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Transforming lives

Working with Dr Rob Smith (Birmingham City University), Vicky has received funding from the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) for the Further Education: transforming lives and communities research project:

“To understand and provide evidence of how the further education (FE) sector is vital in transforming lives and communities in 21st century Britain.”

The first phase of the research provides evidence that despite the instrumentalisation of the curriculum in further education colleges, transformative learning is still taking place (Duckworth, 2013, 16; Duckworth & Smith, 2018).

Recognizing the power of further education and the enactment of a transformative curriculum, to challenge rather than reproduce social inequality, this research project offers a frame for understanding learners’ narrative accounts of their educational and personal journeys. The research project sought to illuminate learners’ narratives, the overarching aim being to recognise and understand their narratives against the backdrop of wider socio-economic, political and historical contexts (Duckworth 2013, Duckworth and Smith 2016, 17).

The research cuts across the grain of the skills policy discourse, providing a picture of transformative pedagogy and transformative learning taking root and flourishing in the sometimes stony ground of further education.

The first phase of the project has resulted in the development of resources, including the interim report and a practitioner handbook. We have also drawn on the research to give evidence of the impact of adult education to national figures and organisations in education and policy, for example, to the then Skills minister, Robert Halfon MP and to the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) at the England and Northern Ireland Adult Education Impact forums, co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute. In addition, the findings of the research have been disseminated at local, national and international conferences, most recently at UCET.

The evidence shared aims to contribute to the agenda on adult education, by:

  • linking adult learning to wider socio-economic policy in the UK
  • raising awareness of the value of adult learning to UK citizens and their communities
  • increasing funding to Further Education.

The second phase of the project includes a mixed-methods study that will provide a data set of concrete evidence of the important work taking place in FE colleges, focusing on teachers from the different discipline areas / courses including prison education, Adult Continuing Education, ESOL, 16-19 courses and vocational courses and in particular Apprenticeships. It will also continue to have a strongly participatory dimension.

The project website includes interviews with research participants, reflecting on the experience of their studies, including Chaima, who is now a teacher.

Chaima grew up in Oldham. She describes her experience of schooling and how it ended in disillusionment and low level qualifications.

Entering further education, Chaima rediscovered her learning identity and with the support of teachers who believed in her, worked steadily until she gained entry to higher education. FE was a site where she met people from other walks of life and, very importantly, learnt about cultures outside that of the Bangladeshi community; she formed friends that enriched her life. She fed her empowerment back into the community and promoted social integration.

Chaima’s story on the project website.

You can follow the Transforming Lives project on Twitter.