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?

Family Learning – 10 top tips from adult and community learning

The NIACE-led independent Inquiry into Family Learning has shone a light on an important aspect of education that has been in the shadows for too long. Family learning is a positive and proven way to tackle educational inequality across generations so it’s good to see that NIACE and Ofsted are now calling for examples of good practice and that the Family Learning Works report is inspiring action instead of gathering dust after its publication.

Family learning - activity

The WEA has a long and successful tradition of working with schools, children’s centres, parents and carers. As a national organisation covering England and Scotland, we work at strategic levels but are also embedded in neighbourhoods.

Ten tips

  1. Develop local networks around each school. Contacts are not enough. Nurture relationships.
  2. Stay in the community for the long haul. Don’t do one project and move on.
  3. Talk with teachers and head teachers about making parents and carers welcome in schools. Work together to deal with concerns about school security and safeguarding.
  4. Agree ground rules for all relationships to avoid misunderstandings or inappropriate behaviour by anyone.
  5. Negotiate the curriculum and learning outcomes so that they are relevant and appealing.
  6. Don’t stereotype or patronise people or make assumptions that might limit their learning.
  7. Enlist successful adult learners as role models and community learning champions to engage others and show what’s possible.
  8. Celebrate achievements of parents, carers and children!
  9. Inspire parents and carers to keep learning, to take the next steps and to motivate their children.
  10. Collaborate. We all need to keep learning and improving.

Our top tips for working with parents and carers in family learning reflect the networked and supportive approaches that we use in general adult and community learning practice. Good quality teaching, learning and assessment are at the core but learning activities are set in a wider context and don’t take place in isolation. They need groundwork, learning support and pointers for moving on.

Do you agree with the list or have you got other ideas?

What works in your practice and what can we learn from, or teach, other sectors?

You can find more about the NIACE and Ofsted joint project on illuminating excellent practice in Family Learning here.

What’s the point of reflective practice?

As educators we put a lot into what we do. We think, we question, we plan, we learn, we teach and we reflect. Praxis, the cycle of reflection, practice, reflection and improved practice is fundamental to good teaching, learning and assessment and most outstanding teachers are expert learners who continue to develop their subject expertise and their professional practice.

So far, so good, but the big question is, “What difference does all this make to students?” In other words, “What’s the point?”

The WEA context

The Workers’ Educational Association works exclusively with adult learners so we have to consider all sorts of starting points, personal circumstances, educational experiences, barriers and motivations and to tailor our practice so that they can have the best possible learning experiences. Our professional development is about our learning to improve their learning through our teaching and planning.

The WEA’s teaching, learning and assessment happens in a complex networked organisation supported by many volunteers, with a democratic membership structure and elected governance. We work at community levels across England and Scotland, as part of a wider international family of Workers’ Educational Associations. We run part-time courses, working flexibly and adapting to locally identified situations and partnerships. Without campuses and with very few of our own learning centres, we’re very mobile and adaptable. We try to turn the ‘hard to reach’ cliché on its head by recognising that most educational opportunities for adults are hard to reach and so taking our courses to them.

Our dispersed model of working brings advantages and challenges as we work to bring our vision and values to life through our classroom practice, which is rarely in dedicated WEA classrooms and more usually in hired rooms in community-based venues where people can feel more at home.

Proof of the pudding

The logistics alone give us a lot to think about, but the practicalities are ‘backroom’ issues. What matters most is the difference that we make to our students and the difference that their learning makes to their lives. That’s where reflective practice is essential and where we have to balance our thinking about what we put into teaching, learning and assessment with the crucial matter of what our students gain from it. As we’re committed to education for social purpose, we’re also interested in the wider effects on their friends, families and communities.

This short film shows the impact of WEA learning and our tutors’ expertise:

WEA leaders and managers use data to help us to reflect, shape and improve what we do, but we’re a ‘head and heart’ organisation that combines our use of statistics with a constant stream of students’ stories that inspire and motivate us.

Here are 2 short films of students telling their stories about family learning.

These are examples of what drives us and our professional practice in teaching and learning.

and

Picturing adult and community learning’s impact

One of the shopping bags that I used at the supermarket yesterday has an image taken from a postcard that the WEA used a few years ago as part of our campaigning activities. It struck me that its message is still very relevant following last week’s launch of Family Learning Works and celebration of European Social Fund Community Learning Grants in Manchester.

WEApostcard2

The image reinforces the message that modest funds can make a big difference to individuals, families, communities and society. It also gives a subtle nod to the WEA’s deep and longstanding roots in communities and our network of branches.

Statistics and stories of achievement and the distance travelled by people who benefited from the ESF Community Learning Grants programme show evidence of this, as does the research presented by the Independent Inquiry into Family Learning. These were the focus of the last two blogs here.

Evidence from projects supported by the Community Learning Innovation Fund tell a similar story and there’s a quick video summary showing the impact of WEA work last year at http://www.wea.org.uk/about/whatwedo/impact. Our Pound Plus research at http://www.wea.org.uk/about/whatwedo/pound-plus adds further evidence.

Are any other past campaigns that are still relevant? Perhaps we should revive a few.

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.

Making another world possible!

This blog takes its title from ‘a programme of ideas’ published by ABF (Arbetarnas Bildningsförbund), the Workers’ Educational Association’s sister organisation in Sweden. You can read the full document at http://bit.ly/YiGVpo

Ruth Spellman, our General Secretary / CEO, and I met a group of colleagues from ABF in northern Sweden last week as they visited London. As always happens when we get together with our Swedish friends, we found a lot of common ground. We compared experiences about education for family learning, active citizenship, digital inclusion, social justice, decent work and culture. It was interesting to hear about their work and especially about how the Swedish government expects citizens to be ‘digital by default’ already and to be computer-literate as they engage with public services. There were certainly no awkward silences and we agreed on some practical actions to follow up their visit.

ABF_logo

One of our educational themes in the WEA in England and Scotland is ‘Health and Wellbeing’. The others are Employability, Community Engagement and Culture. Here’s what ABF has to say on health and wellbeing, translated from Swedish to English.

Good health and a fulfilling working life

ABF seeks to create opportunities and conditions which allow everyone to look after their mental and their physical health. Everyone should have the right to live in a good living environment and work in a secure and safe working environment. Good health, a fulfilling working life and quality of life must be the right of everyone.

More people are living longer and are physically healthier than before. This is not true of everyone, however; the class-related differences are clear where people’s health is concerned. Those with a shorter period of education and those who do manual work are at much greater risk of illness than other groups. In addition, the differences in health between the sexes and between different ethnic groups are striking.

The causes of increased health and exclusion from working life are numerous. They include poor work environments, too little say when it comes to work and leisure, low wages and poor living habits.

Many employees bear witness to the fact that their knowledge and skills are seldom utilised. This explains the increased injustices between those with long and those with short periods of education with regard to public health and quality of life. The key to a good psychosocial work environment is influence over one’s own work situation. With a changed and learning work organisation, the knowledge that springs from work can be managed and developed.

Ill health is also due to lifestyle factors such as the consumption of alcohol, poor diet and insufficient exercise. Good public health is not only about prolonging life; it is just as much about improving the quality of life for everyone.

ABF aims to work towards a good living environment, better public health and a fulfilling working life. By increasing cooperation between the member organisations, liberal adult education can become an important part of public health activities.

It’s interesting to see how adult educators in other countries think about these issues and we look forward to our continued future collaboration.

Family learning and pupil premium funding

Writing in the TES FE Focus , Stephen Exley reports on Ofsted’s conclusions that ‘pupil premium’ funding is not being spent effectively. The funding amounts to £623 for every child who is entitled to free school meals. You can read the feature at: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storyCode=6315806

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, suggests that schools might use the funding for family learning.

Why might this be a good idea?

This extract from a Department for Education article, The role of parents in a child’s learning, from 26 April 2012 provides some background:

….research shows that parental involvement in children’s learning is a key factor in improving children’s academic attainment and achievements, as well as their overall behaviour and attendance.

The role of parents during a child’s earliest years is the single biggest influence on their development. Good quality home learning contributes more to children’s intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income.

A parent’s attitudes, aspirations and behaviour are all important, as is their ability to:
• understand their child’s day-to-day progress
• undertake family learning together
• talk regularly with their child about their learning.

For some parents, developing this confidence can be difficult – especially if they also need help with their own literacy, language and numeracy skills.

http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/families/a00203160/role-of-parents-in-childs-learning

The WEA has a tradition of working in many partnerships with parents, carers, schools and children’s centres. We know the benefits that come from working with two generations at the same time. Education doesn’t just take place during school hours and it’s to everyone’s advantage that a child’s home environment is supportive of their learning.

Adult and community educators can work closely with schools to engage and support adults who have written themselves off in educational terms and who don’t engage in their children’s learning because they don’t know how to do so. There are countless stories of adults who flourish and become better parents of children with raised educational attainment.

As a Commissioner on the current Independent Inquiry into Family Learning (England and Wales), I’m seeing a range of evidence being presented, including statistics, stories and some very impressive case studies and I’m looking forward to the Inquiry’s fndings being published later this year. We should wlecome this focus on family learning as it has significant impact but can fall between government departments, education sectors and funding streams.

You can find out more about the Inquiry at: http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/family-learning-inquiry

Schools will want to spend the pupil premium funding flexibly, making local decisions and there are many demands for extra resources, but persuasive arguments can be made for family learning as head teachers consider the options.

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.

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.

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?