The man who invented the ‘adult learner’ and ‘seriously useless learning’

A Guardian article about the influential adult educator Alan Tuckett has resurfaced on social media this week. It’s almost 2 years old but very relevant as adult learners begin a new academic year of part-time courses.

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Alan Tuckett is a prominent campaigner for adult education including what he calls, “seriously useless learning” – by which he means learning that offers no immediate obvious route into employment but has demonstrably positive benefits. The Guardian article gives some examples of how effective part-time adult education  can be.

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A news item published today by the University of Oxford adds to the evidence that adult education has many benefits. In partnership with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), the largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in England and Scotland, a team from Oxford’s department of experimental psychology studied attendees at seven separate day-time adult education classes. Their findings are published in a series of papers which can be found by following links from the University’s website here.

Dr Eiluned Pearce who led the research said: ‘The students reported benefits including increased self-confidence, a greater feeling of control over their lives and more willingness to take on new challenges. Some said the classes made them more motivated to be more active, despite the classes not specifically involving physical activity.

Many students will be embarking on learning journeys this month. Some will have specific plans to make their journey a commute to work or a better job. They know what they want to learn, where they want to go and how long they will take to get there. Others will be starting learning expeditions, explorations, adventures or even jaunts. Who knows where their courses will take them? What difference will it make to families to have adults who are intellectually curious, creative and excited about finding out more about all sorts of subjects? What will the impact be on students’ health, well-being, confidence, competence and sense of belonging?

Alan Tuckett and others make a strong case but voices like his are needed more than ever as the numbers of adult learners decline and yet more opportunities for adult learning are lost with the sad news that the University of Leicester plans to close Vaughan Center for Lifelong Learning. We need to work hard to reverse this trend.

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All change!

Joanna Cain will take over the role of Deputy CEO and Director of Education at the WEA when I retire from the post at the end of this month. JoCain Jo is currently the Head of Learning and Organising Services at the public service union UNISON and has worked closely with the WEA on partnership initiatives including the longstanding “Return to Learn” workplace learning project. She is also an experienced educator with many years of experience in developing and delivering adult learning. I’m delighted that someone as principled and steeped in lifelong learning has been appointed and am enjoying getting to know Jo better as we plan a smooth handover.

It’s been an immense privilege to work for the WEA.

I’ve been inspired so often by students’ stories, by volunteers’ generosity with their time and talents and by colleagues who really care about their work. I’m more grateful than I can say for all the support that I’ve received from friends and colleagues over the years within the WEA and more widely.

I will keep an active interest in adult education but retirement from the WEA will mean changes for this blog and my social media identities.

  • This blog’s title will change to “Lifelong Learning Matters” but the content will remain.
  • My new Twitter name will be @_AnnWalker but this will be a continuation of my existing account.

I don’t think this will affect any of my social media relationships, which should adjust automatically, unless you choose to make changes.

Joanna tweets as @joanna_cain. She’s well worth following as well as the WEA’s official Twitter account at @WEAadulted.

Celebrating adult learning in the North of England

Brilliant award winners were outstanding stars at the Northern England Adult Learners’ Week ceremony in Leeds Civic Hall on Friday 5 June. It was a fitting setting. Built in the 1930s depression, the impressive Civic Hall was a job creation project, providing work and training for adults who would otherwise have been unemployed.

The award winners were:

  • Christine Foskett  – Raising Aspirations Award, sponsored by the HEART partnership
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Christine Foskett

Craven College team (Photo by Lindsey Johnson)

Craven College team (Photo by Lindsey Johnson)

  • Matthew Dobson – Digital Learning Award, sponsored by the BBC
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Matthew Dobson listens to Jane Birch explaining why she nominated him for an award

  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), Cullercoats Station – Employer Award, sponsored by One Awards.
The RNLI group

The RNLI Cullercoats group

  • Jacques Reid – NOCN Learning at Work Award, also sponsored One Awards.
Jacques Reid

Jacques Reid

  • Women’s Health in South Tyneside (WHiST) – Project Award
Representatives of WHiST receive their award

Representatives of WHiST receive their award

Left - Charlie Churlish receives his award from Tom Stannard Right - Lou Mycroft of Northern College with Steve Jones

Left – Charlie Churlish receives his award from Tom Stannard
Right – Lou Mycroft of Northern College with Steve Jones

  • Michaela Sampson – Outstanding Individual Award
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Michaela Sampson

You can read more about the award winners here.

This is the 24th year of Adult Learners’ Week celebrations, led by NIACE, the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education. There were 1,175 nominations nationally, with 425 nominations being received in the 3 Northern English Regions. The standard was high, giving the selection panel some rich reading and difficult choices. The panel members were:

  • Louise Mycroft from Northern College
  • Paul Amann and Nicola Thorpe from the WEA
  • Tony Norbury from Merseyside Union Learn
  • Maggi Butterworth from Swarthmore Education Centre
  • Janet Golding of Trinity College London
  • Derek Whitehead from Leeds College of Building

It was a privilege to act as Master / Mistress of Ceremonies for the event.

We heard about partnerships, supportive networks and collaboration throughout a day of passion, pride & powerful stories. People described starting points for their own learning or for their students’ journeys – often talking about isolation, lack of confidence, low levels of qualifications and difficult personal circumstances. They have made undreamed-of progress on their learning journeys.

The inspiring success stories and clear evidence of significant returns on investment in adult education came a day after the Chancellor announced the prospect of even more cuts for the FE sector.

People spoke of their fears and frustration about short-sighted funding cuts, especially in light of the “Northern Powerhouse” concept which would depend on high calibre talents and skills. Cutting off the supply instead of investing in adult learning and further education is illogical if we are trying to improve prosperity and lessen inequality.

Tom Stannard of NIACE captured the shared enthusiasm for adult learning in this short video clip.

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Following the theme of investment, there was plenty of evidence that the learning bug is infectious, with successful students talking about using their own growing expertise to ‘give something back’ by acting as teachers and mentors, supporting others to follow their examples.

Presentations by the WEA’s “Inclusion in Rugby” project and the “Bridges to Learning” project, run in partnership by Unison, the Open University and the WEA showed the impact and reach of adult learning in very different settings. Both projects had featured in previous Adult Learners’ Weeks, showing that progress goes on after award ceremonies. They are not the end of people’s learning and development.

Showcase project – Inclusion in Rugby

Flanked by ex-Sports Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, WEA tutor Mark Goodwin and members of the Bumble Bee Barbarians mixed ability rugby team described the team’s incredible story.

Former Sports Minister and Bumble Bees' Patron, Gerry Sutcliffe, joined Mark Goodwin and Bumbles players in their presentation

Former Sports Minister and Bumble Bees’ Patron, Gerry Sutcliffe, joined Mark Goodwin and Bumbles players in their presentation

Anthony Brooke, who was born with cerebral palsy, was a student in one of Mark’s assertiveness courses. Anthony’s ambition was to play full contact rugby. What followed, including the formation of the Bumble Bees team, has been magical. Mark and the Bumbles worked with Jane Bilton, a WEA Organiser, and were able to set up a class for players with Learning Disabilities – the WEA Inclusion in Rugby Group – aiming to promote disability awareness, social inclusion and equality through rugby.

The players created a promotional training package and presentation designed to encourage the creation of new inclusive teams and the expansion of mixed ability rugby. They have become unstoppable, with prestigious individual and group awards for Anthony, Mark and the Bumbles, television appearances and the formation of IMAS, an International Mixed Ability Sports community interest company.

They are now central to organising the first Mixed Ability Rugby World Tournament in Bradford and are learning how to raise funds. You can find out more (and donate) here.

Showcase Project – “Bridges to Learning”

Moving onto another project with far-reaching results, Anne Hansen and Unison Union Learning Reps (ULRs) showed the “Bridges to Learning” initiative’s impact.

The partnership project involves volunteers who take learning into workplaces. It encourages workers in the health, social care and education sectors to develop in their jobs through taking part in learning and training. Staff and volunteers work with employers to create recognised progression routes for individuals and teams to move forward.

The ULRs spoke enthusiastically about their own learning and how they encourage others to further their education. The statistics they shared were striking, showing the project’s reach and effects.

John Barker and the event organisers from the WEA’s Yorkshire and Humber region showed how a successful celebration can be staged with limited resources and endless patience.

The nominated learners, tutors, employers and projects showed the power and value of lifelong learning. It is precious and potent. Everyone who was present believes that we must stand up for adult learning.

The stories and statistics of success are compelling.

Banking on a better future for women

Scottish Widows, the Insurance division of Lloyds Banking Group, organised an event in Parliament last night for WEA students, volunteers, staff, MPs from England, Scotland and Wales and people from partner organisations. We are grateful to Fiona Mactaggart MP, who not only hosted the evening, but who is well-known to WEA students in Slough.

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Fiona Mactaggart MP welcoming guests to the Parliamentary event

Scottish Widows is working with the WEA to support adults returning to education and to reduce financial and social inclusion, as well as building a greater understanding of financial planning.  400 Scottish Widows’ staff have been sharing their skills and knowledge with over 2,000 WEA students, volunteers and staff. Some have helped students in ESOL classes with speaking and listening skills while others have volunteered in employability workshops designed to help students to identify their strengths and skills for finding jobs. This film explains more:

The main purpose of the Parliamentary event was to launch a WEA report on “Securing a better future for women”. As well as Fiona Mactaggart, speakers included Toby Strauss, Group Director for insurance at Lloyds Banking Group and CEO of Scottish Widows, Ruth Spellman, the WEA’s CEO and Hazel Richardson, a WEA tutor from Yorkshire.

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Speakers: Top left: Fiona Mactaggart Top Right: Toby Strauss Bottom Left: Ruth Spellman Bottom Right: Hazel Richardson

The report examines priorities for helping women, particularly those who are older, into work or better job opportunities and development. It suggests urgent action in three areas:

  • giving women the confidence to take up and progress in work;
  • provide them with the skills businesses need;
  • and provide more opportunities for flexible working in the workplace.

Around 75% of WEA students are women, with many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds. The WEA has campaigned for the rights of women since it was founded in 1903, with early public advocacy of nursery education and the suffragette movement.

This report is part of the WEA’s ongoing campaign on Women Overcoming Disadvantage.  More information is available here.

You can find out more about the event and download the report here.

Adult Education links with Europe

Working in an organisation that covers England and Scotland with sister organisations in other countries, it’s often apparent that discussion of adult education in England can be a bit parochial and inward looking unless we are open to learning from further afield. I’m looking forward to meeting colleagues from ABF, the Swedish WEA, in London this week. It’s always instructive to compare notes about our students’ experiences and opportunities as well as the social and policy contexts for our work.

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Making connections between European countries has never been easier. EPALE, the European Platform for Adult Learning in Europe is a virtual space where all adult educators can exchange ideas, resources and views. It’s free to register on their website here.  Further information about EPALE’s UK launch can be found here.

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It’s important that engagement with other countries is also open to students, especially if they might not usually have opportunities to experience life in different nations or cultures.

The WEA’s Europe, Democracy and Citizenship in the 21st Century project is aimed at adults who want to learn more about Europe and the European Union and then take back what they have learnt back in to their communities. The course includes a study visit to Brussels and is designed to enable students to gain knowledge, new information and contacts as well as new skills.

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The course will consider the following:
•   What is Europe?
•   What is the European Union and how and why has it developed as it has?
•   How does the EU work and could it work better?
•   How can our communities be heard and how can we influence decision making?
•   How does Europe need to change for the people?

The WEA is raising money for the study visit to give opportunities for those who would not normally have them and we are grateful for EU Parliamentary support for the project.

You can find out more about the project here.

Anne Casey

It’s very sad to hear that Anne Casey, a former colleague, died suddenly this morning after a period of illness.

Anne Casey

Anne Casey

Anne joined the WEA as a Manager for Employer Engagement and Trade Union Partnerships in September 2005. She worked with us until March 2008 when she left to take up a post with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) working on developing their Learning Centres.  She was involved in various global solidarity campaigns in her role as a Union Skills Co-ordinator with the ICTU.

Anne was a very committed, supportive and likeable WEA colleague who made a positive difference during her time with us. Many people will mourn her passing.

Alan Petford (1953 – 2015)

It is very sad to record another death in the WEA with the untimely passing of Alan Petford, a well-known and respected tutor. Alan was 61 years old and had been ill for several months before his death on 11 February.

Alan Petford (1953 - 1915)

Alan Petford (1953 – 1915)

Kenneth Wilson, the voluntary Treasurer of the WEA’s Yorkshire and Humber Region, described Alan as, “an inspirational tutor with the WEA and Leeds University who will be greatly missed by many staff and students.” Alan was a graduate of Oxford University and had been a history teacher in grammar schools in Lancashire and West Yorkshire before his early retirement from school teaching. He served as a school governor at Hipperholme Grammar School until his death.

Alan was an expert professional historian who shared an encyclopaedic knowledge of local heritage and architecture through teaching, research, writing, archiving and membership of voluntary groups such as the Chapels Trust, Saddleworth Trust and Hulme Archiving Team. He was generous with his time and his enthusiasm for his subject was infectious. He was the author and co-author of several books.

We extend our sympathy to his family and friends.