Spielman: Lack of FE research 'depressing and disappointing'

Ofsted accused of 'profound ignorance of rich and significant bank' of further education research by Matt O'Leary

Stephen Exley

Lack of FE research 'depressing and disappointing' says Amanda Spielman

The “limited” amount of research on the further education sector is “depressing and disappointing”, according to Ofsted’s chief inspector.

The inspectorate has faced criticism over including no FE-specific references in its research summary published alongside the proposed new inspection framework, which it claimed was due to the “relative paucity” of research in the sector.

In its response to the consultation, published this week, Ofsted said that in response to the lack of information on research in some areas, it would “add a summary of research” where this is available.

When asked by Tes whether this would specifically include FE, director for corporate strategy Chris Jones confirmed that it would.

Opinion: 'Ofsted's evidence base must include FE'

Read more: New website launches to promote FE research

Background: Greening the desert of FE research is proving tricky

FE 'generally under-researched'

“FE and skills is generally under-researched in terms of the general academic literature,” he told a press conference ahead of the launch of the new framework.

“We’re going to do our bit over the next couple of years to look harder at FE and skills curriculum and shifts and so on, so hopefully we’ll be adding to the body of knowledge that there is around FE and skills.”

In addition, chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Inspection can only build off research that’s there. It is depressing and disappointing, perhaps, that the wider body of research [in FE] is so much more limited. So, all we can do is to…make sure we don’t put too much weight on things that can’t actually carry it. But also, as with all of our frameworks, we should always iterate in light of additions to that base of knowledge.”

Matt O’Leary, professor of education at Birmingham City University, described Ofsted’s research summary as “disdainfully and patronisingly dismissive of FE and skills research”.

Ofsted: 'Profound ignorance'?

He said: “What this document and comments from the inspectorate this week reveal is not only a profound ignorance of the rich and significant bank of educational research carried out in the sector over the last five decades, but a condescending, colonialist attitude to FE.”

Professor O’Leary, the co-convenor of the British Education Research Association’s special interest group for post-compulsory and lifelong learning, added: “That Ofsted should choose to ignore this evidence says more about the contempt with which the inspectorate views FE and skills and sector-based research rather than any meaningful comment on the state of educational research in FE and skills.

“Taking this into consideration, it is difficult to see how Ofsted’s education inspection framework can have any legitimacy and credibility for FE providers when it willingly chooses to ignore the research evidence from the sector itself.”

Andrew Morris, chair of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Education and co-organiser of the Learning and Skills Research Network, said: “There is an overwhelming need for research funders to commission research focusing on FE and skills issues and on pedagogies appropriate to both vocational and older learners. Sometimes this can be simply an extension to studies already planned for under-16s.

“Funding from agencies and foundations could also be wisely spent on mobilising research knowledge for practical use.”

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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