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Colleges must be creative to attract the disadvantaged

Colleges must be enterprising if they are to successfully recruit disadvantaged adults rather than relying on traditional-style courses and well-worn marketing methods, new research shows.

"New approaches are needed, and there are good grounds for believing that these approaches will be more costly," says the report published today by the Learning and Skills Development Agency.

The research set out to discover how successful colleges have been in widening participation in learning and what approaches work best. Its publication coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Kennedy Report Learning Works which looked at ways of attracting learners who had had no contact with education or training since leaving school. It also coincides with the Channel 4 television series Jamie's Kitchen which follows a group of disadvantaged young adults through a catering training programme. The report sets out features that typify colleges successful at drawing in new learners.

These colleges make widening participation integral to their work. They target groups who are not participating and tweak the curriculum to meet the students' needs.

They allow key staff involved in the task of attracting new types of students to have a say over budgets. They also network energetically within the community.

Most important, they support learners. This means providing initial assessment, continuing guidance, individual learning plans and strong tutorial systems.

The report suggests that the Learning and Skills Council may wish to offer incentives to those colleges which see widening participation as their core business.

It says that any real growth in student numbers will cost significantly more than existing provision, as additional learners will be harder to reach. Moreover, people in traditionally excluded groups are likely to have above-average childcare and transport costs.

Ursula Howard, director of research at the LSDA, said: "We need new, imaginative ideas and sustained co-ordinated action to recruit and support learners who have been excluded from adult learning. To work, widening participation activities must be properly funded and supported."

Ngaio Crequer

"Widening adult participation: ways to extend good practice". Research summary and recommendations, available, free, from Information Services, LSDA, Regent Arcade House, 19-25 Argyll Street, London W1F 7LS

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