"The Survey" - Learning Towns, Learning Cities
Contents Page |
Summary of Developments |
Milton Keynes |
Other Initiatives |
Developments so far
This section identifies the common trends and issues arising from learning cities and towns in Britain. Many of the initiatives have only existed for a short time and are constantly developing and changing. Even so, patterns are already emerging. These are summarised here.
Community characteristics and size
The examples discussed in this report cover many different kinds of communities, ranging from a provincial capital, large industrial conurbations and a new city to relatively small towns.
Size obviously governs a community's approach to the learning city. Towns such as Retford and Thetford interpret the concept very differently from Sheffield, Nottingham or Derby. Much depends on the ability of communities to make national policies their own and on how people identify with their community. The degree to which city-based learning can be a focus for community action and development is also important. Smaller communities may deliver better in all these areas. They are more easily managed and thus better placed to plan effectively and instigate action in the fragmented post-school sector.
As this report demonstrates, towns with populations as small as 20,000 are viable as learning communities. There is no reason then why we shouldn't see. the development of the learning village, the learning hamlet or the learning suburb. Learning communities need to be self-sufficient. This may not be easy to achieve in a dormitory village or a suburb. Different strategies may need to be developed for communities, which are very small and scattered, or the idea of the learning community may need to be expanded in some way to include them. The same applies to larger and more diverse areas like counties.
Aims and intentions
The aims and intentions of the cities and towns in this sample vary. Liverpool, for example, aimed to sell the city to outsiders and investors and emphasised the strength of its educational economy and its interest in global Information Technology. Sheffield meanwhile has focused on urban renewal.
The aims of most initiatives centre on the connection between learning and:
These three aims are seen to be supportive of each other in bringing about the change in culture needed for cities to be economically and socially successful.
Strategy and action
The examples in this report tend to fall into two groups. Some, such as Nottingham and Hull, are developing a strategic framework within which providers work and set their own objectives. The emphasis is on promotion of learning, fund raising and acting as a catalyst and broker between providers.
Others are more actively engaged in projects to increase learning and in developing joint action. Southampton and Sheffield are examples of this approach as are Retford, Newark and Stockton, which focus almost entirely on individual projects.
In a few cases, there are elements of both. The Learning City in Norwich is built into the city's economic planning but is also involved in joint projects. Swansea has a strategic planning side as well as an active provider partnership.
Baseline data and target setting
While all the learning communities examined in this report are aware that they must demonstrate the effectiveness of their initiatives, they have no control over providers and cannot easily set targets for them.
In some cities, among them Norwich, Derby and Milton Keynes, the issue of baseline data and the development of priority targets are both seen as important. These tend to be places where there is a close relationship with the TEC or where the initiative is tied into economic development. In other cities, the promotion and planning of frameworks for action are considered more important than target setting.
In the absence of good local data some communities wishing to develop targets are using basic measures, such as take-up of courses, as a first step. Where access to local data is better, or where data has been collected specifically on skills, target setting is more sophisticated, as in Derby for example.
Partners and partnerships
Although the initiatives have a number of starting points and different lead partners, the bodies involved are similar. Their organisational structures, however, vary. Usually an interest group, with representatives from the TEC, local government and sometimes the private sector and schools, initiates the project. This group may be high level or more operational. It makes decisions jointly and runs the Learning City. Some cities have appointed staff and, in several cases, a registered charity or company limited by guarantee has been set up to run the initiatives operations.
In both Nottingham and Milton Keynes the companies limited by guarantee, already existed and the initiative is their brainchild. Other organisations contribute either by being invited onto the steering group of the project or as Board members.
In Retford, the Learning Town has been set up largely through the efforts of one individual with the support of the local TEC.
The initiatives examined here have not developed the idea of the Learning City as a membership Organisation. Although Liverpool, Edinburgh and Sheffield have all recruited members from organisations and individuals, it is not clear how many “members” have joined.
It is still too early to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of partnership arrangements in Learning Cities. Many have had to concentrate on their internal Organisation rather than on developing action plans. Where providers are involved in partnerships, they have often found this a challenging experience.
Some initiatives have experienced severe problems. Some of the issues causing concern to a number of initiatives include:
In some cities, particular problems have arisen in the relationship between the local TEC or LEC and the Learning City initiative. TECs aim to improve skill levels and education and training in their area and have strategic forums to take forward the National Education and Training Targets. Where the Learning City initiative is inspired by the TEC, there is no problem, and no visible conflict has arisen where the TEC covers a greater area than the learning community. Where the City and TEC boundaries are more or less the same, however, the relationship between the Learning City, its targets and actions and the TEC's role is sometimes confused.
Learning City initiatives receive little specific funding, partly because they are at an early stage of development. In most cases, resources, often in-kind, are supplied by TECS, educational providers and local government. Some initiatives employ staff.
Almost all the initiatives are aware they must raise additional funding to increase the resources available for lifelong learning. Bids have been made to the single Regeneration Budget, the EU and for other funds to increase the budget for learning.
The biggest resource available to develop learning within the local communities, however, comes from the organisations involved in learning cities themselves. The initiatives offer the opportunity for added value that joint working can bring.
Learning City Network
A Network of Learning Cities, towns and communities was established in 1995. The Learning City Network promotes the use of lifelong learning for urban regeneration through an exchange of best practice between cities, towns and smaller communities. It was set up to influence policy and representatives include businesses, voluntary groups, educational specialists, training organisations, Training and Enterprise Councils, Chambers of Commerce, local authorities, trade unions and individuals committed to learning.