This article presents the background to and rationale for a practice-focused model of educational change and improvement. In contrast to autocratic top-down models, this democratic and pragmatic approach begins with the educational concerns of teachers. In this model, responsibility and accountability for educational improvement is shared between policy professionals, the university team and sector practitioners. Contributions from the literature explore the question of the nature and purpose of educational practice; how concepts of educational practice influence curriculum design and content in programmes for the initial and continuing professional development for teachers of vocational education; and how these can enhance or inhibit the improvement of educational practice. Drawing upon case study examples from a national programme of university-supported practitioner research in England, results illustrate how this model offers insights into ways of increasing research capacity and achieving sustainable improvements in educational practice. It concludes that programmes of university-supported practitioner research, which encourage and enable teachers to engage in the systematic investigation of educational practice, can realize educational improvements which other approaches to educational evaluation and improvement (including external inspection regimes) struggle to do. It invites politicians and policy professionals to consider potential applications of this approach in other national systems of vocational education.
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