25 years on: What did the LSRN ever do for us?

As the Learning & Skills Research Network (LSRN) celebrates its silver jubilee, Andrew Morris sets out the challenges it has met – and those it now faces

As the Learning & Skills Research Network (LSRN) celebrates its silver jubilee, Andrew Morris sets out the challenges it has met – and those it now faces

25 Oct 2022, 5:00

It’s jubilee year for LSRN, the Learning and Skills Research Network. Only silver, admittedly, but 25 years is a long time in this sector.

The same spirit that brought together research enthusiasts in 1997 is still at work today. More convenors than ever before – stretching across the regions of England, from Devon and Cornwall to the north east and across Wales – continue to promote the role of research in FE, just as in its founding days.

It was at the glorious Coombe Lodge campus of the then-Further Education Development Agency that the idea of a network emerged following a residential workshop (remember them?) on ‘Research in FE’. A simple statement of purposes and values and a few guiding principles agreed in 1997 remain unchanged and influential to this day.

Remarkably, this unfunded, bottom-up initiative has outlived the litany of defunct sector bodies: FEDA, LSDA, LSC, QIA, LSIS, CEL, LLUK, IfL, to list just a few by acronym. The secret of its longevity? Its fiercely protected independence has saved it from oblivion, time and again. As bodies have come and gone, LSRN has determinedly stuck to governing itself, simply doing what its activists decide to do.

Sponsors have boosted its work for periods of time. FEDA/LSDA in the 1990s supported large-scale conferences, enabling research to be shared between practitioners, academics and policy makers.

The first, organised by Blackpool College in the Grand Metropole Hotel, kicked off an annual tradition, reaching up to 400 participants at its peak and inspiring books, CDs and journal papers.  

This independence has been matched by a strong spirit of inclusivity and collaboration. LSRN has encouraged universities and all branches of the post-16 sector to work together, meeting the challenges of their cultural and functional differences.

The secret of our longevity? Independence

Regional networks undertook small-scale collaborative projects on themes such as the impact of inspection, the role of part-time lecturers and progression to higher education. An R&D Toolkit was created to help develop skills.

With the abolition of LSDA in the noughties, activists adapted the network, simplifying its activities with the support of sponsors. A grant from LSIS (later ETF), plus a venue from Pearson and administrative support from NIACE enabled twice-yearly workshops to be organised, focusing alternately on salient issues in policy and practice.

Participants from colleges, community groups, agencies, training organisations and universities discussed their research and speakers addressed themes such as learning through life, world-class skills and teaching standards. Nationally, ATL (now NEU) and NFER added their support while convenors continued to organise events regionally on topics such as literacy, NEETs, CPD – even space exploration in one case.

The pandemic brought in-person activity to an end in 2020, catapulting LSRN, paradoxically, into yet another phase of life. Adapting quickly to the opportunities of conferencing technology, convenors began mounting virtual events. With travel time saved, greater numbers were able to participate; quite simply, geographical location became less relevant.

Jo Fletcher-Saxon from Ashton Sixth Form College and Rachel Terry from the University of Huddersfield brought convenors together in a new organising group. New networks were started up as individuals volunteered themselves and new activities including online methods workshops were introduced.

LSRN activists, many of them graduates of the influential practitioner research programme at SUNCETT in Sunderland, have gone on to present their work through journals and conferences organised by BERA, ARPCE and others.

As the perils of Covid abate, convenors are looking to the next stage of development in the new hybrid world. Practitioners are as motivated as ever to engage with research and academics to collaborate with them. Extending research engagement to the bulk of teachers and leaders in their daily practice remains a key challenge. Getting the fruits of research read, discussed, and used in everyday practice is no easy task.

LSRN plays a key role in addressing this challenge through its direct connection with teachers and leaders as well as through its promotion of research. With its 25-year history of adaptation and regeneration, LSRN will surely be there, connecting research and practice, for decades to come.

Latest education roles from

A Level Biology Teacher

A Level Biology Teacher

Barnsley College

Electrical Installation Trainer

Electrical Installation Trainer

Barnsley College

Sessional Science Lab Technician

Sessional Science Lab Technician

Merton College

Sessional Lecturer – Plumbing

Sessional Lecturer – Plumbing

South Thames College

Lecturer – Business (x 1 Banking Specialism & x 1 Accounting/Business Finance Specialism)

Lecturer – Business (x 1 Banking Specialism & x 1 Accounting/Business Finance Specialism)

Kingston College

Apprentice Development Leader

Apprentice Development Leader

GP Strategies

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

Why we’re backing our UK skills ‘Olympians’ (and why you should too)

This August, teams from over 200 nations will gather to compete in the sticky heat of the Paris summer...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Is your organisation prepared for a major incident?

We live in an unpredictable world where an unforeseen incident or environmental event could disrupt a Further Education (FE)...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

A new chapter in education protection!

Gallagher is a specialist in the Further Education sector, working with over 75% of Further Education colleges in the...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Pearson is planting the seed for sustainability talent with new HTQ

Sustainability is rapidly becoming a key organisational goal for many businesses looking to make a difference in society, the...

Advertorial

More from this theme

Long read, Research

Focus feature: The realities of research in FE

Despite a lack of funds and interest from above, research in FE is being kept alive by grassroots groups...

Jess Staufenberg
Research

FE staff offered scholarships to explore gaps in sector’s research

The scheme is intended to tackle a 'historic' lack of research in the sector

Fraser Whieldon

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *