Evidencing the benefits of community learning

8 March 2013

NIACE welcomes the Community learning learner survey report recently published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), for its robust data drawn from learners themselves and as a valuable step forward in evidencing the transformational powers of community learning.

Dr Cheryl Turner, Head of Learning in Communities at NIACE, said:

“Providers, practitioners and policy makers will recognise the picture emerging from these findings, which is all the more compelling because it is drawn from learners themselves. This report offers robust data to underpin the familiar and powerful stories of lives transformed by community learning programmes across the country. Its key findings also suggest that many of the impacts reflect the objectives set out for community learning in New Challenges, New Chances.

“The data shows the reasons people participate in community learning include to improve knowledge and skills, fill work related or personal skills gaps, keep up with IT, meet social and community needs, keep healthy, become a better parent, increase self-confidence (particularly for those seeking work), for a stepping stone to better prospects and choices – and yes, to have fun!”

The report shares clear messages about impact, which are all the more impressive when set against the diversity of the learners participating – 10% of whom were unemployed and looking for work (compared to 5% in the general population) and 17% of whom had household incomes of less than £10,000 a year. There are implications here for a range of policy agendas, for example:

  • 89% of respondents said their community learning course helped ‘keep mind and body active’, rising to 94% of those with a long standing health condition.
  • Over 80% were more confident of their abilities – 75% of those looking for work said the course had given them new skills they could use in a job and 11% (rising to 15% in more ‘deprived’ areas) had become involved in voluntary activities as a direct result of their course.
  • Over half of those with children under 18 said community learning had helped then become a more confident parent, rising to nearly 80% amongst those with no qualifications.
  • Over half the respondents had already engaged in further learning since their course and 70% of those said community learning had encouraged them.
  • The report also notes that “the impacts were particularly strong amongst learners living in the most deprived areas and from the most ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds.”

Dr Cheryl Turner continued:

“This is good news for learners, the sector and government, as it demonstrates the vital role of community learning in the learning ‘ecology’, meeting diverse and complex learner needs, particularly for those who are most excluded, building stronger, healthier and more economically active communities, and critically, creating a thirst for learning which is essential if we are to be resilient and thrive in a fast changing world.

“While this is an encouraging picture overall, we can always get better at what we do and the findings also highlight areas that learners identified for improvement. Through the support programme for the Community Learning Trust pilots, management of the Community Learning Innovation Fund, and work on measuring the wider impacts of community learning through the NIACE Wider Impacts Tool, NIACE is committed to working with BIS, the Skills Funding Agency, providers and learners to ensure these demonstrable benefits of community learning can continue into the future.”