‘Bedroom tax’ – study the alternative?

Many people living in social housing in the UK are worried about losing benefits as new arrangements are being introduced this week. Welfare reforms will see tenants’ housing benefits cut if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home.

Whatever subtle distinctions politicians are making between the notion of a ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’, the proposals will affect an estimated 660,000 working-age tenants in social housing – 31% of existing working-age housing benefit claimants in the social sector. The majority of these people have only one extra bedroom and there’s a reported shortage of single bedroomed accommodation for people to move into.

The Government doesn’t define what the term ‘bedroom’ means, leaving the decisions to landlords. The bedroom tax makes no distinction between a single or a double bedroom. A room either is a bedroom or is not a bedroom.

Here’s an idea to promote lifelong learning and to symbolise educational aspiration. Make sure that all social housing has a study if at all possible, re-designating any bedrooms deemed to be spare as a place for learning in the home. Now that would be a public gesture to support ambition and a culture of self-improvement.

The WEA’s vision is: “A better world – equal, democratic and just; through adult education the WEA challenges and inspires individuals, communities and society.”

Reflective practice and feedback in leadership and management

Reflective practice is a feature of good teaching and learning. It’s important for governors and managers in education too.

Last week WEA Trustees and senior managers met to work on the next stages of our strategic planning. We used critical thinking and questioning to challenge any ‘fixed mind-sets’ in the planning process. Our working principles for more detailed strategic planning included the following:

1. Stick to core principles – education first
We agreed not to work on finance and funding strategies until we had focused on the priorities and direction of our educational work. Our vision, mission and values are central to planning. We concentrated on plans to improve outcomes for our students and their communities based on our prioritised themes of employability, health and wellbeing, community engagement and culture.


2. Avoid the ‘echo chamber’ effect
We recognise that talking among ourselves could lead to predictable thinking as we read the runes, even within a lively, democratic organisation, unless we consider other sources of information and interpretation. Contributions from external experts can ginger up our approach to strategic planning and help us to review our work in the light of wider social, economic, policy and educational trends.

3. Keep challenging stereotypes
People are individuals with different interests, talents or aspirations, whatever their circumstances. Inclusion has to be on the basis of personal aims, ambitions and circumstances and not on a patronising tick-box approach. There’s more about some of our current work on equality and diversity at http://betterforeveryone.wordpress.com/.

4. Empathy and involvement
We discussed the need to think about things from the perspectives of students, tutors, volunteers and partners, trying to see the impact of plans from their points of views. We recognise the dangers of second guessing other people’s opinions on their behalf without wider, inclusive discussions.

5. Identify historical ‘drag’ factors that slow down progress
We challenged the attitude of, “We can’t change this because we’ve always done things this way.”

The meeting released some fresh questions and ideas to discuss at Scottish, regional and local levels in England and was a productive way to review and update strategic planning assumptions.

Meeting the matrix Standard
We received the feedback from an intensive two-and-a–half week assessment for the matrix Standard on the day after our Strategy Day. (The lower case m isn’t a typo.)

The matrix Standard is the unique quality framework for the effective delivery of information, advice and/or guidance on learning and work. It promotes the delivery of high quality information, advice and/or guidance by ensuring organisations review, evaluate and develop their service; encourage the take up of professionally recognised qualifications and the continuous professional development of their staff.

See http://matrixstandard.com/ for more information.

We were delighted with the feedback, although we’re never complacent. The report won’t be available for a few weeks but it is very encouraging. We enjoyed hearing the independent validation of the WEA’s strengths after a rigorous assessment of 5 English regions. We’re also pleased that the suggested areas for improvement aligned very closely with those that we had identified in our own Self-Assessment Report, Improvement and Development Plan and during our Strategy Day.

Democracy and voice

We sang at the WEA’s Yorkshire & Humber Region AGM in Leeds today. You don’t get that kind of exuberance in most shareholders’ meetings.

The (fully booked) get-together before the business part of the meeting focused on ‘Democracy, Active Citizenship and the Role of Voice’.  Prof. Stephen Coleman set the scene very engagingly in his William Alderson Memorial Trust Lecture on this theme.

Prof. Stephen Coleman

Prof. Coleman got our attention straight away, saying that, “Voice is the foundation technology of democracy but not all voices are equal.” In a rousing performance, he talked of the need for all sorts of voices that are, “confident, unbound and efficacious”. Quoting from John Milton and Edmund Burke, he went on to describe, “an entire history of disrespect built on prejudice”, with a “spurious connection” between people’s style of pronunciation and their authority to speak.  He warned that we shouldn’t mistake sullen and silent anger in society for civic contentment. Identifying 6 civic capabilities, he showed excerpts from a website at www.youthamplified.com, which he urged people to explore.

Various examples of  ‘WEA Experiences’ followed his lecture. These were impressive in showing how students and volunteers had gained confidence and found voices with the WEA.

Students from an Asian Women’s Sewing Group showed their skills in a stunning fashion show. The soundtrack encouraged some impromptu Gangnam Style moves from several people as well as nods of admiration and enthusiastic applause. The women from Crosland Moor also won the Learning Group of the Year award and were full of praise for Judith Boardman, their ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Tutor.

Award winners’ acceptance speech

In a change of pace and tone, we watched a short film that WEA students with experience of homelessness had made. They described some changes that they would make to Doncaster if they had a million pounds to spend. The film was an excellent practical illustration of people speaking about what’s important to them in their community.

Mark Goodwin and the Bumble Bee Barbarians then had us spellbound as they talked about the triumphs and impact of mixed ability rugby and the creative training that the WEA is building around the sport. Students with a learning difficulty or disability gave a presentation that was both moving and funny. They challenged several stereotypes and managed to make some serious messages entertaining.

They showed how they are tackling inequality, in a very literal way, and finding their voices.

Mark Goodwin (R) & some Bumble Bee Barbarians

Rob Hindle, Nicola Thorpe and Victoria Beauchamp’s presentation about Digability, a WEA Community Archaeology Project, was another example of inclusion that builds on people’s interests. They showed clips from a film about the project. This is available at http://youtu.be/rccUF2VuhA0. They emphasised how important it is for organisations to work together and the key role of volunteers like Beth Deakin.

Beth Deakin, Volunteer of the Year

Lindy Gresswell, Yorkshire and Humber Region’s Chair, presented regional awards to even more applause.

As well as the people mentioned already, Lindy presented certificates to:

  • Julie Harrison – Nominated for WEA Student of the Year
  • Jill Iles – Nominated for Special recognition award: Education
  • Janet Driver – Nominated for Special recognition award: Administration and support services
  • Ron Moreton – Nominated for Special recognition: Long Service Award
  • Open Door Hate and Mate Crime Group – Nominated for Most Innovative Partnership Activity

Energy levels were kept high by the WEA’s ‘Easingwold Sings’ Choir. Some of us thought we might be sitting back to be entertained – which we were – but taking part is in the WEA’s DNA so we had a quick singing lesson and found our voices quite harmoniously.

‘Easingwold Sings’ Choir

The high spirits and sense of communal activity were an excellent curtain raiser for the business part of the meeting.

A bad week for equality

The Church of England’s complex voting system has led to a decision that women can’t become bishops. This is perplexing to an outsider. If a woman can be a priest, why can’t she make other people priests? A bigger issue for democracy is the political impact of this decision at the heart of the UK Government. Today’s vote affects policy-making way beyond the Church.

26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved for Church of England Bishops. They will now continue to be men-only roles for the foreseeable future. Figures from January 2011 show that 181 (21.7%) out of 833 members of the House of Lords are women, so this reinforcement of gender imbalance is very significant.

Information provided by ‘Counting Women In’ shows the scale of gender inequality in government. Their statistics show that women hold 22 out of 122 of ministerial roles in the House of Commons. Nine Government departments are male only decision-making domains.

During the same week that the Church of England made its decision about Bishops, the Prime Minister announced the axing of equality impact assessments that the previous government had introduced to make sure that officials took account of disability, gender and race in their decision-making.

David Cameron said, “We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff.” How representative are these ‘smart people’? The all-white cabinet is made up of 19 men and 4 women, with 18 millionaires. 60% of the women in cabinet were sacked during the last reshuffle.

The WEA is non-party political but equality and democracy are central to our recently refreshed vision: “A better world – equal, democratic and just; through adult education the WEA challenges and inspires individuals, communities and society.”

Whatever your views on politics or religion, thoughtful consideration of these issues and their impact on society has a place in community-based adult education.

Sources of information:



Parliament, Politics, Emily Wilding Davison and the WEA

Several threads are weaving together in the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) this week.

We have a Parliamentary celebration coming up on 7 November with WEA students, volunteers, staff and supporters joining MPs, peers, funders and partners at Westminster. Our Trustees will be taking active roles at the event, which we’re holding during National Trustees’ Week.

The WEA is also backing a new campaign for a minute’s silence at next year’s Epsom Derby to commemorate Emily Wilding Davison’s death in 1913. Emily made the ultimate sacrifice as a suffrage campaigner fighting for women’s rights to vote. She was one of our own, having been active in the WEA.

100 years on and the WEA is still campaigning for greater equality in politics. We launched a ‘Women into Politics’ project in Nottingham last Friday.

Parliamentary event, 7 November

There are more details about our Parliamentary event at: http://www.wea.org.uk/News/parliamentaryevent.aspx

We’re looking forward to celebrating award winners’ achievements, including recognition for a campaign encouraging people to vote. The event is causing a lot of excitement and will give many people a chance to visit the Palace of Westminster, building on educational visits that we continue to organise in partnership with the Parliamentary Outreach Service.

It’s timely to know more about Emily Davison’s story and her links with Parliament.

Emily Wilding Davison (1872 – 1913)

Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Davison’s challenges and campaigns are still all too relevant a century after her death. She couldn’t afford the tuition fees to complete her first course of higher education and faced discrimination because she was a woman. Famously, she died four days after being trampled by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. She was making a dramatic protest in support of women’s right to vote.Her personal experience of discrimination fuelled her campaigning zeal.

Having won a place at Royal Holloway College to study literature when she left school, she had to withdraw because she couldn’t pay the fees. She worked as a governess before taking up higher education again and achieving first-class honours in English in the Oxford University examination for women. Oxford degrees were closed to women in 1895 so she couldn’t graduate. She became a teacher and returned to higher education, graduating from the University of London before working as a teacher again. Emily joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906 and gave up full-time teaching in 1907 so that she could devote more of her time to the WSPU. She also became involved with the WEA during this period and is reported to have been a member of the Marylebone Branch’s Executive. Emily was a militant suffragette and was jailed several times for some of her attention-grabbing protests, being force-fed in prison.

Penni Blythe-Jones (@WofWWW on twitter) is organising the petition for a minute’s silence at the 2013 Epsom Derby. There’s a link at http://emilywildingdavison.org/?page_id=11. Kate Willoughby (@2FCPlay on twitter) is working with her. There’s also a lot of background information on the internet about Emily’s life and death as well as the more traditional sources of biographical information.

Suffragettes and the Palace of Westminster

Emily Davison plaque

One of Emily Davison’s most creative campaigning activities involved her hiding overnight in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster on the night of the 1911 Census so she could record her place of residence as the “House of Commons”. A plaque in the building commemorates this event. There’s a permanent display about the suffragettes located off the Central Lobby, on the way to the public gallery of the House of Commons. It includes a suffragette medal and a scarf belonging to Emily Davison.See http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/exhibitions-and-events/exhibitions/suffragettes/ for more details.There’s also a case study of Emily’s Parliamentary campaigns at: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/case-study-emily-wilding-davison/

The WEA, Women and Politics

The WEA has a very long record of political education and of encouraging men and women to take an active part in democratic processes. We are non-party political and work in partnership with several other organisations to promote political education through initiatives such as the recent Democracy Week. Some of our educational projects and courses are specifically for women as they are under-represented in local and national politics.

We launched a new ‘Women into Politics’ project in Nottingham on 2 November. You can follow the project’s blog at: http://womenintopolitics.wordpress.com/. The project builds on a tradition of many linked activities in England and Scotland. We have developed ‘Women Be Heard’ courses with various groups and we also use history as a way of raising awareness of a range of current equalities and social justice issues.

Many WEA students, members, tutors and staff in Scotland took part in a memorable Edinburgh Procession in 2009 in support of ‘Gude Cause’. They dressed in period costume, carried banners and wore sashes to identify themselves with one or other parts of the Women’s Suffrage movement. See http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/WearingtheColours_tcm4-672114.pdf.

The WEA can be proud of its early record on gender equality. We began life in 1903 as the ‘Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men’, changing to our current name of the ‘Workers’ Educational Association’ (WEA) in 1905 to be more inclusive of women.

It’s important to reflect and learn from history, to celebrate achievements and to reassess the challenges. There’s still a great deal to do.

People with learning disabilities – care, crime and a community education campaign

Six care workers were jailed last week and five more were given suspended sentences because they neglected and abused vulnerable patients in their ‘care’. A BBC Panorama investigation had exposed cruelty at the Winterbourne View private hospital near Bristol, which the Castlebeck group ran. A serious case review and a damning 150-page report followed, cataloguing dozens of assaults on patients. Abuse like this is not isolated and too many people with learning disabilities live with fear and humiliation.

Recent events show that we need advocates for the most defenceless people in our society. We should also support people in speaking out for themselves when it’s possible so that they’re able to share their experiences and have some influence over their own lives. Stephen Green’s election as England’s first parish councillor with Downs Syndrome is a significant step. Stephen from Nutthall, Nottinghamshire, is challenging the stereotypes of local politicians being explored in the Department of Community and Local Government’s ‘YBaCouncillor’ inquiry.

Other people with learning disabilities are speaking out about the discrimination that they face in their everyday life.

Twelve WEA students with learning disabilities have made a powerful and poignant short film about hate and ‘mate’ crime to raise awareness and to change attitudes towards disability hate crime. The TES FE Awards have recognised the Open Door – Tackling Disabilities Hate Crime project, shortlisting it for the ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community’ award.

There’s more information about the project and a link to the film at http://www.wea.org.uk/news/opendoor.aspx. The film’s first hand accounts of hate and ‘mate’ crime are very moving. The Open Door group presented their film at the WEA Yorkshire and Humber Region’s Annual General Meeting last year and as part of Ruth Spellman’s induction to her role as the WEA’s General Secretary, giving updates on what’s happened since they’d made the film.

Winning a TES Award would be a wonderful achievement for the students but changing other people’s attitudes and behaviour is the real prize that they’re after. Wanting to live without pestering and persecution shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Paulo Freire

And so to Paulo Freire (1921-1997), a towering figure in adult education for social purpose.

Freire was the Brazilian educator, political philosopher and writer, best known for developing his highly influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He used his own experience to shape his educational practice, having suffered from poverty and hunger as a child and imprisonment and exile as an adult. He spoke movingly about how hunger had limited his own ability to learn in school – an issue that’s all too relevant for some children and schools today.

A persuasive man with an impressive intellect and strong convictions, he was determined that the world’s poor and exploited people should have better lives, especially in his native Brazil.

Freire believed that education has an essential role in relieving poverty and transforming lives. He developed methods of encouraging literacy while also raising social and political awareness through his educational work with impoverished Brazilians. He showed that oppressed people could become involved in democracy even if they hadn’t known about the concept before. He won poor people’s trust and attention, convincing them that they should and could have a say in the day-to-day decision-making that affected their lives.

Freire firmly opposed the idea that an education system should be like a bank, with students expected to withdraw specific types of knowledge that more powerful people had decided were necessary. (E.g. UK education policies of recent years?) Instead, he believed that there should be dialogue between the student and teacher and that the teacher should never impose their views of a problem on a student.

In Freire’s approach, literacy workers studied their students’ lives and derived a curriculum that promoted their sense of dignity and self-worth in their own knowledge. The educators encouraged students to develop literacy skills while they explored issues of exploitation, the meaning of culture and the power of written language through critical action learning. He and his colleagues created more than 20,000 ‘culture circles’ throughout Brazil using these principles. They worked on the basis that ‘understanding the world was as important as understanding the word’ and that students’ increased awareness of political matters could provide a basis for action to improve community wellbeing and resilience. (These concepts are highly relevant to the current review and development of the WEA’s curriculum .)

Freire proposed that the use of his ‘see-judge-act’ student-centred methods could raise critical consciousness and create change by inspiring students to:

  • see the systems that preserved injustice
  • judge the assumptions that maintained those social systems
  • act to achieve equality and democracy.

The Paulo Freire Institute was created in Sao Paulo in 1991. It brings scholars together to foster dialogue about new educational theories and interventions in a Freireian tradition.

Freire was a brilliant thinker and his ideas about education and society were original and effective, so it seems odd that his writing (or his translators’ interpretation) is unexpectedly complex for someone so interested in making ideas more accessible to the masses. Evidently he wasn’t a fan of dumbing down. He didn’t patronise the poor, but worked with them to broaden their horizons and to make sure that they could be involved actively in democratic processes.

This is a very condensed summary of Freire’s work. Please feel free to add any comments about his relevance to current educational policy developments at a time of austerity, pointers to other resources or any other thoughts on Freire’s contributions.

Pedagogy of the NEETs?

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.


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.

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.


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:


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?

WEA response to the Richard Review of Apprenticeships

The text below is the Workers’ Educational Association’s response to the Richard Review of Apprenticeships

Firstly the WEA welcomes the opportunity to consider feedback to government on the future of the apprenticeship programme.  It is very important that all who are involved in policy delivery have a clear and shared vision of the role of the modern apprenticeship programme in our education system, our economy and society.

Apprenticeships can benefit all sections of society and many occupational groups have newly adopted the apprenticeship scheme as a means of developing the skills we need for the future.  However participation in apprenticeships is very unequal whether you look at gender, ethnicity age or disability.

There are some gaps between supply and demand.  To address some of these gaps the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) strongly supports the emphasis on integrating wider learning into the workplace and the recognition of lifelong learning processes outlined in the OECD Skills Strategy. We are particularly pleased to see a visible emphasis on:

  • higher order skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration as essential for absorbing knowledge,
  • moral characteristics (integrity, justice, empathy and ethics) and reference to encouraging individuals to be active and responsible citizens, as is the case in the well-regarded Swiss apprenticeship system,
  • and meta-layer skills, such as learning to learn, building expertise, fostering creativity and making connections across disciplines.

These principles are at the heart of the WEA’s teaching, learning and assessment.

We advocate the idea that apprenticeships should be an optional element in a matrix of continuous lifelong learning opportunities. They should not be restricted to specific age groups or be seen as a mutually exclusive alternative to higher education. People might pursue higher education after an apprenticeship or vice-versa depending on their circumstances, personal development and changing aspirations.

The WEA is committed to addressing inequality and sharing our practical experience of working as trusted partners in such communities. Apprenticeships should provide opportunities for those furthest from jobs and who have to overcome the most hurdles. These include disabled people, care leavers, homeless people, carers and those living in rural areas, especially where there has been industrial decline. People living in areas such as former mining villages face additional practical barriers such as the availability of timely and affordable public transport. Adequate transport, food and care arrangements for dependent relatives can be as important as learning support. Community-based organisations such as the WEA have a bridging role to play between people who are not in education, employment and training and potential employers in terms of building trust and connections between unemployed people and apprenticeship opportunities.

We believe that employers should pay for training where they are the main beneficiary of the training and the focus is company-specific. However, we favour a dual funding system, with competence elements delivered and paid for by employers and state funded general functional and academic elements including the encouragement of skills, understanding and creativity that will contribute to wider society and promote active citizenship, as described in the OECD Skills Strategy.