That's the way the money goes

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Government promises about post-16 are making researchers cautiously optimistic. Martin Whittaker finds out who's doing what and how much it costs

Research in further education and training has always come a poor second to schools research. Just as colleges have been under-funded and lecturers'

pay has lagged behind that of teachers, so research in FE has had a precarious existence. The post-16 landscape - FE, sixth form colleges, work-based learning, transition to higher education or work, adult and community learning - is not easily navigated. And that has been a problem.

"It's rather harder than with schools to map out what that research area is," says David Raffe, professor of the sociology of education at the University of Edinburgh. "In some ways that makes it more interesting to study, but it does make it harder to achieve visible progress."

Researchers believe this is now changing as the sector develops and as the line between compulsory and post-16 education begins to fade because of the advances of the 14 to 19 agenda. Research in the sector is beginning to look healthier, partly as a result of the Government's drive to raise standards in colleges and work-based learning, and to improve basic skills among adults. Increasingly, academics are tackling some of the bigger issues, such as the quality of life that learning gives, links with health and well-being and learning for life rather than the immediate demands of the labour market.

Niace, the adult education body, is increasing its research and development budget from pound;8.4 to pound;10.7 million this year. It is forecast to increase to pound;11.2 million next academic year. Similarly the Teaching and Learning Research Programme, run by the Economic and Social Research Council and set up to run until 2009 with a budget of pound;30 million, is focusing on post-compulsory education.

The evolution of the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) is perhaps the most telling indicator that post-16 research has come of age.

It was previously the Further Education Development Agency, established a decade ago from a merger of a policy body called the Further Education Unit and the FE sector's Staff College. In 2000 it became the LSDA, with a much bigger remit and research role. Today, it has an annual research budget of pound;7 million with centres across many areas, including sector performance, vocational learning, planning and funding of learning and curriculum and qualifications.

The agency is about to undergo a further transformation in April 2006, when it becomes the new quality improvement body for its sector, with a remit to drive up standards. Kate Anderson, its director of research, says that, far from detracting from the agency's research role, the change will enhance it. It will allow it to work more closely with learning providers, identifying problems and helping them to devise solutions.

"I think anybody you talk to about the sector would say there's a need for policy and practice to be informed by evidence," she says. "So there will clearly be a key role for the national quality improvement body to play, either gathering results of research that's been done elsewhere, or conducting its own research to pull together the ideas about what works in practice."

And what should government policies be taking into account when they're looking to bring about specific sorts of improvement?

"There will be a key role in all of that for research to be part of that process."

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme, says: "FE research has lagged behind the school sector. Most of the research in education has focused on conventional schooling, and as the post-16 sector has developed in quite diverse ways and with the huge expansion of further education, social scientific research has not been as strong as in other sectors. That is changing - this research is coming together and growing."


(for adult literacy and numeracy)

What is it?

Established in 2002 as part of the skills for life strategy for improving literacy and numeracy in adults. A consortium of 11 agencies and universities, it aims "to improve practice and inform policy through the generation of knowledge, by creating a strong research culture and by developing professional practice".

Who funds it?

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) via the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit. Another big source is the European Social Fund, plus smaller grants from other funding bodies.

What does it spend?

Total budget in 2004-5 is pound;4 million: pound;3.5 million for 2005-6.

What does it spend it on?

* Published 19 reports - another 11 in the pipeline

* Distributed more than 50,000 copies of reports, as well as a magazine and quarterly newsletter

* Runs its own international conference and co-produces guidance materials for practitioners.

What next?

The centre is leading on Maths4Life, a new DfES-funded programme to improve maths teaching and learning for over-16s.


What is it?

Set up by the DfES in 1999. Its research "looks to inform policy; to deepen understanding of the complex ways in which learning provides benefits in the lives of individuals; and to provide robust evidence about the scale of these effects and the returns they represent".

Who funds it?

The DfES.

What does it spend?

Total budget for 2004-5 is pound;361,855; for 2005-6, it is Pounds 398,585.

What does it spend it on?

In the past three years it has published a range of research reports, books and discussion papers. Findings of its quantitative research include:

* Adult learning is associated with increased likelihood of engaging in preventative healthcare

* School success has long-lasting benefits for health and wellbeing

* Success or failure in school are strongly related to propensities to commit crime or engage in anti-social behaviour Other fieldwork has explored the importance of school and adult learning in forming civic attitudes and participation, mental health and well-being.

What next?

More of the same.


What is it?

Niace is a non-governmental organisation whose aim is to support an increase in numbers of adult learners in England and Wales, and to widen access to learning opportunities to those communities that miss out.

Founded in 1921, it has a long tradition of research and development.

Who funds it?

The DfES is Niace's biggest backer, although it also receives funding from many sources, including the Learning and Skills Council and the EU.

What does it spend?

Total income in 2003-4 was more than pound;17 million, although only a proportion of this goes on research: about pound;8.4 million. Expected to spend more than pound;10.7 million on research and development, and next year's forecast is more than pound;11.2 million.

What does it spend it on?

Research projects include:

* Overcoming social exclusion through online learning

* Annual adult participation in learning surveys

* The catching confidence project - qualitative research into learners' and practitioners' views on the developing confidence in relation to learning.

What next?

Last month, Niace began its leadership of a committee of enquiry into the state of FE in England.


What is it?

Set up in 1998 and managed by the Economic and Social Research Council. Its first projects started in 2000 and it is due to end in 2009.

The TLRP supports and develops research programmes designed to bring improvements in outcomes for learners of all ages.

Who funds it?

Mainly the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), although it has also had funding from the DfES, the Scottish Executive, Welsh Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Department of Employment and Learning.

What does it spend?

The total programme cost is around pound;30 million for 2000 to 2008. "About the same as Beagle 2," says a spokesman. Hard to break down into annual budgets, although insiders estimate around 60 per cent of its total is being spent on post-16 work.

What does it spend it on?

Most early projects were in the schools sector, although it launched its new phase of post-compulsory education research in June 2003. Projects so far have included:

* Transforming learning cultures in FE

* Learning in community-based further education

* Policy, learning and inclusion in the learning and skills system What next?

HEFCE has awarded the programme pound;2 million (included in the total Pounds 30 million) to carry out research into higher education's widening participation and fair access strategy.


What is it?

The LSDA was formed in November 2000 with the aim of improving the quality of post-16 education and training in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It does this through research to inform policy and practice, helping to shape and communicate education policy, and through improvement and support programmes. Its previous incarnation was the Further Education Development Agency, which had become the pre-eminent ideas bank for colleges.

Who funds it?

Around 95 per cent of its income is from the DfES or the Learning and Skills Council in the form of funding for contracted work. Receives no core government funding.

What does it spend?

The research budget is pound;7 million a year.

What does it spend it on?

Its work is primarily for the DfES, LSC and other policymakers, practitioners across the learning and skills sector, as well as for those involved in the advice and guidance sector and education marketing.

Examples of recent projects include:

* Working with the LSC and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) to understand patterns of participation, retention and achievement in post-16 education and training

* Research on widening participation in the workplace

* A long-term project to develop materials to help education and training providers implement the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

What next?

A new three-year project funded by the Nuffield Foundation and carried out with NRDC, the University of Exeter and Niace to explore how changes to teachers' assessment practice affect learners' motivation and achievement.


What is it?

Set up in 1991 and grew out of the Curriculum Advice and Support Team, itself established by the then Scottish Education Department in the mid-1980s. It describes itself as the key development agency for colleges in Scotland, contributing to a range of national committees, and working in close partnership with colleges to support changes and development. Its projects often have a research element, allowing it to explore some aspect of provision in Scotland's colleges, usually to inform policy. It also acts as a conduit for other research work that may be relevant to FE colleges.

Who funds it?

SFEU was launched with pound;600,000 start-up funding, and then grant-funded by the Scottish Office. But in the 1990s it was encouraged to become more market-orientated and colleges became purchasers of its services. In 2001 it ceased to be a government agency and colleges now have ownership.

The unit is not funded directly to do research - most of its income is through projects either commissioned or won through competitive tender.

What does it spend?

It now has a turnover of some pound;3.5 million annually, three-quarters of which is won through specialist project work - much of it focusing on innovative and research-based activity.

What does it spend it on?

Recent and continuing projects include:

* Examining the gaps in staff development in Scottish colleges

* A study of the needs of researchers in FE

* Research to examine the factors that influence student performance when taking national qualifications in colleges.

What next?

It could become a professional body for college staff. The Scottish Executive has just consulted on the need for such a body, concluding that the unit is "the natural organisation from which a professional body may evolve".


What is it?

An independent alternative to the Tomlinson Working Group's report.

Launched in October 2003 to provide "a critical scrutiny of every aspect of 14 to19 education and training for England and Wales". Is run by academics from Oxford, London's Institute of Education, Warwick's business school and Ucas, the university admissions service .

Who funds it?

The Nuffield Foundation.

What does it spend?

pound;165,000 in 200405; pound;170,000 next academic year.

What does it spend it on?

Annual report, regional case studies, commissioning research and data analysis, commissioning research papers and seminars.

What next?

The next phase of the review, which includes questioning what educational values and criteria should guide future 14 to 19 developments, and how young peoples' voices might be better heard in relation to research, policy and practice.


What is it?

Started in 1989 as the Policy Task Group on Assessment set up by the British Educational Research Association with eight academics and educationists from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Its aim is "to ensure that assessment policy and practice at all levels takes account of relevant research evidence". It is studying the implications of assessment policy and practice, reviewing research and disseminating its findings through conferences, publications, etc.

Who funds it?

The group is self-funding, but has received grants from the Nuffield Foundation.

What does it spend?

Apart from its current grant, it does not have an annual research budget.

What does it spend it on?

Recent publications include the pamphlets Assessment for learning: beyond the black box; Testing, Motivation and Learning and Assessment for Learning: 10 principles.

What next?

It is being funded on a two-year study: assessment systems of the future.

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