MCA’s Community College responds to local learning needs

19 November 2015

The Manchester Communication Academy (MCA) opened in 2010 as an academy secondary school in Harpurhey, North Manchester. Statistically in the top 1% most deprived wards in England and Wales in terms of income, employment, education, and health there was a clear need for accessible community learning. We dreamed of a place where any adult from the local community could come to, and feel welcomed and encouraged to grow. With a Vice Principal of the Academy and an Assistant Principal dedicated specifically to the Academy’s community programme it was not long before this dream started to become a reality! 

The MCA Community College sprang to life in early 2011 with a core aim of supporting those residing in the Academy’s catchment area, a number of whom were parents of our students, to gain skills and qualifications that would help them to gain and sustain meaningful employment and improve their health and wellbeing.

We were very conscious that for those who have been out of education, employment, and in some cases society, for some time, leaping straight into the world of qualifications may not seem achievable. With this in mind we wanted to offer a wide range of opportunities whereby learners would not only gain skills for employment but would gain the softer, interpersonal skills for life. With an increasing and transient population in the local community, we were also keen to ensure that nobody was excluded from our courses because of nationality and their length of time in the UK.

With the flexibility we desired, came a challenge in terms of funding. Until 2013, our sole funding came from successful bids through the local authority for NLDC funding. While this funding is invaluable, it also comes with strict requirements on the courses that can be delivered using the funds granted and often requires learners to have resided in the UK for quite some time before they are eligible to access the funding.  Determined not to let this stand between us and our community, it became clear that an innovative approach was required.

Responding to the needs of the local community, we tailored our search for funding to the courses that our learners wanted to take part in. Using this approach we have successfully secured funding for our provision from funders such as The Big Lottery Fund and the Arts Council which has enabled us to be flexible and provide a wide range of courses that would normally be chargeable, for free, such as First Aid qualifications, and drama skills courses. This also means we can tailor our unaccredited courses to what our learners want or need to learn rather than sticking to a rigid syllabus. A fantastic example of this is our English for Life course which equips learners with essential English language skills for life in the UK. Our success with funders has now grown to the extent that we are able to match fund the Skills Funding Agency funding with funding from other sources, which is fantastic news for our learners and the local community.

Since 2011 over 1,600 learners have come through the doors of the community college to take part in a variety of courses and activities, ranging from qualifications in Maths and English to unaccredited courses in cookery, IT, and drama. Almost 900 of these learners have progressed from the Community College to further training, volunteering, and employment.  A number of them have even secured employment here at MCA. Even more importantly, the vast majority of our learners have reported increased confidence and health and wellbeing. Our community learning provision continues to go from strength to strength, so watch this space!


Sarah Wait is Community Lead Professional at Manchester Communication Academy.