A pilot programme provides a platform for outstanding career development that will help to address the current lack of university-led research that focuses on FE, says Jonathan Backhouse

Shortly after leaving school with two GCSEs (B and C grades), dyslexia was diagnosed. I wonder what my teachers would have thought if they had seen me at the University of Oxford in September last year, about to embark on a practitioner research programme.

These days, I work in the UK at Middlesbrough College and elsewhere, Africa and the United States as an occupational safety and health practitioner and teacher. I am a graduate of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), and fellow of the Institute for Learning (IfL), the professional body for teachers and trainers in FE and skills. I hold two occupation-related diplomas: health and safety, plus environmental management. I have also completed a Master’s and have published my first book, Essential Study Skills for Health and Safety.

As a dual professional — with a dual focus on teaching, training and learning as well as on safety and health — continuing professional development (CPD) ensures that I stay up to date in my vocational area, as well as with teaching and training methods.

IfL has empowered teachers in FE to develop their own research and publication skills; and equipped them to undertake more research ”

When I heard about the pilot fellowship research programme (FRP), run jointly by IfL and the research centre for Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (Skope) based at the Universities of Oxford and Cardiff, I jumped at the chance.

The aims of the programme are to develop participants’ research and publication skills; provide opportunities for demonstrating significant contributions to FE; and, extend and enhance the professional status of experienced and qualified IfL fellows and members holding Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status.

I joined about 70 IfL members at the first workshop, where academics from Skope introduced us to research techniques and offered ideas for potential research topics. We met again in November to learn about research techniques, preparing research for publication and ways of analysing our data. We were divided into groups of about half a dozen and a mentor was allocated to each. We embarked on our educational research.

Even though I had completed a master’s degree in 2010, I was not fully prepared for what was to come. My research and publication skills developed greatly, and although I struggled to focus on the research area, my mentor and the Skope team provided guidance and support.

My action research project looked at the evaluation of lifting techniques in the workplace from a teaching perspective. A significant number of health and safety trainers, professionals and students seem to be unaware of the good handling technique advocated in guidance that came from a commissioned study by the Institute of Occupational Medicine.

They mistakenly believe that keeping the back straight is ‘correct’. My paper addressed this perception and advocated possible solutions.

By creating an opportunity for members to embark on action research projects, IfL has provided a platform for outstanding CPD options; empowered teachers in FE and skills to develop their own research and publication skills; and equipped them to undertake more research. This will help to address the current lack of university-led research that focuses on FE, compared with schools and higher education.

The programme has helped me develop research and publication skills for future work, which, in turn, will improve my role as a health and safety practitioner and teacher. It has also helped me achieve something beyond my dreams — studying at the University of Oxford.

Jonathan Backhouse, occupational safety and health practitioner, qualified teacher and author