Improving Teaching: OTLA 
July 2017

Dear Colleagues,

We would like to introduce ourselves and welcome you to the first edition of our exciting new newsletter: Improving Teaching, Learning and Assessment, which is commissioned and funded by the Education and Training Foundation.

This newsletter, which we will publish regularly, will share with you a range of stories, ideas and new ways of working, all of which are currently emerging from the Foundation's Outstanding, Teaching, Learning and Assessment (OTLA) programme. The newsletter will concentrate on the real experiences of professionals like yourselves and will keep at its heart the transformational power of learning and the unique experience of each individual learner.

We very much hope that you will enjoy reading this edition and come to find the newsletter invaluable, whether you are a practitioner, a manager or other professional in the sector. This is a great opportunity for us to network and work collaboratively together.

The newsletter aims to:
  1. provide a forum for effective practice exchange in teaching, learning and assessment
  2. support practitioners and managers in raising learner motivation, achievement and sense of fulfilment
  3. showcase research findings and new initiatives in teaching, learning and assessment
  4. encourage and facilitate collaborative working across the sector
  5. publish a running calendar of key events for practitioners and managers
We welcome your stories. If you have any views or examples of effective practice you would like to share with us, please do get in touch and send details with pictures, visuals or quotes if you have them.

We want to hear from you.

Best wishes,
Mary Conway

What is OTLA? 

OTLA stands for Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment*. It is an Education and Training Foundation programme, which began in 2015 and has two aims:
  • To improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment and, as a result, the outcomes of learners
  • To improve the ability of practitioners to collaborate with others and reflect on their own practice, driving their own development as professionals
Why do we need OTLA?
The Professional Standards**, which define and underpin professional practice across the sector and help practitioners to understand and plan for their development needs, sit at the heart of all our activity.

OTLA is built on these standards and demonstrates a powerful commitment to the process of sustainable change and improvement.
How does OTLA operate? 
The programme draws on a range of methodologies, placing emphasis on the following key approaches:
  • Joint Practice Development (JPD)  
  • Collaborative working
  • Research through which we gather evidence to tell us what works
  • Coaching
  • Training
  • The encouragement of variety and personalisation in our approach to teaching and learning
What does OTLA do? 
The programme is organised into four strands which may be engaged with singly or in combinations as the needs of the practitioners, managers or providers dictate.  
1. OTLA Projects
Practitioners work together to find evidence-based solutions to provider and practitioner defined problems. These problems, while often linked to a current theme important to the sector, always centre on the improvement of teaching, learning and assessment to outstanding.  
2. Professional Exchange Networks (PEN)
PENs are locally organised practitioner groups who meet regularly to reflect on practice and develop shared solutions.
3. Practitioner Research Programme (PRP)
The PRP enables practitioners to develop detailed research with expert academic support.
4. Support Training and Resources (STAR)
STAR supports the other three strands through a wide range of activity from in-house training or regional or national training events to holistic support packages for providers and the creation and dissemination of good practice resources.
Read on to find out about a range of exciting projects which have been funded and commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation as part of its OTLA programme. These projects are managed by a range of delivery partners.


News Story! Meet ADA!

Ada, named in honour of Ada Lovelace the famous computing pioneer, is the new digital assistant created by the Learning and Technology team at Bolton College for learners, teachers and support teams. She is thought to be the first use of Artificial Intelligence in this way in any FE college in England!
What can Ada do?
Ada is linked to a powerful database containing information relating to each learner and their programme of study. Thus learners are able to ask Ada questions and receive responses across broad categories, such as:
  • General enquiries about facilities and the College (what are the term dates? what are the library opening hours? how do I find the exams office? etc.)
  • Specific enquiries about their studies (what lessons do I have today/this afternoon/tomorrow? who are my teachers? what’s my attendance like? when is my next exam? when and where is my work placement? etc.)
  • Subject specific enquiries
Bolton College has been able to utilise Ada so that she forms an integral part of the teaching, learning and assessment offer for learners as they progress with their GCSE Maths studies.
Learners can ask Ada about any Maths topics in the GCSE curriculum and she will respond with a series of short condensed lessons which include videos, tutorials, worksheets, past exam paper questions and links to additional resources. Bolton College’s experience of using learning analytics means that the learning and assessment resources that are presented to the learner are differentiated and personalised to meet the needs of each learner. When learners from the hairdressing and motor vehicle departments ask Ada for help with a specific Maths topic, for example, any resources that are presented to learners are contextualised and made vocationally relevant to each learner. 
Ada is currently being programmed to be able to respond to questions relating to GCSE English and the employability curriculum as well as GCSE Maths.
How was Ada developed?
Ada was developed by the college as part of a project commissioned and funded by the Education and Training Foundation and supported by The Learning Consortium, a consortium of Further Education and Skills providers.
To develop Ada, the ILT Team at Bolton College first utilised the technology in IBM’s Watson Conversation service to take advantage of IBM’s Cognitive Computing and Artificial Intelligence platform to support learners. Meanwhile a team from IBM visited Bolton College to see how learners, teachers and support teams were utilising IBM Watson to support teaching, learning and assessment. The use of Artificial Intelligence (or AI) in this way is truly ground-breaking for a Further Education College in England.
Then students from the college's second year HND Computing programme became involved in teaching Ada how to respond to questions from fellow students. This had the added bonus of  requiring HND students to explore natural language processing and the world of digital assistants.
Lastly, teachers in the college have helped to develop questions and materials that provide personalised support for learners. In return, as a quid pro quo, these teachers are given an insight into the questions that learners are asking Ada, enabling them to be much more responsive to the individual needs of each learner and respond to any particular trends that emerge. So, if learners start asking Ada questions about, for example, adding fractions or trigonometry, teachers can set up appropriate support workshops on the topic or incorporate the topic into their next lesson.
What do people say?

News Story! Courses in “practitioner-led research”

Why do we need ‘practitioner-led research’?
We need to develop a research active culture if we are to adopt the Professional Standards and realise the aims of OTLA. It is necessary for staff to work together and exchange ideas if they are to understand and truly change teaching practices in different contexts.
Why do we need courses in practitioner-led research?
A course in ‘practitioner-led research’ enables focused collaboration between staff, leading to essential change and ensuring that intended changes are actually implemented. It also provides immediate validation of small-scale, locally-responsive practitioner research activities.
What’s happened so far?
Courses in ‘practitioner-led research’ are being developed. For instance, the OTLA team in the North East and Cumbria have developed a one-day introductory course for practitioners in education and training settings who may be new to practitioner-led research. So far three courses have been held including one specifically for the offender learning project team. Courses were attended by a total of 57 practitioners from across the region representing the thirteen projects that are being funded by the Education and Training Foundation. 
What are the aims of the course?
The course aims to introduce practitioners to a range of practical strategies for investigating, evaluating and improving their teaching. It emphasises the necessity of working with other staff in order to understand and change teaching practices in differing contexts. For OTLA participants, it develops confidence and enables them to take a “pick and mix” approach to research options, collaborative activities and learner consultation styles.
It also encourages a ‘research stance’ drawing on the creativity found in staff and enables practitioners to adapt their methods and develop creative approaches to teaching and learning.
What do people say?
How can I find out more? 
The courses were led by members of the OTLA (North East and Cumbria) core team: Andy Convery and Claire Collins with assistance from David Powell and David Prinn.
Explore the 13 OTLA projects funded and commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation here.
For further information please e-mail

News Story! What’s it all about, ALFIE?

What is Alfie? 
ALFIE stands for Action Learning for Inclusive Education and is an online professional development programme.
What does Alfie do? 
Alfie supports teachers, particularly those who work with learners who have additional learning needs, in undertaking research to improve their practice. To help with this, it hosts a searchable library of exemplar action research papers which highlight the importance of effective inclusive practice.
As a web based programme, it takes practitioners step by step through constructing a practitioner-led research project. Each step has clear guidance and downloadable activities or reference documents to support thinking and planning. Each stage contains a short video where practitioners who have conducted their own research studies talk about the process they went through, giving tips and guidance. 

There are seven resourced stages:
  1. Why do practitioner led research?
  2. Where do I start?
  3. Writing a research question
  4. Methodology
  5. Analysis
  6. Referencing
  7. Measuring the impact
Alfie allows practitioners to submit their completed research study paper for publication. It also provides a searchable data base which enables users to search for a specific theme or category of interest. Alfie aims to become an invaluable resource for practitioners working in this field and to enable the sharing of specialist knowledge in order to improve specialist inclusive practice.
How was Alfie developed?
Alfie is funded by the Education and Training Foundation as part of its OTLA programme, and supported by Creative Education. Alfie was born of a partnership between National Star and Gloucestershire College. Alfie has been developed by teachers with high level experience and expertise in working with learners with learning difficulties and disabilities.
It is also built on Action Research Projects which have been undertaken by staff following a Level 5 Diploma in Teaching Disabled Learners qualification, delivered by National Star.
How can I find out more?
Alfie will be freely available online from July 2017. 
Contacts: David Finch & Jane Finch.

News Story! The Pedagogic Mentoring Programme – Learning to Teach on the Job

Who is this programme for?
‘The Pedagogic Mentoring Programme – Learning to Teach on the Job’ is for vocational staff.

Why do we need the programme?
“Recruitment and retention data for the workforce reveals significant and growing difficulties in filling vacancies in some key occupational groups, especially maths, science and engineering.” DBIS, 2014:6 *
Vocational expertise is of prime importance when appointing vocational teachers in the learning and skills sector. This can result in vocational departments having practical specialists with a lack of teaching experience and/or qualifications, which can impact on learner experience and achievement, and result in high levels of teacher attrition. The Pedagogic Mentoring Project was designed to consolidate and develop early career vocational teachers’ pedagogy and practice. The aim was to increase the confidence of these teachers to establish sustainable reflective and evaluative practice that would improve both their own and learner satisfaction and success.
What did the programme do?
The Pedagogic Mentoring Programme identified eight technology vocational teachers (plumbing, woodwork, marine engineering and boatbuilding) across two FE colleges and one Specialist College. Each vocational teacher was in the first three years of teaching and had very recently completed an Award in Education and Training (AET). The teachers were supported over three months by three experienced pedagogical mentors (teacher educators) following a structured scheme of work, which included weekly one to one meetings and monthly developmental observations.
What were the results?
The findings suggest that focussed pedagogic mentoring enhances early career vocational teachers’ classroom practice. Teachers were found to grow in confidence and ‘take risks’ with creative and less traditional teaching strategies, which improved their own and their learners’ engagement in learning. The programme supported opportunities for teachers to explore new resources, try out new ideas for teaching and consider new ways of thinking about learning; developing learning from the AET and consolidating their professionalism as a teacher.
By Dr Tanya Ovenden-Hope
Project Lead: Pedagogical Mentoring Programme
The Cornwall College Group
* Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2014). Further Education Workforce Strategy: The Government’s Strategy to Support Workforce Excellence in Further Education. London, DBIS. Accessed on 24/1/17 at
In the second edition find out more about how the Education and Training Foundation's OTLA programme fits together. You can also find out how to get involved in Professional Exchange Networks (PEN) in your region. PENs are locally organised practitioner groups who meet regularly to reflect on practice and develop shared solutions.
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