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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Transforming Learning Cultures in Further Education

Grant reference: L139251025

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Conference paper/presentation details

TLRP: The culture of the now: barriers to research in further education
I argue in this paper that in Further Education, there is a culture of the now with its origins in the manufactured uncertainty of the risk society (Beck 1999), which creates significant barriers to sustained, well grounded research in FE. That is not to say that there is no research in FE, and indeed, as we shall see some colleges are quickly responsive to the findings of accountants and consultants, but that generally there is little organisational ‘space’ or time available in FE for ongoing research. The culture of the now has three inter-related aspects. Firstly there is an institutional dimension. All those in FE are harried by frenetic structural instability. There are endless national and local policy changes and an audit culture of incessant financial and curriculum inspections. Internal restructuring and personnel change appear to be a frequent response to these pressures. Cumulatively, these factors give little time or space for reflection or to the development of a measured response to change. Responses tend to be inchoate, short term and unsustainable and, thus, serve to manufacture further instability. Secondly there are ideological barriers, stemming from a false perception of the management of risk, which make research an unattractive option for those planning the strategic direction of colleges. In essence the audit culture favours standardisation and easily replicable regimes where as success, within the risk society requires “…organisational cultures which enhance individual flexibility and responsiveness” (Brotherton, 1998). Thirdly then, despite the rhetoric, colleges, in fact, tend not to treat their employees as their most valuable asset. In so doing they frequently give the impression of ignoring or not valuing the creativity and professionalism of college staff. Of seeking to micromanage the activities of staff through one failed initiative after another, and in so doing helping to create the climate of manufactured uncertainty which is so corrosive to sustaining a culture of flexibility and responsiveness. In arguing my case much of the evidence is drawn, from the data collected during the three year life of the Transforming Learning Cultures in FE (TLC) project. I am pleased to acknowledge the wealth of data that my colleagues on the project have provided but must accept full personal responsibility for the interpretation of that data within this paper. The existence of the TLC project itself and the evidence it has accumulated of diverse, dynamic, complex learning cultures sustained by tutors and students, shows that there is individual flexibility, responsiveness and creativity within the FE. In addition the Learning and Skills Development Agency, and its very successful regional Learning and Skills Research Networks shows that the picture is not all dark. There is interest in and active support for FE research. Locally there are people working at the ‘sharp end’ of FE who have produced good research. For example, Sandra Rennie at Bradford (Rennie, 2002) and Helen Kenwright at York (Kenwright, 2001). To develop my argument further it is necessary first to explain the TLC project in some detail. The TLC project is based upon a partnership between four English universities and four English FE colleges. From its inception the project was at pains to establish a partnership between the rich research culture of the universities and the partner colleges. It was to be “research in FE” not “research on FE” and one o...
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Author T Scaife

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