An FE-focused research centre has been given the ministerial nod to continue its work until 2020, and the apprenticeship levy will be particularly in focus.

The Centre for Vocational Educational Research had its mid-term review at the beginning of this year.

After an initial £3 million grant from the Department for Education in May 2015, and there had been speculation about its long term prospects.

It has now been given an extra £2 million to continue until the end of the decade, and has some stirring projects up its sleeve. These include evaluations on FE’s role in increasing social mobility, and the impact of university technical colleges.

Its work on the apprenticeship levy, however, is likely to bring the most interest.

After gaining recent approval from its steering group, CVER has started planning a major evaluation of the policy, which came into effect last April.

“The focus of the work on the apprenticeship levy will be on its effect on training outcomes, overall and by sector,” said Dr Sandra McNally, who leads the centre.

“Questions will include: ‘to what extent has the training been additional to what would have taken place otherwise?’ ‘How has the volume and composition of apprenticeship training been affected?’ and ‘Has there been any change on the characteristics of those being trained by firms?’”

CVERs work will continue but with increased emphasis on social mobility, the apprenticeship levy and standards, and drivers of quality in FE

The evaluation will be conducted using a quantitative analysis, involving the use of “various data sets including the Individual Learner Record, the Employers Skills Survey, the Employers

Perspective Survey, the Inter-Departmental Business Register and the Annual Business Survey”.

There is no set publication date, as the research will involve “complex” data construction and analysis, and the policy needs to run for long enough to have its true effect judged.

In the three years it has been running, CVER has focused on collating “huge administrative data”, such as individual learner records, the national pupil database and longitudinal education outcomes data, in an attempt to process, code and apply it to research.

It currently has about 30 projects on three main themes: the impact of vocational and technical education on individuals, firms and growth; the drivers of the quality of provision in FE; and the factors affecting individuals’ participation in vocational education.

The centre is currently, for example, evaluating how the opening of UTCs affects the “enrolment and attainment” of the students living in the approximate catchment area of the college.

The Department for Education said that since its conception, CVER has “created accessible information and data on the vocational education sector and built high-quality, policy-oriented research on the topic”.

It added that the overall themes of CVERs work “will continue but with increased emphasis on social mobility, the apprenticeship levy and standards, and drivers of quality in FE”.

CVER’s work around social mobility will explore to what extent participation in vocational education is related to family background, how FE routes influence social mobility, and what the role is of training providers for influencing progression.

“I am delighted with the decision to fund CVER for the full five years to mid-2020,” Dr McNally said.

“We have an exciting programme of research which I hope and expect to make a useful contribution to policy.”

While CVER has been given the green light to continue its work, one “pioneering” FE research centre had its funding come to an end last year.

The Behavioural Research Centre for Adult Skills and Knowledge (ASK) was given £2.9 million by the now-defunct Department for Business Innovation and Skills back in 2014, to carry out randomised control trails to apply behavioural science to adult learning.

Its grant ended in April 2017 and it is due to release its final reports in the coming months.

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