Teaching and Learning scholar : Catherine Shiel

I am a Business Tutor and Course Leader at West Lancashire College which is a division of one of the largest FE providers in the UK. Whilst part of a national group, WLC is a small FE college at the heart of a community in the North West of England, Skelmersdale.

I became a teacher following a successful and lengthy career in industry working for a national retailer. I had always intended to be a teacher, but on completing my degree in 1995 I just felt I wouldn’t make a good one!
So instead of completing my PGCE at that time, I continued working in Industry throughout my career I moved into management, training, learning and development and I had a revelation – what motivates me is seeing people develop and grow. I should have been a teacher. So in 2010 I quit the career and completed my PGCE and I have never looked back. I love teaching; it allows me to engage students in politics, social and ethical issues and so much more. I feel empowered to teach more than the syllabus and create a safe space where so much more can be explored.

I recently completed a Master’s in Education and Social Justice. Social justice has always been an important value to me. During my Masters studies I carried out an evaluation of the implementation of the Post 16 Skills Plan exploring the funding and structural challenges that reproduce inequalities, particularly in vocational teaching and training. I had witnessed these challenges first-hand, and found them ideologically damaging to both staff and students, with many feeling stripped of agency. Despite this (or as some would argue, in spite of this), I am proud of the remarkable examples of transformational teaching and learning (TTL) taking place amongst my colleagues.

From this research it became clear that the government’s current plan to implement T Levels is expected to hinder TTL further and a number of concerns have been raised. (NFER, 2019) The UK Government seem intent on pressing ahead with the changes. I am interested in collecting narratives, from FE staff, students, employers and communities being directly impacted by the proposed changes as the meaning and argument from such narratives and experiences are more important than ever.

I am particularly interested in how to use social media in my research for collecting data and presenting findings. I am no expert in this but eager to learn more. As a Researcher in FE – our two biggest challenges are cost and time! It is increasingly difficult to ignore the potential for social media research which can inform on policy-making plans in providing data fast in both quantities and richness and can be achieved at minimal.

Some of the best professional development for me has taken place through my engagement with social networks. Whether this be interacting with other educators, social activists on Twitter or sharing ideas and practice on BTEC Teacher Facebook forums. I enjoy that knowledge distribution occurs collaboratively with others and have found the majority of interactions meaningful and the networks of like-minded people a safe space to explore new topics and thinking. The accessibility of groups and networks are a convenient way to continually develop.

Link to website I have found useful: