This chapter describes an action research project that developed from consultation with a disabled learner. The project attempted to work to established principles in joint, participative research action and to examine some difficult questions that surfaced. These questions, which have to do with personal and professional relationships, prejudice and power, are discussed because they shed light on the complexity of maintaining personal integrity in research which explicitly sets out to contribute to processes of change.
Much has been written already about the dilemmas and difficulties which researchers encounter when working with principles which embrace notions of equity, empowerment and emancipation (Beazley et al., 1997; Barton, 1998; Oliver, 1997; Barnes and Mercer, 1997). This chapter aims to link this debate specifically with issues facing practitioner-researchers within the field of further education.
The research journey on which the chapter is based began in the large College of Further Education in which I work. The context of the research provides an interesting arena for research action, as further education is comparatively under-researched and is also a sector which has undergone enormous change over the last ten years (Mackney, 2003; Harper, 1997). Significant changes began in the early 1990s when FE colleges were 'iincorporated' and became free from local education authority control through the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Local authority control was replaced by more direct governmental control in the guise of a quango, the Further Education Funding Council (superseded by the Learning and Skills Council in 2001). The implications of these changes meant huge growth in student numbers with an agenda of broadening participation situated uncomfortably alongside changeable funding regimes and the loss of many full-time staff across the sector (Mackney, 2003). The research focus of this chapter concerns ways in which disabled students in further education can gain access to financial support - a topic which continues to undergo change within the sector.
The topic of financial support is of great importance to those seeking to widen the inclusion of students in further education as finances can easily constitute a barrier to participation (Holloway, 2001). However, I found