Making an impact through the Citizens’ Curriculum

16 September 2015

The impact of adult learning was the central theme of last week’s European Agenda for Adult Learning Conference. One area where adult learning can – and must – have an impact is in improving adults’ life skills. The pace of social change, across public services, work, technology, health and society requires all adults have core digital, health, financial and civic capabilities to be able to respond and adapt to the changes around them.  


Over the past year, impact forums have met in all four UK administrations to discuss the implications of the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) and other research findings and to identify innovative approaches to address the challenge of poor literacy, numeracy and digital skills. We know the scale of the challenge – according to the OECD data, England ranked 21st in numeracy and 22nd in literacy. The earlier Skills for Life survey suggests that one in four adults has poor numeracy skills, and one in six poor literacy skills. Higher levels of language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills are critical to underpin improved personal, economic and social outcomes. However, participation in learning, which addresses these needs is falling, resources are increasingly scarce, and current approaches do not sufficiently engage or motivate adults to take part. 


So how can we ensure that the limited resources available to adult learning have an impact in this essential area? Through our impact forums, and at our European conference, participants heard the evidence from NIACE’s work to develop programmes based on the Citizens’ Curriculum. This approach ensures all individuals have the core set of skills they need for the 21st Century, including English, maths, ESOL, digital, civic, health and financial capabilities. Crucially, there is flexibility in the programme to adapt it to different contexts and local settings, and learners are involved in its co-creation, so each project was truly responsive to learners’ needs and interests, and those of the local community.  


Given the conference’s focus on impact, it was especially pleasing to hear evidence from Rochdale Council of multiple impacts in the  area where their pilot ran. These ranged from increased participation in learning, and improved outcomes for individual participants, through to cashable savings for the local authority and other agencies. This will be invaluable evidence to make the case for more flexible and personalised forms of learning which are not driven by the delivery of qualifications, but by the  positive outcomes that benefitthe individual, local community and the wider economy.


A key message from the conference is that more needs to be done to have the right kinds of evidence for the right audiences. In his speech to the conference, Tim Harford highlighted the difference in the numbers of Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) carried out in medical research (around 75 per day) and in adult literacy research (9 between 1980 and 2002). So it’s timely that later this year, a Citizens’ Curriculum model for unemployed adults in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance will be the focus of a RCT – or as close to one as possible, given the complexities and the variables, not least in the characteristics of the adult learners who will participate.  


We’ve got some great testimonies and case studies of the impact of the Citizens’ Curriculum pilots so far. But for those who demand hard data, we hope that this will go some way to provide the evidence of impact needed to ensure that the Citizens’ Curriculum becomes a widely adopted model for literacy, numeracy and life skills delivery across the learning and skills sector, and one in which increasing numbers of adult learners choose to participate.


We’re currently looking for providers to help us develop the Citizens’ Curriculum further – particularly providers who deliver English and maths provision to adult learners. To express an interest, please complete the online form by 28th September 2015.