Home is where the heart is? – the FE ‘classroom’ dilemma
The bell sounds and students line up outside our classroom in preparation for assembly. I lock the door and we start to walk to the main hall. ‘The letters!’ – I’d forgotten to give out letters reminding students that Friday was non-uniform day. I quickly shouted Liam*, a student I’d taught all year and last: ‘Liam – could you go and get some letters for me?’
‘Of course, sir. Where are they? Our room?’
Recently, I was discussing the differences between teaching in FE and Secondary with a friend and they (a Secondary teacher) couldn’t believe I didn’t have my own classroom. This got me thinking about the simple exchange I had with a student when I was teaching in Secondary and how we had both referred to my classroom as ‘our’ room.
Following this chat, I started to wonder about the impact this has on FE practitioners, students and achievement and about the thoughts of practitioners across the country. Having built so many positive relationships through having my own classroom when in Secondary, my initial feeling was that having a base classroom in FE would have only positive outcomes for students. Wanting to back this up, I have been unable to find any research on this (even in Secondary education, there is little research on this as it seems generally accepted that a classroom base is essential).
The truth is in the numbers
Having been unable to find any research, it was at this point that I decided to attempt some of my own. Armed with nothing but a few social media logins and a brand-new Survey Monkey account, I set about harassing department heads across the land. Over 100 E&M practitioner responses later, the overwhelming majority (72% of practitioners) do not have their own classroom base, with 84.5% expressing that they think it would be beneficial.
Reasons identified by practitioners ranged from having a sense of ownership with a classroom base, that having a base ‘legitimises’ English and maths (motor vehicle and engineering staff and students have ‘their’ workshop, hair and beauty have ‘their’ salon for example), the ability to contextualise using displays and a classroom base leading to more efficiency in setting up sessions.
If teaching is about building relationships, what effect would a classroom base have? How would practitioners and students respond to having ‘our’ class? Some responses highlighted possible pressure and increased expectation which could come with having a classroom base, and that students would potentially ‘expect more’ from practitioners, with others seeing no problems at all.
Without a wide ranging and in-depth study, it is difficult to say exactly what the benefits would be, but with most practitioners involved in the survey suggesting they would welcome a classroom base, why don’t practitioners have a classroom base? Most practitioners identified several reasons for this, with the availability of classrooms (66.6%) as the primary reason, with timetabling the second biggest (53.6%). The logistics of organising this also come into focus when considering that many large colleges have several sites – this was reflected in nearly a third of all respondents (31.9%) identifying this as a major barrier to having their own classroom base.
But should we be doing more to give practitioners a base? With 80.6% agreeing with the statement ‘Student outcomes and achievement would improve if all practitioners had their own classroom’, it would appear so.
So, what next?
Well, with FE funding declining by 12% since 2011-12, and 17.4% of respondents also identifying the cost of having their own classroom base as a barrier, it doesn’t appear that this change will come any time soon. Having said that, with the EEF and ETF giving more and more time to research in FE, the injection of funding and research driven aspect of the Maths Centre for Excellence initiative and practitioner led research (such as the Bedford College Group Research Network) becoming more and more common (and, more importantly, celebrated) there may be opportunities for this to be further evidenced, researched, analysed and evaluated.
With the possibility of more effective student-practitioner relationships (potentially impacting engagement, attendance and achievement), a decrease in workload, a newfound sense of belonging and ownership and parity with vocational settings, hopefully English and maths practitioners can start to look forward to having ‘our’ room.
Do you have a ‘classroom’? How does the teaching and learning compare to a time when you didn’t? Let us know here.
*Name changed for anonymity