If you have a passion for helping people to gain access to learning and skills opportunities working as a community education officer is ideal for you

As a community education officer, you will help to organise and promote participation in local education or training opportunities. These include skills in literacy and numeracy, life skills or practical skills, such as budgeting, cooking or learning how to use a computer.

You may work in diverse communities, in non-traditional venues such as community centres, children's centres, libraries and churches.

Community education officers work closely with course providers and external partners such as Jobcentre Plus staff and spend a lot of time developing positive working relationships with community support workers, such as housing support and money advice staff.

Usually, you will work in areas of social deprivation or high unemployment.

Responsibilities

Activities are wide-ranging and can vary greatly depending on the type of employer and sector.

For example, the role of a community education officer employed by a children's centre is very different to that of a community education officer employed by a university's widening-participation department.

However, community education roles typically involve an element of community engagement to increase participation in informal, educational and recreational activities.

Tasks typically include:

  • engaging with individuals and community groups, such as residents' associations, parents' groups and young people;
  • identifying local interests and needs and ways to meet them;
  • helping potential learners to overcome existing barriers to learning;
  • working with individuals to create learning plans;
  • formulating service plans and priorities in cooperation with other providers;
  • encouraging and influencing the development of new learning opportunities through formal and informal classes as well as individual tutoring and mentoring;
  • community capacity building through supporting the development of community or local voluntary groups;
  • identifying the training needs of local volunteers and providing for them;
  • sourcing grants and funding for community projects;
  • allocating and monitoring budgets;
  • undertaking the administration and evaluation of provision and reporting to advisory bodies and management groups;
  • managing staff and volunteers and dealing with team training (more usual in senior roles).

Salary

  • Starting salaries in the public sector range from £23,500 to £28,000. An equivalent position in the voluntary sector may attract a lower salary, starting at around £18,000.
  • Salaries for more senior posts range from £26,000 to in excess of £30,000.

Staff combining management or strategic roles with tutoring and curriculum development, or those in school management posts with a community remit, may reach higher pay scales.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically around 37 to 40 hours per week. Hours are often flexible but many contracts require evening and/or weekend work.

There are good opportunities for part-time working. Career breaks may be available.

Many posts depend on funding and are initially short-term contracts lasting up to two years at a time. This can prove frustrating, particularly due to the long-term developmental nature of the work.

What to expect

  • Although the work is generally office-based, for example in a college, community centre, school or local authority office, a considerable amount of time may be spent travelling to meet clients or training providers, or to attend classes or meetings.
  • Jobs are available across the country, but the number of opportunities may fluctuate with the availability of funding.
  • Much of the working day is spent in casual settings and staff dress accordingly. Meetings with senior management or funders may require a smart dress code.
  • The work often requires sensitivity, creativity and determination to overcome barriers and engage learners. Be prepared for setbacks before success is achieved.
  • Government initiatives are encouraging lifelong learning and increasing access to education in areas of the community that traditionally have not taken part before, e.g. the homeless, those with substance addiction, perpetrators/victims of crime or domestic violence, which may involve challenging work.
  • Overnight absence from home and overseas work or travel are uncommon.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to graduates from all subjects, a degree or HND/foundation degree in the following subjects may increase your chances of employment:

  • community development;
  • community education;
  • educational studies;
  • English or communication studies;
  • social sciences;
  • sociology or social policy;
  • sport development;
  • youth work.

For most posts, a degree plus relevant paid or voluntary community experience is required. Many entrants come from a youth and community background, while others have teaching or adult tutoring qualifications and experience.

Some postgraduate courses in community work or community education may accept students who have significant relevant experience as a substitution for a certain level of qualifications. Positions are also available to undertake work-based learning where postgraduate qualifications are obtained while working.

You may be able to enter the role without a degree if you have extensive experience, especially for posts in the voluntary sector, or posts linked closely with recreational or family activities.

These roles are increasingly difficult to find though and career progression is likely to be limited as roles with responsibility for policy development and strategic planning are usually restricted to those with academic qualifications. Entry requirements can vary widely depending on the specific role so you should check the job advertisement carefully.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills;
  • the ability to relate to, motivate and empathise with a range of people from different backgrounds;
  • a demonstrable respect for equality and diversity and the ability to promote equal opportunity practices;
  • an understanding of different value bases;
  • persistence and resilience, as results are often not immediate and outcomes cannot be guaranteed;
  • a range of group-work skills, from creating and leading a group to being a participative member;
  • the ability to work independently, making decisions and using initiative to establish projects;
  • good planning and organisational skills;
  • a high level of creativity and problem-solving ability, helping people to overcome barriers can be challenging;
  • a flexible approach and the ability to cope with change;
  • the ability to interpret, communicate and implement complex information;
  • the capability to reflect constructively on current practice and adapt accordingly.

You need to have an appreciation of diverse communities, as well as an understanding of methods of engagement of 'hard to reach' groups.

Work experience

Try to get involved in volunteer work, as this will provide important, relevant experience and help you to decide if community work is really for you. Contact your local volunteer bureau or student volunteer centre or visit YouthNet for advice and details of groups in the UK.

Your university careers service may be able to advise you on widening participation initiatives and vacancies within your institution. Getting a paid job is often the result of networking and maintaining contacts made as a result of voluntary experience.

Employers

The majority of community education officers are employed in the voluntary sector, the public sector or in local government. Main employers include:

  • local authorities;
  • schools and colleges of further and higher education;
  • voluntary educational bodies, such as the Workers' Educational Association (WEA);
  • youth and community organisations;
  • sports clubs, arts organisations such as orchestras, theatres, galleries and museums, and heritage organisations such as Historic Scotland and the National Trust;
  • voluntary organisations, particularly those with a specific remit for work with young people, the homeless, those with mental health issues and special interest groups.

Related roles may include work in all-age careers services, which is carried out under the National Careers Service.

Jobs may also be available in areas of widening participation and lifelong learning including:

  • outreach work;
  • the creation of more flexible educational provision, such as family learning programmes;
  • programmes to encourage participation in vocational training and life skills development;
  • work with a specific client group or within a particular educational specialist area, for example, in a partnership where a local college or local authority department, such as social work, community services and housing, work together.

At grassroots level, you may work alongside community organisations such as residents' associations, ethnic minority organisations or faith groups, and there are many opportunities to gain voluntary experience prior to employment.

Community education is just as likely to happen informally through community action projects as through formal programmes of learning.

Look for job vacancies at:

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Professional development

Staff development opportunities vary according to type of job, setting and employer. It is likely to consist of short courses to develop skills or raise awareness of specific issues. This might involve health promotion issues, group work or training in the field of staff development.

These courses are often provided in-house or by other organisations in the field of community development and lifelong learning.

Such training opportunities are often funded through regional development agencies and may be coordinated by:

Postgraduate MA courses in community studies and/or education are valuable for career development.

If you are heavily involved in outreach roles you may find that NVQ or diploma qualifications in youth and community work enhance career prospects. Such courses may be available part time, and be encouraged and/or paid for by the employer.

Specific qualifications in teaching in further education may also be useful for certain roles. See FE Advice for details.

For more information, see Excellence Gateway, the Education and Training Foundation's resources portal.

Career prospects

As community education work is so diverse, your career may move sideways, as you gain experience in a range of community education work before considering promotion.

Opportunities vary between employers; for example, structured progression to management is more likely within large education services, further education colleges or local authorities. The structure is typically:

  • community education officer;
  • senior community education officer;
  • principal education officer;
  • area team leader.

Management roles include responsibility for overall policy, planning and coordination of provision. These roles are often found within local authorities.

Progression can also be achieved by specialising in specific client groups. This can provide the opportunity to build on basic experience and extend expertise. Equal opportunities policy has encouraged projects focused on ethnic minority groups, mature learners and other initiatives targeted towards disadvantaged groups.

The growing interest in community education may lead to a growth of opportunities for experienced personnel to train others, and some limited consultancy services in community development.

Career development may also involve a move towards more formal settings such as careers advice, adult tutoring, social work or other areas of community work.

Career prospects can be enhanced by a willingness to relocate, and evidence of motivation, such as having additional relevant postgraduate qualifications.