Community centres

Community centres provide an alternative learning environment to more formal centres of learning such as colleges. This article discusses the type of provision typically found in community centres and the ethos behind community learning together with references to policy.

Overview of learning in community centres
Community centres provide a wide range of activities that are intended to meet the needs of the local community and improve their confidence, skills and employment prospects. These activities include educational learning opportunities whereby local people can gain a new skill or find out ways of helping their children. Examples of educational provision include family learning, employability training and computer skills. Some centres also provide a range of innovative taster sessions, family fun days, summer courses, arts and craft courses and drop in sessions.

The community centre provides a friendly, informal learning environment.  The provision is intended to break down barriers and widen participation. They may work with partner organisation such as schools, libraries, children’s centres and voluntary organisations to deliver a range of learning opportunities and to attract a range of different learners. Many centres aim to meet the needs of learners of all ages with provision for under fives through to opportunities for pensioners. These centres can be said to be embodying the concept of Lifelong Learning.

Informal learning and andragogy
Malcolm Knowles, who popularised the term andragogy, pointed out the ‘friendly and informal nature’ of certain informal learning environments. He said that community centres were appropriate places for informal learning.

Community centres provide the sense of informality for several reasons:

  • The classes are local to the learners’ homes
  • The centre, and possibly staff, may already be known to the learners
  • There is a shared sense of community as learners share local knowledge
  • Classes are often smaller than those in colleges
  • Centres often have crèche provision onsite
  • Going to the local community centre may feel less like going back to school than attending college

Assessment associated with informal learning
Courses in community centres may be accredited however the informal nature of learning sometimes requires a different approach. In this case it is possible to use the RARPA approach:

  • Aims: appropriate to an individual learner or groups of learners
  • Initial Assessment: to establish the learner’s starting point
  • Challenging Learning Objectives/Outcomes: Identification of appropriate objectives for the learner
  • Formative Assessment: Recognition and recording of progress and achievement during programme Adult Learning and Skills  Investing in the first steps
  • Summative Assessment: End of programme learner self-assessment; tutor review of overall progress and achievement

Links to government policy
In their 2007 document the previous government’s Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills stated that pre L2 learning and provision is one of their priorities. Targets for 2020 included:

  • 95% of adults should have functional literacy and numeracy skills
  • Over 90% of adults should be qualified to at least L2

They recognised that adults lacking skills are more likely to feel excluded from society but that these people are unlikely to attend formal learning in colleges. Community centres might provide a way of attracting these reluctant learners.

This involvement ties in with the current government’s concept of the Big Society.  The Skills Funding Agency recently invited bids for a £2.25 million Adult and Community Learning Fund  - which is now closed. When it was introduced Geoff Russell, Chief Executive of the Skills Funding Agency, said: "Skills should be at the heart of every community and the Government is committed to making that happen with its vision for the Big Society. The Adult and Community Learning Fund will help some of the most disadvantaged groups of adults take their first steps to learning new skills, sparking their interest in learning as a way to improving their prospects."

Every Citizen Matters
The ethos of community learning also fits closely with the outcomes of Every Citizen Matters:

  • Stay safe
  • Be healthy
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Economic well being
  • Make a positive contribution

Typical courses in community centres include healthy eating and financial literacy courses. The positive contribution outcome links strongly with community learning. Peter Lavender, Deputy Chief Executive at NIACE, said: "The Adult and Community Learning Fund is going to help maximise the impact of the Big Society and engage and motivate disadvantaged adults to help them make more of a contribution to their lives, their families and their community.

Smith, M. K. (2002) 'Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy', the encyclopedia of informal education,

RARPA - The Learning Curve RARPA toolkit (NIACE)

NIACE – New fund for Adult and Community Learning

Department of Business, Innovation and Skills - Adult Learning and Skills  Investing in the first steps