An ideal adult education college – An example from Derby 1968

I’ve written lots about adult education and lifelong learning – mainly because I think we could do so much better on it.

TL:DR This arrived earlier in the week – by Derby WEA.

I’ve picked up a number of books in recent times on the subject too. Note any new institution needs ministerial approval before construction.

There also remains The Education Select Committee’s unanswered call for lifelong learning centres in every town. I say unanswered because hardly anything has been done by ministers, even though the formal response to the Select Committee Report is here.

Part of the problem is the Government’s narrow view of adult education.

“The principal purpose of the [Adult Education Budget (AEB)] is to engage adults and provide the skills and learning they need to equip them for work, an apprenticeship or further learning. Community Learning plays a considerable role within AEB provision of supporting those furthest from the workplace, and in improving the health and well-being of learners.”

Government Response (2021), paragraph 78

This means there is nothing for

  • learning for pleasure (eg a hobby)
  • learning to improve personal health (physical and mental – eg. from physical activities (not just team sports – what about a playground for adults?) to learning about which medicines/treatments are suitable for which illnesses)
  • learning to become a more active and more knowledgable citizen (eg democracy and citizenship)
  • learning to make good lost opportunities (eg learning a new language that was not available when you were at school)

All of these can be bundled into the term Stuff we didn’t learn at school that would have been very useful in adult life (some of which I listed in this blogpost, from personal finance to essential house maintenance, to health education) I can’t find anything in the Government’s response that covers the above points – all of which relate to a strengthened society and stronger communities. Part of the public policy problem is how to measure the above beyond ‘bums on seats’.

In the late 1960s, The Observer Newspaper asked children to design their ideal school – an experiment repeated in 2001. I asked ‘What would a similar exercise look like for adults?‘ back in 2020. Going back to the late 1960s, the Derby and District Branch of the Workers’ Educational Association came up with some answers.

Above – An ideal Adult Education Centre by WEA Derby, March 1968 digitised here.

And it’s got pictures and diagrams and things! Including a vision of Derby 30 years into the future – the year 2000!

Note we’ve been here before with imagining Cambridge in the Year 2000.

Here’s Cambridge City Council Architect & Chief Town Planner Gordon Logie vs Busted.

What Derby had planned was a brutalist university-style campus.

Don’t ask me what that tower was about. Several were proposed in Cambridge in that era and all of them got rejected by councillors.

On p19 of the prospectus it lists users from a visit to the Adult Education Centre in Lincoln

They list similar at old Vaughan College, Leicester – refounded in 2017

“Leicester Vaughan College (LVC) was set up as a consequence of the public protests over both the closure of Vaughan College and the part-time courses offered by the Vaughan Centre.”

LVC History

Despite attempts to close it by the University of Leicester, there were enough locals that were willing and able to save the site and run it as a co-operative.

There is a fair amount of cross-over with CCAT in Cambridge from the same era – have a look at their course catalogue from the 1950s. Again we seem to have lost something in the transitions of the 1980s/1990s (see here) which hollowed out far too many community learning and lifelong learning programmes.

“Any more news on lifelong learning in and around Cambridge?”

Not particularly – not least because the Combined Authority has such little funding of its own, so all it can do is act as a channel for ministerial funding pots. And yet the problem is huge and growing.

“The CBI’s new report Learning for life: funding world class adult education, based on McKinsey & Company analysis, shows that nine out of ten employees will need to reskill by 2030 at an additional cost of £13 billion a year. “

Learning for Life: Funding a world-class adult education system – The CBI – Oct 2020.

At the same time, there is an over-concentration of further education academic courses in South Cambridge. That came about through a quirk of Government policy in the early 1990s which I wrote about here. And in one regard was a victim of it because when I started my A-levels, the facilities in place had not been built to cope with the expanding numbers.

Where there are such hot spots, there are inevitably cold spots. In West Cambridgeshire (St Neots) and East Cambridgeshire (Ely to Newmarket) there is far less provision for 16-19 year olds than in Cambridge, so inevitably many teenagers make the commute, just as many of my fellow course mates did in the late 1990s.

What could the long term strategy be?

I’ve mentioned before about moving Hills Road Sixth Form College out of Cambridge to West Cambs in the medium-long term. That would take some of the commuting pressure off South Cambridge with students from west of the city able to study at an academic-based institution closer to home, serving the market towns of Cambourne, St Neots, and St Ives. From my perspective it would be sited next to one of the East-West-Rail stops and also act as a community anchor for its facilities to be used in the evening. Would there be some objection to it? Of course. On paper it’s one of the best state sixth form colleges in the country. But given that students are only there for two years, it might not command the sort of long term local loyalty that other education establishments have. Furthermore given its history serving city *and* district – the old Cambridge County, moving to another side within that catchment does not mean tearing it from its roots – as other schools in/around Cambridge have also moved sites during the 20th Century as secondary education provision expanded.

It may well be that in the medium term there will be a national change of policy. This is not new for the buildings at Hills Road. Originally founded as a County High School for Boys, it converted into a 16-18 institution in 1974 at a time of significant institutional change that also saw the abolition of grammar schools in many parts of the country, and the removal of gender segregation as well. In my teens I often wondered what it would have been like to have spent three years doing A-levels and compressing five years of secondary school into four.

The remaining site by The Junction / Cambridge Leisure Park would be more than suitable for an adult education college, with science labs, art workshops, classrooms and a small theatre. It’s also close enough to the railway station – a site long overdue radical improvements to pedestrian access.

Above – from Rail Future East’s e-magazine s Sept 2022 by Edward Leigh, telling rail campaigners to take an interest in active travel campaigns.

Above – Edward Leigh of Smarter Cambridge Transport (now mothballed). The others are still going and have meetings on/offline coming up in the autumn. So ***now is the time to join***. (Pick one and focus on that one, or join them all and stay up to date)

The reason why the above matters in the case of Derby is the lack of mention of public transport access and cycling/pedestrian access. This, as I mentioned in my talk for Open Cambridge earlier, reflected the dominance of the motor car in the thinking of town planners and urban designers.

One centre, multiple providers

One other thing I’ve taken away is the concept of multiple organisations using and funding such a centre so that the withdrawal/demise of one does not threaten the future of the institution. At the same time, any new adult education institution has, in my opinion, to have a ‘Unique Selling Point’ of providing things that other community providers cannot provide. It cannot be established *at the expense of* courses, classes, and workshops in residential neighbourhoods. The same goes for other facilities, whether swimming pools, sports centres, or concert halls.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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