The Informal Adult Community Learning (IACL) roundtable on ‘Progression’ met at Central Hall, Westminster on 17th March.This was one in a series that Pete Caldwell (WEA West Midlands Director) has written on here.
There was a lot of agreement on ways forward, although sometimes we had to make sure we weren’t just thinking in old ways (setting up provider partnerships, etc.) rather than finding ways that learners and communities can co-produce learning and shape the use of public funds to meet local need. We all wanted the latter but realised we still are too anxious to anticipate and appease what we think are the demands of the old gods of Public Service Agreement targets, Inspection and funding audit.
Clearly, government – and the Treasury in particular – wants evidence of progression to justify its protection of the £210 million Adult Safeguarded Learning fund. The discussions I was in centred around:
- how to evidence progression in a way that changed/developed processes in the classroom rather than adding to them
- ensuring that evidence we seek from learners is of value to them (not just to the Treasury) and they can share in it and help improve things
- whether longstanding and respected research such as the Institute of Education ‘Wider Benefits of Learning’ questions could be integrated into providers surveys and self assessment
- how to move away from the limitations of RARPA to something that showed the impact of learning both for individuals and communities.
The pivotal role of the tutor was seen as key to progression: getting to know learners, providing them with feedback and encouragement, signposting, listening and explaining. The importance of integrating care, support and guidance (particularly when involving volunteers such as Community Learning Champions) into the design of curriculum/programme would be more holistic, far more cost effective and beneficial than remote, free-standing IAG based on the usual client/professional paradigm with its targets and checklists.
Instilling confidence, building on talents, widening horizons, encouraging raised expectations are often seen as the characteristics of elite education (well known to many in the Cabinet). So, if it’s good enough for High Society why isn’t it good enough for Big Society?
There were great examples – one from the YMCA – of how a curriculum designed around young adults (almost irrespective of subject) could be used to identify talent, access small sums of money and redesign programmes around what emerges in the relationship between tutor and learner.
Everyone was keen to avoid top down or centralised evidence capture (there were few warm words for the Framework for Excellence – in fact many cold ones). Similarly, the longstanding point was made by many that the Qualifications & Credit Framework’s potential is lost without unit funding for adults and this limits the possibilities in Adult Safeguarded Learning of seamlessly progressing learners into recognised qualifications.
Whilst recognising how difficult it is, everyone wanted provision to be coordinated across a local level to help progression in the widest sense. I don't think we went far enough, though, in how provision could be shaped more by learners and communities, how they would be involved in coordination and how participatory budgeting could help achieve locally agreed impact, outcomes and progression and save money.
I was pleased to see how much of a common view there was from colleagues in colleges, local authorities and the voluntary sector. The days of centralised tidiness dressed up as 'excellence' may have nominally passed but we need to really work on designing our own approach to progression that is locally focussed, considers learners intentions, identifies the impact of learning and gets a proper balance between the collective outcomes of a programme and the experience of individuals (especially vulnerable or disadvantaged) within it.
The 'Quality' round table comes soon and it will be crucial that the argument is taken further forward there to turn attention away from what funders and inspectors think learners need to what learners and communities want from their learning and how public funding can reasonably support that and get resources into teaching, learning and engaging.