Who is speaking up for adult learning?

We are celebrating some fantastic individual and group achievements in inspiring Adult Learners’ Week events and activities across the country. The ALW celebrations show that adult learning is a potent game-changer for many people who wouldn’t otherwise meet their potential. The overall national award winners and their achievements will be announced at a glittering event in London this evening.

You can find out more about Adult Learners’ Week here and by following the #ALW15 and #lovetolearn hashtags on Twitter.

In contrast to the feel-good recognition of achievements, there will be a lobby of Parliament tomorrow as part of the #lovefe campaign to save adult education from proposed 24% cuts to the England lifelong learning budget,

Year after year we show how effective adult learning can be. We present evidence of impact. We share case studies. We rehearse the arguments about needs, skills gaps and international comparisons. We produce academic research. We show social return on investment. We show lives transformed by adult education.

Are we talking to ourselves? Who, other than adult education professionals, is speaking up for the sector?

Talk to ourselve

It’s reported that former Prime Minister Tony Blair once joked that you could hide a declaration of war in a speech about skills and no-one would ever notice it.

An Early Day Motion (866), “Funding for Adult Learning” tabled on 20 October 2010 and sponsored by Frank Dobson, MP presented a strong case. Only 56 pf 650 MPs signed to show their support.

That this House expresses its concern over prospects of severe and disproportionate reductions in funding for adult lifelong learning; notes the public statements in support of the value of adult lifelong learning to individuals, society and the economy made by the Prime Minister and all Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; considers that adult education provides a second chance for many who did not do well at school, as well as providing life-changing opportunities for the needs of some of the most disengaged people in society; further notes the general benefits of a diverse range of adult learning, which include significant positive effects on health, work-life balance, work-related hard and soft skills and social mobility, greater community engagement and encouragement of volunteering; further considers that adult learning makes a wider contribution to a wider skills agenda and to economic regeneration and has many direct economic benefits, such as moving people off benefits into work and reducing the burden on the state in many areas including health, social care and justice; and, while acknowledging the need to rebalance investment between government, employers and individuals and to make some reductions in expenditure, calls on the Government to recognise that any decisions about savings must ensure that opportunities for affordable adult education for the less well-off and disadvantaged are not irretrievably damaged and lost.

While we give richly deserved congratulations to Adult Learners’ Week Award winners, we have a task on our hands to protect and develop much-needed opportunities for adults who should have the same, or better, chances to succeed in the future.

We need a few people with megaphone influence and a lot of people other than adult education professionals to get the messages across. Adult Learners’ Week award winners over many years give plenty of examples that adult learning is effective and the WEA can provide lots of statistics and stories as well.

Who will do for adult learning what Elton John has done for AIDS treatment, Jaimie Oliver for school dinners and Joanna Lumley for Gurkhas?

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Celebrating adult learning in the North of England

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

The award winners were:

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

Christine Foskett

Craven College team (Photo by Lindsey Johnson)

Craven College team (Photo by Lindsey Johnson)

  • Matthew Dobson – Digital Learning Award, sponsored by the BBC
matthew_dobson_29

Matthew Dobson listens to Jane Birch explaining why she nominated him for an award

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

The RNLI Cullercoats group

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

Jacques Reid

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

Representatives of WHiST receive their award

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

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

  • Michaela Sampson – Outstanding Individual Award
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Michaela Sampson

You can read more about the award winners here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase project – Inclusion in Rugby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Project – “Bridges to Learning”

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

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

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

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

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

The stories and statistics of success are compelling.