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Why get involved in research ?

The ETF encourages practitioners to get involved with research, not just as a vehicle to develop our skills and judgment in how best to support our learners, but because it can be a source of inspiration, ideas and evidence. It’s also an opportunity to work collaboratively with colleagues. Research can give insights into the wide range of learners, settings and roles within the FE sector. Professor Daniel Muijis, the former Head of Research at Ofsted, raised these issues in their Review of further education and skills research, and refer to the ‘lively debates about the content of the FES curriculum’:

‘As a sector, we should make use of and develop the best possible evidence for what we do … as a profession, we need to be evidence-informed. Research does not have the answers  to all of our problems, and it always needs to be translated into our own context if it is to work. However, where we have strong research evidence, using it is going to give us a far better chance of improving outcomes and life chances for our learners than following the outdated and discredited creeds of the snake-oil salesmen of education.’   Prof. Daniel Mujis (former Head of Research, Ofsted)

Getting involved may start with reading research carried out by others, or you may want to undertake research yourself.  The ETF offers a range of opportunities to do so, and to support your development as a practitioner researcher.

Where to start

There are many types of research and often they are interlinked. Practitioner research needs to be informed by other research, and so reading around your area of interest is a great place to start. This might be other practitioner research or academic research. 

To the right of the screen, ‘Discover Resources’ categorises the outputs of research by theme and subject area, so you can start your research journey by reading around a subject. Sometimes there might not appear to be any research in your subject area for the setting you work in, but you will find something that is related to it in some way that will broaden your understanding. This highlights an opportunity for you to add to the research available for others to read and learn from.  

InTuition, SET’s quarterly professional journal, combines sector news with educational research.  The InTuition research supplements may be a place to start your research journey.

Where is research carried out?

Whatever the present point in your research journey reading around a subject of interest will stimulate your thinking, challenge your ideas and encourage your reflective practice.  All research is about making a rigorous and relevant contribution to knowledge.  Research is vital to improvement.  Viviane Robinson discusses this important topic in Teachers as researchers: a professional necessity? 

'Instead of thinking of practitioners and researchers as different categories of person, we should think about them as different roles. This allows us to see the overlap between the two roles, and the possibilities for their integration.'

Research is carried out for many reasons and by many different individuals and organisations.  The lines between these may be blurred or overlap.  Here we will attempt to give a picture of the links between academic, professional, research bodies and practitioner research. You may want to investigate Academic Research and/or Practitioner research.  In practice, the two are interlinked, and both are influenced by Research bodies



Action Research is carried out in both higher education (universities) and in FE and elsewhere. Gary Husband’s story is an example of someone who worked in FE for many years, but now works in the university sector, and has made research a major part of his career. Alongside being professional researchers,individuals working in universities often have some teaching responsibilities too. The funding for research in universities comes from a number of sources, which researchers often have to tender for themselves.  

The Economic and Social Research Council (UKRI) funds much of the university and NHS research in the UK. UKRI holds a list of approved research organisations (Twitter handle @UKRI_News).

Practitioner research is defined by the British Educational Research Association (BERA) as being ‘any form of systematic enquiry whose design, methods, analysis and interpretation are open to peer review’.  Others give a more general definition, but what is characteristic of practitioner research is the doer of the research - the teacher/tutor in their classroom. They may be working in collaboration with other teachers or university-based researchers in their aim to change their practice in an informed way. Kemmis (2009) in Action Research as a Practice-based Practice refers to practitioner-led research as 'action research', stating: 

‘Action research changes people’s practices, their understandings of their practices, and the conditions under which they practice.'

Practitioner researchers need to find out what is already out there. They can refer to other practitioner researchers, and scholarly perspectives from academic research and research bodies. That is not to say that practitioner researchers should not question the approach and findings of others - critiquing the work of others helps to develop a clear understanding of our own research.  It is from the work of others that literature reviews are formulated. Practitioners carrying out research use academic research and the outputs of research bodies to develop their research questions and approaches.

Research bodies, which are largely not-for-profit, also exist to further the body of knowledge, and can often inform academia. An example of this, would be the Department for Education - via Ofsted - producing research publications and also invitations to tender for new research projects. As you can read here, the DfE published research (January 2021) into Remote Education.

Professional research crosses over with that conducted by Research bodies, but is usually commissioned by private organisations who wish to use their findings internally to inform decisions within specific trades and industries. The focus may be on solving a specific problem for a sector, organisation, company or its customers. The research might target marketing or product development, and the findings are often shared through professional conferences, but linked to academic research.