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Curriculum leadership, diversity and social purpose: part 2

November 22, 2011

There have been lots of valuable comments on my earlier blog; they’re well worth a read. Taking these (and other feedback) into account I’m thinking of refining my approach a bit.

However, it’s worth re-stating the starting point. We need to find ways to ensure that we rise to the challenge of ‘Equality and Inclusivity’, the 2011 Conference themes. To do this we need a curriculum that is challenging, critical and provides context; my proposals are designed to provide a framework or platform that encourages this to develop.

I remain convinced that effective curriculum leadership, as opposed to the management of teaching and learning processes, is essential and that this can best be provided on a devolved basis. This will make use of existing teams, experience and enthusiasm and generate a collaborative approach based on successful practice. Leadership and collaboration will be needed if we are to develop the critical and contextualised approach to different subjects that many people want.

However I can see that an approach of immediately devolving the ‘top ten’ (by volume) subject areas might be a bit mechanical for two reasons. Firstly people need to be convinced that there is a reciprocity of interest involved; that it is worth the while of a team in a particular region putting a lot of effort into supporting and encouraging others in developing that subject area. This is Richard Crisp’s sceptical point. This leads me to think of a pilot project, starting with those willing and able to give it a go. Secondly I’m not sure we should be over guided by volume or necessarily by subject area (as opposed to student group). A strong case has been made for reviving a focus on women’s education and also workplace learning. There are also subject areas that are essential to the Association’s future development (as opposed to current practice) or specialist ones that lend themselves to leadership and co-ordination. So my idea is to kick off with a pilot project around selected curriculum areas. I do not want however to put change on the back burner as curriculum direction lies at the heart of current debates within and without the WEA (and as Mary Hunter points out, they have been going on some time).

The notion of a ‘social purpose’ or ‘project’ methodology has been welcomed; I used the term ‘social purpose’ really to highlight how we need a methodology that focuses on social outcomes and impact. Jol Miskin’s comments illustrate well how this can provide a framework for  imaginative local programmes, in that case linking art and community involvement.  The approach also addresses localism; a wide range of different educational responses is needed to meet local circumstances (Derek Metters). I welcome a diverse WEA; we should share things more but not aim for a standard offer.

The difficulties with the approach seem to lie with putting it alongside the main contract  and finding space, given the pressures on organising staff (Chris Sanders). Okay, these are difficult challenges especially as it’s hard to see overall resources increasing in the medium term. The Association as a whole needs to think about priorities and investing in these if change is desired. I certainly think that regions ought to (and often do) concentrate on priority areas where they feel they can make a difference. This worked in West Midlands with health education; we established a virtuous circle which attracted resources that helped us bring in more staff and expertise which enabled us to enhance our reputation…Essentially I’m saying regions will have to play to their strengths and try to get some economies of scale and team working to get the thing going.

Hopefully this post will keep the discussion going and look forward to hearing from you.


PS interesting that Lee Davies is leaving IfL


From → Adult Education

  1. Jol Miskin permalink

    Momentum building! As for Lee leaving IfL I can only assume he’s seen the light!

    I absolutely agree that the ‘big bang’ approach is wrong. It would be an error, and almost certainly would not work, were we to go for big change across the ‘top ten’. Recipe for disaster.

    Best, as you now suggest, to go for willing pilots and to build sort of organically from there. For instance we – that is Y and H Region – are really keen to learn from what you have done regarding the health curriculum and probably to seek to strenghten our ‘offer’ accordingly. We keep saying we must do something but then stumble along as other things intervene. So I imagine your grouping could be extended into other regions and areas.
    The same will clearly apply elsewhere. The art work being developed in the NW – now kicking in in Y and H – is another area ripe for further work (art and social purpose that is…), and there will be others. One, which certainly comes to mind, would be the development of a teacher training curriculum which can break from the current C and G constraints and become more WEA appropriate!

    So I agree with you Pete. 1. Assess our respective regional strengths in regard to curriculum development and engagement and then 2. choose a few pilots to move things forward.

    Place social purpose at the heart of the process and BINGO!

  2. Hugh Humphrey permalink

    Just a few thoughts on the detail of what we mean by social purpose and the problem of demonstrating outcomes.
    There are courses right at the heart of our mission which by their very nature lead to greater community involvement such as helping in schools and citizenship and we rightly emphasise these. However, trying to make other courses impact in the same way is, I believe going to be very difficult and will only occasionally succeed.
    Fortunately, there is more of our provision than we might think which impacts upon the community in slightly less obvious ways and we need to give thought to how we can develop these and gain recognition of their social impact.
    Here are two examples of social impact without students literally going out and becoming community activists. Firstly, as a result of any course many students significantly improve their health, confidence and well being and are aware of this as a reason for attending. The social impact here is less demand on the health, social and other services. In these difficult times this should be well appreciated by the government and recognised by the SfA. The questions are, how can we develop this aspect of our work and how can we best demonstrate the reduced demand on services. Reduced demand may seem self evident but if our funders are going to be pedantic and want hard evidence this could be difficult. How do we make the case?
    Secondly, many classes include students with a wide diversity of background and experience which enables the course to develop a better understanding of different lifestyles and points of view. This contributes towards a more tolerant and cohesive society. The WEA style of learning which encourages interaction and people learning from each other, maximises this outcome. Again, the social value of this seems self evident but how do we effectively demonstrate it? And how can we create a wide diversity in more of our classes?
    A final point is on directing the creative arts onto social issues. I think students should always be made aware of this dimension but we have to be very careful about requiring creativity to conform to some directive. We risk misunderstanding what creativity is about and indeed what education is about. The example of the old Soviet Union where
    artists, writers and musicians were persecuted for not conforming to the State agenda
    should be enough to check our bearings on this one.

    • Pete Caldwell permalink

      Thought provoking comments. I think there is a recognition of the ‘wider benefits of adult learning’ (to which you refer) but we need to go further in demosntrating social outcomes if that is an important part of our mission. Evidence of outcomes doesn’t have to be all dry data though, learner stories and case studies can be very effective.
      Take your point at the end. Learning for learning sake is part of what we do and we shouldn’t try to make everything fit into a social purpose framework.

  3. Lee Mark Davies permalink

    Bit late to this (almost a year) – but better late than never, I guess…….

    Nice to know my career is ‘interesting’ – it certainly is to me.

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