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...and the community

Working with communities describes a significant part of what Reid Kerr College does. Working with Communities is also the title of a course delivered at National Certificate and Higher National Certificate levels, which has proved to be a hand up for many people who have bypassed education or simply want to do something different.

It is offered in the 115 learning and outreach centres where Reid Kerr provides the tuition either in facilities run by Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire councils or in its own centres.

Around 3,000 students benefit from this provision, which has been developing for some 20 years. Entry to the part-time NC course requires no formal qualifications; for the full-time HNC, the requirement is the NC course or two Highers. The courses are not recognisable to those more familiar with traditional subjects - accountability for and management of resources, preparing to work with community groups, capacity building and committee skills, to name but a few.

But traditional subjects are offered too, as Jim McCrystal discovered.

Despite having family commitments and a secure job, the 36-year-old from Johnstone felt the call and enrolled to study Higher English in 2000. "I left school with O grades and went into a job immediately but I realised that a change in career would mean upgrading my education," he says.

While he was studying for his Higher part-time at West Johnstone Learning Centre, he heard about the NC Working with Communities, which he later completed followed by the HNC course. He described it as "a very positive experience". So positive, in fact, that it led him into a full-time job as a community learning and development officer with Renfrewshire Council.

This is the kind of story which illustrates the benefits of further education for individuals in the communities it serves, but it also serves as a basis for colleges and universities to "grow their own" future students once they get hooked on learning. The hope obviously is that many of these students will progress further in FE or HE," says Denis Docherty, the community development manager at Reid Kerr.

Arlene Hodgart is an example. The 36-year-old mother of four is also a product of the Working with Communities courses, although she first started studying for an SVQ in childcare and worked in nurseries until her children came along. She then moved on to take a degree in community education at Strathclyde University. It is a familiar journey but one with many barriers for many people.

Mrs Hodgart is in no doubt about a key ingredient in the success of her journey. "The chance to complete the NC and HNC in familiar surroundings was ideal. The tutors took time to get to know me and allow me to learn at my own pace. I cannot describe the sense of achievement when I completed both programmes."

Reid Kerr is now set to make the ultimate commitment and take the lead in helping to grow another college in Barrhead, part of a regeneration plan for the area by East Renfrewshire Council which is set to approve the strategy next week.

The new centre, which is expected to be operational by 2008-09, represents an pound;8 million investment, half of which will come from the council and half from the college.

This latest development is part of the vision the inspectorate detected in its report on the college in 2003. Joe Mooney, the principal, expresses it as being determined to "bring the best of further and higher education to Renfrewshire, bearing in mind that it's one of the biggest areas of deprivation in Scotland".

The college, he says, wants to give the area "a competitive edge in both the business and higher education markets and, in so doing, help people realise their ambitions".

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