Create £20m FE research centre, says commission

The Social Mobility Commission urges government to create a £20m 'What Works Centre' for further education

Social mobility commission: what does a "What Works Centre" look like?

The government should dedicate £20 million over five years to an independent "What Works Centre" for FE and adult learning, according to the Social Mobility Commission.

In a report published today, the commission says that in order to improve social mobility and raise levels of participation and attainment, it is vital to improve evidence of what works in FE through research.


Background: Commission calls for 16-19 student premium 

Opinion: Why the government must invest £20m over 5 years for FE

More: Generational gap on apprenticeships revealed


The report says: “The FE and adult learning sector are central to the government’s ambitions to raise productivity, improve standards of living, help people adapt to changes in the economy and support social mobility.

“It plays a vital role in supporting people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are overrepresented in the sector compared to other post-16 routes. 

“Developing understanding on what works for disadvantaged learners in particular would help to improve inequalities in access, raise attainment levels and improve socio-economic outcomes.”

The commission’s review on attainment in FE and adult learning found that just 63 studies met the minimum standard of quality - and that within FE, there was limited evidence on the effectiveness of different interventions, what works for whom and in what context, and very little information on the cost-effectiveness of interventions.

'A bleak FE landscape'

In Tes today, commissioner Sammy Wright writes: “When we look at the data from 2019, we are looking at the life chances of people who largely grew up and were educated before austerity began to bite. When you combine this with what we know about the factors that affect social mobility – poverty, housing, welfare, the psychological damage of adverse childhood experiences, the availability of skilled jobs and the distribution of opportunity to the regions – we can make a pretty solid prediction that things are going to get worse.

“And yet, in this general picture, among all of the huge range of factors and possible areas for investment, it is FE stands out, for three reasons: it’s the gateway to employment, it caters for the most disadvantaged and it’s experienced the worst funding cuts in education.”

Network of professionals

The report says that a What Works Centre'would support the workforce development by sharing best practice, and would take the lead in supporting robust evidence that examines the experiences of a range of learners and develop interventions that support the participation of those who find FE and adult learning most difficult to access.

 It says: “The new centre would aim to improve attainment for disadvantaged individuals 16 years and over in FE and adult learning. The centre would cover both classroom and work-based training (eg, traineeships and apprenticeships) and all levels of education within FE and adult learning (from foundation courses to HE access and vocational HE courses).”

It goes on to say that the centre would have the greatest impact if it develops as a consortium model, coordinating a wider network spanning research, evaluation, policy and professional practice.

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