"The Survey" - Learning Towns, Learning Cities
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Summary of Developments |
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Thetford climbs the Learning Curve
Thetford launched the Learning Curve initiative in June 1996 and the town’s Mayor immediately set the example for others to follow by embarking on an NVQ. The initiative has already attracted a number of exciting proposals which could enhance learning facilities for everyone in the town. These include:
The Learning Curve has also spread across the Channel to Thetford's French twin, Le Puy.
Skill levels in Thetford are generally low and there are significant pockets of deprivation in the town. Prior to the development of the Learning Curve, various organisations had been involved in planning a bid to attract funds from the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB). The bid involved a significant number of education and training initiatives and this led to the idea of an initiative to foster lifelong learning in Thetford.
Following the launch of the Learning Curve, a Planning Group was formed to take the initiative forward. It established four focus groups to develop the initiative in their respective sectors, namely:
Their main task was to develop a set of ideas and priorities. These were reported to a consultative seminar in October 1996 attended by schools, the voluntary sector and some employers. The seminar also considered the results of research into skills, take-up and skill requirements in Thetford. A follow-up report identified areas for immediate action, such as the production of a marketing plan, the positioning of the initiative within overall plans for Thetford and target setting for the Further Education sector.
In December 1996, Thetford's SRB bid was successful, providing:£2.5 million to meet the town's various aims. The first year's funding of £90,000 would support a number of activities reflecting the Learning Curves priorities, including basic skills provisions, a crèche and an educational development worker whose work could encompass activities for the Learning Curve.
One of the main priorities was for a project worker in the field to sustain momentum, to provide a real link with those living in Thetford and to work with the partners.
Equally important was a campaign to raise awareness of the opportunities available through the Learning Curve initiative. Various marketing activities have included a window display in the Careers Centre, an Information Card, a pamphlet for the local newspaper as well as “badging” materials which all post-16 providers use to publicise activities in Thetford.
Major partners in the Learning Curve:
Healthy Thetford 2000 is represented by the coordinator of the SRB bid.
The Planning Group also has representatives from:
Some members of the Planning Group provide key links with the focus groups. The LEA representative liaises with schools, the coordinator of the SRB bid with the FE and Community Groups and the Business Development Officer of Breckland with Thetford's Employer Forum.
Representation on the Planning Group is at a relatively senior level. There is a second tier officer from the LEA and the Lifelong Learning Manager for the TEC. A variety of staff at an operational level are involved on the focus groups. The Employer Forum consists of a mixed group of employers.
The Thetford Partnership provides an overall steering group for the full range of initiatives taking place in the town, including SRB, Learning Curve and Healthy Thetford 2000. This enables it to have an overview of developments and ensure coherence between them. Representatives on the Partnership are from the senior levels of Organisation involved.
Target setting and action planning
The Learning Curve aims to develop targets for action based on information concerning current skill and participating levels, and those skills needed in Thetford in the future.
In practice, lack of sufficiently localised data or skill levels and a lack of exact knowledge about skills needed have proved an obstacle to target setting. This makes sophisticated matching of training to needs a challenging task.
Sufficient information is, however, available about lack of core skills, including basic IT skills, to make this a key area for development. Meanwhile, education and training providers can provide accurate information about participation rates since Thetford is a small place.
The focus groups are responsible for target setting while the Planning Group encourages their development. The post-16 providers group has been the first to develop benchmarks and targets for further activities.
The schools group has progressed more slowly. An initiative developed by Norfolk LEA, "Advancing Norfolk Education", which involves development of targets in partnership with schools, as well as national requirements for statistics, could provide a basis of action for schools. The Compact Scheme provides a model for the development of initiatives between schools and other members of the community.
Target setting is more problematic for the voluntary sector and the business community. Achievement of Investors in People is one possible measure for business. These sectors' contribution to the Learning Curve has been considered by the focus groups, but it may take time for specific targets to be set.
One of the major problems facing those developing the Learning Curve has been how to consult and involve the wider community in Thetford without the initiative losing impact. There are real fears that the people of Thetford might regard the Learning Curve as another imposition from outside, especially as the Planning Group is made up of agencies either based in Norwich or having a wider remit than Thetford alone. It is hoped that the community, schools and business focus groups which are Thetford-based will help ease this problem.
In the initial stages of the project, there were concerns that Thetford's aspirations as a Learning Community might be diluted by Norwich’s intention to become a Learning City. As both Norwich and Thetford look to the same TEC and the same Government Office for support, it was feared that one initiative might go ahead at the expense of the other. This problem was resolved and now the initiatives are seen as supportive of one another.
With a number of initiatives underway in Thetford, it is important that the Learning Curve is not perceived as "just another initiative". All initiatives should complement each other with the help of the Thetford Partnership.
It has not been easy for schools to get involved in the initiative. Thetford's secondary schools are low in the Government's league tables for Norfolk and primary schools are struggling with large class sizes. In this context, although individuals have shown for specific projects, it is difficult to ask for additional action with no resources to offer. SRB funding may go some way to alleviate this.
Progress so far
Since the start of the initiative, there has been much activity and a number of key actions have been taken to establish the foundations for the Learning Curve. In the first six months these included:
There have also been some developments in education and training provision connected with the Learning Curve:
The marketing strategy is now being finalised and put into operation. Further work will be taking place with schools and businesses.
As employment opportunities have expanded in Thetford, some employers are having difficulty in recruiting adequately trained staff. A joint project between the TEC, Breckland District Council and providers is being discussed with the firms involved so that local people can be targeted and trained for such vacancies. This collaborative project would not have been possible before the Learning Curve brought the players together to pursue the lifelong learning agenda.
The Learning Curve has received no outside funding to date. Breckland District Council has met the costs of hosting two large events and the meetings of the Planning Group. The TEC has met research costs and the time and work of its employees. This has also been given freely by the LEA and all the other organisations involved. The action plan addresses the question of resources and future commitments, while the SRB funding should provide a great boost to the Learning Curve.
The Learning Curve’s
Mission Statement is:
"To make Lifelong Learning attractive and accessible to Employers, employees and the people of Thetford in order To create and environment conductive to economic and Personal development and growth."
Key Facts - Thetford
Market town on the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk
20,000 (approx.) 38% of whom are under 24 years of age. Influx of population in 1950s and 1960s due to relocation of London overspill
Schools and Colleges:
Two secondary schools and Sixth Form Centre. Nearest Colleges of Further Education - Bury St Edmunds (14 miles); Kings Lynn (30 miles); Norwich (30 Miles).
About 1,000 students attend courses. Dedicated premises in the town centre recently extended to provide more IT facilities