Single mother Fran left school at 16. At 19 she was pregnant and living in a hostel, with no job and few qualifications. When her daughter was old enough for nursery, she decided to return to education, enrolling on a part-time Foundation Degree in Computing at City of Bath College. The course was affordable and gave her the flexibility to fit around childcare.
At first she struggled with the course. Only when she was referred to the college learning support group was she found to have dyslexia. With extra tuition to improve her reading and writing, her grades improved and by her third year she was achieving distinctions.
While working part-time to support herself, Fran also did unpaid work experience at engineering company Babcock Marine. They were so impressed they offered her a full-time job at the end of her course. She is now an information systems engineer, and has since returned to college to give inspiring talks to young students.
“I have learned so much about myself and achieved goals I never thought I could,” she says.
Anthony Palmer has defied serious illness to complete his apprenticeship training ahead of target, obtaining distinctions throughout his BTEC qualifications.
He started his training with employer Stainless Metalcraft and the College of West Anglia in September 2007, having achieved seven GCSEs. But in the second year of his apprenticeship, Anthony was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery. After some time off, he returned to work and training with renewed enthusiasm and focus. His motivation and achievement had a positive impact on fellow apprentices.
He achieved NVQ in Performing Engineering Operations level 2, BTEC First Certificate in Engineering level 2, Employment Responsibilities and Rights, and BTEC Apprenticeship in Engineering Full Award. He went on to achieve NVQ in Fabrication and Welding level 3, BTEC National Award in Engineering level 3 and BTEC Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering Full Award.
“Despite a difficult couple of years, Anthony managed to finish his apprenticeship a year early. He has had the best feedback and reports and he brought a new lease of life to the department,” said Carli Brown, one of his tutors at Stainless Metalcraft. “He has a real thirst for learning, and now he’s finished his apprenticeship he wants to learn more, and we want to support him to do that. As the average age of the company is 56, looking to the future apprentices are vital for the future development of the business.”
“This is just the beginning,” Anthony says. “I want to carry on learning more about the engineering industry, and to learn new skills and gain additional qualifications to achieve my full potential. You only get one chance at life, so I don’t intend to waste it.”
This project, run by Sandwell Adult and Family Learning in partnership with Christ Church, Harvills Hawthorn and Burnt Tree primary schools, has enabled parents to improve their literacy and numeracy skills by studying alongside their children in the classroom, and boosted pupils’ Maths levels, giving them a firm foundation for moving up to secondary school.
The course is designed to fit in with the National Curriculum. Parents attend the study sessions once a week throughout the academic year, working one-to-one with pupils as young as 7. “Gifted and Talented” has made local headlines as 143 adults and children at Christ Church primary school passed OCR National Adult Literacy and Numeracy exams at levels 1 and 2.
Parents report that the course has helped them with job applications, encouraged some to take further qualifications, and improved confidence in helping their children with homework.
“Stepping back into the classroom and working alongside my son has been, and continues to be, a wonderful experience,” said one parent.
Fifty-three referrals for learning, ranging from basic literacy to NVQ in Childcare were made for parents at a children’s centre in just two months since one of its workers became a Community Learning Champion. The area is one of multiple deprivation and the parents are from a range of social and ethnic backgrounds.
Surrey Lifelong Learning Partnership put together a complex and ambitious web of CLCs based in a wide variety of public, private and voluntary services, including those supporting mental health service users, offenders and ex-offenders and army personnel and their families, throughout Surrey and Hampshire. By receiving CLC training together, they form networks and become more aware of each other’s work and expertise.
The next step in the plan is to provide impartial Informal Advice and Guidance and advocacy for people holding personal budgets for adult social care and to pool resources by working with NHS Health Champions.
Community Learning Champions can make a real impact when they are well equipped and supported following their training. In Cheshire West and Chester this includes Basic Skills, Information, Advice and Guidance and other courses, volunteering opportunities and a residential weekend to build team working. Their professionalism and profile is raised through the use of business cards, personalised diaries (which help with data collection for monitoring) and exhibition boards. They also use digital technology and social networking to promote learning.
Abby Green says: “Becoming a CLC gave me the confidence to realise that I had leadership qualities and, since completing my training, I have organised a number of community events concentrating on family learning and early years education.” She has worked with local schools, the library and the town council to organise events and is now involved in a project to promote rural courses and conservation. “The CLC experience and networking potential has maximised my prospects in the job market and helped me to help people in my local area achieve their full potential.”
Setting up a “Can’t paint, won’t paint” session in an empty shop is just one way of getting people who wouldn’t dream of looking at a college prospectus to join in with some learning, but Nottinghamshire’s Learning Champions are full of ideas.
As members of the community, they are powerful but approachable advocates for learning, and as well as recruiting others, they often find that volunteering helps their own personal and career development. Some have qualified in Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector, and have got jobs at the local college, and one has been approached by a district council to become a Community Champion.
The 57 CLCs are supported by 30 volunteer mentors who already work with the eight public, private and voluntary sector partner organisations. The mentors give support and encouragement to the CLCs and all are offered training with the support of the WEA.
“The success of our project has been very much down to the enthusiasm, energy, drive and commitment of the CLCs. Their passion for learning is infectious and inspirational.”
Learning Champions in Coventry have been helping mental health service users learn interviewing techniques using film, while others are getting residents involved in a community food-growing scheme. These are just two of the projects supported by Learn and Share, run by Groundwork West Midlands.
Champions are recruited from the most deprived areas and many have only recently got back into learning. “This is partially what equips them to support others,” says Sarah Laughton, Essential Skills Officer. “They understand the barriers people face on their learning journey and the feelings associated with this.”
Stephanie, 20, lived at Foyer sheltered accommodation. As a CLC, she is working with other residents, including a young woman who is developing her photography skills. “The biggest difference our work together has made is to her confidence; before we started working together she thought of college as ‘unattainable’ but now has faith in her abilities.”
Twenty-three CLCs have recruited 500 learners through Groundwork’s partnerships with neighbourhood community and women’s groups, faith organisations, libraries, school parent groups and community events.
Norwich CLC project has developed a strong and diverse network of local volunteer learning champions, serving some of the area’s most disadvantaged communities. The project aims to provide inspiration and practical support to help individuals and groups to participate in, and develop new forms of informal learning, to engage wider audiences. Impact is measured by the number of individuals who go on to formal education.
Community Learning Champions have been recruited from communities throughout Norwich, each bringing their own unique skills and experience. Many have had their own lives turned around by learning, which has inspired them to communicate their passion for learning to others.
Their work includes developing links with many different groups, such as older people in supported housing, helping people to access existing informal learning opportunities, creating new activities, and supporting people to continue with their learning journey.
The network has very strong partnerships with other support services, local groups and learning providers. All volunteer CLCs have undertaken WEA Champions training and accreditation, and all have their own mentor supporting them to develop skills and to progress beyond their current role.
“The remarkable achievement of every CLC is that they have all experienced the positive benefits of learning, and have a desire to voluntarily give something back,” says a project spokesperson.
Plymouth Community Learning Champions have inspired and transformed the lives of over 3,000 people by demonstrating how learning can improve their lives.
“Plymouth Community Learning Champions are amazing,” says CSV Outreach Manager, Nina Davey. Some champions have overcome addictions and poor mental health. They work in the most deprived areas of the city sharing their knowledge and newfound skills with people in the same situation.
Andrew has schizophrenia. He shows insight and empathy when teaching people with learning difficulties to cook healthy food. He is now taking a degree in Fine Dining and Hospitality. Paul had a liver transplant as a result of being an alcoholic. He now advises other addicts about services and learning courses which can help them. Emma lived with depression and agoraphobia. She is supporting some of the most excluded people to gain IT skills. She helps them email their families, apply online for jobs and access benefits.
Nina is full of praise: “CLCs are helping change things by sharing what knowledge they have with their friends and neighbours and demonstrating how it can improve their lives.”
The Liverpool Community Learning Champions Project recruits and trains local people to act as role models to motivate and encourage their friends, family and other members of their community to take up learning or volunteering opportunities and to identify learner needs. It is managed by the Adult Learning Service in partnership with community organisations in some of Liverpool’s most deprived areas, and targets adults with few or no qualifications and skills.
Over 150 CLCs have been recruited and trained. To engage learners, they have targeted places where people go about their everyday lives, including shopping centres, school gates, libraries and doctors’ surgeries. Altogether, the CLCs have had a major impact, engaging over 3,000 learners across the city. Evidence shows that there has been an marked increase in participation rates from many groups termed ‘hard to reach’ and from those living in the most deprived areas of the city. More than 80 per cent are taking part in adult learning for the first time or after some time away.
Many champions started out with their own issues, such as long-term unemployment and poor education, and this helps them empathise with others. Sixty-eight CLCs have gained jobs via the project and many more have gained qualifications.