Cathy and Sarah talk about family learning

WEA students Cathy Thomas and Sarah Nichols spoke at the launch of the Independent Inquiry into Family Learning last Friday.  NIACE organised the event on the theme of Forgotten Families: How learning in families contributes to a range of policy agendas.

Their tutor, Tracey Martin, and WEA Organiser, Trish Hollies, accompanied them as they joined the Princess Royal, members of the House of Lords, family learning practitioners, government department representatives and other adult students. I was also invited to speak about Family learning and its role in widening participation in adult learning.

There’s more information about the Inquiry at http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/family-learning-inquiry.

Carol Taylor from NIACE interviewed Sarah, Cathy and Emily Fearn, another successful adult learner from Croydon, as part of the event. Their moving first hand accounts showed the impact of family learning.

(L-R) Emily Fearn, Carol Taylor, Cathy and Sarah practise for the formal interview session

Cathy and Sarah, who are both from Yorkshire, wrote their own pen portraits before the event:

Cathy in her own words

Cathy with her tutor, Tracey

I’m a 33-year-old, married mother of three. I left school at 17 after having my first child and thought that was the end of my academic history. After having another two children and doing some short courses to keep my mind busy I enrolled on a course with the WEA.

Shortly afterwards I did another WEA course with my son which was all about people realising their potential and entering Higher Education.I always thought Higher Education was out of my grasp but this course showed me that I could do it. I applied to do a Preparation for Higher Education course.

After gaining a distinction in this course I have now gone on to gain a first class honours degree in Childhood Studies at the University of Leeds and am on a waiting list to start my MA in Social Work.

Sarah in her own words

This is Sarah; Sarah is a 27-year-old mother of three. She lives in a three bedroom house on her local council estate with her partner and kids. She is severely dyslexic and also suffers with post natal depression.

Every morning at half past four her alarm goes off just in time to wake her partner and get him up and sorted in order to be at work for six to start his 12 hour shift. Then at 7 she wakes her children, gets her eldest boy (6) and her little girl (4) fed and dressed for school and her youngest son (14 months) ready for his day…..to either be spent with his grandma/friend/or respite at the local sure start centre.  She then gets herself ready to go volunteer  in school for the day.

Sarah

This may seem like hard work but Sarah and her partner thrive off the hard working life as not so long ago their lives were mixed up in a world of unemployment, drugs and violent abuse.

Sarah and her partner met through their drug dependency. Her partner had started taking drugs at just 13, Sarah however had been introduced to them whilst at university studying towards her teaching degree. In her second year she became pregnant with her eldest son, and consequently had to give up on her dream of becoming a teacher and drop out of university.  After he was born her relationship broke down and she lost her job, she soon learnt to rely on drugs as a coping method.

During this period of time she met her current partner Adam who is the father to her two youngest children, their relationship has had its ups and downs as Sarah gave up drugs when she found she was pregnant but Adam never kicked the habit, they had to contend with constant arguments about money, a gambling addiction and then Adam began an affair with his drug dealer’s daughter.  Sarah could no longer cope and asked for help.  Subsequently her two children were placed on the ‘at risk’ register through Social Services.

Sarah then decided to get her life back on track, she found she was pregnant with her youngest son and decided as soon as he was born she would return to education.  She enrolled on a WEA course at her local Surestart Centre (Healthy Families) and the day her son was born her family was discharged from Social Services.

She continued her education with the WEA enrolling on another course – Practical Parent Helpers, after she went onto the WEA Volunteers Helping in Schools and Volunteers Helping with Special Educational Needs course. Through this she now volunteers sixteen hours a week within her local primary school and not only has she her own life back on track but it has given her partner the confidence and drive to go to work.  Sarah insists if it wasn’t for her local sure start centre and the WEA she would never have got to where she is today and neither would her family.

Making the most of their visit

Cathy, Tracey, Sarah and Trish celebrate their success

Sarah, Cathy, Tracey and Trish enjoyed their time in London, having had to travel from Yorkshire on Thursday for an early Friday start.

Ruth Spellman, the WEA’s General Secretary, met them on Thursday evening and they were able to do some walking and sightseeing between Southwark and Covent Garden. The wet weather didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

Now that the Inquiry is underway, Commissioners want to hear more evidence about how family learning changes lives for adult students and their families.

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About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1GI0QK1

9 Responses to Cathy and Sarah talk about family learning

  1. thank you for giving me such a fantastic opportunity i hope my story been told will help in every way possible xx

  2. Ann Walker says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Sarah and big congratulations to you and Adam for turning your lives round. It’s lovely to get a comment from you here.

    I really enjoyed spending time with you, Cathy, Tracey and Trish in London and your interview with Carol Taylor from NIACE at the launch event impressed people very much.

    Here’s to the next chapter of you story and thanks again.

  3. Thanks to Cathy and Sarah for sharing their stories. I enjoyed reading them. They both put in so much hard work and determination. It’s nice to see them recognized for that.

  4. Rosemary Mayes says:

    What inspiring stories which confirm once again the power of education to change lives and re-enforce my pride in being a trustee of the WEA. Many congratulations to Cathy and Sarah.

  5. Sheila Smith says:

    I was very moved by Cathy and Sarah’s stories and I’m sure their families must be very proud of their outstanding achievements. Congratulations to them both and to Tracey Martin for being such an inspirational tutor.

  6. gogwit says:

    Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    The power of education lies in harnessing the latent potential resident in most people to effect strong, lasting, positive change in their lives and conditions. Evident from this article.

  7. Cathy Thomas says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I am so grateful to the WEA for all their help, support and encouragement x

  8. Incredibly powerful sentiments – it really demonstrates the dedication of WEA staff and the commitment of the learners to overcome barriers to learning. Congratulations to Cathy and Sarah on their personal achievements, to the staff repsonsible for delivering this work, and to you Ann for highlighting the important work of the organisation and the tutors.

  9. Lynne Smith says:

    Such powerful,moving experiences that testify to the empowerment of learning.This feeds my belief and passion for the WEA. My thanks to all involved and congrats to Cathy and Sarah with all best wishes and luck for the future. Lynne Smith Deputy President WEA

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