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A national community of practice has been launched to showcase and share practitioner-led research in the FE sector (@VilliersPark)

The project has been developed by Villiers Park Educational Trust, a national social mobility charity which works with college and school students aged 14-19 from disadvantaged backgrounds. The aim of the initiative is to raise the profile of FE research, build new connections between practitioner-researchers and promote the sharing of effective practice across the sector.

The community of practice, with a particular focus on social mobility and educational access, will initially include a series of monthly online discussions featuring both practitioners and policymakers, and an online hub to facilitate ongoing discussion and knowledge sharing among participants. Funding to establish the network has been provided by the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL), and it has been backed by the Association of Colleges (AoC) and Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA). The project is intended to complement organisations and networks already working in this field.

'Wealth of wisdom'

Rae Tooth, CEO of Villiers Park, said:

“There is a wealth of wisdom in the FE sector that through communities of practice can grow exponentially. Research, and particularly practitioner research, in FE does not get the attention and support that it needs to make the biggest possible difference. We are delighted to be able to bring new and experienced researchers and practitioners together to share and explore their learning through practice to drive sector-wide development underpinned by collaboration and shared knowledge.”

The first online debate, titled “Research in FE: Building an evidence-led sector”, takes place on Wednesday 3rd March at 12noon. The panel features: Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute; Vicky Duckworth, professor in education at Edge Hill University; Sam Jones, lecturer at Bedford College and founder of #FEresearchmeet; and Ms Tooth, who previously led the evidence and effective practice team at the Office for Fair Access. She launched the international ‘Pracademic’ programme, which partnered outreach practitioners with academics in the UK and Australia to develop and publish work based on their professional expertise and experience.

The project is being led by Stephen Exley, Villiers Park’s director of external affairs and former Tes FE editor, and chief programmes officer Julian Crockford who, while managing the Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit at the University of Sheffield, set up an HE sector-wide community of practice for widening participation evaluators.

Dame Ruth Silver, president of FETL, said:

"FETL is delighted to support the FE community of practice being established by Villiers Park. FETL was founded to strengthen the leadership of thinking in and about the further education system. This important initiative will shine a light on the innovative research taking place across the sector, and bring practitioners and policymakers together to explore how they can work together to bring about positive change."

'A great opportunity to showcase research and best practice'

David Hughes, chief executive of the AoC, said:

“Further education is full of excellent practice but there is too little research into it, something we need to change. The community of practice is a great opportunity to showcase research and best practice, encourage more research within and about our sector, helping to build new networks and facilitate collaboration between further education professionals ??" helping to make our great sector even better.”

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the SFCA, said:

“Sixth form colleges have a history of working with students for whom the widening participation agenda is critically important and they will welcome this Villiers Park initiative. Colleges are committed to social mobility and educational access, and recognise the imperative to give a chance to all students, whatever their background, who aspire to higher education. Increasingly, college teachers are sharing research, ideas and strategies that open doors to the best opportunities for everyone in the college. This new community of practice will help them to develop and disseminate the latest thinking and ideas, helping all their students to realise their ambitions.”

Sam Jones, lecturer at Bedford College, founder of #FEresearchmeet and former teacher of the year at the Tes FE Awards, said:

“Creating spaces to hear the voices and research work from within the sector has always been key to #FEresearchmeet. We believe that there is lots of work that could be used to shape and influence the sector and create spaces to share these ideas and network the ‘knowers’. Therefore we welcome this initiative from Villiers Park, and look forward to practitioner researchers sharing ideas and connecting in this forum.”

To attend the first discussion or join the community, please register here.

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