A new curriculum for difficult times

17th April 2013

A New Curriculum for Difficult Times shows how providers, working in different local contexts, have developed a new curriculum. The work of these projects was based on the assumption that in difficult times the learning and skills curriculum will have to become more locally-shaped and driven.


The report details how:


  • The council learning service in Hull is using market segmentation to inform its marketing and engagement with groups in the North Bransholme area of the city, who have no history of participating in learning.
  • A housing association in South London is working with learning providers to recognise the employability skills local residents have acquired through community volunteering activity on their estate.
  • The council learning service in Birmingham is working closely with a voluntary sector network to design a curriculum to support work with welfare claimants and budgeting advice.
  • Herefordshire council has worked with the voluntary sector to skill up members of a small community experiencing rural poverty, to take responsibility for a local community centre which is the subject of community asset transfer.
  • The Adult Education Institute in Redbridge has worked with local employers to redesign its employment related provision.
  • The council community learning service in Bristol, against a background of youth service cuts, has worked with unemployed young people to co-design provision that gets their lives back on track. 

NIACE Programme Director, Simon Beer, said:


“In the current climate learning providers increasingly recognise the need to rethink services. They must focus consistently, creatively and credibly to the contribution that learning and skills can make to mitigating ‘difficult times’ and making things better at a local level. Whilst these projects worked in very different ways, they all shared a clear analysis of how the communities they serve are shaped and challenged by the reality of these difficult times.”


NIACE Head of Policy Development, Penny Lamb, said:


“The public sector landscape is shifting dramatically. Budgets for further education have been cut by 25%. Local authorities across the UK face unprecedented budgetary and service pressure. In their localities, Adult and Community Learning (ACL) providers see cyclical unemployment and working households increasingly experiencing poverty. Added to that, food banks are opening and families are relying on payday loans to get by. These projects are leading the way in refocusing priorities to address these realities and showing how a range of locally-focussed learning opportunities can make a huge difference to people in communities in difficult times.”


This work began in the summer of 2011 when NIACE, in partnership with Holex, facilitated a strategic dialogue with the ACL sector on new ways of working in the current ‘difficult times’. As part of this process, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) commissioned six action research projects to take a different approach to developing a new curriculum.