From education to employment

Kerry’s Odyssey

How do we engage more people in learning? We have plenty of stories of people getting bitten by the highly infectious ‘learning bug’ which has them hooked for life, but what about those – shown by the recent National Adult Learner Survey and our own Annual Participation Survey – who are not only miles away from ever doing any learning – and haven’t done since they left school – but who are also likely to struggle to get a job, especially one with prospects, security and self-worth? And who are highly unlikely to inspire or encourage their family or friends that learning is a good thing.

For instance Kerry, who now works on a family health programme on a local estate, one which ranks quite highly on anyone’s indicators – it’s a mainly white, working class estate, with the usual issues for families, including high unemployment, poor health, drug and alcohol abuse and a lack of engagement in the activity of the surrounding town. Kerry’s journey began eight years ago when she took the first step into learning by attending a school-based family literacy course. The learning bug had her hooked and she rapidly moved through ‘Help Your Child’ to Literacy Level 1, Numeracy at Entry 3 and various IT courses. All these set her on her way to thinking she might do something with her life. Then her husband left her and her youngest child was diagnosed with epilepsy. Kerry literally disappeared from the scene as she tried to cope. Two years later she re-emerged, ready to give learning another go. Thank goodness the local college recognised her potential rather than her (lack of) qualifications, and gave her the chance to enrol on a course. The rest, of course, is history – and a long history of 8 years from that first step to employment.

Learning as part of a family learning group and then moving forwards with that group, was what first got Kerry hooked. First, she learnt about family health. Then, she gained the confidence to tackle local councillors about improving her community. She went on to become a school governor, set up an epilepsy support group and develop key employability skills. All of which allowed her to act as a better role model for her children.

The NIACE-led independent Inquiry into Family Learning – recently launched by HRH the Princess Royal – seeks to understand the scope and scale of family learning, in all its guises, across England and Wales. It will gather evidence from researchers, practitioners, policy makers and learners about the impact and the barriers. Its aim is to show the central place that learning as a family takes in a range of policy issues. It will also seek to encourage Government departments to join up around issues to do with the family and to encourage activity at a local level too.

We now need you to help us gather the evidence, to make a difference to those delivering and experiencing family learning. We want research reports, examples of what family learning looks like, details of imaginative provision and of the kind of family learning that’s having an impact. We also want to know about the barriers and about what’s stopping family learning from happening. How many Kerry’s are there who are not getting the opportunity to help themselves and their families? And how much effort is needed to ensure that they get those opportunities?  The ultimate aim of this Inquiry is to ensure families get every chance to access the learning they need to secure the best outcomes for them, whatever their age and whatever stage their learning is at.

Carol Taylor is director of development and research at NIACE, which encourages all adults to engage in learning


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