From education to employment

Happy 25th Anniversary to the Learning and Skills Research Network

balloons, celebration

You may not have heard of this network and yet it has been supporting educators to engage with research and development for a quarter of a century this year. It works through a network of volunteer convenors across the UK. Many based in colleges, some in universities, some independent. All share a passion for demonstrating the value of research for educators, helping build the capacity of the sector and exploring ways of increasing the awareness of and influence of education research.

Member interests range from subject based research and research literacy to pedagogy, practice and policy. How has something like this survived 25 years’ worth of changes in the sector? Starting out before the current dominant narrative about being research or evidence informed, it’s quite the achievement.

The Network is busy and thriving with regional activities such as research and teach meets through to a programme of online events. Communication across the network is kept simple, a monthly email of news sharing opportunities, links to articles and professional development events, enabling people to connect and some very simple social media.

Its origins date back to 1997 when it grew out of the work of one of the many sector bodies that has been and gone.  As founder Andrew Morris told an LSRN workshop at Aston University in June: in a sector that has seen bodies come and go, it stands out for being long-lived and stable. It was set up by enthusiasts from colleges and universities with no centralised bureaucratic structure or formal constitution. Enthusiasts are the lifeblood of LSRN today. Its first activists simply drew up a statement of Purposes and Values which hasn’t changed since the beginning. It has remained, since the very beginning, independent and regionally-based, with volunteer convenors working collaboratively across the sectors of further , adult and higher education. At one time the network had financial support enabling it to run large scale conferences for educators and the wider policy and research sectors. The money has gone but the activities, surprisingly, have not.

Once upon a time it carried out collaborative research projects and created research toolkits. Now in 2022, we have this type of work being undertaken by a plethora of organisations and networks. SUNCETT (University of Sunderland’s Centre of Excellence in Teacher Training) has been running ETF funded intensive research training and mentorship for practice-focused research at MA and MPhil Level for teachers and education leaders from across the Further Education and Training sector for many years. The ETF Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment programme supported educators with practice-based inquiry over several years. Whilst some of these programmes are seeing changes brought about by funding shifts, other networks continue to offer what they can. Grassroots networks such as JoyFE and FE Research Meet, more formal associations such as ARPCE (Association for Research in Post Compulsory Education) and BELMAS’s further education research interest group (British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society), the recently formed RCG (Research College Group) and the AoC’s Research Further programme are all part of a rich FE research landscape. (We love acronyms, don’t we?).

In amidst all of this, LSRN continues to play its part in supporting educators to access, evaluate, understand education research, consider its implications for practice, contextualise to our classrooms, develop our pedagogy and professionally develop. Perhaps its longevity is down to its continued yet clear purpose? Long may it continue.

Here’s a last word from founder Andrew Morris “It remains a challenge to extend research engagement to the bulk of teachers and leaders in their daily practice. Getting the fruits of research read, discussed and used in everyday practice is no easy task. LSRN has an important role in addressing this challenge not only because it promotes research but particularly because it connects directly with teachers, leaders and policy workers. Difficult times undoubtedly lie ahead, but with its 25 year history of adaptation, LSRN will surely be there, ready, able and willing to help”.

In today’s rapidly shifting world, it will be interesting to see how LSRN adapts once again. Will activity be organised more at a local level? Will virtual conferencing and workshops make this a meaningless question? With individual interest in practitioner research on the rise, how will connections with policy and strategy develop? Whatever transpires, LSRN will surely continue to prosper if it remains independent, grounded and non-bureaucratic. It’s needed as much as ever, to keep reminding the world that research matters as much for the post-16 sector as for the rest of education.

Happy Anniversary, LSRN.

Jo Fletcher-Saxon

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