News Archive

Working and learning together to build stronger communities

Posted on Tuesday, January 28, 2003


May I say how delighted I am to be launching this draft guidance on community learning and development. This is a very timely and important document, intended to set out how we wish to see public service agencies, including the voluntary sector, working in this area in the context of community planning. We are issuing this draft in preparation for the Local Government in Scotland Act.

The guidance is intended to enhance the capacity of community planning partners to strengthen communities across Scotland, through the provision of more effective learning and development support in our communities.

Our aim is to ensure that people of all ages have wider access to this support, to help them tackle real issues in their lives – better health, education, environment, more jobs, less crime. Using a community learning and development approach, agencies and professionals change from being ‘top down’ planners and providers of services, to becoming enablers, assisting people in their communities to better shape these plans and services and indeed to determine their own.

A central theme of the guidance is to encourage community planning partners to target their community learning and development capacity more upon disadvantaged individuals, groups and communities, and those who are at risk of becoming disadvantaged. In doing this we wish to emphasise that we do not seek to restrict the provision of this support and this approach only towards disadvantaged communities. We do however want to ensure that there is a real sense of urgency about getting this support to those who most need it.

Our policy remains one of ensuring that all communities across Scotland have ready access to community learning and development support should this be needed. But on principles of equity and social justice and, based upon the clear evidence that it is those less well organised and empowered communities that are least able to influence planning and service provision, we are determined to see community planning partners giving greater attention to these communities.

To this end we have identified four national priorities for community learning and development, applicable to both urban and rural areas. These are aimed at:

  • Increasing levels of adult literacy and numeracy, ICT and other learning related to work and life;

  • Increasing levels of educational, personal and social development amongst young people;

  • Increasing the capacity of communities to tackle issues of concern; and

  • Increasing the impact that communities can have upon planning and service delivery decisions.

The guidance builds upon Circular 4/99 and the strong foundations for joint working that have been developing in Scotland in this area over the last four years. The experiences we have all learned from Community Learning Planning have in a sense formed a key part the pilot phase of community planning. Indeed best practice in this area has long involved a range of agencies and professionals from a range of disciplines, together with local people working and learning together to build stronger communities.

With the new legislation, this becomes the order of the day, the way in which we wish to see all planning and service delivery arrangements operating. You, the practitioners of community education and community development have great expertise to offer in this respect, and we want to see your approaches being adopted much more widely.

The guidance seeks to address issues that have arisen from the roll out of Circular 4/99. It responds to concerns about planning and community participation overload and the mixed success that partnerships have had in engaging young people and more disadvantaged sections of the community in the process.

Partnership working has undoubtedly presented opportunities but also challenges to both public and voluntary agencies, and it is essential that we learn from the experiences of Community Learning Partnerships as we move on to embed community learning and development more centrally within community planning.

This document is intended to be a practical guide for you in your work, whether as managers or field staff. We trust it is user friendly, and my thanks to the Plain English Campaign in this regard. It is a ‘how to do it’ document, but also one that explains why it is so essential for you to work in this way. It provides advice to Community Planning Partnerships as to:

  • How to develop your community learning and development strategies and plans;

  • What information strategies and plans should contain;

  • The relationship between these and other plans;

  • Who should be involved; The role of HM Inspectorate and the importance of evaluation;

  • The collection of management information;

And, of chief importance:

  • How to involve people in planning processes, so that the services and programmes you provide are those that they feel are most relevant and necessary.

Last June Margaret Curran, Iain Gray and Cathy Jamieson issued our ‘Way Forward’ statement for community learning and development. This guidance is a key building block in that strategy and I cannot overestimate how important it is that we work together to get it right.

Since June we have been working hard within the Scottish Executive to promote the importance of community learning and development. Recognition of the value of this approach has never been higher. You will have seen this reflected already in the recent guidance on Community Planning and in Better Communities in Scotland: Closing the Gap, our strategy for urban and rural community regeneration.

Over the coming weeks and months you will see this approach highlighted in our lifelong learning, health, rural development, international education and youth policies. In turn raises high expectations that this approach really will lead to better outcomes in people’s lives. I am confident that you will be able to demonstrate this.

And we at the Scottish Executive will be working with you to do just that. We are currently planning a National Development Project specifically designed to assist managers and field staff across the partner agencies to better track the impact of what you are doing and what it costs. This is so important, as we just do not have robust enough management information on this area, compared for example with the formal education system.

Additional investment in community learning and development will only be secured if you can more clearly demonstrate the outcomes of your work. Communities Scotland, our Executive agency for community regeneration, is providing support through its centre for community learning and development and adult literacy and numeracy.

We are also working closely with the national development centres that provide specialist back up support to you in your work - with young people, and in community development. So my message to you as practitioners is to make sure that you let the national development centres know what you need.

And my message to Communities Scotland and the other national centres is to make sure that you work closely with local community learning and development partnerships, providing practical and networking support and disseminating best practice. We recognise that with this higher policy profile, comes additional practice demands for both paid professionals and volunteer activists. This applies in particular to the continuing professional development challenge for staff and we highlight this in the guidance. This is a highly skilled job. Whether you have specialised in youth work, adult learning or community work, or are a health professional or planner, a public sector or voluntary organisation manager, it is most important that you ensure that you are up to date in terms of best practice.

As you know, concurrent with our work on this guidance, Ministers have consulted upon and been considering the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on professional training for community learning and development chaired by Fraser Patrick. I am pleased to announce today, that we shall soon be publishing our policy on the future of professional training for community learning and development. I know that you are anxious to hear the outcome of the training review, and whilst you will have to wait a few weeks to see the details, I can say that Ministers have agreed to most of the recommendations made by the Advisory Committee. Not least of these is our agreement that there is a need to support a strong community learning and development profession.

We wish to see:

  • A vibrant and effective community learning and development profession, able to advocate for the contribution that it can make to community planning, community regeneration, lifelong learning and work with young people;

  • High standards across the profession, through the validation, endorsement and accreditation of training, including CPD for specialist practitioners, and for those many other disciplines, we are keen to see adopting this approach;

  • Wider access into the profession, particularly for volunteer activists, with an expansion in work-based training opportunities;

  • The introduction of a generic degree in community learning and development, to replace the degrees in community education;

  • Recognition of HNC and HND level awards as vocational qualifications, which together with the degree and other programmes will be aligned to the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework;

  • We shall also be working with the profession to examine the issue of the Registration of practitioners working in this area.

Community learning and development is high on the Scottish Executive’s agenda. These are exciting times for those working in this field and for those thinking about entering it. At the end of the day, we will all be judged by the quality of the services we provide and by the ways we consult and engage service users and the wider community in how these are planned and delivered.

Yours has been a profession that has been at the cutting edge of community empowerment. Youth work and such initiatives as Dialogue Youth are helping to give young people a strong say in what happens in their lives. Community development plays a critical role in building social capital and promoting self-help in some of the most excluded communities. Community-based adult education is breaking down the barriers that still exist for too many, to lifelong learning.

None of us can be complacent. As we know from HMIE reports there is a mixed picture across Scotland.

There is good practice in many parts of Scotland, and in places very good practice, where energetic and committed people are making a real difference to people’s lives. HMIE will publish next week the first inspection reports based on the new self-evaluation framework, “How Good Is Our Community Learning and Development?” These will show how community learning and development in two very different communities is responding positively to new challenges. But some practice is just not as sharp as it needs to be.

Some partnerships have not invested in the necessary support systems to ensure sustainability. Prioritising your work more towards tackling disadvantage and closing the inequalities gap will require difficult choices as to what might be dropped and which communities can be supported. This is the first of several consultation events being organised by Communities Scotland.

And I am very pleased to hear that there is going to be a high attendance at all of the seminars. But as I have said, we all have important work to do and it is our expectation that Community Planning Partners will want to move quickly on implementing what is proposed. We do not wish to discourage this. We have worked closely with CoSLA and the other members of our joint community learning and development working group on this guidance, and held a number of meetings with key interests such as SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) in the autumn in order to get it right. Your job is to make it even better! Our job is to work with you to make sure that we deliver real improvements in people’s lives.

Des McNulty, Deputy Social Justice Minister,Scottish Executive

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