Providing the employment, learning and skills sector with a ‘toolbox’ of evidence

By Fay Sadro


22 06 2020


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How do we best support people back to work after an economic shock? What works to support social inclusion across training and employment opportunities for young people? How can we motivate adults to learn new skills to adapt to the future of work? These are just some of the challenges that a post-COVID economy needs to tackle and there has never been such an important time to ensure that decisions made at speed and scale are informed by a good quality evidence base.

In early 2020, funded by the Department for Education, we undertook a consultation with FE and adult learning commissioners, skills specialists, policy makers and practitioners to understand the types of evidence they commonly engage with to inform their decision making.  The majority of those we spoke to – from chief executives to operational staff – described a complex picture, where evidence was found predominately through informal networks and key ‘trusted’ organisations. There were very few obvious avenues to find evidence to support decision making about skills and employment; and even less support was available on how to identify causal evidence specifically.

Our What Work Unit for Learning and Work aims to provide the employment, learning and skills sector with a ‘toolbox’ of evidence and support to improve decision making. Here we set out some of our areas of work.

Our What Work Unit for Learning and Work aims to provide the employment, learning and skills sector with a ‘toolbox’ of evidence and support to improve decision making.

Summarising the best available evidence

Supported by our advisory group of sector experts, we have already started to bring together the best available evidence on a range of key issues.  Our evidence reviews covers topics from essential and life skills to areas such as NEET prevention at key transitions and responding to local economic shocks. We will be working with partners to develop more reviews, that support a better understanding of what works, highlighting gaps in our knowledge and where further research, testing and evaluation should be focused.

Understanding the challenge

We analyse key trends within the labour market to identify challenges and opportunities to help policy makers and practitioners prioritise investment and design interventions. We have plans underway to build data dashboards to support the employment, learning and skills sector to engage with and use evidence in a more translatable way.

We have also been selected as one of eight organisations to participate in the DfE longitudinal education outcomes (LEO) pilot programme. LEO brings together administrative data on education, employment, benefits and earnings at an individual level. This experimental new data source allows individuals’ data to be linked across a range of administrative datasets, enabling the tracking of employment outcomes after periods of education. The project will create new evidence on access and returns to apprenticeships for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, such as individuals from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and individuals with learning difficulties or disabilities (LDD).

We want to empower organisations and practitioners to undertake their own evaluations.

Supporting the use of evidence

The What Works Unit are working collaboratively with others to champion the use and creation of evidence. We want to empower organisations and practitioners to undertake their own evaluations. Across 2020, we will be developing guidance and toolkits to support people to navigate when and how to assess the success of employment, learning and skills interventions. Look out for upcoming virtual events that will reflect on some of our evaluation work to date.

Generating new evidence on what works

It’s widely recognised that the employment, learning and skills sector lacks a structured approach to experimentation and evaluation to fill knowledge gaps and identify causal evidence to support decision making. For example, our evidence review for the Social Mobility Commission on attainment in FE and adult learning found just 63 studies met the minimum quality standards. That’s in stark contrast to the schools sector where it is anticipated that over 3,000 robustly evaluated studies will be included in Education Endowment Foundation’s new teaching and learning toolkit. We have called for more investment in what works activity across FE and adult learning.

Evidence review: Improving attainment among disadvantaged students in the FE and adult learning sector


We want to generate new evidence on what works to improve outcomes. We are in the process of developing a range of strategic partnerships to identify promising projects, including a JobsPlus model for the UK.

We are testing new interventions, such as the Future Workforce Fund for the Prince’s Trust which is designed to support young people to develop their personal and social skills, raise aspirations and equip them with skills for work and access to jobs and training. We are also working with Nesta as their evaluation partner on the CareerTech Challenge Fund on how to robustly evaluate online learning that supports career adaptability and learner motivation amongst people who are working in shrinking sectors and occupations.

We want to work with the employment, learning and skills sector to build a hub for evidence that improves outcomes for all. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch with the team.

Fay Sadro, head of evidence and evaluation, Learning and Work Institute

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