From education to employment

A Profile of a Learning Provider On the Up

What lies ahead for Adult Learning and Community Education?

It appears Skills targets and basic skills levels are the flavour of the year as the Government seeks to guarantee Britain’s economic position in the years and decades to come. As understandable as this may be, and as much as it is indeed important for Further Education to take up the challenge laid down by Sir Andrew Foster to deliver the skilled and competent workforce that any developed nation requires, the question remains as to whether the original messages of the sector, of building communities, social inclusion and breaking down barriers to learning, are being neglected in the headlong rush towards employer ““ centred qualifications.

An Introduction to the WEA

It may fall to organisations such as the Workers” Educational Association (WEA) to pick up where FE Colleges are likely to have to leave off. It was founded in 1903 to support the educational and training requirements of male and female workers, and is now the largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in Britain offering learning opportunities for more than 95,000 people each year.

A national organisation, the WEA has also organised itself along the same regional boundaries as the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) to ensure a smooth working relationship. The charity seems to be ideally positioned to meet the challenge of offering education to those who need it, as they have maintained their ethos of providing access to education and learning for adults from all backgrounds, and in particular those who have previously missed out on education for more than a hundred years.

A Strong Involvement in the Community

The WEA has recently celebrated a successful inspection report from the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) that noted a distinct improvement in provision following their reorganisation under the leadership of General Secretary Richard Bolsin. The report pointed to the effect that the WEA can have on a community, stating that “the WEA continues to use the arts particularly effectively to enrich individual lives and communities. Inspired and innovative projects are designed with community groups throughout the provision.”

Their range of courses, that split into ten curriculum areas (ranging from Skills for Life to Humanities and Professional Development) are tailored to suit the needs of the local community. The courses are usually run either through local WEA Branches (of which there are around 650 across England and Scotland) or through partnerships with community organisations, employers and trade unions. They rely on Government funding to support their initiatives, however.

It will be a matter of great interest to see how many of their good programmes remain in place after further cutbacks in Government funding for adult and community education begin to bite. The focus on skills provision is a necessary one ““ and indeed examples of effective employer engagement, such as the Securities and Investments Institute (SII) “Introduction to Investment” Award in FE Colleges, should be held up as an example to be followed. It is vital for the success of Britain not only as an economy but as a community and a society that this should not be the be ““ all and end ““ all of FE. Social inclusion is not only built through professional development.

Jethro Marsh

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