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A selection of recent academic publications
- Ken Spours and colleagues

Here you will find a selection of academic publications from the recent period.  Some are sole-authored, but most are the result of various collaborations.  I am indebted to the contributions of Prof. David Guile, Prof. Ann Hodgson, Prof. Ewart Keep, Prof. David James, Prof. Michael Young, Dr Lynne Rogers, Dr Tracy Irwin, Dr Cathy Howieson, UCL Hon Research Fellow Paul Grainger and the late and much-missed Professors Jim Gallacher and David Raffe.  In political life, I owe much to the thinking and intellectual leadership of Neal Lawson, Director of Compass.

Social Ecosystem Thinking

Ken Spours. 2023. The Evolution of Social Ecosystem Thinking.  Stimulus Paper for the Workshop on 'Skills Ecosystems and the Just Transition'.  Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, 20-24 November 2023.

This stimulus paper details the evolution and development of Social Ecosystem Thinking (SET) and the spatial and place-based Social Ecosystem Model 1 (SEM1) in the period 2018-2023.  It lays the basis for a SEM 2 paper which will focus more on the role of mediating forces for a Just Transition in a highly contested global environment.


Ken Spours & Paul Grainger. 2023. The mediating role of further and higher education in a Just Transition social ecosystem  Journal of Vocational Education and Training.

This journal article developed out of the COP26 discussion paper further develops the mediating role of FHE institutions in the Just Transitioning process as part of a 45-degree change model.


Ken Spours, Paul Grainger & Carol Vigurs. 2022. ‘We are all in the same storm but not in the same boat’: the COVID pandemic and the Further Education Sector Journal of Education and Work

'We are all in the same storm but not in the same boat' highlights the disproportionally negative impact of COVID on the English Further Education Sector and, in particular, on learners from low-income families and undertaking vocational provision that required work-based learning.  Recent research suggests that these class-gaps have not yet been closed.

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The Accelerate Just Transition paper was presented at the City of Glasgow College COP26 symposium.  The paper argues that to accelerate the Just Transition there will need to be reciprocal action from all levels of society with particularly important educative and connect roles for 'middle range' organisations such as colleges, universities, local governance and horizontal networks.


Mitigating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the further education sector - research for DfE and SAGE - Ken Spours, Paul Grainger, Carol Vigurs & Rachel France - September 2021

This research for DfE/SAGE highlights the impact of the COVID pandemic on a uniquely vulnerable FE Sector. Based on systematic review research and from the Sector itself, the report recommends mitigating actions concerning six COVID harms including comprehensive area-based recovery plans and collaborative action between a range of social partners.


The first discussion paper, produced for the UCL IOE Masters Module - AI, Work and Learning - concerned the problems of technological determinism in the way in which the AI/ML revolution is viewed in much of the policy literature in the field.  The paper undertakes a critique of key positions, including both Marxist and non-Marxist theoretical traditions.  The paper concludes with a framework of different socio-technological futures and proposes that Futures 4 - a socialised future holds the greatest promise in reshaping new technologies for human purposes.


A second discussion paper focused on the nature of progressive hegemonic thinking in the era of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Taking as a starting point an anti-technological determinist approach to  the Marxist concept of the 'General Intellect', the paper argues that progressive hegemonic thinking will need to be based on a dialectic of advanced horizontal thinking (the General Intellect) and vertical knowledge (Connective Specialisation).  Drawing on Neal Lawson's concept of '45 Degree Change', the multiple intersections of these two fundamental dimensions of human thought and activity create '45-degree knowledge production'.  This dialectical activity is seen as the basis of pushing outwards the 'frontiers' of human knowledge and understanding.  In the field of AI/ML, this form of knowledge production is seen as a feature of the 'socialisation' of new technologies to serve the needs of Humanity.


This paper featured as a chapter in the Festschrift book - Sociology, Curriculum Studies and Professional Knowledge: New Perspectives on the Work of Michael Young - to celebrate his 50 years of public intellectual life.  The chapter developed a social and non-technological concept of the General Intellect and simultaneously introduced the concept of 'connective specialisation' as a progressive version of vertically-produced knowledge.  The socialised General Intellect and Connective Specialisation are brought together to form the concept of the Organic Intellect - a blend of horizontal/shared thinking and specialist knowledge required for the development of progressive hegemonic thinking.  As a contribution to the Michael Young Festschrift volume, this particular chapter was then applied to Michael's Curriculum of the Future concept.


The great stagnation of upper secondary education in England: A historical and system perspective - Lynne Rogers & Ken Spours - British Journal of Education Research, 2020 

This educational journal article reviews participation, attainment and progression data in England over the past 30 years and, in doing so, identifies the last decade as an era of attainment stagnation for 14-19 year olds resulting from Conservative Government policy since 2010 in the related fields of the curriculum, assessment and institutional performance.


This paper on the application of Social Ecosystem Thinking to skills development was published by the G20 in 2018 and updated in 2020 as part of its Realizing Education for All in the Digital Age.  It argues that the challenge is to create sustainable, inclusive, educational, social and economic growth based on city regions.  


This article introduced this special issue of the Journal of Education and Work focusing on policy learning across the four countries of the UK in the area of vocational education and training.  The article suggests that there is a potential for policy learning in the area of FE and Skills due to the shared challenges in the vocational area. However, to become a 'laboratory' for policy learning would require in particular changes in the English approach which has become much more marketised compared with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


This second article arises from in-depth research on the Area-Based Review of FE colleges to assess the strategic direction of FE in England to argue that English FE providers can take advantage of policy arguments for greater local coordination with employers to move away from marketisation and towards a more collaborative, regional and sub-regional system focused on inclusive economic and skills development. The article concludes that this movement of the English system to bring it closer to FE and skills systems in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a pre-condition for greater cross-UK policy learning across the UK.


FE and skills – is the ‘UK laboratory’ open for expansive policy learning?  Ann Hodgson, Ken Spours, Jim Gallacher, Tracy Irwin & David James - Journal of Education and Work, 2019

The final article in the special issue argues that the potential for a UK 'policy laboratory' in the area of vocational education and skills will be based on a new balance between the forces of convergence and divergence across the four countries of the UK.  In this ‘goldilocks zone’ lie opportunities for policy learning. The four-country Inquiry identified ‘interesting practice’ that may form the basis of an initial ‘common project’ across the different systems. However, its pursuit will require shifts towards the more collaborative approach to FE and skills in the English system that characterises the three smaller countries of the UK. In this variegated political environment, the article concludes by speculating on the wider conditions for the permanent development of a UK policy laboratory (or laboratories) and expansive forms of policy learning.


Restrictive and expansive policy learning – challenges and strategies for knowledge exchange in upper secondary education across the four countries of the UK - Ann Hodgson & Ken Spours, Journal of Education Policy, 2016

This article examines the challenges and possibilities for UK policy learning in relation to upper secondary education (USE) across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (NI) within current national and global policy contexts. Drawing on a range of international literature, the article explores the concepts of ‘restrictive’ and ‘expansive’ policy learning and develops a framework of dimensions for examining what is taking place across the UK at a time of change for all four national USE systems to suggest that the conditions for expansive policy learning had markedly deteriorated due to ‘accelerating divergence’ between the three smaller countries and a dominant England that has been pursuing an ‘extreme Anglo Saxon education model’. 


Area-based reviews and their aftermath: moving to a post-incorporation model for further education in England?  Ken Spours, Ann Hodgson, Paul Grainger & David Smith - Vocational Education and Training, 2020

This article draws on research into the further education (FE) Area-Based Review (ABR) process in London, England over the period 2016–2018 to suggest that the significance of ABRs can be judged as to the extent they reinforce or challenge the historical marketised model of FE.  The research, involving repeated interviews with a range of FE social partners over a three-year period, developed the concept of two inter-related logics – a dominant ‘Logic A’ focused on FE college viability and merger and a subordinate ‘Logic B’ focused on regional skills strategies and greater collaboration between social partners. The article concludes with a discussion around the evolving relationship between the two Logics and argues that, albeit hesitantly, FE colleges in England may be moving towards a ‘Post-Incorporation’ phase.


This introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Education and Work to celebrate the intellectual contribution of the late Prof. David Raffe highlighted his immense contribution to the understanding of post-compulsory education not only in Scotland but internationally. David's acute intellect was applied in many related fields, but perhaps his most impactful work concerned the development of 'home international' comparative analysis of the processes of convergence and divergence of education systems of the four countries of the UK.

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