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The exploration of action learning and its potential value within a mainstream secondary school context

Dr Emily France
University of Bristol

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This thesis provides an exploratory study into the outcomes of action learning (AL) for secondary school staff in the UK. The research regarding AL seems to be predominantly about use in further education and the business sector; this study aims to consider how AL can be applied to secondary schools.

The literature into the vast roles of secondary school staff, the retention and burnout rates of teaching staff, and elements that are supplied by teachers as useful continuing professional development (CPD) are considered. The use of AL is discussed within higher education in the UK, with an emphasis on the outcomes for the set members, and two studies from outside the UK which consider AL in secondary education are critically reviewed in more detail. It considers the role of the EP throughout these sections, specifically their current role in supporting teachers' well-being.

The methodology and methods implemented in this study are discussed and specific research questions are stated. The thesis presents an ethnographic case study based on the outcomes for the members of one AL set who met through six set meetings over a four month period. The set consisted of three teachers and one teaching assistant. The data collected included individual evaluations completed after each set meeting, researcher field notes and semi-structured interviews conducted following the final AL set meeting. Further data was collected through a within-participant follow-up questionnaire approximately three months after the completion of the sessions. This data was separately analysed through thematic analysis at two time points.

Ethical and practical issues which underline the study and qualitative studies in general are expressed.

The research found that three overarching themes emerged following the first analysis of the data. These were 1) structure and process of AL 2) personal development outcomes and 3) professional development outcomes. From the follow-up questionnaire, two overarching themes were identified as 1) personal and professional development and 2) using non-directive questioning.

This study produces a table of considerations for schools who are considering implementing AL as a form of CPD including suggestions and questions regarding the role of the EP in the set up or facilitation of an AL set.

A number of considerations are stated that could influence future research, including the need to continue developing our understanding of how AL can be adapted and implemented within secondary education and the role of the Educational Psychologist in this. Further research suggestions also included how AL can be considered at a whole school level and the impact and reasons behind a breakdown in the process of AL. This could look specifically at the emotions and feelings that are attached to the issues raised in set meetings. Finally, considerations as to how AL and the skills developed in further education, for example during teacher training, can be brought into schools is stated.

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