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DfE Community Learning Mental Health Research 2015/16

Official BIS Briefing (October 2015)


  • The Autumn Statement announced £20 million over two years (£5m 2015-16 / £15m 2016-17) to pilot courses to help adults manage mild to moderate mental health problems.
  • We invited bids from directly-funded Community Learning providers (mostly Local Authority adult education services and FE colleges), which developed their proposals in conjunction with local mental health partners.
  • The Department's Skills Funding Agency allocated funding across its six operational areas, with a minimum 5 pilots per Agency area and maximum funding per contract of £80k.
  • 62 successful projects were announced in March 2015.


There is already evidence that ‘mainstream’ non-vocational adult education:

  • Improves wellbeing, with an impact sufficient to offset a gradual decline in wellbeing as people get older ("Learning and Wellbeing Trajectories among Older Adults in England", Institute of Education, 2012)
  • Reduces depression, particularly in women ("The Relationship between Adult Learning and Wellbeing: Evidence from the 1958 National Child Development Study", Institute of Education, 2012)
  • Improves reported life satisfaction and self-worth, significantly associated with adult learning ("Review and Update of Research into the Wider Benefits of Adult Learning", London School of Economics, 2012). LSE researchers also found that “Adult learning has more than twice the impact on self-confidence than being employed.”

Some adult education services and colleges have already developed mental health courses targeted specifically at people with mild to moderate mental health problems. They report that these courses are helping participants develop strategies for understanding and managing their mental health problems.

We are using the Autumn Statement funding to pilot these targeted mental health courses more widely and externally evaluate their impact to determine whether adult learning can support people to manage their mental health problems and if they do, which types of courses are effective for which types of mentla health problems.

Pilot activity 

We have not set a top-down ‘blueprint’ for the content of mental health courses. Courses may:

  • Focus directly on a mental health problem, e.g. a ‘Manage your Stress’ course
  • Use adult learning activities, such as art, music, craft, dance etc. as a vehicle for sharing, developing and practising strategies for improving mental health
  • Directly complement interventions such as IAPT, NHS-funded Recovery College courses or other activities commissioned by local mental health services
  • Develop completely new learning content and delivery approaches to support and improve mental health

Each pilot's provision must include:

  • Pre-course discussion and on-going individual support to help participants select a course, discuss progress and plan for return to employment, and /or progression to training, employment or fulfilling family and community life
  • Short, part-time courses to help eligible learners develop the tools, strategies and resilience to recover from mental health problems, reduce their use of medical services, re-engage with families and communities, progress to further learning/training,  progress to work or return to work
  • ‘Top-up’ mental health workshops, as required, for people who have progressed from courses but feel the need for subsequent support at stressful times


Course participants must be adults aged 19 and over, and experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems.


  • Participants can be referred by a local mental health team, Recovery College, housing association, GP, Jobcentre Plus, Probation Service, careers service or other relevant local service
  • People may also self-refer, providing they are experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems
  • The mandatory pre-course discussion determine whether the providers’ courses are suitable for the applicant
  • Providers’ referral channels are being compared and assessed as part of the external evaluation process.


Will vary according to the individual.

External evaluation is gathering anonymised evidence about participants’ progress in relation to:

  • Anxiety, depression and wellbeing, using the same standardised and validated assessment scores as used by the national IAPT programme (SWEMWBS, GAD-7 for anxiety and PHQ-9 for depression)
  • Use of medical services
  • Return to employment or progression to new learning, training or employment
  • Positive re-engagement with family and/or active participation in community life.

External evaluation

  • A consortium comprising Ipsos MORI (lead), The Centre for Mental Health and the Centre for Citizenship and Community was appointed via a competitive procurement exercise and is undertaking the external evaluation of the pilot projects.
  • The evaluators are comparing the effectiveness of different approaches to workforce training, outreach, referral and delivery of mental health provision
  • Findings from Year 1 pilots will help shape the specification for Year 2 work.

DfE/OGD links

  • The project steering group includes senior officials from the Department of Health, Public Health England, NHS England, DWP and Cabinet Office
  • At the local level, individual projects are working with relevant teams/projects, including IAPT, DWP Psychological Wellbeing and Work pilots, NHS Recovery Colleges and mental health charities such as MIND. 61 pilot projects are currently working with more than 400 mental health partners across England.

What next?

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