Adult Learners Week and all that

Well it was a good week of sound bites and for serious celebration of student successes up and down (and across) the country.

 The WEA had two national winners along with an award in Scotland and they are described below.

 Two of our Regional Education Managers attended the Parliamentary Reception and I attended the Partner Breakfast  and presented the award for community learning to Kellie McGarry from Bolton who is now Shadow Director of an organisation called the Communiversity of Westhoughton in which volunteers and individuals develop as a result of community activities.  I also presented the Community Project award to the Cree Project in County Durham.  These are informal groups meeting in garden sheds to improve practical skills thus overcoming the negative impact of declining employment, restoring traditional skills which have become obsolete.

 We also celebrated the achievements of the 1500 entries as well as the 21 award winners.  The messaging about the importance of adult part-time learning was particularly powerful whether expressed in the diplomatic language of government, or the passionate language of our learners.  I was moved to tears by many of the stories, as were many of the other attendees at the awards presentations.  We heard from Karen Woods who was the overall award winner of the “Learning for work “ award, about her personal journey from dropping out of school with no qualification to publishing 6 books.  Karen has written a script for “Broken Youth” a play which premieres at Manchester’s Lowry Theatre later this year.  Another award winner, Margaret Isherwood, is 94 and is still pursuing learning and teaching roles contributing to her own health and wellbeing as well as enriching the lives of others.  Margaret runs wellbeing groups for older people and specialises in massage and healing therapies.  Perhaps most inspirational of all is the story of Jenny Dimmock who also won a learning for work award.  Jenny has Down’s syndrome but now holds a permanent post in a pathology laboratory following a work based study programme with City Hospital Sunderland.  She is a valued member of the team and benefitted hugely from a work based mentoring scheme, as well as her programme of study and training. 

 I am sure all of you will have personal memories of Adult Learners Week but I must finish this blog with some WEA stories – featuring three of our regions, Eastern, London and Scotland

 In Eastern Lisa Harrington, a learner from Basildon received the national individual award.

 Lisa who, having been addicted to drugs in the past, wanted a fresh start in life, said: “My motivation to learn and to change has come from my children. Having my children gave me the determination and strength to want to better myself for them.”


With no qualifications and never having had a job, Lisa wanted her children to have ambition. She felt the best way for this to happen was to have ambition herself. Lisa joined the Buddies of Briscoe – a parents’ support group at her children’s school – and began with a Practical Parent Helper course run by the WEA and Basildon Education Services Trust. This led to further courses and Lisa gained English Level 2, Maths Level 1 and the Supporting Children to Develop Reading and Numeracy Skills Level 1 qualifications. Lisa was then able to help her daughter with reading and maths and, as a result, her daughter has progressed well at school.

 Lisa is currently undertaking Level 2 Maths, as well as helping children at school with reading and maths and providing support to other parents facing difficulties. “What has changed as a result of the learning I have done is that I now have ambitions for myself as well as my children,” said Lisa, whose long-term goal is to become a drug and alcohol counsellor.

 Other eastern regional winners included Tammy Spriggs from the same learners group as Lisa, who was awarded the OCN Eastern Region Award, Ben Salmons, who won the WEA Learning for Wellbeing Award and Karen Thorman who won the Suffolk LEAP Award.

 In London, South Grove Primary School won the national award for family learning. The school offers a range of learning opportunities to improve the education and aspirations of extended family members of children attending the school. Together with the Workers’ Educational Association, the school offers ESOL, Numeracy, Literacy and ICT classes to parents, as well as a creative writing class; a crèche supports parents with pre-school aged children. Family learning includes Tai Chi, Juggling, Yoga, African Dance and Drumming, as well as a Creative Writing class in which participants produce a book featuring recipes, stories, songs and poems to reflect the diverse cultures in their community.

 “The varied learning journeys of our parents and families have made a real difference to their engagement in school life with a subsequent impact on their children’s learning,” said project leader, Brigid. As a result, many participants have taken driving tests, applied for citizenship, or gone on to further learning or work. Friendships have been formed between parents, confidence has increased and there is a stronger sense of community. One learner said, “The classes have helped me and I now volunteer with the reception children and help the staff.”

 In Scotland the Adult Learning Partnership Awards were held at the Scottish Parliament. The WEA won a national award for the Echt Reminiscence group which research and explore topics to relate students’ past experiences to present day issues. Over the years it has worked with learners aged 55 to 90+, and is open to residents and non-residents from the surrounding rural community.

 Finally I wanted to highlight my call for a more holistic approach to adult education in the FE week supplement to Adult Learners Week is available at

Ruth Profile



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