Further education: College 'labs' to boost research

21st August 2009 at 01:00
LSIS seeks volunteer institutions to test experimental teaching tools and techniques

Original headline: College `labs' to boost research

Colleges are being asked to become "laboratories" for testing teaching techniques in a bid to improve research into further education.

The Learning and Skills Improvement Service has asked for volunteer colleges and training providers to test materials, try out tools and techniques and put the lessons from research into practice to see how they work in the real world.

Sheila Kearney, research manager at LSIS, said four providers were so far set to become the first laboratories: Loughborough College, Sussex Downs College, Stoke College and the Kingsland Skills and Enterprise Centre in Bedfordshire.

"We're setting up laboratories in a number of providers," she said. "We're going to ask them to try out interesting pieces of research to see if people can apply them in practice."

Researchers hope the labs, which are expected to begin work from September, will mean FE teachers become more involved in the research into post-16 education and that the findings will be more relevant to them and more useable.

The project could involve supporting lecturers' own enquiries and continuing professional development, which would in turn create case studies for researchers.

Lecturers at the colleges could also be asked to test articles for accessibility and relevance to their teaching.

The researchers believe the labs will also allow them to view the work of teachers close-up and daily, deepening their knowledge of practices and concerns of staff in FE.

A spokesman for the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education, which produces the LSIS research newsletter, said: "In our experience, there is a great deal of untapped enthusiasm for developing evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning in the sector. But this does need the kind of support, guidance and encouragement which we are offering."

Improving Further Education research

The initiative is one way in which LSIS is trying to improve the quality of research into FE.

Ms Kearney said: "Research in further education is not as well funded as in the schools sector. One of the barriers is that there needs to be someone pulling it all together and making sense of it. That's the route we're going down."

As well as putting research into practice in its laboratories, LSIS is carrying out evidence reviews intended to summarise the state of research and present it in a digestible form, and offering more opportunities for practitioners to carry out their own research.

It also wants to promote what it believes are particularly useful pieces of research, such as last year's Ofsted report How Colleges Improve.

Rhys Evans, co-author of the report, said it found successful colleges tended to be less encumbered by bureaucracy than unsuccessful ones, and had more streamlined systems.

He said: "It's about how they deal with the external requirements, having that confidence in management to think about what they have to deliver - not just bolting on additional work every time there's a new requirement."

But he said it also found colleges could "coast" on a satisfactory grade for long periods with neither the principal nor the chair of governors seeing the need for improvement, which could be an argument for more external intervention.

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