Reflecting on Adult Learners’ Week

Like everyone else that took part in this year’s Adult Learners’ Week celebrations, I was struck by the remarkable stories of tutors and students nominated for awards. For me, each submission was a validation of lifelong learning. While the 2015 nominees come from all walks of life, varying in age, circumstance and experience, each one demonstrates the transformative power of adult education. Their lives and prospects have improved immeasurably as a result of acquiring new skills and tapping into their potential. I’d like to say a little about some of the truly inspirational national award winners, whose personal trajectories could have been very different without the intervention of further education.

Lee Hughes, winner of the ‘Outstanding Individual’ award at the national ceremony, gave a rousing speech, detailing the obstacles he had to overcome before experiencing success. Lee, who is intelligent, articulate and incredibly talented, didn’t do particularly well at school, leaving without any qualifications. On top of this, his subsequent years were afflicted with his battle with drug addiction. Enrolling onto the Access to HE Diploma course at Northern College was his major turning point. With the encouragement of an excellent support team, Lee excelled and is now reading modern history at Sheffield Hallam university. With his sights firmly set on a career in politics, Lee has secured an internship working for his local MP.

Adele Tilley, was awarded the Patron’s accolade, handpicked by HRH the Princess Royal. Throughout her life, Adele has shown true strength of character. In care for most of her childhood with, her education suffered as a result. At the age of 21, she returned to education studying GCSEs in English, maths and ICT. This led on to and Access Diploma in Business Management. Adele has flourished in the last few years and is now studying for an Integrated Business Masters at De Montfort University. She has done all of this while raising two young children.

Adele’s journey is even more remarkable considering the bleak statistics around children in care in relation to education. Statistics from the DfE, show that children in care are less likely than their peers to do well at school, have higher levels of Special Educational Needs (SEN) and face higher exclusion rates. According to the latest government figures, 34% of care leavers were not in education, employment or training at age 19 compared to 15.5% of the general population. This is where lifelong learning steps in. Further education must be available and clearly signposted to groups whose educational outcomes are severely diminished at secondary school level.

The President’s award went to the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). They help local people acquire the employability skills that they need and have galvanised over 300 organisations across the Humber region to invest in workplace skills. Among the activities encouraged are: workplace mentoring, internships, placements for those furthest from the labour market and apprenticeships.

The ‘Learning For Work’ prize went to Jami Blythe. In Jami’s own words:

“[Adult learning] has allowed me to develop and grow into a more confident, open-minded and imaginative professional. When I studied for GCSEs over 20 years ago I had to receive extra tuition for poor academic skills. To achieve another degree with first class honours, change the course of road safety education…receive an award, present at an international conference and begin a professional doctorate within one year makes me truly grateful that I decided to study once again.”

Once again, I was thrilled to be part of Adult Learners’ Week, which year upon year proves how vital further education is. The ceremony came at what is a very challenging time for the sector – dwindling numbers of part-time students and looming cuts to FE budgets. I sincerely hope that policy-makers are taking note. Investment in adult education will pay dividends for individuals and communities in terms of productivity, social mobility and health outcomes.

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