Community education: risk of closure

13th May 2011 at 01:00
Strathclyde University's community education department has been earmarked for closure in the latest step by the university to reposition itself as a leading international technology institute.

Community education is now seen as part of the wider education service delivered by local authorities. HMIE inspects it in tandem with secondary schools and Learning and Teaching Scotland has taken it under its wing.

The Strathclyde department, which started in 1964, trains the majority of community education workers in Scotland, although Edinburgh and Dundee universities offer similar courses. Last year, the department supported 121 students.

Professor Howard Sercombe, head of the seven-strong department, condemned the move. He said many go on to jobs as youth workers, helping in areas of need such as drugs and alcohol, teenage mothers, alternative education and adult learning, mainly in deprived communities.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said it was a "worrying" move, especially "at a time when community education is being seen as central to good integrated services".

He highlighted the role of community education professionals in implementing Curriculum for Excellence and delivering "positive destinations" through programmes such as Prince's Trust XL.

A university spokesman said the plans to close the department - along with geography, sociology and applied music - would be put out to consultation.

A briefing paper cited the department's "weak" research performance and a lack of financial sustainability as reasons for its decision, although it acknowledged its important role for the university in engaging with the wider community.

Professor Sercombe said staff in the department had been hired "because they were advanced practitioners" and "knew their stuff". As a "place of useful learning" (Strathclyde's branding), that was what the university needed.

"Then the university decided that what it needed was research and asked these people for a fundamental shift in their orientation, their identity and their skill sets," said Professor Sercombe. "This they have done. But you don't go from never having published to highly-cited articles in high- status international journals in two years."

Teacher education courses are not under threat, said a university spokesman. "The humanities and social sciences underpin our vision as a leading international technological university and help us understand the great questions of our day," he said.

"Teachers are in the frontline for the use of technology in the classroom, and in demonstrating its use and impact to the next generation. There is nowhere better to equip teachers with those skills than a university like Strathclyde."

Strathclyde success stories

Strathclyde graduates have gone on to work in projects such as:

North Ayrshire Modern Apprenticeship project, which takes young people who have failed at school and moves them into apprenticeships, with some even going on to places at university;

Forward Together, based in Argyll and Bute, which organised a community- based consultation which allowed local people to have a greater input into the council's spending review;

YMCA Bellshill, an innovative project for at risk youngsters;

Help, in Dunoon, which helps homeless young people make the transition into independent living.

Original headline: Community education at Strathclyde at risk of closure

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