Placing learning at the heart of our civic culture

Sep 29, 2016 · 6 min read

TO: Essi Spanier, Mayor of Kensalfield

FROM: Mike Barter, Director, Education and Learning

DATE: 4 October, 2016

First, as the outgoing Director, Education and Learning, let me congratulate you on your election as the first Mayor of Kensalfield. Let me also say how welcome was your focus on education in general, and lifelong learning in particular, in the campaign leading up to your election.

The paper that accompanies this memo sets out 20 steps that might be taken to help deliver the educational objectives you emphasised during the course of your campaign to become mayor. These are not steps to be taken simply by you or by the city council (although your leadership both of the council and the wider community will be instrumental to their success, and the access that you will enjoy to local ‘influencers’ and ‘powerbrokers’ can act as a catalyst for change). Rather, they are steps that we need to take as a community; actions that need to be taken by people, rather than done to them.

You have said that you want education and learning to be the heart of our city’s civic culture, that you see learning as central to the rejuvenation of our city and to unleashing the creativity of our people, and that you want this culture to not just be focused on schools but on “any setting in which learning could take place”.

Courageously, you have also contended that learning is not just about developing the employability of our people, vital though this is; it is about developing the ability of Kensalfield residents to engage as citizens and to use leisure time effectively and for personal and family fulfilment. I concur whole-heartedly with your view that learning should be “celebrated for its value in empowering us across a triple scorecard: as individuals, as citizens, and as employees and entrepreneurs”. Indeed, given that it has been predicted that “47 percent of US jobs are at risk from automation in the next decade or two” (Barber, 2016), my view is that we cannot continue to tie the purpose of education solely to the promise of employment and career, even if to move away from such a position will prove politically difficult.

The 20 suggestions outlined in the paper — 15 of which have an overtly local focus — are inspired by your election campaign. They are likely to take place across a range of settings and will need to be taken by a range of partners working together, for instance:

  • Schools and children’s centres
  • Colleges, libraries and the university
  • Employers and employers’ organisations
  • Stakeholders active across a multiplicity of sectors and fields, including those engaged in sports and leisure, health and social care, and criminal justice
  • Creative and cultural institutions and organisations, including the recently established Arts Hub.
  • Community and third sector organisations, including our various faith communities.

To reiterate, the suggestion is not that you should seek to ‘action’ each of these ideas — your inbox will include many other priorities beyond the realm of education and, of course, there will be budgetary constraints — but please do explore the possibilities offered by each, with a view to doing something in each of these settings and with each of these partners. This is vital if you are to make your stated aspiration a reality — that you want Kensalfield to become a ‘City of Learning’ during the course of your tenure.

These ideas have been developed following a workshop, held at City Hall last month and convened by the Education and Learning Directorate that I lead. Participants included various senior city council officers, including the chief executive, and a range of influential local figures — such as directors, CEOs, chairs and principals — drawn from almost 30 locally based organisations and a range of sectors, including:

  • Kensalfield New College
  • Mann Green FE College
  • Kensalfield Primary Headteachers’ Forum
  • Kensalfield Secondary Headteachers’ Forum
  • Kensalfield Churches Together
  • Kensalfield Interfaith Forum
  • Kensalfield UTC
  • Kensalfield Community Museum Project
  • Kensalfield NUT
  • Kensalfield Youth Offending Team
  • Kensalfield Community Arts Hub
  • Harlesford Women’s Centre
  • Morefield Special School
  • Kensalfield On-line
  • Workers’ Educational Association, Kensalfield
  • Kensalfield Gazette
  • HMP Kensal
  • Kensalfield Youth Council
  • Canalside and Willesby Business Forum
  • Kensalfield Chamber of Commerce
  • Mills Brook Family Centre
  • Harlesford Children’s Centre
  • Kensalfield Widening Participation Project
  • Willesby Community Relations Council
  • Kensalfield Third Sector Forum
  • City and Canalside NHS Hospital Trust
  • Harlesford and District Age UK
  • Kensalfield Metropolitan University
  • Kensalfield Metropolitan University NUS

Others, including some leading figures in education, business and the local community, who were unable to join us at the workshop, will have more — and may have better — ideas, and you should harness these, but those suggestions offered in the pages that follow are intended to provide a starting point.

Many of these suggestions are effectively cost-neutral; they are less about expenditure and more about orientation, ambition and moral purpose — although we will need to budget for the increased demand for learning that we hope will be an outcome from the efforts proposed. Others, notably our efforts to celebrate learners’ success might attract commercial sponsorship. Some, especially those targeted at closing the achievement gap between our less and more wealthy residents, between males and females, and between our different ethnic, cultural and faith communities, may attract funding from a range of government initiatives in this sphere, from the various National Lottery funds, or from specific charitable trusts and foundations who share our aspirations, such as the Education Endowment Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Finally, I am convinced that we should not confine our thinking to the city’s boundaries. We need to be a regional and national player in the various debates about the future of learning. To this end, the city council ought to work with its partners and stakeholders to agree on five or six areas of priority on which, as a city (rather than just a council), we should lobby for changes to education and skills policy nationally. Further, we should seek support for these priorities from our four members of parliament, and renew these priorities annually or upon their achievement. It is for this reason that, alongside the 15 locally-focused proposals, I suggest five national reforms and/or campaigns that we ought to call for or support, but these ought properly to be discussed across the authority and with our stakeholders, and agreed by all.

As you are aware, I retire as Director, Education and Learning at the end of the calendar year. Perhaps we can build some of the thinking outlined here into the induction process for my successor, Shula Hogarth, who took part in the workshop and who has a fine record in just this kind of work. As you may know, Shula joins us having spent the past five years leading one of the key players in the lifelong learning field after beginning her career as a primary school teacher in Monks Langley, just 15 miles to the west of Kensalfield, before going on to lead a Birmingham-based national education and participation charity.

Although I shall be moving on, I will of course remain a supporter of Shula and her team, and will be pleased to assist in any way that you or she thinks appropriate.

I am happy for you to share the attached paper with anybody or any organisation that you see fit. It is intended as anything but ‘confidential’.


Mike Barter

Director, Education and Learning

Kensalfield City Council

This article forms a part of the ‘A Place for Learning’ publication

Download a PDF version of the report from the RSA website


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