We are proud of our progress as a Learning City and it’s rewarding to see the hard work of the partnership recognised by UNESCO. Central to our ambition is to level the playing field and improve social mobility in Bristol. We need to get to a place where opportunities are not defined by background. Our Learning City partnership has already proven to be hugely beneficial thanks to the commitment of those involved. It has helped us promote Bristol on a national and international stage, and allowed us to work with partner cities from around the globe. I have high hopes for what we can continue to achieve together.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol
Building a learning city
Bristol’s Learning City strategy puts strong emphasis on reducing inequalities across the city. Its underlying goal is to provide citizens with equal opportunities to high quality education and employment.
In 2015, the city decided to step up its efforts to develop into a learning city by establishing a Learning City Partnership (LCP). This strong governance structure fosters stakeholder involvement and innovation in formal and informal learning. The partnership has already brought together over 70 organisations and more than 200 individuals to advocate for learning.
Besides actively fostering stakeholder participation, Bristol has secured and maintained the interest of citizens in learning through its campaigning activity. To support the development of Bristol as a Learning City, the city designated 2016 as the Year of Learning and launched a Love Learning campaign. This campaign enabled Bristol to raise awareness of the benefits of learning to individuals and communities. Following its success, the campaign continued into 2017. Learning Ambassadors appointed by the Mayor of Bristol serve as community role models and share Bristol’s ambitious vision across the city. The 159 Ambassadors help to engage organisations and individuals, and identify local learning priorities. They help to inspire all citizens to participate in learning.
Bristol’s learning strategy has already been recognized across the country. A learning programme, providing a personalized service for young people aged 18–24, received the 2016 Municipal Journal Achievement Award for Innovation in Education, Employment and Training for young people, in recognition of its contribution to the local community.
Bristol’s aim in building a learning city is to enable all citizens to fulfil their potential, and to achieve inclusive development through learning. Its strategy is threefold: (1) Promote a greater awareness about the value of learning; (2) Increase participation in learning for all ages; and (3) Improve achievement and life chances for everyone.
Consequently, the city is harnessing the Learning City Partnership (LCP) structure to encourage stakeholders to help build a learning city. The structure coordinates stakeholders’ actions to ensure that efforts are not duplicated. The Love Learning campaign promotes various learning initiatives (e.g. informal learning at work and learning through sports). The campaign focuses on a different theme each month, such as widening opportunities or protecting the environment. Learning opportunities are promoted under the Love Learning brand. Citizens are invited to share their learning stories on social media as a means of collectively advocating for learning.
Various activities are available to all in several learning hubs spread across the city. The learning hubs are developed in existing public spaces so as to reach a greater number of potential learners. This also allows a more efficient use of available resources. More than 300 learning activities are available, including bicycle maintenance workshops, chess in libraries, language and maths courses for adults and support sessions for job applicants.
- Developing a plan
Bristol currently faces health, education and employment challenges that particularly affect the less well-off. There are concentrations of significant deprivation, with 42 areas counted among the most deprived in the country. In some neighbourhoods, only 56 per cent of children have the opportunity to attend a good school, compared to 99 per cent in others, and the percentage of young people not in education, employment or training ranges from two per cent to 13.5 per cent.
To address these challenges, Bristol has defined three long-term goals: (1) Raising the attainment of all students through formal learning in Bristol early years setting, schools, colleges and universities, (2) Supporting citizens into work and ensuring the local workforce is skilled and diverse, (3) Encouraging a culture in communities where learning is valued by everyone.
The first step towards accomplishing these goals was to involve all stakeholders in the city’s learning strategy. This was achieved by establishing the LCP, a structure that brings together 70 organizations from the private and public sectors to drive Bristol’s learning strategy.
The LCP has set up three themed groups with defined priorities, each focusing on different aspects of learning: Learning for Work, Learning in Education and Learning in Communities. The Learning for Work group tackles two challenges: unemployment and the lack of a skilled workforce in the construction, creative digital and high-tech industries. The Learning in Education group aims to give all young people across the city the same educational opportunities, and to achieve excellence in education. The Learning in the Communities group aims to foster a culture of learning and to create links within communities as a means of encouraging the sharing of knowledge among citizens.
The Learning City brand and Love Learning campaign were created to support those goals and to promote learning to individuals, communities and companies. Citizens were asked to take part in the campaign, share their own stories and explain why they loved learning. Through these initiatives, supported by a dedicated website and a creative use of social media platforms, the city has laid the foundations for a common culture of learning throughout life.
- Creating a coordinated structure involving all stakeholders
The LCP Board was established at the beginning of 2015 and currently comprises 19 partners and is chaired by the elected mayor. The board is made up of leaders from across the public, private and education sectors, whose role is to plan strategically, maximize resources and encourage innovation.
To support the LCP’s strategic aims, Bristol City Council's constitution was amended in the summer of 2015 to allow the mayor to make decisions about education at the LCP board. The first key decision, approving an Integrated Education Capital Strategy and associated capital spending of £34 million (US $41 million), was made in January 2016.
Four LCP groups were initially established, now reduced to three, each chaired by a member of the board and supported strategically and operationally by local authority managers. A number of task and finish groups deliver specific assignments to these groups, and 70 partner organizations are involved as part of a cross-partnership approach to meeting the city’s challenges. This gives stakeholders a clear path to follow within a broader framework of governance.
Bristol has sought to engage citizens by creating the Learning Ambassador role and helping these Ambassadors to champion learning in their communities. There are 159 ambassadors in total, with different backgrounds. They now share Bristol’s vision of a Learning City and work to inspire all citizens to participate in learning.
- Mobilizing and utilizing resources
Diminishing resources in the public sector have required the LCP to assess its sustainability and ensure that partners work together more effectively in order to achieve a greater impact. The council and other partners have invested in a core team to support the development of the LCP, and invested £250,000 (US $304,000) to establish the Education and Business Hub.
Besides this, LCP Board members have dedicated considerable time, venues and staff resources to the LCP. More than 200 people have been mobilized to support the partnership’s goals. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England combines his time on the LCP Board with chairing an LCP group focused on learning for and in work.
As noted above, LCP groups receive significant support from more than 70 partner organizations from the business, not-for-profit and public sectors. Private stakeholders are helping transform Bristol into a learning city and awarded prizes during the 2016 Love Learning campaign. Children’s centres, libraries and places of worship across the city are being used as learning centres. Various learning activities, from health-related skills acquisition to sports, are being held in numerous venues. This helps Bristol to maximise the use of its resources while getting closer to its communities.
Finally, the LCP has provided opportunities for 10 graduate interns to develop their skills and experience by supporting specific activities run by the LCP.
- Making learning accessible to all
Bristol has worked hard to ensure that all citizens can develop their full potential. For example, the Mayor of Bristol has made a commitment to provide work experience placements and apprenticeship opportunities for every young person in Bristol who wants one. This commitment has been formalized through its inclusion in Bristol’s wider strategic vision. A delivery partner has been commissioned to lead WORKS, a unique collaboration between employers, learning providers and local communities to develop a skilled local workforce. WORKS connects businesses and educators to develop better and more coordinated work experience opportunities and to help young people find employment through a number of schemes, including apprenticeships.
In addition, in March 2016, the LCP Board agreed on the Ways2Work strategy to develop targeted employment and skills training for priority groups, including care leavers. It also began the commissioning alternative learning provision for those students in each area of the city who cannot attend mainstream schools.
Bristol has developed a thriving learning environment. Three-hundred community non-formal learning courses hosted in diverse venues across the city reach 18,000 people and cover a range of topics, from stained-glass-making to local history. The city has also organised a workshop, attended by a number of local learning providers, focused on getting all individuals and communities involved in learning.
To keep citizens informed about learning opportunities, the LCP has developed a monthly newsletter, website and social media presence to promote learning opportunities and inspire people through ‘learning stories’. Bristol Learning City (@BristolLearning) now has more than 4,000 Twitter followers.
- Organizing celebratory events
Bristol designated 2016 the Year of Learning and launched the ‘Love Learning’ campaign. The aim of the campaign was to encourage all of its citizens to get involved in learning.
To celebrate the start of the year, ‘Trees of Knowledge and Learning’ were put on display in two of Bristol’s museums. Each leaf was inscribed with a learning resolution. Citizens were encouraged to add a leaf to a tree, explaining what they wanted to learn during the year or what they enjoyed learning about.
Love Learning Week was held in February to encourage citizens to discover their love of learning and share their learning stories. Bristol’s museums and libraries hosted a range of events for children, families and adults throughout the week. Activities ranged from reading lessons to puppet-making and adult drawing classes.
In 2016, a new learning theme was introduced each month, and promoted on a dedicated website and through social media. Themes included ‘Opening Doors and Breaking Barriers’, ‘Unlocking Potential’ and ‘Developing our Future Workforce’.
Following the success of the Year of Learning, Bristol extended its Love Learning campaign into 2017. Learning at Work Week, which takes place in May, is one of the campaign’s annual highlights, as are the ongoing activities centred on Learning Ambassadors, Learning Stories and Learning Themes.
- Monitoring and evaluation
The LCP identified a need for an innovative approach to evaluating its ambitious goals. A partnership group, chaired by the University of Bristol, has developed an evaluation framework to assess Bristol’s key features and the impact of learning on individuals, communities, organizations and the city. Existing surveys, big data sets, digital tools and citizen experiences are used to measure the impact of LCP activity while indicating the culture and value of learning in the city.
The findings serve as the foundation for the LCP to set learning priorities that meet the needs of individuals. For example, the partnership is using annual Education Performance Report data to identify vulnerable groups of young people and develop specific programmes, such as a project to help address the achievement gap between boys and girls in primary school.
Bristol is continually developing new ways of evaluating its actions. In autumn 2016, after a seminar bringing together partners from all sectors, Bristol launched a pilot project for a citizen-led approach to evaluation, with the aim of ensuring sustainable development through greater involvement in and ownership of the city’s learning resources.
The city is also working with university partners to develop a process for visualizing education and learning data for the city, linked to an evaluation framework showing the impact of learning on individuals, organizations and the city. A pilot project is being developed with an initial focus on widening participation into higher education to promote inclusion in education. There is scope to develop this pilot to cover other priority areas, including employment and community learning opportunities.
- Achievements and the way forward
The impact of the LCP during its first year has recently been assessed. Partners identified a commitment to change and greater coherence in the learning sector. Business partners noted an improvement in their understanding of the challenges facing formal learning, and the impact a partnership approach can have on successful outcomes for the city. Partners are taking collective responsibility for city issues, as evidenced by partnership contributions to city-wide strategies.
The LCP is having a tremendous social, cultural and environmental impact across the city. As regards its social impact, community early years provision is helping to reshape and revitalize neighbourhood and family learning, while a thriving allotment project is encouraging intergenerational learning by bringing together local residents, including families and older people. As for its cultural impact, business representatives supported the ‘Get on Track’ programme, and partners have volunteered for programme activities aimed at enabling young women to take up learning, employment and training opportunities. The LCP’s environmental impact, meanwhile, is evidenced by the 30,000 children who have taken part in environmental workshops, fieldtrips and activities as part of the Sustainable Learning Programme. Following Bristol's year as European Green Capital, the programme supports teachers through a free website that includes an award-winning educational game. Designed in partnership with Aardman Animations, the game has attracted 91,000 players from 164 countries and is being translated into 26 languages.
Finally, the project’s impact on the economy should be taken into account. The initial focus of the LCP’s Education and Business Hub is the construction industry. When the city issued a tender to build a new venue, the Bristol Arena, it stipulated that whoever won the contract must provide 48 apprenticeships and 40 work placements as a measure to help reduce youth unemployment.
Learning City Project Manager