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A chance to map out the territory

It's not easy to make sense of what research is going on post-16, let alone to know how to translate the mountains of evidence and ideas . Not only is the British system complex and confusing, it is also subject to regular overhauls and restructuring. Even those working for government agencies find it hard to keep track of changes to funding, regulation and organisation.

Despite this confusion, this supplement shows there is a mass of good research being carried out by a individuals and organisations working to different aims, funding restrictions and timescales. They often duplicate each other's work, offer contradictory messages about important areas such as widening participation, or improving teaching and learning and tend not to engage much with research from other organisations. One effect is that there is not enough accumulation of knowledge over time, or between different parts of the system, and too much short-term research.

The Teaching and Learning Research Programme* is the largest independent project of its kind in education. It covers all sectors, from early years to higher education, and runs for over 10 years until 2009. It aims to change perceptions of teaching and learning amongst policymakers, the public and practitioners and to offer sound insights about how to improve practice.

Some of the best researchers in post-16 are involved in 15 projects covering diverse aspects of work-based learning, FE and adult and community learning. And they are working with some of the most influential organisations and agencies so that findings and ideas, and the research processes and methods themselves connect with the people they are aimed at.

Two of the most important and experienced research organisations are the LSDA and Niace. Communicating and disseminating ideas is crucial if researchers are to make their ideas and evidence have an impact. The TLRP has helped to clarify the range of organisations in the post-16 system that use, fund and commission research and those who perhaps should engage more with research. This raises fundamental questions about the cost of research, the remit and goals of organisations commissioning, using and carrying out research and the impact that research has on crucial educational problems and questions.

This special supplement is the first public attempt by the TLRP, LSDA and Niace to debate how research is used and the effects it can have on important areas of policy and practice.

Kathryn Ecclestone

* The TLRP is funded by the Department for Education and Skills and Higher Education Funding Council for England

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