Birmingham Core Skills Development Partnership was set up in 1995 as a private company to drive up levels of literacy and numeracy developments across the city. At that time levels of literacy and numeracy amongst school children, young people and adults put Birmingham close to the bottom of most lists for Local Authorities in the UK. There was an early estimation that the city may need around fifteen to twenty years to close gaps to national averages from its very low base in 1995. As it turns out, that early estimate was not far off the mark.
The nature of the support and development mechanisms have changed over time as the national and local contexts shifted. Originally the main drive came via a company board composed of the leaders of the few key learning, skills and employment development organisations in the city. It had a budget of over £30m and a strong political/officer commitment to bring about whole-city changes. Anyone wanting to backtrack over that earlier period will find a ‘Moving the Mountain’ summary archived in the Miscellany section of this website.
New approaches were forged in Birmingham and, in 1997, these were taken up by the incoming New Labour government. There have been criticisms of the way that later national approaches became over-formalised but, at the time, standards in Birmingham undoubtedly leapt up quite a few notches and developments ‘made in Birmingham’ were influential in the early shaping of national policy.
By 2003-2005, as partnership working had been made much more the norm, the need for a structured company declined. There was then a greater focus on regional networks, on adult Skills for Life developments and on employer-focused practices. Core Skills Development Partnership took a lead role in much of this and gained substantial national (and some international) recognition for it. Much of this has been archived in the Miscellany section of this website.
By 2007 other organisations were taking on many of the responsibilities for direct development work and the focus could be shifted onto some of the underlying causes of low skills. Core Skills Development (by now operating as a loose network of agencies) played a strong role in pushing forward the thinking around employability of young people; the need to bolster the social and emotional development of children; the links between learning and neighbourhood renewal; the need to boost English for adult employability; actions to lift Birmingham children out of poverty; and so on. This work is still being carried forward via various networks and there is a sense that the Core Skills Development Partnership can consider the bulk of its work to be done.
In parallel over the past couple of years I have been making a personal transition from full-time local authority employee, through an arm’s-length support role, and on towards an alternative existence as a writer of fiction (with four books on the Amazon site under ‘Geoff Bateson’ as well as a wide variety of articles held on this thewordsthething website (including a revamped History of Castle Vale, articles on ideas around flourishing/ neighbourhoods/ learning/ development/ approaches to change, alongside some just for fun speculative pieces re progress in contemporary art; countries ending in -stan and famous people called Stanley; notions of place and space, a gallery of photographs, and so on).
Birmingham has undoubtedly moved to a position much different from that worked on in 1995. At that time Birmingham was relentlessly at the bottom of most national lists for basic skills performance. The most recent figures for levels of literacy, language and numeracy put Birmingham at or above national averages for the end of primary education and the end of secondary school. Great progress has been made on levels of adult basic skills across the city and in all of this there has been fastest progress made in the lowest-skill neighbourhoods. There is much for Birmingham to be proud of and I have enjoyed every bit of my small contributions to changes in the city.
Moving forward (and Forward has always been Birmingham’s motto) I am equally enjoying the new writing-based activities I am now getting to grips with.
Further information about the work of the Birmingham Core Skills Development Partnership can be gained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org