Community learning is a capital concern

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Four ministers have placed their political weight behind the renewed drive on community learning and development - but kept their hands in their pockets.

Updated guidance for local authorities, colleges, voluntary organisations and other agencies, launched last week, is intended to co-ordinate community action and raise the profile of community-based learning.

Margaret Curran, Minister for Communities, Andy Kerr, Finance Minister, Peter Peacock, Education Minister, and Jim Wallace, Minister for Lifelong Learning, have all backed the initiative.

Both Ms Curran and Mr Peacock are trained community education workers.

But the campaign has not immediately attracted any new funds to implement local strategies and national youth organisations continue to complain bitterly about severe underfunding.

The guidance, Working and Learning Together to build strong communities, does, however, place what is now called CLD (community learning and development) at the heart of community planning and hands local authorities a central role. They will be held accountable for action on key priority areas.

The traditional elements of the old community education service are picked up through working in communities, youth work and adult education but repackaged and lifted into a new arena.

The ministers say in their foreword to the report that CLD is a key feature of their approach to lifelong learning and that for the first time it is "being taken out of the margins". They want to see an expansion in activities.

"We believe it should be accorded the same status as the work of schools, colleges, universities and work-based learning providers," they state.

Lillias Noble, head of the national agency Learning Connections, based at the Communities Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh, said the guidance recognised that the work was spread across a range of agencies. It updates previous guidance in Executive circular 499.

"It is not now - if it ever was - just the concern of a particular service within local authorities. By embedding community learning and development within community planning we can make sure that it is central to the agendas of this wide range of partners," she Ms Noble said.

She believes that the guidance underlines the importance of supporting local communities. "It is about helping people to take action and take opportunities that will change their lives and the lives of those around them," Ms Noble said.

The guidance hands responsibility for making the new system work to community planning partnerships, with local authorities at the centre.

Local people and groups will be expected to contribute to plans.

A deadline of September 1 has been set for revised three-year strategies which will be expected to be reviewed regularly.

Ms Noble said that with different contexts around the country there would be a variety of approaches. "Learning Connections will be managing a programme of support for the partnerships that will help them to look at the individual needs they have and work with them," she said.

WHAT IT MEANS ON THE GROUND

* Angus - in the Glens area, local people identified computer skills as their top training need. Farmers needed to e-mail stock movement information and do their accounts. Others saw ICT skills as essential when looking for work. So far 600 adults have been trained out of an adult population of 1,500.

* Greater Easterhouse - John Wheatley College has been central to a community learning plan that involved 42 organisations. Priorities were core skills (including ICT), health and poverty. Targets were set for establishing learning centres, access to guidance on learning, planning a core skills package and providing childcare to support learning. A learning network is the key to delivery and 15 local centres have been set up.

* Dundee - the Corner is a health and information service for young people with a city centre drop-in facility and outreach work in communities. Since it was established in 1996, it has dealt with 80,000 enquiries.

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