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?

Obituary – Eric Frith

Warm tributes are being paid to Eric Frith, a committed and active volunteer for the Workers’ Educational Association. Eric, who was the Chair of our Walthamstow Branch, died on Christmas Day at the age of 90.

Eric Frith

Eric Frith

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Eric and his late wife Elise had wide-ranging interests and were very well-known in their community. They first started to organise courses at what is now the Adult Education Centre in Greenleaf Road, Walthamstow in the 1960s. Eric and Elise founded the Walthamstow branch of the WEA in 2005 to make sure that courses could still run at the Centre after the original service changed. He and his wife were over 80 years old when they took on this challenge.

He served as the Branch Chair and continued to do so after Elise died in 2010 at the age of 88. He chaired an active committee which meets regularly for typical WEA Branch activities such as planning and reviewing courses, approving finances, organising social and educational events and liaising with others in the WEA as well as partner organisations. Eric’s many interests included theatre, history and local developments. These were reflected in recent Branch visits to the Globe Theatre, the British Library and the National Theatre. 30 Branch members and friends also took a guided tour of the Olympic Park during its development and were able to see the velodrome, aquatics centre, the press centre and main stadium being built.

Walthamstow WEA colleague Joan Carder said: “Eric and Elise embodied the ideals of the WEA, and the Branch will not be the same without them”.

Eric was a keen campaigner for the protection of Epping Forest and the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. He also supported drama productions across the area, preparing and playing music and sound effects for hundreds of performances.

Eric’s funeral will be held on Wednesday, January 16, at 11.45am at the City of London Crematorium.

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.

‘Making a Difference’ – WEA Parliamentary Event and Awards

This blog is a bit different. I’ve experimented with Storify software to make a narrative out of tweets. It’s my first attempt so it’s very much learning in public.

I’ve collated some tweets about the WEA’s ‘Making a Difference’ Parliamentary event last week to capture some of the comments that people made as the event unfolded. There’s a link at:

http://storify.com/AnnWalkerWEA/wea-parliamentary-event-7-november-2012?utm_content=storify-pingback&awesm=sfy.co_bB02&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&utm_campaign=&utm_source=t.co

I’d be grateful if anyone has any hints and tips about using Storify or any comments on it.

Twitter is still a foreign language to many people so the Storify’s introduction has a link to a site that explains twitter symbols and acronyms.

(The WEA runs social media courses if you want to find out more. You can find regional contact details at http://www.wea.org.uk/local if you’re interested in a course about twitter or other new media. There are many online resources for independent learning too.)

The WEA Awards Ceremony followed the Parliamentary event. It was an inspiring and emotional event.

The winners were:

Olive Cordell Skills for Life Tutor

  • Laraine Clark

Olive Cordell Skills for life Student

  • Luzayadio Mputo

WEA Volunteer

  • David Dennehy

WEA Student – Joint Award

  • Alec Buchanan
  • Julie Harrison

WEA Learning Group

  • Tammy Spriggs, Lisa Harrington and Janine Ginno

Diversity in Practice

  • Tandrusti

WEA Campaign

  • Why Vote?

Contribution to Sustainability

  • Women’s groups at Clovelly

WEA Tutor

  • Janet Henson

Innovative Partnership

  • WEA and Horizons

Innovative Branch and WEA South West

  • Activ8 for Carers

Special Recognition: Education

  • Sahira Tariq

Special Recognition: Support services and WEA Eastern

  • Kathryn Coles

Special Recognition: Long service

  • John Hurst

WEA Scotland

  • Bathgate Once More

WEA North East

  • Elizabeth Langdown

WEA North West

  • Ties to the Past

WEA Yorkshire and Humber

  • Beth Deakin

WEA East Midlands

  • Learning into Leadership on the Internet

WEA West Midlands

  • Shiyalini Mohan

WEA Eastern

  • Kathryn Coles

WEA London

  • Mike Bradley

WEA South West

  • Activ8 for Carers

WEA Southern

  • Adler Mosaicists

WEA Ambassador

  • Nigel Todd

There’s a wonderful booklet outlining their stories. It should be available soon at www.wea.org.uk.

A tale of two cities (Nottingham and Chelmsford)

I spent last Friday morning at the launch of the WEA’s “Women Leading Learning” project in Nottingham. It was one of those mood-boosting days that happen in adult education when people share their stories. Students gave their testimonies about how learning had transformed their lives for the better. Occasions like this are almost evangelical. Each person’s story could be the makings of a novel, drama or film. Some women had got jobs, some had overcome depression and some had gone into local politics as a result of adult education courses. One had done all three. It was a joyful celebration.

Antonia Zenkevitch was an expert compère as WEA tutors, staff, volunteers and people from partner organisations added their voices and took part in creative activities. There are more details about the event, links to photos, including the one above, and some video clips at http://womenleadinglearning.wordpress.com/5th-october-launch-event-programme-and-details/ You can also scroll down ‘Other WEA Blogs’ in the right hand column of this page to a find a link to ‘Women Leading Learning’.

(For the record, I also support the Men’s Sheds movement http://menssheds.org.uk/.)

On Saturday I joined branch volunteers and staff at the WEA Essex Federation’s Annual General Meeting in Chelmsford. I’m grateful to their Chair, Ron Marks, for inviting me and for the opportunity to share thoughts on teaching, learning and assessment and our ambition for WEA education over the next 3 years.

There was a good turnout from the county’s 43 volunteer-led branches with reports, presentations and group discussions. Colchester MP and WEA Patron, Sir Bob Russell joined the meeting, where people raised issues about democracy and change as key themes for discussion. As well as reporting on the year’s highlights, people debated various concerns and niggles. This is natural in a democratic organisation where students, volunteers, members and staff can express their views and they can now be explored further through the appropriate channels.

WEA Essex Course Brochure 2012-13

It was encouraging to hear and read about branch activities and educational projects in Essex including a Cultural Olympiad and plans to digitise the Region’s archives. People from at least two branches mentioned that they had 96-year old students in their courses. This reminds me that I should re-check how many WEA students are over 100 years old. It’s amazing that there are some.

The balance of work done in the previous year was interesting and there were yet more descriptions of great tutors and of adult education that had given people a fresh start when their lives had seemed almost without hope. An account of student Tammy’s aspiration to become a midwife against all odds had people spellbound. Tammy had been in and out of care as a child, left school at 13 and was on a life path that seemed destined to repeat the same cycle for her own children. Her story, like Alice’s, Mel’s, Keren’s and other women who spoke in Nottingham on the previous day, offer living proof that education can be an escape route from one life path and onto a better one. We also saw evidence that learning helps to keep people active in their communities as well as stimulating their brains into their 80s and beyond..

Over the two days I heard about some of the WEA Award winners who will be honoured at our Parliamentary event on 7 November. That will definitely be another day with a feel-good effect.

Volunteers’ Week

It’s Volunteers’ Week from 1-7 June and the WEA is joining in the annual celebration organised by Volunteering England. It has been estimated that volunteers contribute approximately 84,000 hours per year to the WEA and Ruth Spellman, our Chief Executive, has paid tribute to WEA volunteers on our website at:

http://www.wea.org.uk/News/volunteersweekmessage.aspx

Margaret East, Chair of South Tyneside Branch

Ruth points out that volunteers contribute to the work of the WEA in a staggering variety of roles including: 

• Acting as Community Learning Champions to promote the value of adult learning, particularly in disadvantaged communities
• Acting as a conduit for feedback from students as Class Secretaries and Learner Representatives
• Arranging and promoting local courses through WEA branches
• Voluntary Education Advisers (VEAs) working on the WEA/ Unison Return to Learn courses.
• Running promotional and fundraising events
• Providing classroom support by helping with skills development such as literacy, language, numeracy and IT
• Supporting individuals with specific physical or learning difficulties
• Working in offices to help with administration and publicity
• Leading self-organised study circles
• Sitting on branch, regional and national committees, up to trustee level, in formal roles such as chairs, secretaries and treasurers. 

Friendly and supportive Voluntary Education Advisers on WEA / Unison Return to Learn courses

 I’d like to echo Ruth’s thanks to all our volunteers for their dedication, commitment and hard work. You make a big difference and the WEA couldn’t exist without you.

 I’d also like to encourage anyone thinking of volunteering. All these activities enable volunteers to develop their own skills and interests and can lead to long standing friendships, more active social participation and, for some volunteers, employment. If you are interested in developing your skills whilst supporting the work of the WEA then please get in touch via volunteering@wea.org.uk.

Community Learning Champion, Stephanie, with Louise Williams

You can find out more about Volunteering England and Volunteers’ Week online at http://www.volunteering.org.uk/ and people who use social media might want to join a Volunteers’ Week chat on Twitter between 1pm and 2pm on Friday 1 June to talk about all the great things that volunteers and volunteering bring to our communities. To take part all you need to do is follow #VW2012chat and add #VW2012chat to your tweets.

Many people don’t use Twitter so, if the last paragraph seems like a foreign language, you might like to share comments here about events or personal  experiences of volunteering with the WEA or its impact (and / or request a course in social media!).