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Sector News, 11 - 15 May 2009

When a rise is actually a fall.  Education Guardian, 12 May 2009.

Niace has upset the Government by claiming that the latest round of statistics on adult education which suggests a 1% rise in participation does not relect reality.  Niace argue that the definition of learning is flawed and that any mild success masks the fact that the most educational needy are not getting opportunities to participate in education. Amongst others, Niace give the example of a 3 per cent fall in adults gaining basic literacy and numeracy qualifications. The Government’s response has been to reject Niace’s suggestion that whilst the Government is focussing on workplace learning (Train to Gain being cited as an issue within this context) employers will never invest more.

Niace is the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education.

Why do 60% of students find their lectures boring?   Education Guardian, 12 May 2009.

Comment: Sandi Mann, senior lecturer in occupational psychology at the University of Central Lancashire.

Sandi Mann comments that in her survey, conducted with co-researcher Andrew Robinson, that 60 per cent of students find their lectures boring.  Worst still many found practical session such as IT and Science lessons just as boring.  She suggests some reasons, one being an over use of Power Point, another that many experiments are conducted where the outcome is already known.

Time to get with the programme?  Education Guardian, 12 May 2009.

Reports about student ability with IT systems are an almost weekly event, along with lecturer’s inability with the same systems.  However, accompanying this apparent threat to traditional teaching is the real concern that students are not developing critical thinking and analysis skills, preferring the quick fix answer to issues.  In this article, the advice is not to rush into setting up Facebook or ITunes accounts but to keep abreast of the use of IT within an academic context.

 Learning Matters.  Education Guardian, 12 May 2009.

This week’s supplement in the Guardian by Niace, “A report on the importance of adult education”.

There are no links to these supplements.  However, where possible useful links to other sites have been included.

Knowledge seeker.  

The story of Najib Rasooli, an Afghan student at Sheffield College who was arrested as an illegal immigrant in 2002.  Najib is now studying at university in his first year as an undergraduate.  Niace have been so impressed with him that they have awarded him the “Right to a Voice” award.  Niace say that Rasooli is a good example of what high quality Esol can do for the lives of asylum seekers.  His key to success is, he believes, his determination to learn English well.

Learning breaks down barriers.

Women from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Somalia have the lowest levels of participation in adult education of any minority group in the UK.  The risk to this lack of participation is social exclusion.  In the London boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets and Islington a scheme entitled “A Woman’s Place” is having some success in combating social exclusion.  The project, funded by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Dius), has so far worked with 160 Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Somali women.  "A Woman’s Place "is designed to assess learning needs, give an opportunity to learn English language and literature, arts and crafts along with an introduction to the driving theory test.  The women have days out to meet people who deliver social services.

Language skills are key.

There are many organisations, including the Refugee Council and Niace, campaigning for the re-introduction of free intermediate English for asylum seekers.  Most asylum seekers are highly skilled but their lack of English acts as a barrier that prevents them from using those skills.  As Hazel Blears said “Speaking English is the greatest asset you can possess for getting involved in your community [..] Research has shown that 60% of people believe not speaking the language is the biggest barrier to integration.”   Whilst the Refugee and Council and Niace offer stop-gap classes to fill the six month gap before asylum seekers can access courses, they admit that experience in college where programmes have students from many different backgrounds is more enriching than their asylum seeker only classes.

Raise standards to beat recession.

According to Chris Humphries, chief exec of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, we need to build a system to service the high skill, people driven economy of the future. He outlines five key priorities which are required to drive UK policy over the next five years:

  • create a clear and integrated strategy for economic transformation, aligning policies and practices in industrial strategy, employment and skills,
  • develop a more agile and responsive skills and employment provision, capable of anticipating and meeting employers’ evolving skill and job requirements,
  • transform individual aspiration into a world class workforce, maximising the motivation and opportunity for everyone to develop and exploit their talents for personal and professional success,
  • build employer ambition and capacity to be capable of competing in the high skills, knowledge driven, global economy,
  • support effective economic development in cities and local communities, build upon industrial and labour market strengths and maximise the skills of local people.

A similar report can be found using this link.

Informal course in the limelight.

Lorraine Irving is Barrow in Furness area manager for voluntary services, she say that the people they recruit are often hard-to-reach learners who have had a negative experience of school.  She welcomes the Government’s commitment to invest £3m in a support programme for Learning Champions.  Learning Champions are those who have had a positive experience of learning and want to encourage others to have a similar experience.  Learning Champions are an example of the self help systems outlined in the Government’s “The Learning Revolution”  and between them they have recruited between 300 and 400 people onto courses in Barrow.  Whilst Lorraine is happy with the Government’s commitments outlined in “The Learning Revolution” and its play on the use of libraries, museums and organisations such as the University of the Third Age, the University and College Union is less enthusiastic.  They see the move as a cut price educational experience which will not be supported by the expertise that exists amongst teachers in professional organisations.

Digital skills must be top on the list.

Niace argue that there are some 17 million adults in the UK who do not use computers at home or work.  This despite the Government proclamation that computer literacy is one of the basic skills for life which would underpin the UK's drive to become a high skill knowledge economy and boost social inclusion.  Four years ago 800,000 adults were studying ICT, now that figure has dropped to 400,000.

Learning is fundamental to a person’s well being, no matter their age.

Tom Schuller is the director of the Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning (IFFL) who believes the headline above.  He also believes that there should be some kind of staging post to encourage people to exploit learning and gain a firmer sense of control.  This would cover learning for:

  • work, so people can plan new careers, and/or a shift to part time employment,
  • financial capability, so they can get a better idea of what they need to earn to save,
  • health, looking after yourself and making best use of services to improve your well being,
  • personal interest and hobbies.

You can see comprehensive IFFL news bulletins concerning lifelong learning using the link. 

Should education be freely available to all when they retire?

Yes, says Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union.  No says Tricia Hartley, chief executive for the Campaign for Learning.

The “for” argument revolves around a belief that learning should be available for people irrespective of age and/or stage of their life; the need for social interaction especially amongst the elderly; that basic skills such as numeracy and literacy are important at any age; that Government funding directed at employment is removing opportunities for retirees to participate in learning; that grandparents want to support grandchildren in the way parents support their children through projects such as Family Learning and finally rising costs are removing opportunities for people on low incomes.

The “against “ argument is centred primarily around cost and the divisive nature of making education free for retired adults but not for other members of the community.  There is no argument about the worth of adult education but when money is in short supply it should go to those most needy, if retired people can obtain free education the loss must be made up elsewhere, for example education for single parents.

Towards fully literate households.

In 1995 the government signed up to a major international initiative to improve adult literacy worldwide.  However, twelve years on the majority of richer countries are not focussing enough on adult learning.  Adult literacy is seen as an important step in helping adults to achieve their potential but as importantly as a means of ensuring that children’s literacy is supported at home.  The UK is not alone in not putting aid funding into adult literacy, yet without it there will be little progress in schools and no reinforcement of children’s skills at home.

External examiners ‘not taken seriously’ says QAA.  THE, 14 May 2009.

In a final report on the allegations of ‘dumbing down’, the QAA has said that external examiners are concerned that they are not being taken seriously by universities.  The QAA report says that national guidelines should be developed for external examiners and that universities should provide students with better information about the contact hours they can expect from their tutors.  In addition the report expresses concern about English language tests for foreign students stating that the tests should be reviewed.

Criticism of marking system kept hidden. THE, 14 May 2009.

“Gavin Reid, director of learning and teaching at the University of Leeds’ School of Chemistry, has told the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee that the standards watchdog had been kept in the dark about concerns raised over Leeds’ classification system”.  Mr Reid further commented that the QAA only get what the university management team want them to see.

Quality concerns take centre stage as staff quit over dramatic changes.  THE, 14 May 2009.

QAA is currently investigating a decline in standards at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University following numerous resignations in the drama department.  Queen Margaret’s new campus does not have a theatre and there are changes to a BA in drama, making the practical components of drama qualifications impossible to achieve.  Despite this the course was recently validated and questions are now being asked about the validation process.

Lifelong learning ‘on verge of extinction’ across the UK.  THE, 14 May 2009.

Cardiff University has become the latest institution to cut back on adult learning.  They join a long list of universities who have scaled back or cut their adult provision since 2000.  A report published for the Council for British Archaeology claims that the Government’s decision to cut funding for courses for people who already have degrees was putting lifelong learning department under sever pressure.

Professor defends modern students.  THE, 14 May 2009.

Sir David Watson, professor of higher education management at the Institute of Education believes that today’s students are unfairly criticised.  He comments that too many (including the media and government) compare modern students with far from accurate reflections of our own past.  It is time, Sir David says, to start praising students for the hard work they do and to accept that they are just as concerned about justice and fairness as we were in the past.

Solent may merge with further education college. THE, 14 May 2009.

Southampton Solent University plans to merge with Southampton City College making the latter a subsidiary of the university under a limited company structure.  Such plans, say the university, will allow it to offer a better co-ordinated service to employers.  The college has vocational course such as business, media, fashion, performance, construction and marine engineering which match the universities courses closely.

Too high or low: examiners believe 20% of papers get the wrong grade.  TES, 15 May 2009.

Research conducted for Ofqual has found that examiners believe that 10% of papers are given too low a grade.  However, this ignores the opinion that a further 10% of pupils are given grades that are too high.   The study followed a QCA report in March which suggested that 45 per cent of pupils who set key stage 3 English writing tests in 2007 were given the wrong grade.  A comment that echoes te concerns of post-sixteen educators, is that errors can also be produced by exam boards competing for trade.

Performance criteria to decide funding allocation.  TES, FE Focus, 15 May 2009.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is likely to introduced performance based funding for further education colleges.  This will mean those colleges with poor achievement rates will have their funding cut and re-distributed to those who are achieving or bettering targets.   A caveat to the threat of removing funding is that the LSC will take into account the background of college students, for example those colleges operating in deprived areas will not be penalised unfairly.

See also “The man who wants the numbers to add up”, interview with Geoff Russell chief exec of LSC and “Performance grade must be finely tuned”, editorial.

Concerns over Train to Gain budget restraints.  TES, FE Focus, 15 May 2009.

It seems that Train to Gain will not escape the Government’s need to save money in the future.  Despite the programme’s overall allocation being increased to £925 million, it is anticipated that there will be fewer places offered and that a reduction in budget will follow.  All this is of particular concern to independent training providers who in addition to worries about budgets are also worried about the transfer of funding and responsibilities to local authorities.  Transfer to local authorities, the providers say, could result in a lower profile for independent training organisations.

Taxpayers loath to subsidise adult learning, survey finds.  TES, FE Focus, 15 May 2009.

Taxpayers, it appears, have some sympathy with Lord Leitch’s proposal for a shift in the balance of fee paying between, government, individuals and employers.  In a recent survey conducted by Niace of over 4,000 adults, only 20 per cent of respondents believed that fully funded courses should be subsidised, including basic skills.  Yet participation surveys over the past few years show that those underprivileged adults who need education the most will not enrol for classes if fees are too high.