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.

WEAConf13-58

  • 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?

Learning from crime fiction – means, motive and opportunity

Most readers of crime fiction and viewers of detective dramas know about the concepts of means, motive and opportunity that the writers use to establish criminals’ guilt. The MMO checklist is memorable and highly relevant to adult and community learning as well. MMO Understanding that adults need the means, motive and opportunity to benefit from education can help us to engage people into relevant courses in their communities. It’s not enough to provide courses and hope that people will turn up and join them or to set up digital learning activities and hope that people will find them.

Local resources and specialist tuition led to success for these WEA students interested in digital media.

Local resources and specialist tuition led to success for these WEA students who wanted to learn about digital media.

Do people have the means: the money for fees, equipment, bus fares, tea and coffee breaks, the initial skills, digital literacy, internet access, childcare….?

What might give them a motive to learn? Is it the real prospect of a proper job, better chances for their children, improving their health, gaining confidence, meeting new people, learning more about an interest, campaigning for something…..?

The flip side of this is just as important: “What type of learning demotivates someone?”

Is there an accessible opportunity to learn? Where can people go to learn? How will they know where to go and what’s available? Are there community networks, role models and venues where people feel secure? Is there access to digital learning with appropriate support?

Too many people will remain “hard to reach” unless policy makers and planners of adult and community learning try to understand the concepts of means, motive and opportunity.

Of course, engagement is only part of successful adult education. Once we have hooked people by negotiating the MMO, we have to make sure we move on to another three-letter acronym – with top quality TLA: teaching, learning and assessment.

Informal and non-formal learning: a smart investment

This article was first published in the current edition of NIACE’s Adults Learning journal. It’s a bumper edition and well worth reading for news and opinions about different aspects of adult education.

AL

Everyone learns throughout their life but everyone has their own personal experience of learning. The most badly off people in our society are very often the people who have benefitted the least from formal education.

Research shows that less formal learning can be a key for adults to improve their health and wellbeing, confidence, self-esteem, relationships in their communities and readiness for work. Access to good quality informal and non-formal learning is a powerful tool to address various types of inequality. It contributes to society by reducing pressure on other support services. It makes economic sense and is a matter of social justice.

A ‘one size fits all’ model of linear educational progression through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood is not enough to support a population with longer average life expectancy. Adults need to adjust to technological, social and economic change. Formal education is not enough to deal with skills gaps in adult literacy and numeracy and the impact of poverty on individuals, families and communities. It is not enough to create a vibrant national culture of lifelong learning and an active democracy. We need flexible, negotiable, high quality, locally accessible and affordable options for adult learning.

Formal education or ‘more school’ is a daunting prospect for people who feel alienated from learning. Many messages reinforce their anxiety and deter them from education. Ideas such as punishing parents who have poor literacy levels for not reading to their own children add insult to injustice and perpetuate educational inequality. We need the alternative, complementary and proven models that community and family learning can provide.

People who are labelled as ‘hard to reach’ often see formal education as hard to enter and pointless for them. Community networks can create supported pathways to make sure that no-one is written off without chances to return to learning. Research into the wider benefits of community learning shows that it improves the lives of people who might otherwise be excluded from education, including people who have not been in recent employment, education or training, people with disabilities, ex-offenders and people from marginalised groups. It can also top up education for people who have learnt successfully in the past.

WEA students learning together

WEA students learning together

A non-formal approach in a compassionate, negotiated learning environment can – and does – lead hesitant adults back into more formal education by building their confidence, self-belief and motivation. Such approaches are especially important at a time when people have difficulty in finding secure and sustainable jobs, when there are concerns about health inequalities and when portrayals of extremism threaten community cohesion.

The potency of informal and non-formal learning can be overlooked in policy debates on education.

In practice there is a spectrum of learning activity from the informal to the formal, with individual learning pathways. Non-formal and informal community learning are essential parts of the mix and complement formal schooling, further education, higher education and training.  Community learning’s agility and responsiveness can provide links between the different educational sectors and also between many policy areas, agencies and the communities that they serve. Informal and non-formal adult learning can create local solutions to neighbourhood problems and can introduce people into taking a full and positive role in their community.

Community education and family learning contribute to a learning society that spans different generations. The recent Family Learning Works report arising from a NIACE-led Inquiry into Family Learning provides powerful evidence of intergenerational learning’s impact. Parents, carers and grandparents who are active learners improve school children’s attainment, while non-formal learning also helps people to remain more active and independent into old age. Impact research from Community Learning Trusts, projects supported by the Community Learning Innovation Fund and the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) provides statistical evidence to back up many individual case studies and stories of achievement.

Many of those who work in non-formal and community learning are skilled at seeing connections, linking the curriculum to community priorities and interests, linking learners to opportunities for progression, linking volunteers to local activities, linking partners who can make things happen by working together and linking adult learning to policy areas such health, justice, employment, arts, communities, local government, culture and the media.

WEA Manifesto

WEA Manifesto

Community learning is a diverse sector. Organisations of all sizes, including many in the third sector and trade unions, offer informal and non-formal education. The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and other adult learning organisations locate their work in the wider policy, social and economic environment, as shown in a separate, complementary manifesto that the WEA has launched. It makes nine specific recommendations to promote connections between different types of learning and policy areas, including:

  • Auto-enrolling workers at all levels into ‘Training and Development Accounts’
  • Making the Living Wage and universal training and development minimum requirements in all public sector contract procurement and tender specifications (including subcontractors)
  • Requiring Health & Wellbeing Boards to include health education in their strategic plans to reduce health inequality
  • Introducing education/training vouchers for parents in receipt of child benefit when their first child starts Year 7
  • A Minister with lead responsibility for family learning in England
  • A requirement that  all universities, colleges and schools publish Community Access Policies to make education assets and infrastructure accessible through partnerships to all adults

The cost-benefits of community learning are substantial for a relatively modest investment. The NIACE and WEA manifestos are timely.

Ann Walker,

Director for Education, WEA

What will people think?

Thinking about what other people think can be a sign of inhibition or empathy. It can be timid and constraining or open-minded with active curiosity about other people’s perceptions, leading to deeper understanding and intellectual growth.

The “Three Rs” have been with us for a very long time and are the accepted basics of education. Technological and social changes mean that they are no longer enough to prepare us for a productive life.

The “Four Cs” of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity are now described as key twenty-first century skills. They are essential elements of teaching and learning as we encourage students to be curious, aware and open to learning from different viewpoints. They are integral to education for social purpose.   empathy This simple illustration can prompt a lot more thinking. It shows why dialogue is important.

We can explore the “Four Cs” in terms of teaching and learning, lesson planning and curriculum development. Adult educators might also think outside the confines of our own experience and enthusiasm to think about how others feel about the prospects and potential of adult learning. Do they see what we see?

What do you think?

Women overcoming disadvantage through education

We are launching our “WEA Women overcoming disadvantage through education” campaign with a conference in Nottingham this Wednesday, 4 June. It’s at the ICCA, Hucknall Road, Nottingham, NG5 1QZ, with registration at 10.00 am for a 10.30 start and a 4.00 pm finish.

WOD

As well as our own General Secretary and CEO, Ruth Spellman and WEA colleagues, speakers will include:

  • Dr Finn Mackay, feminist activist and WEA Ambassador
  • Dr Anita Franklin from the University of Sheffield
  • Cheryl Turner of NIACE
  • Baroness Frances D’Souza, the Lord Speaker House of Lords

You can find more about the conference here.

The WEA has recognised, included and valued women’s contributions and has improved women’s lives through education for over 110 years, so the campaign is a continuation of a long tradition.

Albert Mansbidge established “An Association to promote the Higher Education of Working Men” in 1903 with his wife Frances, using two shillings and sixpence (12½ pence) from her housekeeping money, but the organisation changed its name to become the “Workers’ Educational Association” in 1905 in response to women’s demands for inclusion. This was before the fight for female suffrage was won. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Emily Wilding Davison was an early WEA activist. She was the suffragette campaigner who died after King George V’s horse trampled over her at the Epsom Derby in 1913.

Writing in the same year as the tragic event at Epsom, Ida Hony, the second WEA’s women’s officer, said,

“Of all the special efforts the WEA is making today, perhaps none is more important than the special effort it is making on behalf of women.”

Mel Lenehan, Regional Education Manager for the WEA in the East Midlands. has shared this short video giving an overview of our women’s education from the Association’s early days to today’s ‘Women Leading Learning’ and ‘Women into Politics’ projects.

 

We are inspired by our past and can learn from it but too much nostalgia can seem indulgent when inequality is still rife and there is so much work to do, so we’re focusing on current and future priorities.

Wednesday’s conference aims to:

  • Define the skills and knowledge needed by learning practitioners to deliver the women’s learning programme model;
  • Identify what difference the women’s learning programme model makes to students and society;
  • Share and consider ways to embed equality, diversity and social purpose education within women’s learning provision.

It’s guaranteed to be a stimulating and stirring get together.

You can email Hanna Liljeberg hliljeberg@wea.org.uk or telephone: 01332 291805 to find out more.

Low pay in employment

Better paid and educated workers are better for the economy and inequality comes with many costs.

Five million UK workers are employed in low-paid jobs and the largest group feeling poverty is made up of families with at least one adult in paid work. Official figures miss out the most exploited workers, who include immigrants, young people and women, working illegally in the ‘underground’ economy.

Most people trapped by in-work poverty have not gone on to better paid jobs in the last ten years but some have been successful and there are good examples of effective workplace learning. These include Unionlearn initiatives and projects such as the longstanding ‘Return to Learn’ programme run by the Workers’ Educational Association and Unison.

Technology and globalisation is altering the labour market so much that planning for current job roles is short-sighted. Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates, has said that, “Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set…. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.” Policy debate and planning must move beyond today’s skills for today’s jobs and prepare for a fall in available employment for the people who are furthest from well-paid work.

There are at least three main challenges. Support is needed to help low-paid workers to progress into better paid and more secure jobs. We need to recognise that the pool of adults without secure work is likely to grow, with an impact on the public purse as well as on individual lives. Extended working ages and later entitlement to state pensions reinforce the need for more adult learning. Policy decisions need to address the learning and skills needs of adults who are in the workforce now if we are to tackle these issues.

Future jobs are likely to need digital, technical, creative, research and development skills. Meeting these needs seems a tall order in the wake of recent reports on levels of adult literacy and numeracy as well as on poverty and social mobility. A lack of applicable skills, confidence and prospects will have a knock-on effect on our society, economy and future public spending unless we take action.

Policy makers need to identify the gaps between future skills demands and current levels – and then to work out how we can bridge them. We need to understand the barriers to adult learning and to apply our knowledge of strategies that work. Obstacles include unpredictable work patterns, caring responsibilities and lack of information and networking with people already in education. Financial constraints, including the costs of transport or online connectivity, also deter workers who are paid below a living wage.

Community learning has a particular role in engaging people who are otherwise unlikely to get involved in education and also in campaigning for better working conditions. It acts as a catalyst and a connector as well as having value in its own right. It builds on the understanding that adult learning journeys are complex and individual and that people’s needs, talents, interests, motivation, opportunities and access to learning vary.

Affordable, accessible and relevant community learning encourages adults to take their first steps back into education in their neighbourhood or workplace. It provides essential and flexible support with networks for progression. Community outreach work, learning champions and union learning representatives are all shown to be successful at engaging new learners.

The quality and qualities of teaching, learning and assessment for adults are critical to success. Effective community learning tailors courses to suit adults’ requirements and is run in partnerships so that progression to further learning can be organic. Community Learning Trusts have an important role in this, as should Local Enterprise Partnerships, although community learning’s role as a route to further education is not recognised sufficiently. We need to raise awareness.

Trust, partnership and networks linking policy makers, funders, employers, learning providers and the general public are essential to make sure that no low-paid or unemployed adult is isolated from accessible and attractive learning opportunities.

Joined up adult learning strategies are essential if adults are to know how to join up and can be inspired to continue their learning and development for more rewarding work.

(This article was first published in a special free edition of NIACE’s Adults Learning – “Poverty, work and low pay – The role of skills”. A copy of the full publication can be found at http://shop.niace.org.uk/al-extra-poverty-work-pay.html.)

Persuasion, politics and adult education

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Building on more than a century of adult education for community engagement, the WEA is running  ‘Why Vote‘ and ‘Deciding Locallyinitiatives to boost voter registration. Dr Henry Tam from the University of Cambridge led a Twitter chat about it last week. There’s a Storify summary of tweets here.

Ballot_Box_web_3

The WEA doesn’t promote any individual political party but has a long tradition of encouraging people to vote and to go further by becoming active in politics, especially at local levels.

Practical political education aims to stimulate critical thinking about how democracy and politics work. It is important that people can make informed decisions and can develop the skills and confidence to get involved in shaping policies that affect them directly.

Critical questioning plays a key role in political judgments and in daily life. Information bombards us from several sources every day, but can we trust it? Are we being informed or manipulated – deliberately or inadvertently? Do we notice the difference between indoctrination, persuasion and education?

Indoctrination trains people to accept a set of beliefs without opportunities for questioning so that they conform to particular ideas, opinions and principles without considering alternatives.

Persuasion is more subtle. It relies on the assumption that most people will not sift through the range of relevant information even when they are free to do so. A persuader can impose their opinion by highlighting specific ‘information’ or by appealing to emotions.

In theory, education presents facts and logical arguments, encouraging students to think for themselves, assess all the relevant information and come to their own conclusions. In practice, education does not take place in a vacuum. Teachers are likely to bring their own perspectives and can be powerful persuaders, while students apply their own filters based on their personal experiences. Some adult students are very eloquent and informed before they begin a course. Others are more likely to accept ideas without questioning. These issues raise various practical and ethical questions.

As an adult education organisation, the WEA respects tutors and students as equals who share and learn from their differing experiences. Being able to understand and to apply principles of persuasion might be a useful part of the teaching and learning process.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric defined these principles many centuries ago, identifying the three elements of logos, ethos and pathos.

  • Logos – logic, facts, evidence, reason
  • Ethos – ethics, credibility, dependability
  • Pathos – emotion, appeal to people’s feelings

aristotle's rhetoric

 

Watching a news bulletin on television can be a good opportunity to look for the three elements of rhetoric. We can assess how much of what we are told is based on facts and evidence and can think about whether we trust the source. We can decide whether we are being swayed because of substance, spin or charisma.

There are some good free resources to help with analysis of political parties’ policies and statements of fact, including:

  • Vote for Policies at http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/ which provides a test of what policies you might agree with if bias towards a particular political party is removed.
  • Full Fact at https://fullfact.org/ which is an independent fact checking organisation which provides free tools, information and advice, so that anyone can check the claims we hear from politicians and the media.

Anyone who thinks that politics has no place in education or vice versa should think about how many cabinet ministers of different political parties have studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics degrees at the University of Oxford

Recognising the elements of rhetoric is a tiny step in comparison but can give people some tools to assess information and more skills in getting messages across for themselves.

Any other useful websites, resources or comments?

Who and what is education for?

Eavesdropping on a Twitter conversation this week, I ‘overheard’ this snippet from NIACE’s David Hughes: “Some people think the only need is for education in transition from childhood into work…”

David H tweet

His tweet summed up a view of education that has to be challenged and changed. Of course education is for children and young people and it’s about preparation for work but it’s also about a lot more.

Education is not just for children and young people

Data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that approximately 23% of the current population is aged under 19. The biggest growth in the next 20 years is forecast to be in the over 65 age group.

Age distrib

Children’s education and their transitions into work don’t just depend on schools. They also rely on adults who are themselves adapting to parenthood, changing stages of life, relationships and circumstances. These adults should have access to education too, for their sakes and for their children’s, especially if they are among the people who left school with poor levels of skills and confidence.

School leavers will have to adapt to many developments as they grow older. Jobs that exist now will disappear and they will need to adjust to changing demands for new and as yet unknown skills. As England’s last deep coal mines close, marking the end of an era, coal mining will disappear as a job. It will join the list of roles that have become obsolete during my lifetime along with working in typing pools, film processing, type setting and many more employment options.

Changing jobs need new skills

Changing jobs need new skills

Adults who are in the workforce now will need to learn new skills for new jobs. Learning how to be adaptable, resilient and creative will help them to deal with change. Better still, developing critical thinking and problem solving expertise could equip people to shape progress instead of simply responding to it.

People don’t have to work for someone else despite the dominant messages about learning to please employers. They can learn to be self-employed, to work in co-operatives or social enterprises or to become employers themselves. The current narrative for school leavers and adults can be quite limited in its implied ambition.

Education is not just for work

One online calculation about the proportion of a person’s life spent in paid work suggests that someone who works for 40 hours per week from age 18 to age 65 will spend approximately 14% of their life working. That’s a very rough estimate but it gives an indicator of non-working time, including an eventual transition from paid employment into what should be an active, independent and healthy retirement.

The WEA has three educational themes as well as Employability. You can find out more about the four educational themes here. These themes, including Health and Wellbeing, Community Engagement and Culture, reflect a belief that education has social and cultural purposes and not just a narrow economic focus – although there are economic benefits of living in healthy, tolerant and inclusive communities.

There is a strong alignment between these approaches and the “Purpose of Government Supported Community Learning”, which is outlined on page 14 of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ 2011 policy paper, “New Challenges, New Chances: Further Education and Skills System Reform Plan“, but not enough recognition beyond the community learning sector.

Education in a civilised society is for collective as well as individual benefit. It should be lifelong, life-wide and full of inspiration and challenge, whatever the student’s age, stage of life or circumstances.

Who and what do you think education is for?

Health, wellbeing and adult learning

Improved health and wellbeing can be a driver, a vehicle and an outcome of adult and community learning. This summarised part of an online discussion today with colleagues from other organisations. We agreed to think of some examples from our organisations. Here are some from the Workers’ Educational Association.

Health and wellbeing as a driver for adult learning 

Many people get involved in adult learning to improve their physical and mental health.

CLHL_Arts_fest2_large

The WEA carried out an impact survey in 2013 of 522 students who had taken part in a range of our adult learning courses in the autumn of 2012. 45 per cent of the people who responded said that their main motivation was ‘to improve wellbeing or keep mind and body healthy and active’. 31 per cent said that they had wanted ‘to improve self-confidence’. The full results of the survey are available here.

Health and wellbeing as a vehicle for adult learning 

The WEA runs many courses and projects with health and wellbeing as a focus. Community Learning for Healthy Living (CLHL) is just one from many examples.

Snapshot from a CLHL flyer

Snapshot from a CLHL flyer

This was a three-year project (2010-13) that aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of over 3,000 adults in predominantly BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities through provision of structured courses that combined preventative health education with physical exercise. The project addressed the problem of obesity and related risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease that are prevalent among targeted communities in disadvantaged areas of Birmingham.

The project involved extensive community outreach to encourage people to take part in activities especially designed for their needs. Activities also focused on building partnerships with community organisations and key agencies to develop a comprehensive, inclusive and culturally appropriate health provision programme.

You can read an evaluation report of the Community Learning for Healthy Living project here.

Health and wellbeing as an outcome of adult learning 

Nearly all respondents (98 per cent) in the WEA’s 2012-13 impact survey reported a positive social or health impact as a result of doing their course, whether it had a direct health focus or not. The majority (87 per cent) noted the course had kept their mind and body active. This figure rose to 94 per cent in those with a long-term physical or mental illness.

Overall, 69 per cent of respondents said the course made them feel better about themselves generally and this increased for those with children under eighteen (75 per cent) and for those with a long-term physical or mental illness (73 per cent).

A virtuous circle

‘Health and Wellbeing’ is one of the WEA’s four educational themes. The others are ‘Employability’, ‘Community Engagement’ and ‘Culture’. All the themes are interlinked and it’s interesting see students like Melrose Logan from Dudley, who has contributed to community engagement as volunteer improving other people’s health.

Melrose_Logan_thumbnail

Melrose was keen to improve her own health through better diet and regular exercise, but she also gained an unexpected knowledge and understanding about anatomy and physiology from  being involved in the WEA’s Tandrusti health project.

After training as a volunteer with Tandrusti, she regularly takes large groups for health walks around Dudley and promotes and encourages the regular exercise message within the community. Following her successes, Melrose now has a full-time job.

Background to this blog 

This blog was prompted by a discussion of issues relating to health literacy and numeracy. Colleagues involved in the collaboration include:

  • Jonathan Berry, Community Health and Learning Foundation
  • Sarah Gibb, National Numeracy
  • Annie Gilbert, Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited
  • Tricia Hartley, Campaign for Learning
  • Ann Malone, Health Evolution
  • Prof Gill Rowlands, King’s College London, who is leading the initiative

Ron Moreton – WEA Bradford Treasurer

WEA colleagues in the Yorkshire and Humber region and beyond are paying tribute this week to Ron Moreton who died peacefully on February 25, 2014 at the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford aged 82 years.

Ron always introduced himself at meetings as the temporary treasurer of the WEA’s Bradford Branch. He’d had the voluntary role for over 40 years and his summary says a lot about him. He had a wry sense of humour and a strong sense of duty. He played a pivotal role in supporting WEA courses in Bradford and was active in regional governance, being a key member of the Regional Finance Committee for many years.

Ron was a straightforward Yorkshire man who gave a lot of time to his voluntary work. He worked tirelessly for the WEA and inspired a great deal of respect and affection. We were always pleased to see him and to hear from him.

We send our thoughts and sympathy to Ron’s wife, Audrey, and his family. We will be paying our respects at his funeral service at the Parish Church of St. James, Tong Village on Friday March 7, at 12.00 noon.