Blueprint for a better society
The Scottish Executive wants to give a shot in the arm to adult learning - to "re-engage the disengaged and disillusioned".
Speaking at the launch of a new report on adult learning last week, Malcolm Chisholm, the Minister for Communities, told professionals in community learning and development (CLD): "We need to move beyond the rhetoric about the importance of CLD and start to make that potential real for the people who need it most."
The Executive is laying considerable expectations on the power of community learning to close the gap between the best-off and worst-off communities, a gap he described as "unacceptable".
Mr Chisholm also wants CLD to play a role in combating anti-social behaviour, which he admitted was controversial.
He claims it has made a real difference in many places, such as Dundee and Stirling, where good practice has been praised by HMIE. However, the Minister urged the sector to do better, particularly in working with others and in community planning.
Mr Chisholm said communities hardest hit by poverty should be the main focus for CLD in building the capacity to regenerate themselves and move in from the margins. "Asking the questions, getting no response and turning away with a shrug of the shoulder, saying 'well, we asked' is no longer good enough," he said.
HMIE reports on CLD have, however, repeatedly drawn attention to the inadequacy of training and development among professionals and volunteers.
This, says Mr Chisholm, is a serious concern.
A task group set up by the Executive to advise on whether there should be a professional body for those delivering CLD has recommended that there is "a clear and pressing need" for such a body to raise standards in the sector.
But Mr Chisholm is taking further advice from the Executive's Learning Connections agency before making a final decision.
He said the issues were complex and he did not want to put barriers up which might prevent people in local communities becoming involved in CLD.
The task group, chaired by Ted Milburn, retired professor of community education at Strathclyde University, said it was important for a professional body to ensure standards were in place, from the induction of new staff to continuing professional development.
The group, whose 18 members include First Minister Jack McConnell's wife Bridget, director of cultural and leisure services in Glasgow, said the Executive's policies on community regeneration have led to "unprecedented demands for staff skilled in CLD and an expansion of the range of settings in which community learning and development skills are needed".
It added: "We conclude that a key gap in arrangements is the lack of a robust process to determine the fitness to practise of those completing CLD qualifications and the fitness to continue to practise of those working in the field."