ECA responds to newly published report

The ‘A New Curriculum for Difficult Times’ report published recently by NIACE, Holex and Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), details how providers, working in different local contexts and on the assumption that in difficult times the learning and skills curriculum will have to become more locally-shaped and driven, have developed a new curriculum. The work the report is based on began in 2011 when NIACE in partnership with Holex, facilitated strategic dialogue with the Adult and Community Learning sector on new ways of working in the current ‘difficult times’. As part of this work LSIS commission the six action research projects which are detailed in the report and took different approaches to developing a new curriculum.

Chris Minter, ECA Director and Vice Chair responded to the publication saying “One of the most impressive things about this new report from Simon Beer at NIACE is that it brings together two of the big issues that ECA members involved in providing adult education have been wrestling with over the past few years. One of those is how do we find the drivers for new curriculum to prevent what we are offering becoming slowly out of date and the other is how do we keep in tune with the changing political, economic, social and technological environment in which adult learning services have to retain existing learners and attract new ones”.

“Drawing the best lessons out of six case studies, this report affirms much of what we know about good adult learning – the value of partnerships and the excellent work that can come from a deep engagement with local communities - but it also adds new vision to that”.

“The report also reflects the growing pressure upon adult learning services to be more and more targeted – all the communities here are ‘disadvantaged’. This is nothing new but the pressure to provide a service that is a support for those with the greatest needs – probably the bottom 15% in the Great British Class Survey who are classified as living ‘precarious’ lives has appeared to grow since 2008. Many local authorities have tried to retain a balance between a ‘universal’ service for all taxpayers and targeted services channelled to those people and areas that need the most. However with rising on-costs and reductions to be made the squeeze is probably more on the middle than either the elite 6% who can afford high fees and the bottom 15% with the most needs. What this loses is an important emphasis upon a culture of lifelong learning that could raise aspirations and inspire but also work to join people together at whatever level of educational attainment they had currently reached”.

“The other area of particular interest is whether the curriculum that these people and areas want is courses on debt advice and work club support. Whilst we would all probably agree that more efforts should be made to provide precisely this kind of intensive and integrated support in wards of highest unemployment (to offset the dangers of ghettos of poverty forming) partly because the negative social value (if such a thing exists) would be immense if we get it wrong, I also think that given a real choice many people might actually want participatory arts – dance or drama; photography or filmmaking – because these activities can be just as socially valuable because they give people a practical way to express themselves and how they feel. Given Howard Gardner’s eight multiple intelligences (1) it is highly likely that a majority of people actually best express themselves through performance or participation rather than formal writing or public speaking upon which our version of democracy is based”.

“Perhaps an appropriate follow up might be to look at ways of changing structures that enable learners to more fully contribute to the planning process of curriculum development (and this may well happen through the CLTs). A recent analysis of Primary School Councils found that often pupils were not engaged on matters of curriculum, although unlike in adult education the writers did find that these Councils were now an integral part of primary school life (2). One of the core principles of the ECA is that adult learners should find both freedom and responsibility for their learning and that should include informing the development of the curriculum in an organised manner”.

“Leaders of the new Community Learning Trusts will devour the key findings of the report and it is to be welcomed as another helpful contribution to creating a strong community of practice for innovation and improvement across the current community learning sub-sector”.

To download the report please visit

(1) Howard Gardner (1983) Frames of Mind Fontana: London

(2) Michael Burnitt and Helen Gunter (2013) ‘Primary school Councils: Organization, composition and head teacher perceptions and values’ in Management in Education 27 (2) 56-62.

Date Added: April 18th 2013