Community learning in rural areas

12 February 2013

Partnership and collaboration can help tackle the overall fall in rural learner numbers and the additional costs of rural delivery, as well as raise the quality of learning in rural communities. This is one of the key findings in a new report – Community Learning in Rural Areas – jointly commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and published by NIACE.

The report makes a number of recommendations to help address the challenges faced by learning providers in rural areas and by the many residents in rural communities who wish to participate in learning. These include that:

  • BIS and Defra should continue their collaboration on rural community learning and consider ways of extending it by exploring rural models of planning, community development and delivery.
  • Funders should always consider issues of rurality in the planning and delivery of provision.
  • Broadband connectivity is vital to successful community learning in rural areas and community broadband schemes should be used to enhance rural learning opportunities.
  • The current Community Learning Trust pilots are used to exemplify different approaches to forming successful partnerships, particularly with voluntary sector organisations and other interested local parties.
  • Providers covering significant rural areas should adopt a ‘mothership’ approach to community learning, by enabling non-publicly funded organisations and individuals to be part of the wider learning landscape and offering them access, where feasible, to resources, training and publicity.
  • Local providers should ensure that rural planning for skills is closely allied to planning for community learning in order to maximise the use of common facilities, equipment and staff expertise.
  • Publicly-funded providers should be encouraged to address rural issues in their self-assessment and seek feedback on their planning and delivery of community learning with a view to extending partnership models of working.
  • Should funding become available, the Skills Funding Agency could earmark funding for applications for small grants to improve rural infrastructure, especially IT (specifically permanent bases, computer availability and connectivity).

Jane Ward, Programme Manager at NIACE, said:

“Providers need to be supported to be more creative, not merely in their project work, but in their mainstream delivery. These recommendations are intended to help achieve these ambitions.

This report contains a wealth of examples of excellent partnership working which address the needs of those living and working in rural areas. Other providers could learn from these approaches.”