A tribute to NIACE

NIACE, the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education is merging with the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion and its name will disappear after 94 years at the forefront of promoting adult learning. The Who’s Lobbying website describes NIACE as, “the main advocacy body for adult learning in England and Wales and probably the largest body devoted to adult education in the world.” Its achievements as an independent organisation deserve the utmost respect and many adult educators will regret the loss of its identity while wishing the newly merged organisation every success.

NIACE has been a source of practical and coordinated support, encouragement, inspiration and effective campaigning for adult education – and more specifically, adult learners – over the years. I have never been employed directly by the organisation, but I have worked alongside it throughout my career. I have felt a strong affiliation and found common cause with its dedicated staff and supporters who have shown deep professional and practical understanding of the sector, backed up by thorough research and active networks.

Among their many achievements, NIACE deserves credit for:

  • Adult Learners’ Week awards and events, which have grown to become international celebrations
  • Extensive, respected and influential research on adult education
  • Securing and managing funding for major projects including adult and community learning, literacy, numeracy, technology, equality, mental health, family learning and innovative practice.
  • Lobbying effectively on behalf of the sector and especially for under-represented groups
  • Publications, including influential reports and the well-regarded Adults Learning journal
  • Support for third sector organisations.
  • High quality conferences, seminars and events

On the subject of the merged organisation’s name, FE Week reports NIACE’s Chief Executive, David Hughes, as saying that, “(the name) his team had decided on was the Learning and Work Institute, although it still has to be approved by members.” He will lead the new organisation and explained that:

“We spent the summer consulting with members and stakeholders over what direction the organisation should now be taking and want to stress that we won’t lose touch with the historic work of Niace in supporting adult education for everybody throughout their lives and for campaigning for the wider benefits of lifelong learning.

“We just feel that the new name will better reflect the range of work we do now.”

Adult education is facing a crisis, receiving only 6% of the government’s total spending on education and facing further cuts to learning opportunities and staffing. The petition to save adult education is indicative of concerns affecting the sector.

Adult learning needs a coordinated voice more than ever. NIACE has had a pivotal role in such campaigning over many years so David Hughes’ continued commitment to the ‘historic work’ is important.

Thank you to all at NIACE, past and present, for your immense contributions since 1921 and very best wishes to the newly merged organisation. Adults with increasingly limited chances to learn need all the support that they can get.

Do we need journals in adult education?

As adult educators, we should be mindful of our own professional development and continued intellectual growth. We expect this of our adult students, who have busy lives and are prioritising their learning alongside other demands on their time. Relevant reading helps us to keep abreast of developments in teaching and learning theories and practice, resources, techniques, curriculum, policy and the wider context for our work. Journals have had a key role as a resource for people involved in various aspects of adult education for many years.

Stanistreet

Screen grab from Paul Stanistreet’s blog

Paul Stanistreet’s blog here about the end of the Adults Learning publication gives an informed view of that journal’s history and the context in which it was published. He also refers to Highway, the WEA’s influential magazine which was published from 1908 to 1959, reaching a circulation of 20,000 in 1939. Highway was described as, “a necessary component of most university libraries” and “a forum for both educational and wider political debate“. Highway’s contributors included Virginia Woolf and George Orwell as well as prominent politicians, journalists and adult educators.  Bound volumes of Highway are available in the WEA central archive, which is managed by London Metropolitan University and attached to the TUC Collection. You can find details of the archive here.

The Adults Learning journal is described on NIACE’s website here as, “essential reading for adult education practitioners and policy makers, offering an informed mix of news, analysis, expert commentary and feature writing, dedicated to adult learning. Available in print and digitally, each issue is filled with in-depth and topical articles written by leading practitioners and experts in the field.” Back issues as far back as 2011 are now available to download for free.

Highway

I share Paul Stanistreet’s regret at the impending demise of Adults’ Learning but the extract above from “George Orwell the Essayist: Literature, Politics and the Periodical Culture” by Peter Marks illustrates some of the financial challenges that face journals’ publishers.

Is there a need for a specialist UK adult education journal in the age of blogs?

There are some excellent blogs by adult educators and about adult education. There are links to some examples here (written when I worked for the WEA). Some blogs’ content can be similar to journal articles but blogs feel more ephemeral and unsystematic. They are more spontaneous and interactive, offering a democratic pick and mix of views, usually with no third party editorial influence or reviewing.

They are easy to access but also easy to miss.

Journals bring more order, reliable access and editorial rigour. The assumption of a collective enterprise and an editing process adds weight to their content, giving them more status than individual blogs.

The reported cessation of Adults Learning will leave a gap for many of its readers, especially among those of us who remain committed to the view of transformational adult education that Paul Stanistreet identifies as ‘this great movement of ours”.

There are some remaining educational journals, such as Forum which focuses on 13-19 Comprehensive education, but has some general relevance to adult educators. The Journal of Philosophy of Education is a regular publication produced by The Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain but its focus is not specifically on adult learning.

Perhaps we will have to be less parochial and look beyond the UK? Lifelong Learning in Europe, LLinE, offers a European perspective and other current journals include the International Journal of Lifelong Education.

Alternatively, is there scope for an online platform capable of taking on the role of “offering an informed mix of news, analysis, expert commentary and feature writing, dedicated to adult learning”? This would require dedicated time and resources, journalistic skill and reviewing processes to establish and maintain credibility. Could EPALE, the Education and Training Foundation, the WEA or a University Department of Lifelong Learning host such an initiative?

Paul Stanistreet ends his blog by saying,

“I’d love hear what people think about this and what their thoughts are as to what might replace Adults Learning, what the sector needs and what would be valuable as a way of developing thinking and advocacy within and about adult education. Please feel free to comment on this post. I’d love to hear what you think.”

I hope that people will respond to his blog here and pick up on the discussion that he has started.

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.

10 blogs about adult education

There are many excellent blogs about education. Most of those that I’ve come across focus on teaching, learning and leadership in schools and there’s a lot to learn from them, but it’s good to find some that focus specifically on adult education, including part-time adult and community learning.

You can find a list of sample blogs from WEA colleagues in the right hand side bar of this blog if you scroll down the page on full screen versions or at the end of the text on smartphone formats. Some of the blogs are more active than others and they represent different aspects of our work – from tutor and branch blogs to payroll support. Many are informal but ‘weaadulted‘ is Ruth Spellman’s official blog as our CEO.

Here are links to 10 other interesting blogs that are relevant to adult education. They’re listed in alphabetical order of their authors and are all UK-focused unless stated otherwise.

  1. The Learning Professor – John Field is an academic interested in lifelong learning.
  2. Education Post 2015 ICAE – The International Council for Adult Education.
  3. Stuffaliknows – Alison Iredale is a teacher educator working at Oldham College as Centre Manager for the PGCE / CertEd (Lifelong Learning).
  4. JISC Regional Support Centres – (formerly Joint Information Systems Committee) Supports the use of digital technologies in UK education and research.
  5. teachnorthern – Lou Mycroft is a teacher educator, working at The Northern College, Barnsley. This blog links to a ‘Community of Praxis’ and ‘Teachdifferent’.
  6. More, Different, Better – A multi-authored blog from NIACE, the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education.
  7. Working in Adult Literacy – Kate Nonesuch has worked in adult literacy and numeracy for more than twenty-five years, most of that time at Vancouver Island University. (Canadian).
  8. Sam Shepherd’s Blog – Sam is an ESOL tutor and teacher trainer.
  9. The Learning Age – Paul Stanistreet is a journalist who edits Adults Learning, a quarterly magazine for people working in adult education.
  10. Union Learning Voices – The unionlearn blog.

I’ll write a future post listing more blogs about education that are relevant to adult educators but not written directly from, or for, the sector.

Apologies if I’ve missed your personal blog or your favourite adult education blog. Please let me know. I’d appreciate your comments, suggestions and additions.

P.S.

The following blogs have also been recommended via comments on Twitter:

Carol Goody – Carol is an Adult Literacies & ESOL Worker in Community Learning and Development with a local authority in Scotland.

Improvisation Blog by Mark Johnson, suggested by Alison Iredale.

http://azumahcarol.wordpress.com/ by Dr Carol Azumah Dennis, a researcher, writer & teacher.

I’ll add more if people send me links.

Community Learning Innovation Fund (CLIF)

NIACE, the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, organised an event this week to share and celebrate the progress and impact of projects from around the country supported by the Skills Funding Agency’s ‘Community Learning Innovation Fund’ (CLIF).

Projects supported by CLIF were set up to:

  • widen participation and transform people’s destinies by supporting learning and progression in the broadest sense for adults, especially those who are most disadvantaged and least likely to participate in learning;
  • promote social renewal and develop stronger communities with more self-sufficient, connected and pro-active citizens;
  • maximise the benefit and impact of community learning on the social and economic well being of individuals, families and communities;
  • include effective strategies to ensure that the work and its impact can be sustained when project funding comes to an end;
  • align with the work of emerging Community Learning Trusts – a distinct but complementary initiative.

(Source: Prospectus for Community Learning Innovation Fund)

Learners from a dozen or so organisations shared their stories, displayed their work, showed their videos and sang their songs in an event that provided variety and inspiration as the evidence stacked up to show how projects had met the CLIF aims. As is usual on such occasions, there was plenty of proof that adult learning had improved people’s lives in a short time – often with an impact on whole families and wider society – for relatively little investment of public money.

CLIF-supported projects in the WEA are reporting outcomes that complement those showcased at this week’s event.

WEA CLIF projects include:

  • Community Enterprise Pioneers (Eastern Region)
  • The VIEW (Virtual Interactive Educational World) Project (North West Region)
  • Welcome to Bolton (North West Region)
  • Living Life and Taking Part (North West Region)
  • Creative Wellbeing (South West Region)

We will be reporting on the projects and producing relevant data but in the meantime there’s more information about the Creative Wellbeing project on Pete Caldwell’s blog at: http://pcaldwell.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/a-creative-and-sustainable-approach-to-volunteering/.

Living Life and Taking Part - Photos courtesy of WEA Cumbria blog at http://bit.ly/1avBKxB

Living Life and Taking Part – Photos courtesy of WEA Cumbria blog at http://bit.ly/1avBKxB

The Living Life and Taking Part project brought adults with physical disabilities together to campaign for social equality and wellbeing. The benefit system is changing and students were keen to research information and to share their experiences through creative workshops, performances, their blog, website and local events.

They have been amazingly productive. Students organised a photography exhibition during Adult Learners’ Week based on the theme of isolation / inclusion. More than 200 visitors attended and the feedback was impressive. They produced a book of poetry in conjunction with Parkhill Poets, a ‘Help you to help yourself’ leaflet and a set of Conversation Cards for Disability Awareness to be used as an educational tool. They have also made a DVD to look at the recent changes in disability benefits.

You can see the group’s blog and their own words at: http://coscblog.wordpress.com/ and you can find background information about all CLIF projects a funded by the SFA and led by NIACE att: http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/clif/community-learning-innovation-fund

Will pensioners become NEET?

Here’s a scenario. Retired people who are fit for paid work will be treated as being NEET – not in employment, education or training – and required to get jobs.

No-one’s pushing this as a policy but David Willetts, the universities minister, has been in the news this week encouraging older people to return to higher education to keep their skills updated for employment throughout their sixties and beyond. (See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9884301/Over-60s-are-told-go-back-to-university-and-retrain.html)

He made the comments after a recent government report said that the UK’s future economic success will depend on older workers’ skills and contributions. Campaigners for older people aren’t convinced that many will want to commit to degree-level courses and to the possibility of student debt, but figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the average life span in England and Wales increased by around 10 years for a man and 8 years for a woman over the 50 years from 1960 to 2010. The most common age at death in England and Wales in 2010 was 85 for men and 89 for women.

There many issues to think about as people are living longer and technology is changing the ways that we live, learn, work and socialise. Will 60-year-olds be expected to train for extended careers – competing against younger people who aren’t in employment, education or training – or for long, active and healthy retirements?

Joyce Patrick, featured in a past edition of WEA News, learnt to read at the age of 83.

Joyce Patrick, featured in a past edition of WEA News, learnt to read at the age of 83.

Willetts’ proposal is set against a current decline in the number of older students in higher education. A recent report, ‘Older People’s Learning in 2012: A Survey’ by Professor Stephen McNair, Senior Research Fellow at NIACE, found that the proportion of older learners (aged 50+) studying in further education colleges and universities had dropped significantly between 2005 and 2012, from 21% to 9% in colleges and from 14% to 8% in universities.

The report is available at: http://shop.niace.org.uk/older-peoples-learning-2012-summary.html

Stephen McNair reported that more than a quarter of older people said that learning had helped them to pass on skills and knowledge to others. 14% reported ‘Getting involved in society’ as a benefit and 13% cited the value of ‘improving my health’. ‘Getting involved in the digital world’ was a benefit for 10% of respondents in his research and significant numbers reported that it had helped them to manage caring roles and to cope with life crises.

Despite these benefits, older people are much less likely than younger people to be learning. Only 20% of over-50s are ‘learners’, compared to 40% of the adult population as a whole. The proportion falls to only 7% of those aged 75 and over.

older

The WEA is not a university but we have a long tradition of attracting students of all ages into high quality adult education covering a wide range of courses. 37,749 WEA students in 2011-12 were aged 65 or older and a recent analysis of our student data showed 11 active learners who were 100 years old or older.

It’s worth noting the 96.3% retention rate for students aged 65 or older in our part-time, community-based courses last year. Their 96.2% success rate shows that age didn’t stop them meeting their learning aims.

Many of our active volunteers are older people who are contributing to community life in their neighbourhoods. Audrey Constable, 77, voluntary chair of the WEA’s Great Missenden, Prestwood and Wendover Branch is good example. Audrey, a piano teacher, left school without going on to further education immediately. Taking part in a course with the Association in 1970 encouraged her to do a degree in philosophy and linguistics. She says that the WEA changed her life. Michael Davis, 79, a retired surveyor of Prestwood, has been involved in the same branch for 10 years. He says, “We all have a good common interest and enjoy the group learning. It is worthwhile.”

Older people are often overlooked in public debates about education so it’s refreshing that David Willetts has highlighted over-60s and their potential.

What do you think about education’s role in older people’s professional, social and personal well-being? What about pensioners’ rights and responsibilities compared to younger people?