Community Learning in Rural Areas
NIACE report for BIS and Defra published
NIACE have published the ‘Community Learning in Rural Areas’ report commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to examine the provision of, and participation in, community learning in rural areas.
The publication considers the difficulties faced by adults in rural areas who wish to participate in learning, and how that participation can be enabled and improved. It aims to inform and support developing community learning policy and assist BIS and Defra to develop a joint outline strategy for supporting community learning and widening participation in learning in rural communities.
The report makes a number of recommendations to help address the challenges faced by learning providers in rural areas and by the many residents in rural communities who wish to participate in learning. These include that:
- BIS and Defra should continue their collaboration on rural community learning and consider ways of extending it by exploring rural models of planning, community development and delivery.
- Funders should always consider issues of rurality in the planning and delivery of provision.
- Broadband connectivity is vital to successful community learning in rural areas and community broadband schemes should be used to enhance rural learning opportunities.
- The current Community Learning Trust pilots are used to exemplify different approaches to forming successful partnerships, particularly with voluntary sector organisations and other interested local parties.
- Providers covering significant rural areas should adopt a ‘mothership’ approach to community learning, by enabling non-publicly funded organisations and individuals to be part of the wider learning landscape and offering them access, where feasible, to resources, training and publicity.
- Local providers should ensure that rural planning for skills is closely allied to planning for community learning in order to maximise the use of common facilities, equipment and staff expertise.
- Publicly-funded providers should be encouraged to address rural issues in their self-assessment and seek feedback on their planning and delivery of community learning with a view to extending partnership models of working.
- Should funding become available, the Skills Funding Agency could earmark funding for applications for small grants to improve rural infrastructure, especially IT (specifically permanent bases, computer availability and connectivity).
Commenting on the report, ECA Vice Chair Chris Minter says,“Back in 2001, on the back of the launch of the rural white paper ‘Our countryside: the future’ and John Payne’s practical guide to ‘Rural Learning’, Alan Tuckett sums up that “as ever with adult learning, it looks as though it may pay to live in town.” The new report from NIACE shows that ever since reality has conspired to make that comment ever more prescient with the news that ‘the overall numbers of rural learners declined by 7% in the last three years’. This strikes me as just the tip of the rural iceberg in relation to the anecdotal reductions in wider adult learning which used to be provided in rural areas by Universities and Colleges and the much reported reduction in the venues that provided much local provision – pubs and village schools."
"If we really want to redress this issue then we need to look at a national plan for rural learning supported by a small staff team that can operate nationally with a brief to catalyse local village communities; to be responsible for improving local broadband; for getting partners to co-operate; fostering links with private and voluntary sector provision and opening up progression routes (that are surely essential for all learning to be effective). The existing structures are simply not working and the patchy nature across counties highlighted by this report needs addressing. Every year we commit £25.5 billion of public expenditure to adult learning and as the argument was so convincingly made by the Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning it is how this funding is spent that causes so many of the problems. It is less a problem of lack of funding than accountability for how that funding is spent locally, regionally and ultimately nationally."
"This is an impressive report that should be a wake up call for the whole sector – and that means all adult learning providers, including Colleges and Universities. We urgently need to find a new way of developing and sustaining adult learning in villages – the current position is little short of a national scandal for all of us who care about either adult learning, the countryside or equality of opportunities. The problem is that there is very little accountability for decisions that lead to the removal of adult learning whether by local authorities, colleges or universities and in such a fragmented post-compulsory learning sector that look set to bedevil us into the future as much as the past.”
The ‘Community Learning in Rural Areas’ publication can be downloaded at http://shop.niace.org.uk/media/catalog/product/c/o/community-learning-in-rural-areas_2.pdf and Chris Minter’s full response to the document can be found by clicking here.
Date Added: February 15th 2013