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Impact Activities: Case studies

Project impacts: Across the lifecourse | Improving outcomes | Improving practice | Developing dialogue | Informing policy
Programme impacts: Public debate | Principles into practice | Westminster showcase | Electronic resources | Widening participation


Developing Critical Dialogue And Partnership: Impact of policy on learning and inclusion in the new learning and skills system

Project description

Between 2003 and 2007, a team led by Frank Coffield, Ian Finlay, Ann Hodgson and Ken Spours carried out an extensive, independent investigation of the impact of governance and policy changes, affecting the learning and skills sector (LSS), on structures and practices at different levels of the system, and on learner outcomes. Main aims included mapping and understanding the system and the policy levers acting on it, exploring the ways in which policy was translated and mediated by different actors, developing ways to facilitate creative and critical dialogue between the different actors, and gauging the perspectives of key actors at all levels of the system (individual learner, classroom, course, department, institution, local, regional, national, international). The project described the model of governance in the LSS as a top-down one that had shifted from an “area planning” approach towards a “market model”, with signs of further moving towards a “demand-led” model. Detailed analysis of the system and of its governance, and of the views of all actors involved, warned against excessive focus on efficiency and contestability, to the detriment of equity and collaboration. A “new settlement” between the different levels of decision-making was recommended, based on a “devolved social partnership” in which all players agreed on priorities and share responsibilities.

Democratic sharing of knowledge and expertise and developing joint critical reflection on policy

1) Bringing together a plurality of voices, from those of officials at different levels, to those of categories of staff in learning sites, and to those of learners, in particular disadvantaged groups such as unemployed adults in adult and community learning, employees in work-based learning, and younger learners on level 1 and 2 courses in further education. These different actors were involved in various ways over the course of the project, as respondents, partners and collaborators in research decisions, validators of approaches and findings, users, and beneficiaries.

2) Promoting dialogue: the importance of dialogue was both a substantive finding of the project, and a principle for designing and trying out innovative activities (e.g. “reflective fora”, policy “feedback loop” models) as well as more conventional exchanges (e.g. through nine regional seminars, institution-level events, and publications for different audiences).

Supporting better policy-making processes

1) Contributing evidence to policy-making processes and increasing awareness of relevant research evidence: the research team presented evidence to, for example, the Foster review of further education, the LSDA Board, the DfES/ DCSF, and the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills.

2) Active engagement with current policy issues and processes: the members of the research team actively sought to use research evidence in order to influence the future development of the sector. These efforts included meetings with the Prime Minister’s strategy Unit team, the DfES Strategy Unit, national and regional events (the Association of Colleges, the London Mayor’s Skills and Employment Board, the QIA), and institution-level events and addresses around the country.

Enabling discursive change and percolation of knowledge

Developing concepts that resonate with current debates: such concepts included, for example, local and regional “ecologies”, “devolved social partnership”, and inclusive and equitable system. Their development emerged at the interface of research with policy, practice, and learner perspectives, in ways that were explicitly designed to enable joint reflection and assessment of a range of aspects of the current system and of its modes and instruments of governance.
Actively opening channels for the percolation of such concepts and theoretical insights into public discourse, for example through spelling out and further refining them for and with small groups and individual actors at different levels of the system, through media interventions, and through publication plans that addressed a wide range of audiences.


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