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)