Union learning reps were singled out as providing ‘outstanding peer support’ by Ofsted in a recent inspection report for U-Net, unionlearn’s network of learning centres.

This is great news for workplaces all over the country - from Sainsbury’s to Royal Mail, from First Bus to Northern Foods - which are all benefiting from the voluntary work put in by ULRS, supported by their trade unions. With a network of over 20,000 ULRs, acting as Ofsted said, as "mentors, advocates, negotiators, role models and advisors", employees are not slow to take advantage of the learning opportunities offered.

And the report also saw ULRs as "highly effective as role models", whose input learners value highly and "cite as one of the most important elements in their learning." But it’s no accident, when ULRs are backed by TUC Education provision of training, described as "a well designed set of specialist qualifications [which] empower ULRs and equips them well to support learners. Regular supplementary training maintains their expertise."

So we are very proud that U-Net, relaunched in May by David Lammy MP (previously Skills Minister), has gained a Grade 2 from Ofsted. The report highlighted a number of ways in which unionlearn, ULRs and unions are using their unique position to make sure that those who may have lost out the first, second or even third time on education, have a chance to realise their potential.

The report places U-Net among the best providers in the country, awarding a Grade 2 for all aspects of learning provision. Ofsted judged overall success rates as above national averages and support for learners as outstanding.

ULRs were highly praised, but so was the partnership between employers and trade unions, with the report finding that "employers benefit from these partnerships, with improved staff morale, reduced sick leave and staff turnover, fewer complaints and grievances, and higher rates of internal promotion." The report went on to say that the successful partnership between employers and trade unions has produced "learning…highly responsive to employers' needs [which] meets learners’ needs as well."

It concluded that this is backed by good employer support to meet the needs of learners who do not traditionally have easy access to learning.

In this time of recession, it was equally pleasing to hear that the report found that "learners develop good skills and improve their employability and career prospects" and high praise for "very good progression". And I am really pleased that success rates for Black learners have risen from 54% in 2007/08 to 81.8% and for Asian learners from 70.2% to 82.1% - well above the national average.

So unionlearn’s mission – to change lives through learning – has certainly worked for some of the learners who spoke to Ofsted. One learner was proud to say, "I read a book to my little grandchild the other day – it was magic." Another is now helping their child with their homework and said, "when my daughter asked for help on prisms and cuboids, I said, ‘leave it to me!’". One woman is completely changing her career, thanks to union-led learning and told Ofsted, "my school said I wasn’t bright enough for nursing. Now I know it’s not true".

Liz Smith, director of unionlearn


Read other FE News articles by Liz Smith:

Make everyday World Book Day

Batten down the learning hatches at your peril

unionlearn director Liz Smith warns of training cut dangers

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