2. Improving Access to Learning
A common element running through many SRB programmes and projects is the low level of attainment and skills, associated with low rates of participation. For example, the number of pupils staying on in further education may be significantly below national average. Or there may be low take-up of GNVQ offers or limited involvement of businesses in education.
For example, Medway Ruler's baseline research for Bridge Warden's College showed that the area:
Tackling the Issues
- had the lowest level of higher education provision relative to population size in the UK;
- had been heavily dependent on naval-based industries and now had some 1,600 people unemployed in consequence;
- had interest from local firms in the potential of locally-delivered vocational higher education; and
- would benefit from new educational technology to develop services both for domestic demand and inward investment.
Encouraging take-up and removing barriers to participation is at least implicit in many SRB projects, including family learning, motivational schemes, work experience and taster training. In a number of projects, however, improving the accessibility of learning opportunities is central to the strategy.
One approach is to establish (or extend) physical centres to open up access to learning.
In virtually every category performance has been exceeded year on year. Demand has been strong and usage high because it was planned in association with the users. In the year to March 1998, over 103,000 people used the centre. About 60 per cent were aged under 16 and about 15 per cent, the parents of under-16 year olds.
- Sowerby Bridge Forum's Carlton Mill Partners considered levels of skills, qualifications and participation to be the key to the town's regeneration and developed a strategic objective: 'to develop a lifelong learning culture by improving further education facilities, increasing course provision, meeting learners in their own environment, developing transferable skills and extending basic and key skills.'
Part of an old disused mill has been brought back into use for adult and community education. A private developer took the property on for a nominal sum and provided 14 flats on the three upper floors. SRB funding supported the restoration of the three lower floors for a First Stop Shop (for the delivery of council services) and an adult and community education facility. As part of the deal the developers were given the former (and increasingly derelict) adult education building for further homes development.
- Barnsley Highway to Success Priory Campus Opened in 1995 as a flagship under City Challenge, Priory Campus provides a range of resources for a broad spectrum of users, including local schools and adults. Services include:
- educational resource materials; and extensive educational library resources (including videos, CD-ROMs, cassettes, books and periodicals); and careers guidance information;
- a suite of computers with free Internet access; and
- dedicated homework area to accommodate the Priory Homework Club (one of the SRB projects).
A second means of promoting wider access to learning is via Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
- Medway Ruler's Bridge Warden College The whole scheme places learning, and particularly higher education, at the heart of business and economic development. A combination of need and opportunity in the Medway Towns led to the decision to set up a college as part of the University of Kent. Baseline research demonstrated a variety of benefits in having a local higher education facility.
Key Good Practice Lessons
- The Digital Learning Community is an ambitious scheme to 'harness the digital revolution for South West London'. It aims to promote better understanding of ICT among, and above all to make the technologies accessible to all sections of the community.
In the Digital Learning Community's first two years almost 6,000 local people had gained access to its facilities, which had benefited 65,000 young people's personal and social development.
- ICT accessible to all local students by 2000, enabling them to develop the key skills employers will need to gain competitive advantage internationally.
- ICT provision available to all sectors of the community - especially the disadvantaged - through public access facilities.
- Accelerated promotion of the application of ICT.
- All unemployed adults receiving training well versed in ICT, thus enhancing their future employment prospects.
- Critical mass of local businesses applying ICT, supported by a large pool of proficient workers.
- New companies operating and servicing ICT and offering high quality, high-paying employment.
- Perhaps the single most important lesson of all these projects concerns the capacity of educational institutions to be adapted for multiple uses, thus providing access across the community:
- Priory Campus is used by schools, school students out-of-hours, and adults;
- Carlton Mill combines a variety of complementary functions; and
- some of the centres established through the Digital Learning Community are based in existing training centres or libraries.
- Forward strategies are crucial to ensuring that projects survive. Minimising long-term revenue costs through the imaginative sharing of premises is an important element of this.