Research on working in communities

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Community education and neighbourhood renewal

Jane Thompson, National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, 2002 (Niace lifelines in adult learning series - 1)

Neighbourhood renewal provides a policy context in which people's involvement in learning and action is vital to turning around communities. It recognises the importance of learning for social change and provides opportunity for real partnerships between different sectors to connect top-down and bottom-up initiatives. However, in terms of empowering the local community, there are challenges: for example, many local people are suspicious of top-down solutions after years of seeing officials responsible for regeneration operating from remote town halls. The report suggests that a lot of work being given to outside consultants could be done (with suitable training) by local people. The way projects are implemented on the ground often prevent women from active involvement, for example, a lack of affordable childcare, poor play facilities for children, inadequate transport and fears about personal safety. Racism, isolation and difficulties in accessing health and social care are additional problems for black and minority ethnic women. Concerns around doing things 'responsibly', through 'the proper channels' and in partnership with local service providers, can make it more difficult to involve local people from deprived neighbourhoods.

Community education is a way of working with people through learning, in places where they live, responding to the issues and the aspirations that are important to them. This sometimes involves formal learning but is much more likely to involve a mix of non-formal learning in groups as well as informal learning that takes place in everyday life.

Case study
A group of Bangladeshi women are taking horticulural lessons at the Spitalfields City Farm in London's East End, as part of a project that is building links with the Bangladeshi community and addressing isolation. Building on the womens' enthusaism for growing herbs as a starting point, other activities are now taking place. In one year, half a dozen women gained a Pitman qualification in basic English, and IT training is planned.

Speaking from experience
When I was isolated and unsure about what was going on I was in a state of darkness. I had much to fear about what would happen to me. As my studying went along, it became clear to me that what had happened to me in my life was not 'all my own fault'. I met others who had experienced similar things in different ways. It was not only me. It made it possible for me to stand up and be counted. Now I am very calm and not intimidated anymore.

For the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) visit

Community-focused provision in adult literacy, numeracy and language

National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy, 2003

The University of Sheffield conducted this exploratory study which investigated community-focused provision for the teaching of adult literacy, numeracy and language, a form of provision which complements traditional provision and may be particularly useful in reaching priority groups of learners in disadvantaged communities. The findings showed that community-focused provision was distinctive and was characterised in relation to three main issues: vision, development and delivery. Development work was vital, particularly when developing provision for hard-to-reach learners. In practical terms, development meant staff whose job included going beyond the organisation, networking with community groups and organisations, talking to people who might be interested in attending provision, putting on taster courses that reflected their interests, and ensuring that provsion continued to meet those interests but also challenged learners to move on. Funding was absolutely critical for community-focused provision and in particular, the funding of development work.

For the full report from the NRDC visit

Engaging black learners in adult and community education

Lenford White, NIACE lifelines in adult learning, 2002 (Niace lifelines in adult learning series - 4)

Black people comprise a disproportionately large number of those who live in poverty. Despite a huge number of regeneration initiatives in the last 20-30 years, little has happened to improve the lives of individuals and families. In the original New Deal for Communities guidance, the Government sets out its expectations regarding race equality and participation. A commitment to engaging local people, local businesses and voluntary and community organisations also means involving people who are black. Poverty can affect those of all backgrounds and skin colour but black people living in poverty can also additionally experience racism, prejudice and discrimination.

Against a backdrop of under-achievement, there is also a view among black people that education beyond school is irrelevant and alien. Community learning can be the key to participation and releasing potential. There are many examples of innovative projects that have changed lives forever.

Case study
The LA Raiders Soccer Academy focuses on reengaging young unemployed people with a programme of educational and vocational training balanced with sports studies and work experience. Many have problems with reading and writing. The majority (80%) are either black or from minority groups. Students achieved 95% attendance, demonstrating a commitment to the project. Combining help with their literacy with achieving a sports coach qualification, provides a good stepping-stone for employability.

Ethnic minority issues and English as an Additional Language For the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) visit

A Fair Deal for Learning: organising projects for hard-to-reach groups

Community Education Development Centre (CEDC), 2001

CEDC is a national charitable trust which works towards improving access to learning, especially among those who have previously benefited least from learning opportunities. In consultation with community professionals who work in the field of economic regeneration, health improvement and education, CEDC has produced a guide to those who want to set up a project aimed at hard-to-reach groups. These are their recommendations:

Case study
The Totterdown Bilingual Book-Making project grew out of a needs analysis with a local Asian women's group at Knowle Infant School, Bristol. It involved mothers helping their children to learn to read- and in some cases, improving their own English. Together with their children, they designed picture books with text in Urdu and in English. Besides the literacy aspect of the project, the women also learnt bookbinding techniques to produce re-usable laminated pages. Some of the women have moved on to a computer skills course at the City of Bristol College. Jackie Winchester from Bristol community education service explained how it got off the ground:

Initially, parents received information from the school inviting them to come in for an informal chat about what they might expect from the project. The Urdu-speaking teacher and the book-making tutor were at this first meeting and were involved throughout. This seemed to help make people feel more comfortable and the book-making tutor brought some beautiful laminated books which got people very interested. The project went on from there.


Towards the development of extended schools

(Anne Wilkin, Kay Kinder, Richard White, Mary Atkinson and Paul Doherty National Foundation for Educational Research, 2003)

Background to the study In recognition that schools in the UK - as in the USA - cannot solve the problems associated with social exclusion and multiple disadvantage on their own a study was carried out in 2002 for the Department for Education and Skills and the National Union of Teachers to investigate the extent of the 'extended school' model.

The research consisted of a literature review of existing research evidence and literature concerning 'extended' or 'full-service' schools along with an audit of schools currently offering extended services via telephone interviews with 50 primary, secondary and special schools, as well as staff from 78 LEAs, followed up with case studies in ten schools.

Types of provision Six main types of extended schools provision were identified:

The audit revealed there was great variety amongst school in the range of activity and the degree of investment in them. Extended schools were said to impact positively on pupil attainment, attendance and behaviour as the school became seen as a source of community resource and support. While most people said the additional resources and staffing reduced the burden on teachers, some felt that workload could rise.

US and UK approaches In the US literature, the extended school concept was seen as a grassroots movement as a local response to problems. This was sometimes large-scale, involving health and other agencies, sometimes smaller-scale offering additions to the traditional remit of schools. UK literature and previous research would suggest that models of extended schools here conformed more to the latter model, adopting an educational approach e.g. family literacy.

Management of extended schools Management roles were investigated, including the role of the LEA which many school interviewees felt was important in terms of accessing funding. Expanding role and increased responsibilities were seen to have a major impact on school governors, and, as representatives of their communities, their support was said to be crucial. The most significant facilitating factors were the 'vision' of the headteacher, access to resources, commitment and joint working. Stumbling blocks were lack of resources, lack of space and low levels of community interest and involvement. Concerns still exist, at school level, about the extent to which schools can become fully 'extended'.

Conclusions The study concludes that there has been a marked rise in the interest in extended schools but huge variation due to the number of traditions (and new funding streams) including community schooling, lifelong learning, community regeneration, reflecting energy and commitment at individual school level. This perhaps signifies, as in the US, more of a grassroots movement than the UK literature suggests.


What works?: Reviewing the evidence base for neighbourhood renewal

The Learning Curve, Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, 2002

This review for New Deal for Communities (NDC) programmes provides an analysis, based on emerging evidence, as to which interventions are likely to prove more effective in helping to achieve improvements at neighbourhood level in housing, education, worklessness, crime and health. The report warns that the evidence is as yet patchy because of a lack of data over time, for example, how individuals benefit from a renewal initiative. The review identifies five interventions that NDC programmes, working in partnership with other agencies, can use to address educational underachievement:

Also mentioned are curriculum enrichment schemes involving the arts, sports, cultural visits and outward bound courses in helping to foster life skills and in helping to engage young people at risk of disaffection. In terms of addressing low levels of literacy and numeracy, the review suggests that support needs to be provided tactfully to avoid any stigma that might be attached, while approaches that try a "gateway" course, such as ICT, are more likely to be successful in encouraging people to come forward. The importance of community-based provision is stressed.

There is some evidence that youth disorder and juvenile offending can be tackled effectively through community-based after-school recreation programmes, education projects and intensive supervision and after-care of juvenile offenders. Specific mention was made of parenting programmes for parents of those involved and mentoring schemes to provide role models and schemes to improve literacy and numeracy of those with very low skills.

However, the review does not provide any evidence on the links between improving literacy and addressing health inequalities such as teenage pregnancy, healthy eating or drug misuse or suggest specific approaches to improve the literacy and numeracy skills levels of those out of work.


The Young Volunteers Challenge Pilot

This scheme is offering young people from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to undertake oluntary work on a range of community projects, from child care to conservation. It operates in nine areas across England and is targeted at 18 to 19-year-olds (up to 21 for people with special needs or a disability). Participants receive a weekly allowance of £45, plus a lump sum of £750 on completion of nine months' volunteering activity. The Pilot scheme is running from May 2003-March 2005.

For more information visit



For an interesting article with tips on running a family literacy class in a school setting, visit

The Regeneration Game is a card game that enables people to understand the problems of regeneration better, to plan feasible solutions and to see how learning can support neighbourhood renewal. It can be used for staff development and in 'real' situations with residents, activists and professionals. It is available from NIACE priced £29.95; for details visit

I&DeA, the Improvement and Development Agency for local government, has a section on "Partnerships and the community" on its Knowledge website, as well as a useful discussion section. For example, the "Communicating sustainability" discussion focuses on ways of getting messages (in this case regarding environmentally friendly practices) across to hard to reach audiences. Visit

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