I knew about the school already having presented the Learner Group of the Year award at the WEA “Making a Difference” conference held at the Houses of Parliament on 7 November 2012.
Hearing about their story and then meeting them at the school was an amazing experience. They were an illustration of what is meant in our society to not achieve at school, to be vulnerable and to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, without the emotional maturity and support to deal with it. However Tammy, Lisa and Janine are not casualties, they are survivors, and they are bringing their children up to have dreams and ambitions and to be good citizens. It all started with getting Tammy, Lisa and Janine back into learning. Small bite-sizes they could easily digest in an environment which respected and supported them.
Tammy, a 27 year old mother of four, left school at 13 without any qualifications. Due to a troubled home life she had little interest in education and found school challenging. Tammy speaks openly about being an angry child with little confidence; she believed that her life wasn’t going anywhere. At the age of 15 Tammy had her first child.
Lisa left school at 15 without any qualification and experienced a difficult few years where she lost her way in life. No qualifications meant that Lisa had no employment prospects. “I am quite open about my past, I would never lie about that because it is who I am now, it has made me the person I am today,” she says.
Janine, a mother of four children, now loves learning. As an adult, the only mathematics which Janine used was money for shopping and bills, “your only maths is how much you have left when you have been to Tesco’s and how much you owe. You don’t think of angles or litres and how much you have left after you’ve drunk the milk – it’s just gone. So putting it all into sums and questions totally threw me.”
All three students have made remarkable progress since joining the WEA, both academically and in terms of life skills.
In turn, Lisa and Tammy have become learning support volunteers at their children’s school and both have joined parents groups. Lisa provides support to others, particularly those experiencing difficulty with their own children, and Tammy has helped set up a “Friends of the School” group.
Tammy describes her confidence as “through the roof” and is determined that one day she will fulfil her dream of becoming a midwife. Janine aims to expand her set of qualifications, so that she can pursue her interest in working to stop bullying amongst children.
One of the phrases Lisa used to describe her experiences will stay with me for a long time. “When my 6 year old told me, you don’t need to worry mum, when I am big I’m going on the social just like you.” This was the sentence that changed her life, and her son’s.
Do we need to go through Lisa’s experience in order to share it and learn from it?
The WEA runs classes in schools and in community settings across the UK in which adults learn how to be citizens, parents and role models. These are the best cures for anti-social behaviours, worklessness and deprivation in our communities. The government, locally and nationally could learn lessons from Tammy, Lisa and Janine, and the WEA can give lessons in how to engage them.
Longer term we hope to see many more in-school projects. This particular course was developed in partnership with the Basildon Education Services Trust (BEST) working closely with a sympathetic Head Teacher, and the whole school.
It is an excellent example of partnerships achieving results.