Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'We Don't Give Up Trying - That's Our Ethos'

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'We Don't Give Up Trying - That's Our Ethos'

Article excerpt

Adult learning pilot nets savings for police and NHS in deprived Rochdale estate

When the clean-up after the worst floods since records got underway after Christmas, Rochdale Council found that workers going door-to-door were uncovering hidden long-term needs in the community, among people who hadn't thought to ask for help.

According to Helen Chicot, a skills and employment manager who was involved in the flood response, there's not that big a gap between the adult education pilot scheme that she runs, which targets some of the Greater Manchester borough's most hard-to-reach populations, and this kind of emergency work.

The programme involves a small team of experts from a variety of different disciplines - education, social work, policing and housing - working together flexibly to do whatever is necessary, knocking on the doors of the people they need to engage. And after a year, it has succeeded in raising participation in education and training: the rate is now higher on this estate, one of the most deprived in the country, than in the borough as a whole.

The project has also reduced a wide variety of social problems, from police call-outs to A&E admissions, rent arrears to child protection issues. In total, a cost-benefit analysis suggests that every £1 spent on learning for students is saving £3.70 in costs to the council, NHS, welfare or policing.

"This is exactly what a major incident team does: there's a crisis, you get a really skilled team into a place, you blitz it, sort everything out and then move on," says Chicot.

The pilot programme has the improvised feel of an emergency response. There isn't much money, and what there is has been cobbled together from a variety of grants and funding streams. The building on the Kirkholt estate where learners meet has been borrowed; it is due for demolition as part of a regeneration project. In the meantime, it's the base for the Citizens' Curriculum pilot for this sprawling estate, home to about 12,000 people. Devised by the Learning and Work Institute, the Citizen's Curriculum incorporates a range of programmes in English, maths and digital literacy, along with civic understanding, financial knowledge and health.

The project has no specific funding or fixed learning targets, but it has thrived on the freedom that this brings. "It gave us an opportunity to try something that made sense and because it was attached to a national pilot, people aren't going to suggest that we're bonkers," says Chicot.

The Learning and Work Institute audits the projects to ensure that learners have control over what they learn, explains Joyce Black, assistant director of research and development. "We are finding that the flexibility the approach offers to learners and providers delivers much better results than rigid and traditional ways of basic skills delivery," she says.

The pilot targeted two groups underrepresented in learning: lone parents and young men. Chicot says that raising the participation age to 18 had meant that many young men stayed in learning because their families' benefits depended on it, but weren't engaging.

"It was young lads off this estate who were doing business admin courses," she says. "They were never going to work in business admin; they just sat there with their hoodies up and not taking part."

Lone parents were recruited by project workers who hung around baby clinics at the doctors, took referrals from health visitors, social workers, homeless hostels and refugee groups, and knocked on doors. …

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