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LSRN – the Learning and Skills Research Network

It's a proud FE tradition – people getting together to set things up themselves. Tutor Voices is the most recent case and if LSRN is any kind of example, it has a long future ahead of it. The Further Education Research Network, as it was originally called, was set up in 1997, by some fifteen people participating in what seemed a rather avant-garde workshop at the time, on 'Research in FE'. The topic seemed remote from most practitioners' lives, the province of universities in the main. Both practitioners and academics were represented at the workshop and the first meeting of the volunteer group established a founding principle that the Network should straddle both communities and foster collaboration between the two. At this first meeting other principles were expounded which have guided the Network ever since. It was to be based across the regions of the country, not just in London; local volunteers would convene events in each region. National coordination would be through a planning group of these convenors. No official positions were created; action rather than office-holding was to drive activity. The first conference, hosted by Blackpool and the Fylde College in a smart Blackpool hotel demonstrated that research in FE really did exist and that plenty of people seemed keen to engage with it (around 150 at the first conference). Ruth Silver and Bob Fryer gave encouraging speeches and academics and practitioners presented the results of their research in parallel workshops.The commitment of convenors and planning group members ensured the sustained growth of the Network thereafter, based on founding principles that have endured. The Network became an important asset for the newly created Further Education Development Agency (FEDA) which gave increasing levels of support to it. FEDA's regional officers gave time to support groups around the country and funding was provided for several years for collaborative research involving colleges and universities in each region. A series of training modules was developed to help local groups develop their research capacity. National conferences grew in size and stature (around 350 participants at its zenith) and regional workshops flourished. With an altered name to reflect wider changes in the sector the Learning Skills Research Network became a conduit for major initiatives in the nineties and noughties, including the ESRC Teaching Learning Research Programme (TLRP) and Learning Skills Research Centre.But perhaps the most important quality of LSRN has proved to be its resilience over the long term. Having established itself firmly, from the very beginning, as an independent network – not a constituted body, not dependent on central grants, not serving the interests of any officials – it proved able to adapt to each erratic gust of the political wind. The abolition of LSDA and consequent loss of support simply inspired the original enthusiasts, plus others who had joined in, to re-group. A smaller programme was planned and sponsors sought to support each activity. It turned out that having an independent and respected Network in place in our highly fragmented sector proved useful and many organisations were glad to help it along – among them NIACE, City Guilds, Edexcel/Pearson, LSIS, IfL, HEA, ETF and NFER. With their support, a National Planning Group was opened up to all who wanted to be active and volunteer convenors identified wherever possible. Conferences continued to be held, developing latterly into thematic workshops, a website (https://lsrn.wordpress.com/about/) was constructed and a newsletter created.With an eye to the future, it's worth reflecting a moment on which of the many aspects of the LSRN experience have been key to its success. Naturally, people involved have different views about this, so what follows is entirely personal. After decades of steady, developmental support during the 70s and 80s through the work of the Further Education Unit and FE Staff College, the sector was plunged into decades of whimsical and transient change which seriously damaged the environment needed for steady, evidence-based development. Lacking foreknowledge of the policy mayhem to come, the founders of LSRN had little idea how effective and enduring their strategy would turn out to be. By insisting on independence from any particular funder and emphasising collaborative forms of activity that engage all parties interested in research and its use, the Network has outlived almost all other FE-related organisations. It draws on people's deeper motivation: their concern to develop practice, their commitment to sound evidence and their will to work with others for the greater good. Long may such organisations prosper! Andrew Morris a member of the LSRN National Planning Group and is the author of 'Getting to Grips with Science: A Fresh Approach for the Curious. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/life-the-universe-and-everything-dr-morriss-alternative-science-class-for-the-curious-adult-10248158.html?origin=internalSearch)'

Posted on: 04 September 2015

Controlling parents 'harm wellbeing'

Adults who were psychologically controlled as children by their parents are more likely to have poor mental health, research suggests.

Posted on: 04 September 2015

Extra screen time 'hits GCSE grades'

An extra hour of television, internet or computer game time in Year 10 is linked with poorer grades at GCSE, Cambridge University research suggests.

Posted on: 04 September 2015

Welsh rethink puts RE under microscope

Welsh rethink puts RE under microscope

Posted on: 04 September 2015

Science and maths 'vital for adults'

Adults who lack basic science and maths skills risk being "bamboozled" and making bad decisions, according to a leading scientist.

Posted on: 04 September 2015

Boy's naked selfie recorded as crime

A 14-year-old boy who sent a naked photo of himself to a girl at school has had a crime of making and distributing indecent images recorded against him, the BBC learns.

Posted on: 03 September 2015

Denmark offers some radical solutions!

Amid all the challenges of the new academic year, there is one new responsibility likely to continue to sit slightly uneasily with college principals and head teachers. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which came into force over the summer, puts a new statutory duty on academic institutions to "prevent people from being drawn into terrorism". The Act introduced the Prevent Duty for all FE colleges, adult education providers and independent learning providers with SFA funding, or with over 250 students enrolled. Ofsted are already including an assessment of its implementation in their inspections, which includes an obligation for staff to be Prevent Duty trained. The agenda has been fuelled by a number of high profile cases, including the so-called Trojan horse case, an alleged plot by hard-line Islamists to take over a number of schools in Birmingham in 2014. The case of Talha Asmal from Dewsbury, reportedly the youngest British Muslim to die in a suicide bombing earlier this year at just 17 years old, is similarly just one of several examples of young people being swayed to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight for extremist causes. But what can traditional learning institutions really do to deliver a genuine impact on such a culturally sensitive aspect of educational life? In some communities the Prevent Duty is perceived as an unwelcome and unnecessary form of "spying" on learners. Similarly, can we really expect teachers and trainers to be experts in spotting and acting upon genuine radicalisation traits amongst learners? Whilst there are sources of help available (the EFA's website (http://www.preventforfeandtraining.org.uk/) contains some useful material), best practice in this field is still emerging. A source of potential inspiration comes from a seemingly unlikely destination – the city of Aarhus in Denmark. It is claimed that over 30 young people travelled to Syria from Aarhus in 2013 but, following the introduction of the "Aarhus Model", only 3 are reported to have attempted the same since then. The success cannot be attributed to a singular magic solution. It is instead borne out of a working co-operation between the local authority, the police, university, probation services, as well as the local Muslim community itself. The model offers a mix of mentoring and counselling to help participants consider their life choices and to re-integrate with education and employment. It will be fascinating to see Ofsted's early assessment findings of how inspected institutions have handled the Prevent Duty. In this respect, preventing radicalisation would not seem to be solved by providing teachers with covert surveillance skills, implementing convoluted diagnostics to score those "at risk", or developing potentially patronising programmes on how to be "more British". Instead, it seems more about the application of considered safeguarding processes, a pragmatic eye for genuinely disturbing behaviours, an open dialogue between teachers and other agencies, and a focus on building stable and rewarding educational and vocational pathways for learners. Jim Carley is Managing Director of Carley Consult (http://www.carleyconsult.com/), a specialist business development agency supporting the skills and employability sectors

Posted on: 03 September 2015

Mid-East wars 'hit 13m schoolchildren'

The UN says conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa are depriving more than 13 million children of an education.

Posted on: 03 September 2015

Schools 'demand money from parents'

At least 100 schools in England are pressuring parents or demanding they donate money, potentially in breach of the law, research suggests.

Posted on: 03 September 2015

How Germany abolished tuition fees

Does scrapping fees mean German universities lack funding?

Posted on: 03 September 2015