Analysis of a community learning curriculum in relation to policies

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For the past four years I have worked for North Nottinghamshire College (NNC) delivering 19+ Foundation and Community, ten week Art and Design courses for Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS). The ethos of ACLS (2010) is to create "access to high quality learning opportunities which are delivered locally for the benefit of our communities. It aims to meet the needs of local communities and individuals by working in partnership with communities and a wide range of organisations". In doing so it enables individuals to gain skills and knowledge in an environment local to them, which are inviting and less intimidating than a college one. Without the stepping stone opportunity ACLS provides, learners whom I meet daily, with sufficient confidence in their abilities and who wouldn't feel confident enough to pursue any educational ambitions. The majority of my learner's school learning days were not enjoyable and have resulted in them reeling from this. Without the many learning opportunities ACLS provide, these learners would be totally forgotten about and become one of the less educated, unemployable statistics the government discuss but never in a favourable way.

In the Treasury document of 2010 the government dramatically laid out the downturn in funding for adult learning, in the proposed twenty five percent cut to the further education resource budget. This is in stark contrast to government views outlined by Hodgson (2000:105) in which it states that the "Government encouragement of lifelong learning recognizes for the first time that it is not only the learning associated with formal education that is important. The idea of lifelong learning asserts that learning that takes place in contexts such as workplaces and communities and which would not in the past have seen themselves as sites of learning, also constitutes valuable learning". In a matter of just ten years the government has gone back on their adult learning principles, to which I stand in complete dismay of. I have started to wonder and envisage the impact this is going to have on the communities and learners I teach. I know at this stage it is too early statistically to say what impact this is going to have but I believe it is going to be catastrophic. Individuals' confidences, abilities and aspirations that are prised out and built on over long periods of time and with great care and precision, are going to be greatly effected or irreplaceably damaged by this dramatic adult funding loss. As Murray (2010:Online) states "In today's uncertain economic climate, with unemployment set to rise and the concept of a "job for life" a relic of the past, adult education can be the only viable route for adult career-changers who have financial and other commitments that mean they cannot return to full-time study". Only time will tell if these predictions come to fruition but I hope for the sake of the many communities and individuals within our county I am wrong.

When looking at the concepts of a curriculum Stenhouse (1981:4) states that "A curriculum is an attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal". On the whole I would agree with the elements outlined in this definition but at this juncture I feel need to highlight other factors that I have to consider in my curriculum. The development of learners' social interaction skills and confidences are two factors that I need to address and feature predominately within my curriculum. These two aspects feature very heavily within any foundation course I deliver and one could directly link it to the process curriculum model in which learning is measured, as Smith (2000:Online) states in the curriculum theory and practice paper, as "not a physical thing, but rather by the interaction of teachers, students and knowledge. In other words, curriculum is what actually happens in the classroom". This is predominately the case within any of the courses I deliver and without the emphasis laid in part on these foundation skills, a learner would not only retract into themselves but would lose all confidence and doubt their own ability to learn. If I don't address these two factors early on in a course then I have the potential of loosing that learner even before any learning has taken place.

When defining a curriculum concept Avis et al (2010:104) outline that "The curriculum is a social product and a social practice". These perceptions are more in line with the ACLS's definition, they state their aims within the Curriculum strategy document (2009 - 2011:1), are "To provide high quality courses and programmes for personal fulfilment, community enhancement, prosperity and enjoyment". This can also be linked to the Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) document - New overarching professional standards for teachers, tutors and trainers in the lifelong learning sector, in which it states that teachers should "Encourage the development and progression of all learners through recognising, valuing and responding to individual motivation, experience and aspirations".

I feel all of these factors play a role in community curriculums and are taken into account when devising a course syllabus. In doing so it ensures this unique learning experience provides an effective spring board for learners to pursue and develop their educational needs further. ACLS commitment to progression is paramount. The Curriculum progression document (2009 - 2010:11) states that "it is seen as a positive outcome if the learner is motivated to enjoy learning and inspired to take it further". Progression is very much at the forefront of any courses targets and goals set by tutors and is addressed when devising curriculums and throughout any course delivered. This is to ensure learners feel motivated and encouraged by their unique community learning experience and feel supported enough to take it further and onto the next level.

Who designs and approves my Curriculum?

The development of the majority of curriculum within ACLS is solely down to the tutor. Very few tutors work on a contractual basis for ACLS so many courses are stand alone ones and are delivered on a sessional basis. The courses are very diverse in nature and cover a plethora of subjects and can be as a result of communities requesting subject specific short courses to address a specific group of learners needs. Ensuring a learner/group of learners needs are addressed and met within any of my courses is something I am very aware of and strive to achieve. Any educational establishment should try and ensure they understand learner's specific needs, as Tomlinson (1996:97) suggest "This involves creating an environment of trust, safety and acknowledgement of individual needs and aspirations". These specific learner requirements are also linked to what Avis et al (2010:99) suggest when outlining a specific mature learner requirement in their common practices of adult learning, in which they state "Learning and teaching strategies should help build the confidence of mature students if they have been away from formal education and training for some time". Both quotes outline an array of elements that need to be considered, continually addressed, monitored and acted on throughout all of my courses. If these factors are left unaddressed any learner who has built sufficient courage to enter any of my learning environments could very quickly go into melt down resulting in them feeling intimidate, vulnerable and uncomfortable. This in turn could leave them feeling unsure of their own learning capabilities and reluctant to pursue things further.

I work for ACLS on a contractual basis and have done for the past two years. This gives me greater scope when devising a curriculum and also enables me to deliver progression courses within specific subjects if requested, something a sessional tutor cannot do. All of the courses are designed and formatted by myself with little or no input from anyone else. An idea for a course is usually the only element that is given to me in relation to developing and designing a curriculum. Sometimes the subject can be something I know very little about so it is then up to me to go and investigate the various techniques and methods that could be used within this particular subject area. I then have to create a finished product, work out if it would be feasibly possible to achieve in a two hour session, if not tweak where necessary.

After these elements have been investigated and achieved I then have to source and buy my materials that are to be used throughout the course, create any handouts to embed learning further and devise a ten week Scheme of Work (SOW) that is pitched at the relevant learning level for my learners. This can be linked with Stenhouse (1975:Online) in which he states that "teachers need to define the content of their courses, define what constitutes a teaching procedure acceptable in subject terms and make clear standards by which students work is to be judged" and is in accordance with Armitage et al (2003:80) whose notion states that "each student is an individual with his or her own goals and expectations".

In order to create unity between a learner's goals and expectations and my own course content, continual discussions and negotiations between both learner and tutor needs to be maintained. These notions can subsequently be linked to one element of Stenhouse (1975:14) process model when discussing the development of a curriculum in which he "gives recognition to the fact that effective curriculum development is largely a matter of effective teacher development by suggesting that curriculum change will only find its way into the classroom if teachers themselves become the principle agents of curriculum change through critical analysis and reflection on their current performance". Continual productive and effective evaluation on all sessions and courses I deliver is something I regularly do to maintain an effective and productive learning environment. As there are no assigned awarding bodies linked to any of the curriculums I deliver, a certain amount of flexibility is allowed and if required changes can be made in accordance to a learners needs or requirements.

Unlike the majority of awarding bodies courses, that have specific stringent course entry requirement attached to them, ACLS courses do not. As Tummons (2009:97) states "Within the adult and community education sectors, such criteria are relatively rare and sometime opposed on the grounds that they are not compatible with the 'open door' philosophy of adult education". This 'open door' policy to learning stretches throughout the whole of the Bassetlaw area I deliver in. This format is received very well by my learners who feel less intimidated and judged by the whole enrolment process as they are not required to possess any previous learning achievements

The courses I deliver differ substantially from an awarding body course in a number of ways. They have fewer restraints attached to them, have no specific targeted end goal, have no precise course outline which has to be followed and are to a degree, learner led. This method of delivery has no final exam to sit or set assessment criteria to pass and instead predominantly relies on the learning to carry out weekly assessments throughout the use of their individual learning plan. The assessment process is linked to constructivist learning theory in which Bruner (2010:2) "calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing. Instead, assessment becomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in judging their own progress". This self/group assessment approach helps develop, motivate and encourage individuals.

Pratt (2001:Online) Five Teaching Perspectives 'nurturing' approach is in align with the community learning approach to teaching in which it enables a teacher to "promote a climate of caring and trust, helping people set challenging but achievable goals, and providing encouragement and support, along with clear expectations and reasonable goals for all learners. They do not sacrifice self-efficacy or self-esteem for achievement". The nurturing perspective to teaching is very much at the forefront of my mind when devising a Scheme of Work (SOW) and when considered effectively ensures inclusivity is present throughout all sessions. It is also linked to the Andragogy learning theory approach to adult learning in which Knowles (1984:Online) emphasises "that adults are self-directed and expect to take responsibility for decisions" he also outlined one of the key principles to this teaching theory that "Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction". Throughout the courses I deliver, I actively encourage individuals to share ideas and relevant knowledge/information found to the whole group which directly links to the Bruner constructivist theory (2010:2) in which he states "The instructor should try and encourage students to discover principles by themselves". This I have found motivates and unites individuals and energises the whole group to develop and move foreword together. I also actively support peer learning which can be a helpful tool in any session when facilitated effectively. These specific supporting tools ensure that learners develop and embed the surface level learning facilitated in class to a much deeper level ensuring a greater understanding of materials and concepts discussed and used in class. Light et al (2009:28) states that "Students are expected to accept the knowledge and content which are passed to them and the learning achieved is up to the individual student". This can in part be true but if a learner feels empowered to investigate a particular craft or art concept further due to what they have learnt in class then that can only be a good thing. Such enthusiasm for a subject should never be dismissed but actively embraced and encouraged by any tutor.

These various aspects play an enormous part in my to learning and teaching and highlight the many elements I have to incorporate and consider into my SOW and lesson plans to ensure learners learning experience is a fulfilling one. This flexible approach to learning enables me to put much of the emphasis on a learner's development as appose to the importance of an end goal. This flexibility could be seen by other tutors/teachers as a preferred option but in practice and from my own experience I can safely say it is not. Having to devise ten week after ten week course continually without any formal framework attached to them, can be very stressful and time consuming.

After I have devised a ten week course the SOW is sent off to ACLS at Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC) for their approval. This also enables them to be kept in the loop as to what syllabus we are delivering at NNC. At no time throughout the four years I have worked for NNC has any scheme of work ever been rejected or asked to be reworked on by ACLS.

Adult and Community learning Funding and Policies

All the funding that enables NNC to deliver courses throughout the Bassetlaw community originates initially from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) who's "mission is to ensure that people and businesses can access the skills training they need to succeed in playing their part in society and in growing England's economy". From its origination this funding is then given to Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC) whose aim is "to offer a range of programmes that respond to the needs of current and potential learners within areas of greatest social and economic disadvantage across the County.  The learning opportunities allow participants to increase their knowledge, broaden their horizons, develop their skills and provide personal fulfilment". Both of these statements have the same goals outlined and strive to achieve them.

In order that NNC may deliver courses to endorse both the SFA and NCC mission statements we have to send a commission document outlining our proposed plan of action to Notts County Council, ACLS department in order that we may act as a sub contractor. All of these differing layers of bureaucracy tend to slow down the procedure somewhat and also have a substantial impact on the end user funding. This is due to the multiple layers of departments that have to be funded from the one central pot of money. If these various factions take their segment of money from the central pot of money then it will substantially reduce the funding available to any community learning establishment. This money could be put to better use and provide much needed funding in the right areas if managed correctly.

Our statistics outlined in the targets and action plans from the previous year also have a direct impact on the funds they commission us for the following year. These directives can include targeted restraints that can have a direct and immediate impact on the selection of courses we can deliver and the areas we can deliver in.

There are seven differing factions that we deliver courses in, all work to provide an individual unique community learning experience. These seven factions are:-

Personal Community Development Learning (PCDL)

Family Literacy, Language and Numeracy (FLLN)

Wider Family learning (WFL)

Family Learning Impact Funding (FLIF)


Migration Impact Fund (MIF)

Formal First Steps

Each faction has its own particular pot of money that cannot be used in any other area. If we run out of funds for a particular area then we have to bid for further money, this however can be unsuccessful due to the continuing budgetary restraints that are ever developing and being introduced. If a bid is unsuccessful it can pose a plethora of problems towards the end of a financial year, when the pots of money are either running low or have completely evaporated, leading to fewer community course opportunities been delivered. These restraints posed by the funding protocol are very frustrating, inflexible and have damaging consequences as a result.

As the majority of my learners live in the most deprived ward areas within the Bassetlaw area any funding attained is paramount. This is because the funding received from the SFA vastly subsidises the majority of my learners, due to them predominately been on means tested benefits, which enables them to access the course free of charge. If adult community funding was phased out and more emphasis put on college learning establishments, the essence of my teaching protocol would disappear along with my learners' pathway into learning and wellbeing. This would have a disastrous effect on local communities and would be in stark contrast to the policies outline in the 'The Learning Revolution' white Paper of 2009 in which it states that "informal learning can bring people and communities together, contribute to community cohesion and boost well-being". These factors are essential elements and are paramount if effective community development is to be ensured.

To ensure I deliver an inclusive curriculum throughout the community courses I teach, I ensure the activities I prepare are appropriate, achievable and accessible to all learners. I also ensure all learners feel comfortable, relaxed and safe in the environment they are learning in and above all else ensure their learning needs and aspirations are met. Which is highlighted in Maslow's (1970) Hierarchy of human needs which Curzon (2004:114) relates to and outlines that "Students' basic needs have to be satisfied before effective learning can take place". These needs are directed and addressed through the Individual learning plan (ILP) which learners fill out on a weekly basis and which I subsequently address and action myself.

I also ensure that I raise awareness, encompass and embrace other nationalities, cultures and celebrations within my session plans. This is also an effective way to ensure inclusivity in a classroom has been met which is align with the ACLS Equality and Diversity Policy document (2010:Onlne) in which it states that "Equality of opportunity is an important aspect of raising aspirations, self-esteem and achievement. We aim to provide provision that is safe, accessible and welcoming. We respect and value differences in ability and disability, culture, race, faith, gender, sexual orientation and age". This is in align with the Equality Act of 2010 in which the Department for Education (2010:Online) state "Provides a single, consolidated source of discrimination law, covering all the types of discrimination that are unlawful. It simplifies the law by removing anomalies and inconsistencies that had developed over time in the existing legislation, and it extends the protection from discrimination in certain areas". These guidelines try to ensure discrimination is addressed and averted and inclusivity is available to all.

How Can I effectively develop my Curriculum further?

The notion that I may have any say or influence on the continuing development of a community curriculum is questionable. I am writing this essay during what I fear could be very dark time in community learning due to the government funding cut on further education. Ideas and concepts on how we can get around these funding cuts and still deliver effective courses out in the community are been laid out at present and are still at a developmental stage. They are being received by tutors solemnly and sceptically. The very idea that learning should be inclusive to all is something that I feel has been lost in all of this. Too much emphasis has been place on the short term financial saving being made and very little on the individual long term impacts it will have.

The only thing I can categorically say is that from a personal point of view I will continue to develop my art and craft skills further, ensuring I keep on trend with the ever changing product, techniques and materials out there. I will continue to attend courses to develop such skills and learn from masters in the differing art and craft fields. This is to ensure I can continually change and develop a curriculum ensuring that a learner's community learning experience is a unique, exhilarating and an enthusiastic one. Without this continuing development of my subject specialist skills, my courses would stagnate and become less inviting to a learner which is something I do not want to happen. Instead I want a learner to feel invigorated by their learning experience, which is something I endeavour to ensure happens while ever I have the power to do so.

I feel I have gained and will continue to gain significant confidence within my teaching through my own personal development and the sharing of best practice by tutors within the community department. This is something that is actively encouraged by NNC and ACLS and continues to feature very heavily in any development proposal. During such discussions the development of an accredited curriculum within art and crafts is something that is frequently discussed. This is something I would like to pursue when I have finished this course. I already have the backing of my programme manager and ACLS and this together with the positive feedback I have received from my learners can only result in one thing and that is an effective outcome for all concerned.