Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Northern College (UK), a leading exponent of residential and community adult education, is established

This year, in the UK, a group of inspired women and men created Northern College, a residential centre dedicated to the education and training of working class adults who lacked formal qualifications or educational credentials and were seeking to improve their lives. Northern College was established in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, in the magnificent grounds and buildings of what had been an aristocratic home, a listed building, and a teacher training college,

NIACE (The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education of England and Wales) noted that the creation and development of this thriving institution for residential adult learning has arguably been the most significant development in the life and learning of the North of England.

It was a strong collaboration between trade unions, community groups, local authorities and voluntary organisations that helped to create the college. Those links, augmented by social and community groups and by private sector companies, continued to sustain and drive its activities during the following decades. This enabled the College to be more effective in developing programmes aimed social and economic regeneration through learning in the community and the workplace.

Throughout the years, the college has pioneered an innovative mix of full and part-time programmes of study which offer accredited pathways starting from basic literacy and numeracy through to higher education. A partnership with Sheffield Hallam University and links with other bodies engaged with adult learning helped the college to sustain its role at the cutting edge of adult learning.

The college is committed to equal opportunities for all, and offers a friendly learning environment in a supportive setting. The high level of residential student support enables learners to make maximum use of their time and the facilities available. The college combines strong regional links with a reputation for excellence, recruiting full time students from all parts of the UK and Ireland, and expanding its links with the European Community and other countries.

The College has approximately 4,000 student registrations a year. The students come from many different backgrounds and range in age from 21 to over 70. Many are familiar with low-paid and part-time jobs. Some students are accompanied by other family members, who are dependent upon their care. Some single parents are accompanied by their children.

The student population carries an almost endless range of social and personal differences. They are, however, characterised by sharing a commitment to the importance that learning can play in their future lives. Many hope that from this learning and the skills, qualifications and knowledge that they acquire, they will improve their lives and contribute to improving the lives of their community or trade union members. They are ambitious to become more effective as citizens.

The college offers a curriculum that starts from where students are. It aims to build on their experience of life and work that they carry with them. This acquired knowledge is augmented with new knowledge, new skills and fresh understandings that will equip them for their new and challenging lives. The college’s educational programmes provide a direct route from basic education through to higher education for those who want it. The pace of learning, the extent of learning and the progression is a matter for the individual student. Most embark on new and different lives and many leave the Northern College, having used it as a starting point in a personal odyssey, to enrol in further learning with other educational institutions.

Since its origins in 1978, the staff of the college and the governing body has shared in the belief that adult students at the Northern College deserve the best that can be provided and the college must do everything that is possible to secure the best that may be available. In this spirit the college has embarked on an ambitious programme of improvements to buildings, facilities and equipment. However, they are convinced that the enduring strength of the college is the commitment of all staff and the warm relationship that is built with individual students. This was expressed by a past student (now a governor) who said that the college was her ‘home’ for the duration of her study.

For further information about The Northern College, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, see: 


NIACE (2004). New Publications. The Northern College: 25 Years of Adult Learning 

Ball, M. and Hampton, W. (eds), (2004). The Northern College: 25 Years of Adult Learning. NIACE. ISBN 1-86201-190-7.

Prepared by Malcolm Ball and DS, 2004

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