From education to employment

The value of family learning

I recently spent a couple of stimulating hours with the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong, John Hayes, celebrating Adult Learners’ Week with a family learning group in his constituency. It reminded me how lucky we are to have a Minister as knowledgeable about the power of all sorts of learning and who is as committed to informal learning as he is. One parent, completely spontaneously, stood up and thanked the Minister for enabling ‘people like me’ to have a chance to learn. The Minister made it quite clear that he was aware of the value of family learning, and that it would continue to be supported by the Government.

The visit was also a clear reminder of the value of community based, family oriented learning. Of the 10 adults in the group all had left school without any qualifications. Not surprisingly all of them wanted the best for their children and for them not to have the same early experiences of education they have had.

What was heartening was the fact that they all reeled off a list of qualifications – Literacy level 1, Numeracy level 2 and ‘Helping your child’ – that they had gained in the past 2 years. One had become a paid member of the school staff, another had an interview the following week to support victims of crime. With a huge sense of purpose, every one of them could explain the developmental objectives for their children of the lesson they had just been part of. They all recognised the considerable changes in their children which promise better readers and more engaged pupils with fewer behavioural problems. All of the children were equally proud of their parents’ achievements.

There is no doubt that learning as a family has a profound effect on the skills of parents and children. It brings families together in the experience and revitalises confidence, providing a new-found appetite for life. Nor is there any doubt that putting learning at the centre of family life – informal or formal, from College courses to using the internet together, from Forest Schools to Family Literacy – helps to achieve what every Government wants: robust members of society with transferable skills for life, community involvement and work.

As the Minister, John Hayes, said, at the Adult Learners’ Week National Award Ceremony, “the important question is not whether one sort of learning is intrinsically more valuable than another, but whether the learning a person is offered takes them closer to what they want to become”.

The intergenerational cycle of disadvantage needs to be broken and the best place to start for many adults is where their children are learning.  Through their absolute determination that their children won’t walk the same path of shame and anxiety about learning, far from the notion that learning is for ‘people like them’ and beyond the shattering of ideas and aspirations for their futures – we need to illustrate that learning can transform lives and should have its place at the heart of every family.

Family learning offers people the chance to take that tiny step, in a supportive environment, for a reason they can articulate – the first step for the rest of their lives.

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

Read other FE News article by Carol Taylor:

Every woman’s right to learn

The Early Intervention review

Taking pride in adult apprenticeships

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