Adult education, singing, health and wellbeing

Howard Croft, WEA Projects Development Manager, has shared this link to a 6-minute film highlighting key outcomes and impact from a successful ‘Singing for Wellbeing’ project in the West Midlands region.

This research project explored the impact of adult education singing classes on people’s health and wellbeing.

 

This was a 12-month research project led by the WEA and run in partnership with University of Oxford. It was supported by the Rayne Foundation and Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

As well as individual students’ comments, the film includes the following statistics:

  • 87% of research participants reported improved mental health as a result of taking part in WEA singing courses.
  • 90% reported increased feelings of social inclusion or belonging.
  • 68% reported a desire to attend more adult education classes.
  • 92% reported increased levels of confidence.
  • 60% reported improved physical health.

singing logos

 

Health and Wellbeing is one of the WEA’s four educational themes. The others are: Employability, Community Engagement and Culture.

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Lessons will be learnt…..democracy and political education

Last week included the International Day of Democracy and the dramatic climax of Scotland’s independence referendum. Education for citizenship, democracy and social justice has never been more relevant as politicians, commentators and the public rake over recent events and the implications for the future of Scotland, England and the United Kingdom.

Three strong messages have emerged during the Scottish referendum campaign.

  • People are interested in politics when debate is brought alive, involves them and when they can see that their vote can make a real difference.
  • Westminster politicians are seen as remote and disconnected from the public. This is not just a Scottish phenomenon.
  • People don’t trust politicians to keep their promises.

Analysis of the UK Parliament’s make up gives a clue about why Members of Parliament might seem distant from the electorate, as this diagram from “Elitist Britain” shows.

“Lessons will be learnt”, has to become more than just a mantra trotted out when politicians are short of an excuse or explanation. There is a role for adult education to:

  • encourage informed debate of political issues outside the narrow confines of political parties;
  • make sure that voters are not just informed, but are involved and active in exploring how democratic – and non-democratic – political systems work so that they can hold politicians to account;
  • support the development of a new and more inclusive generation of politicians who are more representative of the electorate that they serve.

ConcernWe might find some answers in a return to the principle of representative democracy, with people from communities developing the skills and expertise to stand for election by their local peers. Practical political education can support people to learn about critical thinking, communications, analysis, debating and public speaking skills so that they can become confidently active in democratic decision-making.

The WEA is one of thirty member organisations who have joined together in the “Democracy Matters” alliance to promote practical political education.  This graphic explains our shared aim.

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The Scottish electorate has shown that there is an appetite for public debate and exchanges of views about economics, health, education, welfare, equality, employment, energy production, nuclear weapons and the issues that matter to people. They want to influence decisions that affect them and realise that our current political system is neither representative nor fully democratic. Surely a politician elected by  – and from – his or her community to be their advocate will be less remote than a career politician dropped into a safe seat to keep their chosen party in power.

It’s a long time since people have been engaged so fervently in political debate and the turnout in the Scottish referendum gives an opportunity to revitalise our democracy. Can we afford to waste it?

Catching up on adult education news

Getting back into adult education networks after the summer? These links might help in catching up on some useful reading to get back in the groove again.

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  • Brian Creese’s contribution to the Institute of Education’s blog, “Adult education: a fundamental good”, is an excellent read. Read it here.
  • Writing on the DEMOS blog, Neil Stevenson argues that ESOL policy needs a re-think. Read it here. The Independent has a commentary on the DEMOS report here.
  • Adult Learners’ Week award winner, Amy King, is becoming an active social media advocate for adult education, tweeting as @GlamChem. You can watch and be inspired by a short film about her here.
  • GCSEs, Class and Inequality are the themes of Paul Stanistreet’s blog here.
  • Research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills finds that, “Family learning is good for improving adult language and maths skills, but also has a wider impact.” Read BIS research paper 108 here.
  • A recent book by Frank Coffield, Cristina Costa, Walter Müller and John Webber introduces the term Bulimia Academia. You can find out more about the book, “Beyond Bulimic Learning – Improving teaching in further education” here.
  • Finally, in case you missed the WEA Manifesto or want to read it again, you can find the link here.

Any thoughts on issues covered in these links or suggestions of other news we might have missed?

Learning from crime fiction – means, motive and opportunity

Most readers of crime fiction and viewers of detective dramas know about the concepts of means, motive and opportunity that the writers use to establish criminals’ guilt. The MMO checklist is memorable and highly relevant to adult and community learning as well. MMO Understanding that adults need the means, motive and opportunity to benefit from education can help us to engage people into relevant courses in their communities. It’s not enough to provide courses and hope that people will turn up and join them or to set up digital learning activities and hope that people will find them.

Local resources and specialist tuition led to success for these WEA students interested in digital media.

Local resources and specialist tuition led to success for these WEA students who wanted to learn about digital media.

Do people have the means: the money for fees, equipment, bus fares, tea and coffee breaks, the initial skills, digital literacy, internet access, childcare….?

What might give them a motive to learn? Is it the real prospect of a proper job, better chances for their children, improving their health, gaining confidence, meeting new people, learning more about an interest, campaigning for something…..?

The flip side of this is just as important: “What type of learning demotivates someone?”

Is there an accessible opportunity to learn? Where can people go to learn? How will they know where to go and what’s available? Are there community networks, role models and venues where people feel secure? Is there access to digital learning with appropriate support?

Too many people will remain “hard to reach” unless policy makers and planners of adult and community learning try to understand the concepts of means, motive and opportunity.

Of course, engagement is only part of successful adult education. Once we have hooked people by negotiating the MMO, we have to make sure we move on to another three-letter acronym – with top quality TLA: teaching, learning and assessment.

Informal and non-formal learning: a smart investment

This article was first published in the current edition of NIACE’s Adults Learning journal. It’s a bumper edition and well worth reading for news and opinions about different aspects of adult education.

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Everyone learns throughout their life but everyone has their own personal experience of learning. The most badly off people in our society are very often the people who have benefitted the least from formal education.

Research shows that less formal learning can be a key for adults to improve their health and wellbeing, confidence, self-esteem, relationships in their communities and readiness for work. Access to good quality informal and non-formal learning is a powerful tool to address various types of inequality. It contributes to society by reducing pressure on other support services. It makes economic sense and is a matter of social justice.

A ‘one size fits all’ model of linear educational progression through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood is not enough to support a population with longer average life expectancy. Adults need to adjust to technological, social and economic change. Formal education is not enough to deal with skills gaps in adult literacy and numeracy and the impact of poverty on individuals, families and communities. It is not enough to create a vibrant national culture of lifelong learning and an active democracy. We need flexible, negotiable, high quality, locally accessible and affordable options for adult learning.

Formal education or ‘more school’ is a daunting prospect for people who feel alienated from learning. Many messages reinforce their anxiety and deter them from education. Ideas such as punishing parents who have poor literacy levels for not reading to their own children add insult to injustice and perpetuate educational inequality. We need the alternative, complementary and proven models that community and family learning can provide.

People who are labelled as ‘hard to reach’ often see formal education as hard to enter and pointless for them. Community networks can create supported pathways to make sure that no-one is written off without chances to return to learning. Research into the wider benefits of community learning shows that it improves the lives of people who might otherwise be excluded from education, including people who have not been in recent employment, education or training, people with disabilities, ex-offenders and people from marginalised groups. It can also top up education for people who have learnt successfully in the past.

WEA students learning together

WEA students learning together

A non-formal approach in a compassionate, negotiated learning environment can – and does – lead hesitant adults back into more formal education by building their confidence, self-belief and motivation. Such approaches are especially important at a time when people have difficulty in finding secure and sustainable jobs, when there are concerns about health inequalities and when portrayals of extremism threaten community cohesion.

The potency of informal and non-formal learning can be overlooked in policy debates on education.

In practice there is a spectrum of learning activity from the informal to the formal, with individual learning pathways. Non-formal and informal community learning are essential parts of the mix and complement formal schooling, further education, higher education and training.  Community learning’s agility and responsiveness can provide links between the different educational sectors and also between many policy areas, agencies and the communities that they serve. Informal and non-formal adult learning can create local solutions to neighbourhood problems and can introduce people into taking a full and positive role in their community.

Community education and family learning contribute to a learning society that spans different generations. The recent Family Learning Works report arising from a NIACE-led Inquiry into Family Learning provides powerful evidence of intergenerational learning’s impact. Parents, carers and grandparents who are active learners improve school children’s attainment, while non-formal learning also helps people to remain more active and independent into old age. Impact research from Community Learning Trusts, projects supported by the Community Learning Innovation Fund and the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) provides statistical evidence to back up many individual case studies and stories of achievement.

Many of those who work in non-formal and community learning are skilled at seeing connections, linking the curriculum to community priorities and interests, linking learners to opportunities for progression, linking volunteers to local activities, linking partners who can make things happen by working together and linking adult learning to policy areas such health, justice, employment, arts, communities, local government, culture and the media.

WEA Manifesto

WEA Manifesto

Community learning is a diverse sector. Organisations of all sizes, including many in the third sector and trade unions, offer informal and non-formal education. The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and other adult learning organisations locate their work in the wider policy, social and economic environment, as shown in a separate, complementary manifesto that the WEA has launched. It makes nine specific recommendations to promote connections between different types of learning and policy areas, including:

  • Auto-enrolling workers at all levels into ‘Training and Development Accounts’
  • Making the Living Wage and universal training and development minimum requirements in all public sector contract procurement and tender specifications (including subcontractors)
  • Requiring Health & Wellbeing Boards to include health education in their strategic plans to reduce health inequality
  • Introducing education/training vouchers for parents in receipt of child benefit when their first child starts Year 7
  • A Minister with lead responsibility for family learning in England
  • A requirement that  all universities, colleges and schools publish Community Access Policies to make education assets and infrastructure accessible through partnerships to all adults

The cost-benefits of community learning are substantial for a relatively modest investment. The NIACE and WEA manifestos are timely.

Ann Walker,

Director for Education, WEA

Adult Learners’ Week – celebration and challenge

Adult Learners’ Week this year has seemed even more intense and vibrant than usual, with an almost overwhelming range of activities, stories and examples of personal success. People have gathered to celebrate adults’ educational achievements at local, regional and national award ceremonies. Award winners and nominees have told their amazing stories. Their families, friends and supporters have shown their pride.

Here’s a short film of national award winners.

 

We’re delighted that the WEA in Eastern region, working in partnership with the Unite the Union, won a national award for an ESOL ONline project which has made a real difference to migrant workers’ lives.

Gorete Downey from WEA and Orlando Martins from Unite accept an Award for ESOL ONline

Gorete Downey from WEA and Orlando Martins from Unite the Union accept an Adult Learner’s Week Award for ESOL ONline

Twitter users can also get a sense of what went on during the week by following the hashtag #ALW14.

It has also been Learning Disability Week, with joint celebrations such as this event with WEA students in Plymouth to highlight achievements.

Lord & Lady Mayoress at WEA Plymouth presenting awards to students

Lord & Lady Mayoress at WEA Plymouth presenting awards to students

Policy discussions took place alongside the celebrations with two important manifestos being launched – one from NIACE and one from the WEA. (Click on the highlighted links to read the manifestos)

We need these manifestos more than ever because, although we know that adult learning works, we have also heard Rajay Naik from the Open University reporting that, “In last 18 months we’ve seen a phenomenal decline of 40% in part-time adult education numbers”. Despite knowing that family learning works and seeing compelling evidence during the week of the impact across generations, we have also heard suggestions of fining parents who do not read to their children, punishing adults who have not been served well by their own experience of formal education.

Educational inequality is still very much with us. We need to keep on tackling it. Adult Learners’ Week award winners and other successful students show how much different learning can make, but its potential is not recognised enough by the public or by policy makers.

We have a big job to do before next year’s Adult Learners’ Week to get even more people back into education and to support them into lifelong learning with all its benefits.

Inclusion, sport and a manifesto for adult education

Award-winning sportspeople have had a big impact in the WEA this week.

One of Great Britain’s most successful Paralympians, Tanni Grey-Thompson, gave the WEA’s Annual Lecture on 11 June at Birkbeck University. She seemed disarmingly easy-going as she packed several powerful political points into her speech, talking with unpretentious warmth and wit.

Tanni Grey-Thompson and Ruth Spellman

Tanni Grey-Thompson and Ruth Spellman

She recalled her response to being told as a young woman that her wheelchair was a fire risk in a public building: “I’ve never spontaneously combusted before.” Her anecdotes about being a traveller in a wheelchair were shocking and absurd in equal measure. Her response? “I don’t want special treatment, just the same miserable commute as everyone else.”

Tanni’s commitment to politics for social good and to education as an enabler shone through. This was a very appropriate context for Ruth Spellman, our CEO and General Secretary, to launch the WEA’s Manifesto – “Making a difference to communities throughout the UK”.

The Manifesto includes nine key recommendations:

1. Ensure there is always an opportunity for adults to return to learning
2. Promote equality, opportunity and productivity at work
3. Develop educational opportunities for the most disadvantaged
4. Help people stay active throughout life through health education
5. Reduce health inequalities to give people more control over their own wellbeing
6. Promote tolerance and inclusion through access to English
7. Value lifelong learning so adults of any age can study
8. Help parents become educational role models
9. Value volunteering through a single credible set of measurements

While Tanni was talking in London, members of the Bumble Bees Barbarians mixed ability rugby team were appearing on the BBC’s  Look North regional news programme as it was broadcast from Leeds.

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Harry Gration, Amy Garcia, Anthony Brooke, Leon Taylor, Dan Cookson, Martino Corazza. (Photo by Joseph Haskey, WEA)

The Bingley-based Bumble Bees have been awarded the prestigious Rugby Football Union President’s Award for their innovative mixed ability approach to the game and for using rugby as a vehicle for social change. The WEA hasn’t moved into sports management but is working in partnership with the players to promote inclusion and to challenge stereotypes about disability.

WEA tutor Mark Goodwin has worked with the players since a student on another WEA course asked about setting up a rugby team. The educational aspects of the partnership have enabled players with Learning Disabilities to develop skills for describing and presenting their experiences in sport to RFU clubs so that neighbouring teams can get over their “fear factor” of playing against disabled players and mixed ability teams.

The Bumbles have gained in confidence, become accomplished public speakers and taught others about diversity and inclusion. It’s been a win-win process and we’ve all learnt a lot.

Tanni Grey-Thompson said in her lecture that, “If you’re told constantly that you can’t do things you might start to believe it.” She and the Bumbles show what’s possible when people believe that they can do things, but they don’t sugar-coat their messages.