In 2004 the NRDC published Three Years On, an annual report with a difference, which brought together messages and findings from across the five NRDC programmes for a wide audience. We were delighted to hear the positive feedback from practitioners, policy-makers and researchers, so this year we have decided to follow a similar model.
In Three Years On we were able to reveal some interesting interim and emerging findings from our programmes and projects, but a year later we have a much clearer and more complete picture. You will find some selected highlights from our work below but there is so much more we can share and we hope that every reader will take something away from reading this report.
The effective practice studies were a focal point of NRDC’s programme of work from 2003-6, and have now been completed. There is much we can say now about the likely features of effective teaching and learning practices, in terms of both common themes and subject-specific findings. For example, there appear to be positive gains in literacy, numeracy and ESOL from adopting strategies that allow learners to work together in pairs or small groups. In ICT, however, it was a higher proportion of individual work that was associated with learners’ progress.
NRDC’s study of the embedding of literacy, numeracy and language into vocational programmes has yielded striking results. Embedding was found to have a significant impact on the achievement of literacy and numeracy qualifications. Embedding was also associated with higher course retention rates, particularly for learners on Level 2 vocational programmes. This is a significant finding as we anticipate the Leitch report and its mapping of national skills needs in 2020.
The Skills for Life workforce is the focus of some of NRDC’s most important work. Our major longitudinal study of teachers and trainers is in the field for its second year of data collection and the analysis from the first dataset will shortly be available on the NRDC website. We are also about to publish our report on initial teacher education, which examines, amongst other issues, the relationship between subject specialist knowledge and pedagogic standards. We recognise that this work is central to the drive to improve the quality of teaching and learning in our sector and we will continue to help shape teacher education reform, working collaboratively with the major national initiatives being launched by the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA).
Now that we are seeing the emergence of some strong findings and developing accessible, evidence-based guides for practitioners, we have become more influential in the sector, a trend we are committed to continuing. Our numeracy work has gained considerable momentum the past year, with Maths4Life publishing innovative materials for use in the classroom. Our work on highlighting the penalties that people with the lowest skill levels pay in life and work has contributed to the rise of Entry Level on the political agenda. We have also drawn in international evidence to the debate on how to engage and support these learners. For example, we know that those at the lowest levels are most likely to study on their own to improve their skills. The challenge now is to put together a flexible offer for learners, embracing classroom provision, supported self-study, e- and mlearning and other learning activities (such as family learning), that can accommodate the shifting demands of adult life.
We have achieved much over the past year, but we are also looking to the future. Our core mission remains the same but we will focus our efforts more sharply as we move into the next phase. We will be conducting fewer projects but they will be on a larger scale. They will aim to rigorously test out some of the key findings both from our work and from collaborating centres, such as the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) in the US. We will continue to expand our quantitative capacity, enabling us to provide fast-response analysis of major datasets to inform policy development. Skills for Life has huge achievements, but its agenda is more pressing than ever if we are to enable individuals, employers and communities to flourish in the coming decade.
NRDC’s work needs to have a strong impact on practice, and we will be prioritising development work which puts research findings to work through action research, trialling and demonstration projects. We also aim to take forward our policy-focused work, building on the successes of our policy papers and seminar series. We will work closely with colleagues in the DfES to provide succinct reports on topics of importance to policymakers, highlighting key findings and drawing out implications and recommendations for policy development. We hope you enjoy this review of our latest work.