From education to employment

Correspondent Jessica Brammar

Following last month’s review of the testbed learning centre scheme by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), FE News took a look at one of the areas where the scheme has been put in place.

Blackburn, with twenty percent of its districts in the most deprived 7 % of the country, is an area in which residents appear to have benefited from the introduction of a testbed learning centre, specifically targeted to deal with the problems facing the local community. A team of development officers and outreach workers have been working intensively with community groups to promote higher levels of residents” engagement in the community and increased access to skills providers.

LSC Funding for Projects

These projects, funded by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) through their Neighbourhood Learning in Deprived Communities (NLDC) fund, have been able to directly reach approximately 650 people. In an area in which four in every ten adults have basic skills needs, and one third have no qualifications, the learning community has provided an invaluable means of contact between skills providers and those in need of their services.

Furthermore, the testbed learning centre has ensured greater collaboration between groups in the local skills sector, such as voluntary and community groups, public services, local Further Education colleges and the Lancashire LSC. As well as providing a comprehensive service to local residents, these links also allow the testbed scheme to coordinate closely with council departments, including Parks and Open Spaces, and other local services, such as the police.

The belief that resident engagement in local services is key to their improvement, is central to the ethos behind the Blackburn testbed. Residents are being trained and encouraged to participate in the running of local schools and children’s centres, and even, in some cases, to develop their involvement into a career in teaching.

A Tangible Difference

As part of the testbed, a community volunteer scheme has been set up, with funding from the Home Office Connecting Communities programme, which aims to increase residents” participation in advisor and managerial roles. Twenty-three people from the local area received training in mentoring, work shadowing and information guidance and advice, and subsequently went on to liaise with local community groups on areas such as funding and help them gain access to local decision-makers.

In deprived areas such as Blackburn, the testbed learning communities are making a tangible difference to local residents” lives. The success lies in two key areas: engaging the local residents through increased participation at the community level, and ensuring that their involvement is rewarded by greater access to learning and employment opportunities.

Jessica Brammar

Does your local community have a testbed story to tell? Tell us about it in the FE Blog

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