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.

74%!!! That’s remarkable – ESF Community Learning Grants

I’ve been in Manchester today at a celebratory event for projects funded by the European Social Fund’s Community Learning Grants scheme. The ESF scheme has focused on improving employment opportunities in the European Union and on helping to raise standards of living. The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) has been administering the North West of England’s grants programme, worth £2m, since 2011.

Over 150 local voluntary and community organisations and charities have been funded through the scheme to provide training and support for some people who are furthest from the labour market and least likely to find work.

Statistics from the project evaluation are very impressive – and all the more so as the projects have been running in some of the region’s most hard pressed communities.

Projects from Barrow to Birkenhead have supported people to develop new skills from fork lift truck driving to film making, from horticulture to hairdressing. Those who have benefited range from people over 50 years old, living on isolated housing estates to ex–offenders, homeless people and people with a learning difficulty.

158 projects have successfully engaged at least 3575 participants to date. Of the people who took part, 62% were female, 37% were people with disabilities, 21% were over 50, 38% were from an ethnic minority and 17% described themselves as lone parents.

74%%Yes. That’s 74% (based on data reported so far) from communities that are often labelled ‘hard to reach’.

98% of participants were surveyed. Of those, 86% of participants rated their programmes as ‘Excellent’ and 11% as ‘Good’.

As ever, the statistics don’t do justice to the individual stories of achievement and hope that we heard today.

  • James from Care Network told us about Kim-Marie who’s just got a job after more than 10 years out of work.
  • WEA Tutor Linda spotted one of her students on a video and explained how he’d gone from being alcohol-dependent to starting a degree in Criminology.
  • The Lorna Young Foundation supported a new social enterprise who had their produce on display. (You can visit them at: http://www.oromocoffee.org/default.asp)
  • Paul, who was made redundant a year ago and worried that his disabilities were a barrier to finding further work, is now working for his local council in Chester.

These stories are just the tip of that ‘74% iceberg’ and it’s worth remembering that the maximum grant to any individual organisation was £12,000.

The saddest aspect of the programme is that 711 voluntary and community organisations applied for the funding. Over 550 had to have their applications rejected. There’s so much more need for funding support that reaches otherwise marginalised people and has a positive impact.

This works – and now more people do so as well.

It works because of the partnerships, networks, expertise, commitment and creativity of many voluntary and community organisations who know how to make it work.

Congratulations to them all and to the WEA’s ESF team as well as partners including Locality, Community Matters and Network for Europe and the Skills Funding Agency who oversaw the ESF funding.

Now we really need to get the message out there that a comparatively small amount of funding can make a very big difference if it’s spent wisely.

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