Learning from this project
This ‘pilot’ project demonstrates the need for a much longer stretch of time in which to conduct a lengthier study into how the resource may best be used. Our findings so far indicate that the Autumn term is a difficult term in which to begin a project of this kind in the context of an FE College. The reasons for this could include:
- Students spend some weeks settling into their classes/courses of study.
- Changes often take place as students switch around courses and/or classes.
- Teachers and students need time to settle in before the possible disruption of any further external pressures and/or processes.
- Induction is a major time-consuming activity during the first six weeks or so of the Autumn term.
- The GCSEPod didn’t really get going until after Autumn half-term. Teachers needed training prior to its introduction, involving a good deal of time-consuming administration followed by initial teething problems, all needing to be resolved as students signed up to the course.
- Realistically the student action research group could not be fully established until after the student council had been formed; there were unforeseen staffing changes here which delayed the establishment of the new student council, from which student researchers were recruited.
- And then inspection hit, though we had been anticipating it. As a result, a good deal of time and energy were understandably taken up, a factor that interfered with a number of new initiatives such as this project, given that our capacity is quite stretched. However, the student action research group did become established at the end of the Autumn term, even though it did not really get going until the first week of the Spring term.
The summary so far reports the reality of the situation and its consequences. The upshot was to show the limits imposed by an unrealistic time frame that did not fit in with the academic rhythms, capacity and pressures in our FE College working year, whether as students or teachers.
In the event, our ambitious idea of developing Google classroom as a ’whole-college’ digital approach that would further embed the knowledge, understanding and application of spelling, punctuation and grammar skills did not materialise. Sadly, we simply did not have the capacity to achieve this aim.
However, what this project does show is that this is a very exciting and interesting field of study; there is a great need for researching the effects of the current English curriculum on post-16 students on vocational courses in far greater depth and detail than is currently the case.
It is valuable for us to hear from the students themselves, and their teachers, about how they think they could best develop their English skills to maximum effect in terms of their chosen ‘vocation’. It would also be valuable to know, at least broadly, the extent to which the current system does or does not fulfil these needs and wishes.
It would also be useful to learn about the resit cohort’s school experience of English and the impact this may have had on their engagement with English skills, knowledge and understanding. What we have learned so far from this project is that, given half the chance, students may have a lot to say about their education, to one another and to ‘us’ as ‘educators’.
We have also learned that student-led action research has great potential; we have witnessed the energy, enthusiasm and ideas generated when students start doing their own research. Our experience was that students who participated as researchers in this project had greater opportunities to develop important necessary investigative and intellectual skills. They also broadened their engagement with the wider college community, worked with students cross-college and with teachers and other staff in a new, different capacity, now beyond ‘the classroom’.
As part of this process, we have learned that using the GCSEPod has proved to be positive for most students and all teachers in the English resit classroom, albeit 95% agreed that they prefer working on their English and preparing for the exams in their GCSE English lessons with the teachers rather than using the GCSEPod.
We have also gained invaluable insight about the research process itself, the potential pitfalls and the strengths. One of the major pitfalls is lack of time, whereas social media platforms emerge as a major strength in terms of sustaining communication between our weekly workshop meetings.
Our ‘Students-as-researchers’ strategy provides a useful and interesting research methodology to give us different insights into the teaching, learning and assessment process and the educational experience itself, from a student-led approach that is invaluable and necessary from a student perspective.
This project has served as an awareness-raising exercise, a means of reflection for those working both inside and outside a Post-16 context. It is important to appreciate what has been going on for these students at school and the way they bring this with them when they arrive in our classrooms. This helps us understand why the so-called ’failure’ rate is so high.
From the student responses we gathered we are able to have some idea of what is faced, day in day out, by teachers and students as we try to break down the barriers that have been the experience of so many of these young people. When it comes to the subject of English, the alienating experience that has been enshrined in the GCSE English syllabus and its method of assessment is evident, experienced initially at school and then, unfortunately for many, continued at College. The responses from the students involved in our research confirm, to some extent, what we already know.
So many deeper and more probing questions and responses remain to be explored, discussed and acted upon. We have just managed to skim the surface in the limited window of time and resources available to us. So much more work needs to be done to address why it should be the case that school is not ‘fit for purpose’ for too many students, grounded as it is in the ‘academic’ model of education and which we in the Post-16 sector are left to try and fix.