From education to employment

NEMCA decision puts over 1.6k North East learners at risk

person pointing at students note pad

The WEA is devastated and shocked to learn the newly formed North East Mayoral Combined Authority has taken the sudden decision to defund our work in the North East, despite our excellent and long track record in the region, stretching back to the Pitmen Painters.  

Our learners are often the hardest to reach and most vulnerable, from those fleeing domestic abuse, recovering from life threatening or altering illnesses, suffering from extreme isolation to those with no qualifications and trying to make more of their life.  

The funding shortfall of £1.3 million would put the WEA’s entire operation in the North East at risk – leaving over 1,600 learners in the authority without any options and putting over 70 jobs belonging to local residents at risk.  

Currently the WEA would only be able to bid for skills provision, which is unsuitable for hundreds of its learners who need a different route back into education. The available funding will also only permit us to work with half the number of learners we have previously supported.  

This will impact learners like Joanne Hassan, 48. Joanne was severely depressed, she said: “I literally didn’t go anywhere. When I got in from dropping my two children at school I was just sitting, watching Netflix all day and being miserable and plain depressed.” 

A friend suggested a local WEA sustainable cooking course, which was near enough that Joanne could easily attend, and it immediately sparked a passion for learning and self-belief. So much so, that Joanne went on to volunteer at her children’s school breakfast club and is now training to become a teaching assistant through WEA’s Level 2 Teaching Assistant course.

Joanne is now “out four days a week working and at classes” and credits the WEA, which she describes as “life-changing.” 

“It’s like a career the WEA has created for me. I’ve gone from the cooking class to functional skills, English and maths, and now the teaching assistant course. My life has turned.” 

Joanne joined us through our partnership with Riverside Community Health who we have worked with for 18 years.  

Riverside Community Health said:

“Having the opportunity to access courses provided by WEA in a local community setting has allowed learners to make positive changes to their lives.

 “We find WEA to be an outstanding partner who have their learner’s best interest at the heart of what they do. We can see this from the relationships built between the learners and tutors that they really care about each learner individually, supporting them through both their learning journey and personal development.” 

This decision by NEMCA will mean an end to our partnership with Riverside and also local crisis-centres, charities, and organisations to be there for our learners when they have no one else to turn to.  

We have received positive feedback from the ESFA, which managed the education budget from non-devolved areas, and they have confirmed to NEMCA we are currently and therefore eligible to be a grant funded organisation, and we have been currently performing well for North of Tyne as a grant-funded provider. We also believe we fit the NEMCA criteria for grant funding. So, we just do not understand the decision. 

Simon Parkinson, CEO and General Secretary of the WEA, said:

“The WEA has been a trusted partner in the region for over a hundred years, working collaboratively to address the learning needs of thousands of adults across the region.

“Our history in the area is long and successful due to the fact we are truly community based. Our learners can access provision in the communities they know and trust, which is less daunting and also fits around their other commitments.  

“The lack of clarity behind the sudden decision is concerning and comes at a challenging time when the demand for our services is both high and more critical than ever. Our learners are the most under-served in society and it is disappointing to see them being let down again. We will however continue to fight for them because accessible education should be available to everyone. 

“The authority’s decision will again prioritise 16–19-year-old College provision over community based adult learning. Currently 8% of working aged adults in the North East were failed by school and left education without qualifications. These learners need to build their confidence and essential life skills first and we are the experts to help them. 

“Let’s be clear this is an unnecessary decision for NEMCA to take. We have asked Dr Henry Kippen (Interim CEO for NEMCA) for the rationale and process around this decision, and he has to date declined to provide any. We will be issuing FOI requests and exploring other legal and statutory routes to formally challenge this decision. We call on NEMCA to urgently re-consider its decision. 

“The WEA remains resolute in its dedication to its charitable mission of bringing adult learning within reach and we will work tirelessly for our learners to overcome the challenges posed by this decision.” 

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