What’s missing from Ofsted’s FE research group? FE

Plenty of FE professionals are engaged with research - so why is Ofsted's group full of HE lecturers, asks Joel Petrie

Joel Petrie

Why aren't FE professionals better represented on Ofsted's new FE research group?

Ofsted should be commended on its recent report Educational effectiveness research and further education and skills. It is informed by an impressive assembly of HE academics: like an inspired 1970s musical svengali, Ofsted has gathered a veritable supergroup of HE professors.

Pleasingly, they are former teachers from the sector, who are very highly regarded by their erstwhile research-engaged FE colleagues. There are some notable and puzzling omissions from the line-up, such as Professor Matt O’Leary, whose seminal advocacy for informative rather than performative models of teaching and learning observation would have brought a useful research-based critique of Ofsted’s own methods to the gig…

However, a far graver omission is Ofsted’s failure to include a single FE-employed researcher in the line-up for the production of the report. Despite attempts by FE researchers to banish the c-word, it appears that for Ofsted at least, they remain barred from the ball when it comes to the identification of research about FE.

Background:  Ofsted reveals FE research reference group

News: Spielman: Lack of FE research 'depressing and disappointing'

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

Busting myths about FE research

The widespread and erroneous myth of a paucity of FE research, recently rearticulated by Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman, must be challenged. Engagement in research and its dissemination is unquestionably tougher for FE, and can be a lower priority for a sector dealing with policy churn and stretched professional development budgets. However, many (particularly post-1992) universities have vibrant FE research traditions, and within FE there is also considerable practitioner-led research activity, with significant numbers of FE professionals studying for masters, MPhil and doctorates, and publishing in books and journals about the sector.

In addition, there are many organisations and networks that promote sector inquiry and support FE researchers. These include the Association for Research in Post-Compulsory Education (ARPCE), the Learning and Skills Research Network (LSRN), Teacher Education in Lifelong Learning (TELL), UKFEChat and the FE Research Meet movement.  

FE research: Networking the Networks

These organisations, and many others, are now involved in the Networking the Networks initiative, which aims to make links between the many practice-led networks concerned with research and the use of evidence in FE. The Scholarship Framework supports English FE with HE provision to enhance student learning through forms of scholarship and several sector organisations, not least the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), actively promote and fund research in the sector, such as its current Outstanding Teaching Learning and Assessment (OTLA) projects.

In "Will the leopard change its spots? A new model of inspection for Ofsted", Frank Coffield describes studies of educators who have experienced inspection as something done to them, not something done with them. It is heartening that research about FE (whether from HE or any of the myriad parts of FE including adult, community and skills provision) is gaining Ofsted’s attention. As educators in FE, we might regard the current report as formative work for development and in our feedback we should be encouraging, while stressing that the sources of expertise drawn on for the report are too narrow. For a future summative submission, Ofsted must evidence adequate engagement with the increasingly rich research being undertaken by FE, in FE, and about FE. That would be an outstanding report.

Joel Petrie is currently working on the third in the Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses and The Principal: Power and Professionalism in FE trilogy, with Maire Daley and Professor Kevin Orr

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