome cultural barriers to reading from apprentices; and everywhere, there is a new appreciation and respect for learners’ traditions. Time after time in the reports, project leaders highlight how the projects have helped staff enhance their professionalism, often citing Professional Standard 5: ‘Value and promote social and cultural diversity, equality of opportunity and inclusion’

Staff working and learning together

These projects certainly refreshed teachers’ professional know-how; however, it was the social element of staff working together on the OTLA programme that gave individual teachers a newfound confidence to risk attempting their new ideas in challenging settings. Often, teams created a dynamic; staff became excited by new ideas, and then feeding back how their attempts had fared created fresh enthusiasm across teams to take further risks.

Some teamwork was carefully planned from the start – for example SAVTE wanted to explore the benefits of Graphic showing the power of teachers working together. Inspired by MacBeath et al, (2003).teaching triangles. For others, teamwork began in departmental meetings as an organisational convenience, and an unexpected bonus of these projects are the improved relationships between staff within – and between – English, ESOL and EDS departments. Many of the projects illustrate departmental teaching teams enjoying a refreshing and enlightening review of their practices, and most draw attention to the importance of their wider teaching relationships with support workers, vocational teachers, learning resource staff and admin and management. Several projects noted how staff working outside of English, ESOL or digital support departments embraced the project initiatives as opportunities for them to develop their own English, ESOL and digital understandings, thus contextualising digital, literacy and/or language practices to enhance their existing approaches. In the secure estate, four prison education projects noted how their efforts had refreshed the links between separated provisions and contributed to national staff development activities.

The project format often acted as a very effective professional development focus. Well-managed projects responded with sensitivity to teachers’ individual development needs which recognised their differing situations.

“The project has afforded the opportunity for English and Learning Support staff to work together more closely and provided us both with more time to reflect on how we can best support our learners and ensure that they get the most out of their classes.”

Some projects were inspired by ideas that did not achieve their intended potential and needed to be refocused and revised, and this process of joint discovery and problem-solving; “Why is this not working?” – often proved important for team development.

Most projects were instigated by experienced teachers operating in a curriculum leadership role, and some were organised by those with overarching management responsibilities. Several senior managers noted how projects had improved their connections with teaching staff in the search for workable teaching and learning solutions – resetting their relationships with the staff whom they managed as the project activities highlighted the degree of teachers’ professional commitment. Through the project, they developed a better understanding of the teachers, the learners, and the challenges in context. Projects varied in the extent and commitment of staff; for example, Boston College project focused the attention of five staff (including ESOL, vocational and support specialists) on two ESOL learners. This not only benefited both learners but it also proved an intensive professional development opportunity for the team, giving them all insight into how they might prepare for future support of ESOL learners.

“Some teachers thrived within the sessions; they had ‘lightbulb moments’, were open to implementing and trialling new approaches and were not put off if they did not work first time. However, other teachers struggled to see how the concepts could be applied.”

Some projects also took advantage of support from the wider community – Leeds College of Building encouraged University students to act as mentors, and Myerscough College engaged UCLAN students to support individual learners’ creative writing activities. These attempts to introduce new participants into learners’ lives had positive impacts on extending learners’ social worlds and communication skills. We see teams enjoying fresh opportunities to work together, and these project initiatives revived participants’ sense of agency – the project opportunity stimulated participants’ sense of potential and motivated commitment.

“The most impressive impact is that after our director saw our research work, she decided to implement all these activities into our Grade 1,2 and 3 GCSE English Schemes of Work for 2022-2023!”

Alongside teachers seizing the chance to reinvigorate tired topic approaches, vocational tutors volunteered as role model narrators to demonstrate the importance of reading, support workers assumed new responsibilities when freed by the projects, and managers rediscovered the excitement of sparking learners’ interest. Haringey Adult Learning Services and Darlington College engaged learners as mentors which both inspired the mentors and ensured that learners were given additional support and opportunities to communicate their needs through additional channels. The management of Essex ACL encouraged participation in the research process by persuading staff to share their own ‘teaching nuggets’, thus increasing buy-in to experimenting with tried and tested resources that were endorsed by credible colleagues. However one team leader regretted that participation in regular team Zoom meetings – which had been central to staff communication in lockdown – were no longer scheduled. Staff were keen to resume face-to-face contact, and it became difficult to carve out time for those dedicated teacher meetings as staff were once more sucked into their organisations’ demanding schedules.

“In a college community which is predominantly white, working class and male, it was important to us to open up the frame of reference and make unexpected partnerships. The work we are doing with Leeds Arts University is a good example of this, enabling our students to work alongside undergraduates and gain an insight into different lifestyles and world views.”

Teachers becoming researchers – the social benefits

We can see teachers were often excited to be researching together. Although staff may have worked alongside each other for years, their OTLA 8 projects injected a new focus for rethinking old practices that weren’t working, and this created a team bonding which inspired risk-taking and honest sharing of results. For example, there are several ‘resilience’ projects which created a space for teachers to review why learners were unreceptive to teachers’ best efforts. These projects provided staff with the time and space to rethink why learners might be reluctant to engage. This space also encouraged teachers to judge which new approaches might be most valuable for their particular cohorts, and they felt less threatened about making changes as they were supported by the group. Across the projects, we see examples of stronger social relationships with long-standing colleagues – relationships that are now more professionally rewarding.

An important aspect of the team research is the reassuring acceptance and acknowledgement of what strategies are unsuccessful, and several team leaders have indicated that team members were encouraged to contribute more openly when experienced team leaders had shared their own lack of success with differing approaches. This trust prompted further self-disclosures that paved the way for colleagues to establish common ground and to commit to discovering more effective and responsive strategies. This social research process is so important in moving teams beyond a frustration and resignation about, “What doesn’t work” and prompts a constructive energy focused upon, “What learners need…”

Diversity in project leadership

Projects were initiated by project leaders in differing situations. Some projects were led by experienced practitioners who were interested in rolling out new strategies, resources or ways of organising learners. Other projects had more of a management design, and were keen to refresh the wider workforce by introducing new practices or resources. Where project leaders were experienced practitioners enjoying regular contact with learners and colleagues in teaching a subject, there seemed to be more investigation, action and reflection; typically these teams were relatively small and dynamic. Some mentors were frustrated that management-driven projects appeared to be ‘remote-controlled’ – direction from above did not translate into committed action by participants. In some situations, where management had encouraged an approach or use of a resource, teachers seemed to politely accommodate the resource by integrating it into their teaching in ways that did not interfere with their preferred approaches. This is mirrored in Johannesson’s (2022) research into Professional Learning Communities. He discovered that where action research is treated as a project – rather than as a process – the professional development benefits are not as fully realised. The more successful management initiated projects were based upon a willingness to trust staff to explore practice without being overly-directive about what should be the focus (and the implied outcomes) from the research. This facilitative stance enabled project leaders and staff to take greater ownership of change activities with more evidence of local changes being implemented.

“Our evaluative process is always rigorous; we try to make changes to value cultural diversity, to motivate and connect with our learners, who have often lost interest and hope. However, this research gave us the time to evaluate throughout the year in a meaningful way and to gather students’ views too.”

Across all projects, there is evidence that those who initiated projects from different positions progressed their professional learning. Managers learned about their teaching teams; they gained fresh appreciation of the barriers inhibiting change; they learned that ‘straightforward’ topics could be difficult to comprehend because of learners’ lack of familiarity with examiners’ cultural assumptions; and they learned that pedagogical approaches are heavily influenced by context.

Using literature – finding our spaces

Many of our projects cite literature to establish the credentials of the research. In the best projects there is evidence of teachers accessing a variety of relevant teaching publications to seek insights into challenging situations. Teachers draw on these insights from schools and colleges, and test these approaches in their own classrooms. When written up and illustrated in the accounts which follow, they create their own source of literature which give other teachers access to more relatable information. Mentors were often crucial to opening up alternative teaching approaches, guiding project leaders towards insights from different education sectors, or from different corners of our own post-16 education and training sector.

“Using existing research by Myhill’s team which was conducted on a younger cohort with more regular English lessons, we have been able to apply some of the principles and measure their impact on students. It has meant that learners were able to have a dialogue with teachers on how they learn and what has helped them.”

Because the majority of teachers in FE do not enjoy easy access to electronic journals (unlike their HE counterparts), these reports make very good use of available literature from search engines. They draw upon teachers’ blogs, open-access papers and repositories such as the ETF ‘Practitioner research and evidence portal’ which house a wide range of Using graphic templates as a tool for evidence gathering.teacher research reports. Because the OTLA 8 research reports are almost always testing previous research and inquiry in unique settings, the research represents a critical evaluation of the previous reports that were accessed. They contribute to the store of evidence-informed practice which can continue to help practitioners and professional researchers alike.

In addition to the illustrations of practice-based, evidence-informed accounts that follow, participants have already extended their work to (and beyond) the sector through contributing to conferences, blogs, podcasts, and writing up for journal submissions (please see the OTLA Programme Action Research Showcase Padlet for examples of work that has been produced for publication over the course of the programme). For example, a group of ESOL project leaders have produced posters for the NATECLA conference 2022 to prompt colleagues into experimenting with their practice. Their posters are creatively illustrated by the graphic templates which have been developed through project and mentor collaboration. An additional bonus for this programme has been the generation of an ESOL-dedicated supplement to the 2021 Doing Action Research in FE Guide which now offers a variety of ESOL-friendly research methods for all teachers to explore when helping their learners. The prison education teams are also editing materials to inspire staff to build on their new interest in researching their practice in this specialist sector.

A testament to mentors

Every project was appointed an action research mentor; an experienced subject specialist whose interests were tailored to their project, and the quality of the project experiences as captured in these reports is largely down to the sensitive supportive insights that project mentors have provided at all stages. Mentors have:

  • Helped frame and focus projects
  • Drawn on their extensive teaching experience to inspire pedagogical progress
  • Pointed project leads to accessible literature for added support and direction
  • Hosted a rhythm of regular sharing sessions with like-minded project teams
  • Addressed setbacks by steering teams to productively refocus
  • Encouraged the honest sharing of all aspects of practice
  • Acted as critical friends and writing buddies in fostering these rigorous reports to fruition

All mentors were carefully chosen for their specialist experience and capacity to lead teachers to A screenshot of a Padlet Board designed to support one of the Novus teams with their action research.conduct meaningful action research in challenging contexts. As part of OTLA’s contribution to practical knowledge about how to conduct high quality educational action research, might we direct readers to one of the Padlets designed by the mentor for the Novus prison projects: Simulations for Essential Digital Skills Learning.

The Padlet headings provided a partially populated template framework that invites participants’ own contributions. This user-friendly Padlet guides participants through the stages of evidencing the rationale; shares sources of inspiration and relevant literature; explores suitable research methods; illustrates project resources, and finds spaces to value stakeholders’ reflections and contributions. Other projects might well be inspired to draw upon these templates as ways of prompting potential action research teams who are almost ready to commit on their own educational explorations.

OTLA – creating an expansive professional ecology through action research

In conclusion to this editorial, it is timely to acknowledge the visionary encouragement of the Education and Training Foundation in creating opportunities to begin a root and branch change to the prevailing professional culture of Further Education. As teachers on OTLA projects have engaged in action research, they have begun to develop a view of themselves as capable of proactively shaping the learning context. The OTLA programmes have challenged the limited approach of sticking-plaster remedial training to help tired teachers cope with the latest crisis; rather, they have created a supportive space for what Fuller and Unwin (2004) describe as expansive learning environments, where teachers are given time, space and support to collectively stand back, reflect and reimagine new possibilities. Through the action research seeds that OTLA planted and nurtured, we see the green shoots of cultural change as teachers gradually blossom and mature into extended professionals. In the following reports we see teachers shaping a much healthier post-16 environment as they assume greater responsibility for leading learning, using their informed professional judgement to inspire change in classrooms, staffrooms and across communities.


Fuller, A. and Unwin, L. (2004) Expansive learning environments: integrating personal and organisational development, in Rainbird, H., Fuller, A. and Munro, A. (eds) Workplace Learning in Context, London: Routledge.

Johannesson, P. (2022): Development of professional learning communities through action research: understanding professional learning in practice, Educational Action Research Vol 30:3 pp 411-426.

MacBeath, J., Demetriou, H., Rudduck, J., & Myers, K. (2003) Consulting pupils: a toolkit for teachers Cambridge; Pearson Publishing.

Accessibility Statement


Under the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018, public sector organisations are now required by law to produce accessible websites and apps, along with a full accessibility statement. Although CCC is not a public sector body, a commitment to accessibility is at the heart of our practice and extremely important for our work as educators, researchers and independent evaluators.  

At CCC, we advocate for a holistic approach to accessibility that moves beyond legislative requirements. Below we share our accessibility statement, as well as some examples of how we are putting our words into practice within our work and through the resources we produce.   

We are always looking for ways to further develop our practice and understanding of accessibility. If you have any comments, suggestions or ideas about how we can extend and develop this aspect of our work, we warmly invite you to share your thinking through the Padlet Board below.  

Website Conformance Status

Our website ( is partially conformant with WCAG 2.1 level AA. Partially conformant means that some parts of the content do not fully conform to that particular accessibility standard. Read the latest accessiblity technical overview of our website completed on 14/7/22 including audit with issues addressed.

Accessibility Statements for some of the key digital tools used during training by the CCC team

Our teaching and learning practices

Infographic to visualise SCULPT; Click link for access to textAt CCC, we take a person-centred approach to teaching and learning, which aims to utilise people’s existing strengths and knowledges as experts in their own lives and learning practices.  In order to facilitate equitable teaching and learning opportunities, we continually undertake attentive, dialogical quality assurance processes within the CCC team, helping ensure that the sessions we design, the materials we develop and the platforms and sources of information we advocate are fully accessible. Recently, we have been using Worchester Council’s SCULPT Model as our point of reference, helping us to consider key aspects of resource development, including: Structure; Colour and contrast; Use of images; effective practice for sharing Links; and the use of Plain English.  

Whether our training is facilitated online, as a hybrid activity or face-to-face in a physical environment, the CCC team embrace evidence-informed pedagogical approaches that model effective practice. Much of this evidence base has been built up through the shared experiences and insights from the many hundreds of practitioners we have worked with and supported in the past, resulting in a tacit knowledge base and the utilisation of co-created practices for accessibility that truly resonate with, and meet the needs of, participants. This approach consists of: 

  • Sharing resources and agendas prior to training sessions, so people can access them according to their personal preference (e.g., by changing the colour or font on documents or by putting them through a screen reader).
  • Opening both face-to-face and online training rooms before our training sessions begin, so participants can check their equipment and ensure that they feel comfortable within their learning space.
  • Wherever possible, embedding digital tools within our website, resources and training practices that enable individual users to set their own preferences.
  • Not overloading people with too many different digital tools during training sessions. Instead, we prefer to select a few key digital tools, so people can try them out and develop their confidence in using them. We also strive to only use digital tools that have been developed with accessibility requirements in mind (to read the accessibility statements for some of the key digital tools we commonly use during our training sessions, please see above).
  • Taking an ‘under the bonnet’ approach to accessibility that (where appropriate) makes our pedagogical decision making explicit. By articulating not only what we are doing but why we are doing it, we are able to share our learning with others so they can adapt and contextualise it for their own practice.
  • Creating participatory spaces within our training sessions for meaningful discussion, ideas sharing and creativity around the facilitation of inclusive learning and effective practices for accessibility.
  • Embedding opportunities for digital literacy development, supporting and empowering people to articulate and address accessibility challenges and engage in learning in ways that meet their individual needs.
  • Offering people a choice about how they engage in or respond to a learning activity. For example, in an online training situation, participants may be encouraged to share their responses to a stimulus question using Mentimeter, with the chat function on Zoom also provided as an alternative method of response.  
  • Checking how our teaching and learning content and resources look and how they are accessed on a range of devices. This approach supports us to consider how the materials we use for our training and events is experienced by people who are accessing the session using different devices (for instance via a tablet, mobile phone, face-to-face or on a computer).  
  • Sending a follow-up email or evaluation form following training events, asking people to share their experiences of the training, whether they felt their needs were addressed effectively and to share their ideas about how we can continue to develop and improve our practice.  


Stories from the team about how CCC’s commitment to accessibility works in practice

Our values: continuing to grow and learn


Level 3 Education and Training

Educating Yourself In Prison: An Inside Job

Our film aimed at helping prison inductees new into the regime, to give them some hope and to help them see how valuable education can be on their journey.

T-Levels CPD: Maths, English and Digital

Supporting technical teachers and trainers to embed maths, English and digital skills within their technical subject teaching.

Equality and Diversity statement

Our Values

Claire Collins Consultancy (CCC) celebrates and values the diversity brought to its workforce by individuals and believes that CCC will benefit from employing a diverse workforce which represents our learner profile and the surrounding communities by providing positive role models for both learners and staff. We promote equality, diversity and inclusion to all our staff and learners and value difference.


General Principles

  • We are committed to equality of opportunity for all employees and learners regardless of their status and will treat all employees with dignity and respect.
  • We will create a positive inclusive ethos with a shared commitment to challenging and preventing stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination between all members of CCC community.
  • We will seek to promote a positive working environment free from discrimination, harassment or victimisation.

Download our full Equality, Diversity + Inclusion Policy

Our values: continuing to grow and learn


Haringey ALS EDS Report

Embedding wellbeing approaches in EDS programmes

Haringey Adult Learning Service

This project underpinned principles around Trauma Informed Practice. We explored the real impact misinformation is having on women who are disproportionately affected in COVID-19 times. A co-design element was at the heart of the project where learners created video diaries and community messages outlining the positive influence on their wellbeing.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Haringey Adult Learning Services (HALS) provide basic skills and vocational courses that target migrant residents with low levels of English, people with no qualifications or those not qualified to Level 2. Learners are unemployed or in low paid employment. High levels of health inequality in the east of the borough mean most learners have low to moderate mental health needs. The service works to the borough regeneration and economic development strategy via a Good Employment Recovery Plan. The service has a strong ethos of multi-agency working, partnership, inclusion and learner involvement, underpinned by a strengths-based approach.

Our work investigated the effect on learner wellbeing of embedding wellbeing activities into EDS sessions with a focus on online misinformation. We focused this project on women (particularly single parents) due to the disproportionate effects data has shown that COVID-19 has had on this group (Institute for Social and Economic Research, 2020)

The project team was made up from Essential Digital Skills (EDS) Tutors and a Creative Skills tutor to facilitate the co-design aspect of developing and embedding the misinformation/disinformation workshops.

Small group sessions aimed to give a safe space for learners to explore individual concerns around fake news. Through a co-design approach the focus was on empowerment to take control of these issues and, using new digital skills, create their own positive messaging around misinformation.

Intended outcomes included:

  • providing an understanding of what misinformation is
  • learning about who creates and shares misinformation
  • exploring what motivations people have for doing this
  • considering how misinformation can affect our wellbeing
  • investigating how we keep up-to-date with information online.

We wanted learners to build confidence in these key areas through the workshops and co-creation activity, and a sense of connection with a wider online community through their sharing of the resources.


The focus on women for this project (particularly single parents) was in line with the Trauma Informed Approach (Weston College, 2018; Shevrin Venet, 2020) with which HALS has been underpinning its delivery since March 2020.

Our video diary activity was designed so that learners were able to use the device which is most accessible to them. The co-created message activity focussed on short slogans, which were digitally produced so that learners’ language and literacy skills will not be a barrier.

ESOL Learners were also encouraged to produce their messages in languages other than English so that they could be used in future in their communities. Tutors needed digital upskilling, particularly in the areas of digital wellbeing, to improve confidence to facilitate these topics.

To disseminate progress and learning, project updates were shared on service and team chat threads and access to workshop resources were shared with all staff through a range of accessible formats. Staff were invited to trial any of the project activities and to reflect on their experience and learning in a shared online project space in MS Teams. Project updates were also recorded so that staff will be able to access them in a range of formats.


Stage 1:

  • Learners are introduced to the project and complete a quiz on fake news.
  • Learners create short video clips where they record how they feel misinformation is having an impact on their wellbeing.

Stage 2:
Learners take part in 2 workshops around misinformation following principles of co- design:

Workshop 1: Presentation delivered outlining:

  • What is misinformation?
  • Why do people create it and spread it?
  • Why is it so overwhelming?
  • How can I spot it?

Learners completed a survey answering questions through ‘Panda’ Emojis. The reason for choosing panda emojis was because we felt they represented the different emotions more visually than just the smiley faces. The panda was simply a design choice made from the various emoji icons available in PowerPoint.

The decision to use emojis in particular was based on it being recommended by our mentor as a really useful strategy for accessibility and understanding for questionnaires and getting feedback.

Questions included:

  • Do you think fake news is harmful or misleading?
  • How would you feel if you shared a message to friends and found out it was fake news?
  • How much do you trust social media to keep you up to date about issues you
    care about?
  • If a news story made you feel strong emotions (fear, anger), how confident do you feel that you would suspect it to be false or misleading?

Learners took part in ‘The Bad News Game’ to be in the shoes of someone who is spreading misinformation.

A series of community messages based on their new knowledge and skills were produced by the learners in MS Word.

Stage 3:

Learners shared wellbeing journeys by creating a second video diary recording:

  • What their experience was of playing ‘The Bad News Game’.
  • How confident they now felt that they can look after their own wellbeing (and
    their family and friends’) online in relation to what is fake or what is misleading.
  • Wellbeing community messages which were shared across the service.

The workshop template for the workshop events was also introduced to other classes across HALS.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

We are now seeing digital literacy programmes appearing in schools, colleges and universities, with lots of innovative lesson plans and tools, but roll-out is still very much a

Screenshot of Jamboard

Figure 1 – Jamboard

process of trial and error. The co-design element of this project allowed us to work with learners to get an understanding of how misinformation affects them based on their lived experience and design resources to meet their needs.

Our approach for this project was to create a series of co-designed workshops with a group of learners to create resources to raise awareness of and promote discussion about misinformation.

The practitioners involved were professionally developed as action researchers: we encouraged critical thinking about education, values and practice. A process model in the design and delivery of the workshops was put into practice. A praxis curriculum model with learners empowered to co-design content (motioning of learners as experts in their own learning and development) subsequently improved their wellbeing. We drew on relevant research as part of this evidence-based practice (Wardle and Derakhshan, 2017).

Screenshot of Edmodo Group page

Figure 2- Edmodo Group

In advance of the first workshop, we created a series of questions about misinformation for the learners to respond to in their video diaries. This allowed us to have a better understanding of what type of information and resources might help to address the knowledge gap and what kind of concerns and attitudes the group had about misinformation at the beginning of the project. This demonstrated our commitment to maintaining high standards of ethics and professional behaviour in support of learners and their expectations.

The activities encouraged the group to consider how they keep up-to-date online, how being online might impact their wellbeing and explored trusting our instincts and judgement in the online space. This was supported by the group creating statements and messages in response to a series of questions, such as “What would you say to someone who is feeling overwhelmed by false and misleading stories online?” and “What advice would you give to someone about looking after their wellbeing online?”, which were then shared within the group.

Throughout the project we were active. After each workshop we made changes for the following workshop based on identified learner needs, for example, introducing ‘The Bad News Game’ using role play, placing learners in the ‘shoes’ of someone: spreading fake news (see response in Video diary 2). We dedicated an additional workshop to develop the personal messages which allowed learners the time to reflect on what they had learned and freedom to create their own personalised community messages, enabling them to feel connected:

Practitioners are subject and/or vocational specialists as well as experts in teaching and learning and showed commitment in maintaining and developing their expertise in both aspects of their role to ensure the best outcomes for their learners. Continual refreshing of knowledge and skill sharing occurred across the project by sharing resources via the MS Teams platform and CPD sessions.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

Project updates were shared on the service and team chat threads and access to the workshop resources shared with all staff through a range of accessible formats. Staff were

Image of messages from/ to learners in different languages

Figure 3 – Messages in first languages

invited to trial any of the project activities and to reflect on experience and learning in a shared online project space in MS Teams. Any project updates were also recorded so that staff will be able to access them in a range of formats.

The video diary activity was designed so that learners would be able to use the device which is most accessible to them. As not all learners had a smartphone, it was decided as a group to use MS Teams to record the videos, enabling all to participate.

The co-created message activity focused on learners’ devising short slogans, brief messages and digitally produced content so that learners’ language and literacy skills did not become a barrier. Although the messages were produced in English, ESOL Learners were encouraged to produce their messages in languages other than English. The benefits of this enabled learners to respond in their first language and therefore reduced cognitive load (Bell Foundation, 2021).

The workshops were designed and scheduled based on learner needs through practitioner collaboration. Practitioners in different roles worked constructively in new relationships both within HALS and in their own setting. The class tutor and the associate tutor collaborated on the resources to ensure they were relevant for the learner group.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

The learners, as a group, reported that they often struggled to tell the difference between news that is real and that is ‘fake’. They were unanimous in believing that false and misleading news stories are harmful, but less clear about the motivations of why people create and spread misinformation online.

When asked if they were concerned about what is real and what is fake or misleading online, they provided some valuable insight into the impact of misinformation on their wellbeing.

One learner expressed concerns around violent and aggressive news stories, another how misinformation might impact and affect her children. A young mother said that she finds it “very scary” not knowing if what she is reading or listening to is real or not and shared her worry that the intention of misinformation might be an attempt to control you or make you believe something that isn’t true. A male learner spoke about how he is starting to struggle with misinformation, especially the news on social media, where people post messages or share links and it’s hard to know if it’s a joke or if the statistics are real.

This can be illustrated best with learner case studies. The first case study focuses on two female learners, K and M.

What were the learners’ challenges at the beginning?

K has two daughters, 19 and 16, and it is their age group she was most concerned about. She worried about the ease of access to information making them:

“…feel that they are in control because they know stuff, but it’s not really that they know, it’s that they know how to get or how to access stuff about, they don’t talk about, they see it, and there tends to be especially a tendency to accept it because (their) friends have been hearing it…”.

It therefore becomes more commonplace more acceptable. K also felt that people access information differently, and this can be confusing.

M was very concerned and said she was:

“…trying to avoid the news which are full of violence and aggression and I just tried to sort out everything, so I choose what I want to hear.”

She commented that it is a:

“…very difficult situation because you know it’s getting more and more and then we just stuck. Now if you watch TV, it just full of the headlines and other headlines already hitting basically two words to tell us everything!”

M was trying to be aware but found it quite intimidating as to how to find trustworthy news amongst the amount “headline” news intent for an emotive response.

What did they learn in the end?

K commented:

“I definitely feel more equipped. It’s good also to know that it’s so serious that there is a need to educate people. It’s not just all in my mind!”

She also remarked that she does not “have worry but thinks about it.” This demonstrated her new, calmer way of approaching the topic now that she is more equipped. At the same time,

“I guess I’m always expecting that something will come along and catch me out. But it’ll be fewer things because I know a bit more about it.”

M reflected:

“I think I got so much information that I never thought about that before. Not to take everything from social media, so it’s a truth. Here I got some so much more and it will help. So yeah, we will be much more aware of everything and I will double check everything!”

She also felt confident to pass on what she has learned to friends and family as:

“Everyone needs to be aware, but of course not to be paranoid about it. But obviously…we have to have our eyes open, you know, just to decide what is good, what is bad. So that’s why it has been really helpful.”

This learner feedback tells us that the experience was extremely valuable, and the learners enjoyed all stages of the project. They were fully engaged as it was meaningful to all participants in their own unique ways. They enjoyed being filmed and learning these digital skills. I looked forward to teaching them how to record and edit their own video diaries and this element will be covered in a Level 1 qualification.

The next steps for the team are that most learners are progressing to EDSQ Level 1, where they will explore recording and editing videos themselves at Level 1, developing further their digital literacy.

Learning from this project

Over the course of our investigation, we learned that:

  • Learners had some degree of knowledge about misinformation but not a clear understanding of what it is.
  • Learners reported feeling overwhelmed by the scale of misinformation online and worried about its effects on them and those close to them.
  • Learners had some idea of the motivations behind misinformation, and it was a cause for concern for many of them, particularly relating to health information.

We also valued feedback from EDS research peers at the dissemination event, in which practitioner research peers told us:

“What a critically important part of education – considering misinformation. This should be at the core of so many courses today”.
“I like the idea of video diaries”.
“[This curriculum is] potentially so empowering”.
“Misinformation is having a real impact on community health and wellbeing”.

What went well:

The project approach of breaking down the key aspects of misinformation, e.g. defining it, tools to spot it, was successful in helping the group to feel more confident about dealing and interacting with misinformation online.

Creating the personal messages and statements facilitated discussion around the issue and allowed learners to hear about lived experience from different perspectives. Although the group were unanimous that misinformation is harmful, what that harm looks like and how it impacts differs from person to person. So, beginning from a place of understanding the needs and concerns of the group supported the creation of resources that played a meaningful role in addressing the issue of misinformation and, more broadly, looking after their wellbeing online.

Even better if….

In the future we would like to extend the curriculum to allow exploration of learners’ own unconscious /confirmation bias. Are there outlets that they think ‘oh that must be false’ because they share views that don’t sit with their own e.g. “I’m right dot com” (Joe Rogan Experience, 2015).

These could be further tools to promote critical thinking in real contexts.
ESOL Learners could produce more of their messages in languages other than English, widening the reach in a diverse community.

Learners could be encouraged to record and edit their own videos improving their digital skills even further. This will be explored by the team in future with progressing learners at Level 1.

There is so much rich evidence and information on this project through learners’ testimonies. The best way to experience it is to visit our Padlet (Appendix 7) where you will find learner journey evidence, case studies, evaluation reports and information about our teaching and training resources.

Examples of resources involved in the project may also be found in Appendices 1-4.



OTLA 3 (North East + Cumbria)

The OTLA 3 (North East + Cumbria) Programme

The ‘Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment’ (OTLA) programme was led in the North East and Cumbria by Success North at Newcastle College, in partnership with cc Consultancy, The Education and Training Consortium / HUDCETT and Skills Digital in a programme funded by the Education and Training Foundation.

13 projects were awarded funding with the aim to develop outstanding teaching, learning and assessment within a variety of contexts in the further education and skills sector. The projects involved 42 providers which represent the breadth of the sector including colleges, adult and community learning, offender learning, third sector and independent training providers.
The projects were originally scheduled to run throughout the 2017 calendar year but some projects were extended to allow data to be collected for the full 2017-18 academic year.

Over 200 practitioners were actively involved in the projects including some, such as construction trainers and student support assistants who may have been excluded from participating in (and learning from) more academic research programmes. These collaborative projects have ensured that the changes that emerge from research into vocational teaching become implemented in classrooms and workshops by the practitioner-researchers themselves.

You can download the full programme booklet with all reports and editorials on the Excellence Gateway.

We ALL bring the strands together: OTLA

To further support the project teams’ understanding of practitioner-led action research, a series of project-related professional development events were held. These have included: an initial event to bring the providers together and prepare them for their projects; an event on how to conduct practitioner-led action research, and a half-day event with Professor Jean McNiff, who is a leading international expert on practitioner-led research, to explore this topic further, once the project teams had begun their work.

An interim dissemination event was held where projects were able to share their early findings. At this event our ‘conference artist’ Graham Ogilvie1 produced a number of illustrations to capture the main messages of the event and to represent the projects. We have used digitised versions of his work throughout this booklet.

The events were very well-received, with participants reporting on improvements in their understanding, changes to their personal identity as teachers, trainers, etc. and renewed enthusiasm and confidence to undertake research-informed practice.

Breaking into academic exclusion zones

Through working on these projects, 22 teachers and trainers without degree qualifications, and who might often describe themselves as “non-academic” (or even “anti-academic”!!) began producing commentaries and research reports of their activities.

In prisons, FE Colleges and training providers, vocational teachers and support assistants followed Professor Jean McNiff’s encouragement to “describe and explain” their inquiry activities and produce reports.

In five projects especially, vocational tutors and support staff without HE qualifications broke through the academic glass ceiling to present their insider research. Project leaders adapted research report writing frameworks and diary formats to help practitioners capture their experience.

Project leaders prompted teachers, trainers and SSAs to explain their practices and then used workshop activities to help them compare their practical thinking with published theory. This gave the self-styled “non-academic” staff confidence to begin researching and reporting in a pragmatic form; project leaders remained sensitively at hand to act as proof-readers and “critical friends” for their emerging writing.

As one SSA noted in her research diary (provided by the project lead): “We were given a voice”.



Click the editorial titles below to be directed to articles written by Professor Jean McNiff and Dr. Andy Convery.

Anthology Editorial

Professor Jean McNiff

Professor of Educational Research, York St John University

Group of people at an OTLA event, discussing the programme and their learning (2017)