Broadening participation in Student Voice activity; co-producing knowledge of best practice with FE SEND student and staff teams.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Education


Staff working with students who have Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) in Further Education (FE) colleges find it difficult to elicit or 'hear' the views of students who have complex communication needs (NUS and Natspec, 2018). The lack of research available in this area (Guldberg, 2020) does nothing to support staff who experience this difficulty.

This research study will focus on the 'voice' of autistic adolescents/adults with additional learning disabilities, who have complex communication needs, specifically within SEND FE settings. Traditional methods of recording student views, such as questionnaires, are often highly text-based and therefore in need of significant adaptation by skilled practitioners to be accessible to the broader student cohort. The current popular model for Student Voice in SEND FE is student councils, but these often only attract the most articulate and confident of learners, and so may not be the best vehicle to hear the 'voice' of all SEND FE learners.

Using a participatory action research approach, the study will firstly interrogate current models and understandings of SEND student voice: their scope (perceived, actual and potential), focus, purpose, appropriacy and accessibility. Collaboration between the researcher and participating FE SEND student/staff teams from at least one other SEND FE college aims to widen the perspectives gained, shaping and bringing forward new theoretical understandings. It should also build and strengthen the necessary partnership/s for the next stage of the research.

The next stage of the study will investigate the feasibility and appropriacy of establishing discrete SEND FE student/staff groups to work as co-researchers under a Students as Researchers (SaR) model. The groups will be encouraged to design their own research (pertaining to any element of college life), and be actively involved (with support, if necessary) in all research stages. The research group will need to evaluate and adapt any mechanisms used and determine their appropriacy when used with different individuals/ cohorts. The chosen activity/mechanism (along with accessible instructions/evaluations) will then be shared with at least one other participating SEND FE student/staff group from a different provision, and, in return, the original group will receive a new activity mechanism to trial and evaluate.

Creative research methods used within contemporary social science research, for example the use of photovoice, have allowed for increased accessibility and therefore inclusion in research for individuals previously excluded due to their intellectual disabilities or communication differences. This idea inspired the researcher's determination to co-develop alternative and creative mechanisms for hearing and recording 'voice' which are fun, accessible and meaningful to SEND FE students.

One output of this study will be a co-produced framework for best practice, providing practical recommendations for enabling student voice to be accessed more effectively across SEND FE. In addition, there will be a collection of co-developed, accessible activities/ mechanisms which, through collaborative experimentation and evaluation, are responsive to need.

The research questions:
1. What are the current models and understandings of SEND student voice in FE: its scope (perceived, actual and potential), focus, purpose, appropriacy and accessibility?

2. What are the barriers and enablers affecting participation in SEND FE student voice?

3. What is the effect of co-producing knowledge with SEND FE student and staff groups?

4. What is the feasibility of establishing supported Students as Researchers (SaR) groups within (or outside) the current models of SEND FE Student Voice practice?

5. What is the value of co-producing accessible activities/mechanisms to support SEND FE Student Voice practice?



Helen Evans (Student)


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2594016 Studentship ES/P000711/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2025 Helen Evans