Family Learning Works – invest now or pay later?

‘Family Learning Works’ was launched last Friday. The report makes recommendations and proposes actions based on 12 months of detailed research and analysis by the NIACE-led Independent Inquiry into Family Learning chaired by Baroness Valerie Howarth.

The report offers some affordable hope and practical solutions in the wake of the OECD’s recent PIAAC Report on levels of adult literacy and numeracy and the Parliamentary debate on these issues on 10 October. The PIAAC statistics and last week’s ‘State of the Nation 2013’ report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission suggest grim prospects for too many adults – especially those furthest from decent employment and for their dependent children. These reports show why we need to act now to reduce the knock-on effects on our society, economy and future public spending to deal with the consequences of poor literacy, numeracy and confidence.

Young people who leave school with low levels of skills are not just be ill-prepared for employment but will be poorly equipped to provide their future children with vital learning support, perpetuating a chain of educational disadvantage through generations. We can’t let this continue and it makes so much sense to intervene across two generations at a time, helping adults to reach their own potential and to nurture their children’s education. This is good for the adults, good for the children, good for schools and good for society.

You can find a summary of the Family Learning Works report here, but here’s an at-a-glance taster to show some key points:

FLW

Family Learning is an important aspect of the WEA’s work. We know and can show that wanting better chances for their children is a strong motive for many adults to improve their own literacy and numeracy skills – with lasting benefits for both generations.

There’s been a consistent theme running through events that I’ve been involved in this week – the WEA’s Biennial Conference, a celebration of ESF Community Learning Grants and now the launch of Family Learning Works – and it’s that community and family learning are tried, tested and effective but insufficiently recognised ways of dealing with some deep-rooted problems in our communities and wider society.

Having been a Commissioner on the Inquiry into Family Learning, I share other Commissioners’ commitment to making report’s recommendations a reality. The report is completed but the work on implementation starts now. It’s a frustrating coincidence that a lead story on the WEA’s website on the day of the report’s launch reads that:

“The WEA is supporting the growing campaign against cuts to Children’s Centres in Oxfordshire. An article in the Sunday Times on Sunday 13th Oxford reported potentially radical closure of many centres that are key partners of the WEA….”

You can read more here.

We have to acknowledge that this situation is symptomatic of current pressures on public spending and on competing priorities. We also recognise and welcome recent interventions such as the Community Learning Innovation Fund and the setting up of pilot Community Learning Trusts as well as some protected funding for adult and community learning from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills via the Skills Funding Agency, albeit on a standstill basis for several years now.

Funding for family learning is not simply a handout or a one-way transaction. It offers a significant return for modest investment and its impact affects several government departments and policy agendas, although no department ‘owns’ it.

Can we afford not to support intergenerational learning and to foist the cost of poor adult literacy and numeracy levels as a legacy for our children and grandchildren with all the resulting social and economic costs? This question is surely to big to ignore.

Cooperative problem solving, local democracy and family learning

A better world – equal, democratic and just; through adult education the WEA challenges and inspires individuals, communities and society”.

This is the WEA’s vision. Many people and organisations are working for the same aim and we’re often invited to collaborate with others so that we can make a bigger impact by working together.

I’ve been involved in three separate events in the last couple of weeks with people who recognise that adult education helps to address inequalities for families and communities. These wider aspects of lifelong learning show that education isn’t just for children and young people and isn’t only about preparation for employment – important as that is.

Cooperative Problem Solving

The first event focused on cooperative problem solving. Youth and community organisations, cooperative champions, educators and academic researchers from the UK, USA, New Zealand and Sweden met at the Cambridge University’s Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy. We shared practical examples of effective community-based action to tackle unfairness and we have agreed to work in an alliance, building on shared approaches to cooperative problem solving. People who use Twitter can look out for the #CoopPS hashtag as ideas develop.

YBaCouncillor

I joined WEA volunteer Alan Bruce and manager Jol Miskin at a well-attended meeting organised by Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Department for Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The Select Committee’s meeting was part of a campaign to find out why some people become councillors and what puts others off. A 2010 report on English councillors prompted this campaign as it showed that 96% were white, the average age was 60 and that over two-thirds were male.

The WEA isn’t affliliated to any political party but we have a long tradition – over 100 years – of political education and community engagement, encouraging people to take part in politics, public life and activism, so we have been active in supporting this campaign.

Inquiry into Family Learning

Finally, I attended the first meeting of commissioners for an independent Inquiry into Family Learning, led by the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) and chaired by Baroness Valerie Howarth, who made sure that the meeting was inclusive and focused.

There’s more information on the Inquiry at:

http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/family-learning-inquiry

This is NIACE’s introduction to the Inquiry:

“We believe that there is a need for an independent inquiry into this area of work, not only to consider what is meant by ‘family learning’ but to ensure its place at the heart of policy, research and development. NIACE is concerned about the lack of recognition of the value of family learning, its impact on a range of policy areas and of the potential benefits for families and the wider community. We are concerned that the role of parents and carers in supporting their children’s development is not adequately recognised. Supporting children’s development is one of the major motivators that leads to adults improving their own skills.”

The twitter hashtag for the Inquiry will be #familylearninginquiry. Look out for it in coming months.

It’s reassuring to know that there are national networks of people and organisations who are promoting the importance and potential of families who learn together across generations and of education for cooperative living and democracy.

Have you got examples or suggestions of effective cooperative problem solving, engagement in local democracy or family learning – or comments on these approaches?