About Northern College

The Northern College for Adult Residential Education  is one of the four long-term residential Colleges in England, and is one of only 10 Specialist Designated Institutions. Such providers are recognised by the government as fulfilling an unique educational role. Our work has been consistently affirmed as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and other quality assurance agencies.A photograph of The Northern College The College’s mission is:

“To provide outstanding adult residential and community education for the empowerment and transformation of individuals and communities.”

We are very proud of our mission. We believe that education and training, and in particular lifelong learning, is central to both individual and community growth, and to future economic and social well-being. Our social purpose mission also highlights the College’s commitment to supporting students working in professions engaged in transforming and empowering individuals and communities. Everything we do comes from that values base.

The College was established in 1978 by a group of visionary thinkers who sought to create a place of learning for adults who had missed out on educational opportunities in their earlier lives. It emerged from the powerful Labour Movement in South Yorkshire, which had close links with education and training. Since its founding, the College has sought to provide a wide variety of courses, from those aimed at people taking their first steps back into learning, through to programmes for people studying at University level, plus programmes of study for workers and activists across the community and voluntary, trade union, social enterprise and public sectors.

The College is based at Wentworth Castle, in a rural setting three miles from Barnsley. The College occupies the main house, with extra teaching rooms and accommodation in a variety of buildings, against the backdrop of a Grade 1 listed landscape. The opportunity to live and work in beautiful and historic surroundings is a key attraction for our students. In addition, we have excellent ICT facilities, an award winning Library and Learning Support Centre, and an excellent on-site Childcare Centre.

Our students

Although the majority of students are from South and West Yorkshire, the residential nature of the College’s provision, and the specific nature of its curriculum, also attract students from the wider Yorkshire and Humber region and further afield.  We are a national centre for social purpose Teacher Education, in partnership with The University of Huddersfield.

Our students include

  •  Trade union and community activists.
  • Members of community groups and organizations.
  • People in paid or voluntary employment seeking professional qualifications.
  • Learners who hope to go on to university.

Apart from sharing the common factor of being an adult, there is really no such thing as a typical Northern College student. Our learners come from a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and geographical areas. This diversity is something we cherish – we recognize the value of bringing different groups together to study and share experiences of learning.

Some learners are returning to education for the first time since leaving school, having raised a family, or after spending a long time in employment, or after losing their job or perhaps having never having worked. Some students have had long-term physical or mental health issues, or have survived substance misuse, homelessness or domestic violence. Some learners have specific learning support needs, such as dyslexia or ADHD, which went unnoticed at school.

Other learners are more experienced veterans of the education system, who may be seeking a professional qualification to help them develop their career, or practical skills to help them manage their organisation more effectively or carry out their activism with greater confidence and knowledge. We have strong cross-sector relationships with employers and social purpose organisations and we offer bespoke training programmes.

Our staff

We rely on a wide range of staff to keep the College operating, from the people who work in the Library, canteen, finance, personnel, registry, estates, children’s centre, ICT and marketing offices, to the people who clean, maintain and generally look after the buildings on an everyday basis. In addition, we have a team of support workers on hand who offer information, advice and guidance to learners, as well as staff dedicated to providing individual learning support for students who need it.

About 20 full and part-time academic tutors are based at the College. Most tutors work across different curriculum areas and programmes. We also employ expert sessional tutors, who either teach courses at the College or at outreach venues across the country. Many Northern College tutors themselves experienced returning to education as adults.

Our courses


Each of our courses – at Wentworth Castle or in communities and organisations – makes a contribution to the delivery of our social purpose mission. We work in partnership with a range of accrediting bodies, including the Open College Network, City and Guilds, the Institute of Leadership and Management, and the University of Huddersfield:

  • Short courses for individuals, from introductory, ‘first steps’ learning, through to accredited courses leading to awards, spanning topics related to personal development, Maths, English and ICT, arts, humanities and social sciences, community development.
  • Bespoke courses for groups, commissioned by organisations for their staff, volunteers and service users.
  • Professional qualifications such as Cert Ed/PGCE, Level 3 Award in Education and Training, Working with Parents and an ILM Leadership and Management programme.
  • Accredited Trade Union courses, on a wide variety of topics from Health and Safety and Employment Law, through to general Trade Union Studies.
  • A multi-disciplinary, full-time Access to Higher Education Diploma, with integral academic study skills and Maths and English elements.
  • A BA (Hons) degree in Education and Professional Development, in partnership with The University of Huddersfield.

Our approach to teaching

We acknowledge that our students come to us with valuable life experience and knowledge, and are not just empty vessels waiting to be filled. Our social purpose pedagogy is based on principles of co-production and resilience.

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