As a key part of its new remit, the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) has published an important consultation report, Pursuing Excellence: An Outline Improvement Strategy.

Its focus is on the Further Education system which includes colleges, workplace providers, schools and adult education services. It emphasises that the system has unrealised potential and that providers must be “responsive to the needs of learners, employers and local communities” (Para 12) to enable the transformation of learning.

Technology must play an important part in pushing forward this agenda for self-improvement and Becta, the Government’s agency charged with promoting technology for learning is working closely with the QIA on this front.

I’ve been discussing the report with Fred Garnett, Becta’s policy advisor for community education and some of his other colleagues and am keen to open up a debate on the issues raised. Should there be a response based upon the views of people working in ACL?

There is substantial potential for transformation, particularly in the light of the investment in community based ICT infrastructure in the years 2000-2005, which reflected the importance attached to “mastering technology” by both the Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Chancellor Gordon Brown.

But the task of incorporating technology into people’s lives – essential for updating our skills base and for an inclusive knowledge economy – is far from done. Especially this is so with those now excluded, most of whom are deterred from learning.

They will participate in community based and informal provision, but much of this is threatened by the plans for Personal and Community Development Learning, where fees will be higher, programme weightings will disappear and the total pot shrink.

Isn’t this bad news for local communities, to whose needs the QIA says providers must be responsive? Yes, but isn’t it bad news too for all those ‘public value’ Government policies concerned with citizenship, equality and diversity, social inclusion and e-government. ACL and Capacity Building provide both skills & competencies and bonding for individuals and local communities to embrace and extend these public values.

Are there ICT success stories to illustrate this? Is there a new Digital Divide 2.0, where more complex skills are required for mastering technology than just word processing and sending emails?

In my book Digital Nations in the making, just published by NIACE, there are a number of recommendations about how we can take forward and enhance the work taking place in community based informatics.

Eight of these recommendations have been selected and people in ACL, colleges, schools, the voluntary sector and elsewhere are invited to debate these and the wider issues raised by the Pursuing Excellence Report over the next 12 days using the comments section of this blog. There will be three separate debates with the following themes:

    1. Capacity building in local communities  (Oct 3rd-6th)
    2. Supporting Public Value Government policies (Oct 9th-12th)
    3. Looking to the future to pursue excellence (Oct 14th-18th)

Each theme will have a separate posting and will be in the main section of the blog & under the Categories section on the side bar – eg .1 Communities and Excellence.