"The Survey" - Learning Towns, Learning Cities

Contents Page | Introduction | Summary of Developments | Thetford | Norwich | Sheffield | Hull | Nottingham | Liverpool | Southampton | Edinburgh | Milton Keynes | Swansea | Retford | Stockton-on-Tees | Sunderland | Peterborough | Newark | Birmingham | Derby | Dudley | Oxford | Other Initiatives | Appendix


Raising achievement in Birmingham

Although Birmingham is not officially a Learning City, it is a prime example of how education can be placed at the heart of a city's ambitions and how standards can be raised.

Unlike other initiatives described in this report, Birmingham has, until fairly recently, focused on schools. Projects have been driven by the Education Department of the City Council with little emphasis on external partners.

During the 1970s and 1980s Birmingham developed into a modem city, but this regeneration only served to highlight the poor skill levels among the population and the lack of investment in education. In 1993 Birmingham took the unique step of setting up an Education Commission under the Chairmanship of Professor Ted Wragg to review the present and future needs of its education service.

The Commission revealed widespread dissatisfaction with education policy in the city and a disturbing level of under-achievement. There was also evidence of lack of resourcing and the school building stock was in a poor state. The Commission recommended a number of specific measures to be taken by the Education Department to raise achievement.

Under Chief Education Officer, Tim Brighouse, a number of initiatives were taken which have led to remarkable improvements in some schools, particularly in literacy and numeracy at Key Stage 1. GCSE results are closing on the national average and showing less pupils gaining no passes.

These initiatives include:

  • A programme of school improvement based on professional networks
  • Improvement of 0-5 years services through collaboration between education, libraries, health and social services and parents.
  • The Year of Reading - to be followed by the Year of IT, and other Years of
  • Development of baseline assessment and improvement of achievement at 7, 11 and 12 in reading and maths
  • A variety of out-of-school initiatives such as the University of the First Age, and a Children's University to extend children's interest and experience of learning.

The City Council has always had a commitment to post-16 education and training, which has had a high profile with a very successful Adult Education Service, wide-ranging training initiatives initiated by the Economic Development Department and support to adult learners from the library service. Since 1996, the focus has shifted to Lifelong Learning, rather than post 16 education and training, which has led to a large number of innovative initiatives and examples of good practice. The City Council's keen interest in developing partnerships has created these opportunities which are part of a corporate Lifelong Learning Strategy.

Co-operation with other organisations in the city forms a key part of this strategy. Its objectives are to:

  • sustain and improve the quality of learning provision
  • increase the number of people participating and achieving in continuing education and training, and to ensure participation by all groups
  • ensure adequate support for individuals and groups to participate in lifelong learning.
  • create learning organisations within businesses and other organisations throughout the city.
  • build competitive advantage by contributing to tabour market needs and to enable employers to voice their skill requirements and Birmingham people to acquire the skills they need to compete in the workforce.
  • contribute to social inclusion by building confidence in communities, allowing people to become active citizens, and by offering ambitious learning opportunities within specific areas.
  • eliminate low levels of literacy and numeracy and other essential learning skills.
  • enable the appropriate celebration of learning, and value all types of learning regardless of outcome.

The partners

While individual activities to promote learning have involved partnerships on the ground, the strategic emphasis has come from the City Council. However, in the past year or so, a Lifelong Learning Forum has brought together players from across the city to explore the learning agenda.

Partners include:

  • The City Council
  • Birmingham TEC
  • FE Colleges
  • HE Institutions
  • Birmingham Careers & Education Business Partnership
  • Voluntary Organisations

An initial conference considered membership, role, structure and mode of operation and a second conference has been held recently to review progress.

Problems encountered

Many of the problems in terms of roles and remit have emerged in Birmingham as in other Learning Cities. TEC and FE colleges have largely focused on the Post 16, people in employment agenda, but the City Council has a much broader range of interests. Competition in the post-16 marketplace has sometimes hindered co- operative activity. However, the Forum has enabled joint bidding processes to develop and joint responses to Government initiatives are now a feature of the Forum's activities.

Target setting and action planning

The Lifelong Learning Forum is currently developing a business plan and has active sub-groups undertaking key activities around Widening Participation, information, advice and guidance, marketing and Individual Learning Accounts.

The City Council's lifelong Learning strategy aligns specific targets, some of them measurable and many of them intending to develop numerical measures, to the key objectives described above. Each objective also has a timescale, a lead department and a list of activities to be carried out. The second phase of the strategy is to provide a framework for evaluation of progress within the City Council and to raise the profile of Lifelong Learning with officers and members, and the citizens of Birmingham.


A great deal of external funding has been attracted to Birmingham. It has secured SRB funding of 27 million for the promotion of core skills.

Funding to support Widening Participation activities was received during 1997/98 for the Birmingham/ Solihull Partnership

No specific funding has been obtained for the development of the Learning City and no specific staff or organisational structure exists to support it. However, within the City Council, a Lifelong Learning Strategy Group exists, led by the Assistant Director ( Libraries and Learning ) who has a corporate remit for lifelong Learning, and represents the City on the Learning City Network.

Key Facts - Birmingham


West Midlands


1,000,000 (approx.)

Schools and colleges:

Most state secondary schools are LEA maintained or voluntary aided, but there are 17 grant maintained secondary schools in the city, Higher and Further Education institutions include the Birmingham University, Aston University, University of Central England, Regional centre for the Open University and there are 8 FE Colleges and 3 sixth form Colleges.

Adult Education:

About 40,000 students are enrolled on courses each year.

Employment trends:

  • Working age population 767,000
  • Labour Force 455,000
  • Economic Activity 59.4%
  • Unemployment rate 12.5%

Labour Market Dynamics

  • Manufacturing employment will account for most of the gross job losses between 1997 and 2010.
  • Professional Services, hotels and catering and other industries services are predicted to be the top contributions to employment growth.
  • By 2010 manual workers are expected to be down to 26.1% of the total, while managerial and professional occupations are forecast for 36%.
  • By 2010 woman are expected to have 48.2% share of employment in the city.
  • The number of jobs in Birmingham is actually greater than the number of residents putting themselves forward for employment.
  • The main determinant of exclusion from the labour market is lack of qualifications. However, ethnic minorities (through discrimination), the disabled, lone parents, older and younger, then face additional problems in finding work.

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