BESA Funded Programme Leadership Research to Enter Second Phase: call for interview participants

The BESA funded project team of Dr Mark Pulsford, Dr Becky Morris and Dr Ross Purves have provided the following update on their research work so far. Although there is further opportunity to contribute to the first phase of the project (online survey), the team is beginning to report some familiar emerging themes; and thoughts are now turning to the second phase of the research data gathering and subsequent project outcomes.

We wanted to give members an update about our ongoing BESA-funded research project exploring the views and experiences of undergraduate Education Programme/Course Leaders in Higher and Further Education settings. The first phase of the project – an online survey – began in late February 2020, and despite the fieldwork facing significant challenges we’ve recruited a good number of Programme Leaders from both within the Education subject area and, as a form of control group, from other undergraduate courses too. As we now begin to plan the second phase – interviews with a smaller sample of programme leaders – we wish to thank everyone who has participated in the survey so far.

An initial review of the Education Programme Leader survey data shows some familiar themes. It reveals colleagues’ unflinching commitment to their courses and students, yet that tensions arise when balancing this workload with other commitments – not least family life. The relationship between undergraduate programmes and postgraduate teacher education courses is also raised in terms of the relative departmental resources available, and broader questions about undergraduate Education come up when considering the subject’s status within Higher Education institutions. This relates to some concern about what the future holds for Education Studies as a subject area that has diversified from its fledgling programmes of 20 years ago.

We are particularly pleased to have reached a number of professionals delivering undergraduate education-related programmes within Further Education settings. Our data suggests that colleagues working in Further and Higher Education face many similar issues but that those in FE also encounter distinct concerns, such as finding ways to make scholarly contributions to the wider education studies community.

Yet it is also important to note that the fieldwork period coincided with a tumultuous time for the sector and for the country: in early 2020 the widespread industrial action over pensions, pay equality, workload and casualisation was of course followed by the Coronavirus pandemic; with lockdown, the closure of University buildings and emergency remote teaching and assessment. Nevertheless, colleagues were generous with their time and responded to our survey amid the uncertainty, and no doubt these precarious times resonate through our data. Programme Leaders have reflected on the state of the sector and the nature of their role whilst under unique pressures; our research is therefore a gauge of some keenly felt viewpoints at the cusp of a transformational period. With this in mind, we’re committed to making this research work hard for the colleagues it’s about; to enable our academic community to discuss and understand, and to make informed steps forward as the debate about a re-imagined post-compulsory education sector gathers pace.

Following completion of fieldwork, we will publish a summary report for widespread use, as well as journal articles – and we also have an idea for an edited book. One key outcome of the research will be a symposium hosted by the Education Studies department at the University of Warwick, in which collaborative and constructive discussions will be framed around the research’s central themes and the pressing issues identified.

Our survey will remain open for a little while longer to ensure colleagues in both Further and Higher Education settings have every chance to contribute. The project’s second phase will involve in-depth interviews with a smaller sample of undergraduate Education Programme Leaders, and these are due to commence within the next month. If you would like to take part as an interviewee, please do contact Mark using the email below:

We would also welcome any thoughts and to extend our network of collaborators – please be in touch.

– Mark, Becky and Ross

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