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Baby steps to a shining beacon

What started as childcare classes for young mums has grown into a programme of courses aiming to break the cycle of deprivation and failure.

Ian Nash reports on the TESAoC award winner.

A handful of childcare education tutors went out begging for space in a Barnardos centre and a disused shop when planning a new course five years ago. Their efforts proved so successful that today they run one of the most sophisticated outreach learning networks in the country.

What started as a plan by Blackburn College to hold classes on child care for disadvantaged young mums has grown into a national centre of vocational excellence in childhood studies - and more besides.

By this year, the college had created 800 places to give young adults from some of the most disadvantaged areas a foot on the ladder to further and higher education.

Four in 10 adults in Blackburn have no qualifications and appalling standards in reading and maths.

The scheme, which has won the TESAoC widening participation award, creates a much-needed childcare workforce. It is also improving social cohesion in a multiracial society and providing economic benefits for families and local communities.

Sarah Horne, head of the programme, said that with a quarter of the local population from the Indian subcontinent and one in four children in families with no adults in work, "we have the classic cycle of deprivation and failure". She soon realised the scheme, with such small beginnings, needed to be more ambitious, which meant getting outside support.

"We knew from the start that if we were to succeed we had to get every service involved." She and her staff drew in every education and welfare programme from Sure Start to university access schemes.

"With financial support from the different agencies, this makes us more financially secure at a time when government spending is tight," she said.

Staff are trained to spot parents in difficulty in every setting from the school to the welfare office and workplace. Once recruited on to taster courses, students advance rapidly, with increasing numbers going on to study in other areas. Many of the students also go on to work for the programme, spreading the word in local communities.

For the students, it has helped them realise an educational dream they thought was beyond them.

Kirstie Knowles said: "I left school at 15 when I had my first baby. I never listened to my teacher and never expected to make anything of myself." But, after a foundation course, she is well on her way to an NVQ level 1 and is amazed that she could get a GCSE-level qualification.

"We do it at St Mary's and St Joseph's school, where we know everyone."

She likes the way the tutors gradually restored her confidence to return to school and go on to college.

Will it break the cycle of disadvantage? "I will certainly bring up my child differently," she said.

AoC Beacon awards

AQA award for collegeschool partnershipsWinner: John Leggott College; highly commended: Huddersfield Technical College

Becta award for e-enabling organisational developmentWinner: Eccles College; highly commended: South Devon College

British Council award for international student supportWinner: Boston College; highly commended: Bridgwater College

CLA award for creativity in writing, art or designWinner: City of Sunderland College

Centre for Excellence in Leadership award for innovation in curriculum leadership development Winner: South Devon College

Centre for Excellence in Leadership and Network for Black Managers award for promoting race equalityWinner: Bolton Sixth Form College; highly commended: Grimsby Institute of FHE

Churches' award for college partnerships to support students' development as whole peopleWinner: Armagh College

City Guilds award for the teaching and assessment of beauty therapyWinner: Blackpool and the Fylde College; highly commended: Blackburn College Department for Employment and Learning award for college engagement with employersWinner: North Down and Ards Institute of FHE; highly commended: Belfast Institute of FHE

Edexcel award for lifelong learningWinner: Yeovil College; highly commended: Chichester College

Edge award for practical teaching and practical learningWinner: Sussex Downs College

FENC award for the successful use of learning resources Winner: Pembrokeshire College; highly commended: Keighley College Jardine Lloyd Thompson Healthcare award for health and community CareWinner: New College, Swindonhighly commended: Blackpool and The Fylde LSC award for college engagement with employersWinner: Newcastle College; highly commended: Chichester College

LSC award for equality and diversityWinner: Pendleton Collegehighly commended: Hull College LSC award for 14-19 collaborationWinner: City of Sunderland College; highly commended: Sussex Downs College

Mencap and RNIB award for students with learning difficulties andor disabilitiesWinner: West Nottinghamshire College; highly commended: Pershore Group of Colleges

NEBOSH award for teachingprogrammes in occupational health, safety and environmental managementWinner: Wirral Metropolitan College OCR award for partnerships in basic skillsWinner: New College, Swindon; highly commended: Leicester College

Protocol National award for art and designWinner: South East Essex College highly commended: Priestley College The TESAoC award for widening participationWinner: Blackburn College; highly commended: Coleg Sir Gar Welsh Assembly award for college engagement with employersWinner: Deeside College

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