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Engaging with Research as a Further Education Practitioner - Laura Kayes

By Laura Kayes, advanced practitioner and performing arts lecturer at Leeds City College and Research Further scholar

Engaging with research as a further education practitioner has been, and continues to be, a transformative experience.

Despite the prevailing economic and educational challenges of recent years, delving into research has enlivened my love for education and rekindled my passion for our sector. Research requires a depth to discourse that social media does not. Through my interactions with fiercely hopeful researchers and educators, I have come to realise with profound gratitude that the authoritarian values often publicly championed by prominent figures are not as prevalent as social media platforms may have us believe.

Another enriching benefit has been the expansion of my network, of both knowledge and kindness. By connecting with researchers and fellow educators, I have been inspired by deeply diverse perspectives and their unyielding commitment to positive change. I recognise my privilege in being granted access to a seemingly limitless wealth of powerful knowledge, and the impact on my thinking and teaching has been profound. Through these intensely human connections, I have marvelled at educators as experts, and engaged in critical dialogue within ideas so rich that I am often compelled to seek quiet spaces simply to process them.

Engaging in research within the further education sector continues to feel like an important act of resistance. It is disheartening to witness the damaging neglect that plagues the educational research landscape when it comes to further education, and so I have been inspired to actively involve as many colleagues as possible. I have launched a Research Development Group in my current workplace; inviting guest speakers from the network mentioned above, with the singular aim of enabling colleagues to utilise the shared knowledge to explore innovative teaching methods and reflect on their practices. By fostering a culture of research and inquiry, we regain power over the education that we provide and recognise further education teachers as valuable professionals.

My own doctoral research has extended beyond the boundaries of my workplace. I have been empowered and emboldened by the support of the Research Further and FE research communities to conduct my research on a national level, aiming to fill the chasmous gaps in both research and policy in creating spaces of belonging for poverty-experienced learners in our sector. By conducting research externally, I have developed a far broader understanding of unique challenges faced by further education institutions, and use these insights to advocate for their recognition and support within the broader educational landscape.

Engaging in research as a further education practitioner has not only enriched my practice, and bolstered my understanding of education policy and philosophy, but has deepened my appreciation for the resilience and dedication of my colleagues in this sector. It has given me a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to promoting the values of inclusivity, equity, and student-centred learning upon which our invaluable sector is crafted.

We in further education know intrinsically of its importance. We see it every day through countless narratives that become entwined with our own. Engaging in research allows us to provide evidence of such transformative stories to the wider education community and policymakers. We pour huge amounts of ourselves into our work willingly and bravely. Research conducted vigorously within further education, rather than minimally upon, ensures that we investing ourselves into a sector that not only recognises our knowledge systems and specialist expertise, but is continually and actively crafted by it.