The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) has today (21 January 2020) published a briefing recommending the establishment of a ‘What Works’ centre for Further Education and Adult Learning.
It argues that such a centre is necessary in order to improve evidence on what works in FE in order to raise levels of participation and attainment, and to improve social mobility. That’s because the sector lacks both a structured approach to filling evidence gaps compared to other policy areas, and a mechanism for sharing knowledge and best practice, according to the SMC’s paper. Tackling these shortfalls could help inform policy, as well as helping to maximise its impact, it believes.
Although the report acknowledges that there are existing networks for sharing best practice, such as the ETF’s Professional Exchange Networks, it believes these tend to focus on particular approaches or parts of the sector.
The SMC’s paper says that government should create an independent centre that is embedded within an existing organisation following a competitive procurement process, and that it should hold a budget of £20 million over five years. It recommends that in years one and two an annual budget of £2 million would allow the centre to focus on synthesis and dissemination of research, building strategic partnerships, coordinating the sector, gaining access to data sets, and prioritising research priorities, while in years three–five, a budget of £5 million would allow it to begin trials to generate new evidence.
David Russell, Chief Executive of the Education and Training Foundation, said:
“We warmly welcome this proposal, which recognises the importance and value of research about effectiveness in the sector. Although a small number of larger scale studies do exist, as the SMC notes, much research is carried out on a much smaller scale, with far fewer resources, than is the case in other parts of the education sector.
“The ETF knows from the work it already does to facilitate sharing of research, that optimising its impact helps to increase even further the effectiveness of the amazing work that goes on across the sector, and we support sector-wide initiatives with the potential to add even more value and coordination.”