Less of a blog, more of an extended tweet, and a question.

After a while you can begin to discern a pattern in your own blogs. My pattern seems to be to lay out a meandering storyline that ends suddenly in a ‘polemic’ (which I think is a kind word for ‘rant’). So here’s something different – a short blog that ends in a question.

My daughter has just finished a nursing degree. Her final dissertation was answering the question of how she would apply evidence-based practice in her working life. That seemed to me to be an equally good question for anyone working in Learning and Skills, and one that also begged another of our sector. This is that other question: who is researching the evidence that we can apply to our teaching and learning in colleges?

I know @drmattoleary is researching observation of what happens in the classroom. I also know that Ofsted are very clear now that they don’t have a preferred teaching style (though the recent blog of @tombennett71 suggests that this might be more good intention than actual practice). “What works is what’s Good”. But for us in the Learning and Skills sector, who is researching what works?

I don’t think it’s Ofsted. I’m told they have one Researcher on their books and I suspect that that’s more about analysis of inspections than real research into teaching and learning. John Hattie, of course, must have some FE data amongst the 24 million students in his Visible Learning meta-analysis, and the Further Education Trust for Learning are, as we speak, using the LSIS leftovers to pump prime research into leadership of the sector.

There seems though to be a void in our knowledge of what really happens inside the black box of the college classroom. How do we produce the outcomes we strive to achieve? FE participants at this weekend’s #rED14 conference report a deafening silence on matters FE. Perhaps there is something significant coming out of colleges’ own HE provision or teacher training departments? Or what about NIACE?

So there you have it. Answers on a postcard please, or by Comment, or to @dp40days through Twitter. I’m talking about research into the teaching and learning that you would find in an FE college, so 16+, including adults, mainly but not exclusively vocational. Our best teachers know what works and how to deliver it consistently, but who is gathering that knowledge and making sense of it for the rest of us?

Your time starts now…

About dp40days

A senior leader in Further and Higher Education, now based in Moray (pronounced "Murray") on the coast of the Scottish Highlands. (I know, I love paradox). We have more sunshine and less rain each year than my previous home in Manchester, and about fifty more distilleries too! You can find me on Twitter as @DP40days. Blogs so far have been mainly about work and travel but frankly, I've been a bit quiet recently. Maybe that's about to change...
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4 Responses to Less of a blog, more of an extended tweet, and a question.

  1. drmattoleary says:

    You’ve raised a really important point here David. FE has a history of being underresearched, not because there’s a lack of interest in FE-based research at all but largely due to an even longer history of insufficient funding being made available. If you consider the amount of funding that has been ring fenced for research into schools in recent years (the EEF being a prime example of this), then the underfunding of FE becomes all too stark. It’s a position that is both unacceptable and indefensible. Politicians & policy makers are clearly continuing the ‘Cinderella sector’ stereotype and the deficit needs to be challenged and the balance redressed.


  2. drmattoleary says:

    You make a really important point here David. FE has a history of being underresearched. This is not due to a lack of interest in FE-based research at all, quite the contrary in fact. It’s largely due to an even longer history of a lack of research funding being made available. Just as FE has often been a low priority for government in funding educational provision, so too has it been when it comes to research. If ever you wanted a clear example of this in recent years, compare the hundred of millions of pounds ring fenced for school based research with bodies like the EEF to the paltry sum given to the ETF. This conscious favouritism and discriminatory funding policy is unacceptable and indefensible, yet until it is challenged and greater parity is established in funding research in colleges and schools, FE-based research will remain limited.


  3. RGodar says:

    Great post. I would argue that there is a lack of (well-publicised) research into any Post-16 education, including A-Levels in schools. Lots about making choices of subject/ institution at this level, but very little about teaching and learning. Surely this is a key moment for students – moving from the basic knowledge and skills needed to pass GCSEs to the applicable and relevant knowledge and skills for their future? Happy to be proved wrong if someone can direct me to some research on this.

    Also agree with drmattoleary – how many teachers, researchers, policymakers have ever been inside an FE college? The undervaluing of FE is clear in education policy from the pupil premium (for education in schools but for bus fares in FE) to widening participation efforts from universities, which assume that students are in the same institution from 11-18.

    Thanks for raising some issues that have been bugging me for a while. Look forward to more discussion!


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