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How AoC and NCFE are tackling the lack of data and evidence in FE - Julia Belgutay

20 October 2021

By Julia Belgutay

Research and evidence have always been right at the heart of the Association of College’s work. They have had to be. To lobby government and other stakeholders effectively, an organisation like AoC needs solid data and evidence to back up its claims and policy demands. Research is also essential in establishing what might work in the college sector – which policies have had the desired effect, which classroom practices help specific groups of students succeed, and which management styles foster a flourishing college environment.

There is no denying that skills – training people in areas where shortages exist, upskilling workers, and reskilling staff in parts of the economy going through change or a downturn – is a focus of the government’s work right now. Most of us will struggle to remember a time where the word “skills” quite so commonly featured in prime ministerial speeches. To make sure the sector can make the most of this moment, evidence, particularly of what works, is key.

So to try and help put a greater spotlight on the important research work done in and for FE, to encourage more of that work and to support practitioners trying to improve classroom practice by carrying out their own research, we are today launching the AoC Research Unit – bringing all of this crucial activity together in one place. The Research Unit will produce outstanding research based on data provided by the FE sector, but also showcase work carried out in partnership with leading research institutions. It will bring researchers together to share and shape ideas, promote more practitioner research and share that work to inform post-16 teaching practice and policy development.

A number of key new initiatives and projects will be announced over the coming weeks and months, but today, we are kicking things off with a new landmark project in collaboration with NCFE: Research Further. Research Further is a new scholarship initiative run in partnership with NCFE, supporting college practitioners in carrying out research to fill evidence gaps. If anyone knows what works- or, crucially, what might work if we tried – it is those actually on the ground in colleges. But all too often, they lack the time, or opportunity, to take those ideas forward and test them. The research network will provide scholars with that opportunity – and will share their work with the wider sector.

The projects Research Further will support in its first year are not restricted to subjects or topics, but we are specifically interested in research proposals into areas like digital, what works in specific subjects, adult education and tackling inequalities – areas where there are obvious gaps in evidence. As the network grows and disseminates its work, it offers a tangible opportunity to affect change, and to drive improvements both in teaching practice and in the wider sector. It also offers a chance for scholars to grow and develop into thought leaders and help others grow alongside them.

It is an opportunity too good to miss. So if you work in a college and have a research interest you think merits one of our scholarships, or if you are already a practitioner researcher developing new, groundbreaking work, this is the time to apply. You could be one of the first on this amazing journey.