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Barnsley gets down to basics;FE Focus;TESAOC Beacon awards

MASTERING information technology skills is imperative if Jacqueline IIhnatyszcz is to pursue her ambition to become a nurse.

She has enrolled on a course being run by Barnsley College in her local church hall.

Her three children are being looked after in the former mining village of Elsecar by her husband Michael, an ex-miner now unemployed after a string of unskilled jobs.

"I didn't know a thing about computers and it's vital I get some knowledge for nursing," she said. "This course is just around the corner. A bonus is that it's free. I've found it really great, as soon as you hit a problem there's somebody there to help."

Holy Trinity Church Hall is just one of more than 40 centres in the South Yorkshire borough operated by the college in venues that range from a miners' institute, to schools, village halls and community centres. More than 2,000 individuals are doing a range of courses.

The success of Barnsley College's community provision was recognised this week when it collected a Beacon Award for widening participation in a scheme sponsored by The TES and the Association of Colleges.

For Barnsley it started in 1993 with a small-scale project undertaken with European funding in the depressed former mining towns of Great Houghton and Grimethorpe.

The need to provide out-reach centres and encourage community participation quickly became apparent.

Roy Ledger, manager of community provision and himself an ex-miner, said:

"We learnt a lot quickly about developing in the community and listening to people and what they wanted. It swiftly became a democratic approach on our part."

The basic IT course has been in the vanguard of each new centre that has opened and the arrival of the technology quickly generates interest.

However, a range of other courses are also available. These include GCSE and access courses as well as a pre-vocational programme which includes a sewing and textile class, vehicle maintenance, woodwork, electronics and fine arts.

All the courses are free, there is childcare available and volunteers have been found from people who have completed courses and want to remain involved.

The next stage of expansion saw the opening last week of a satellite college in Penistone in the rural west of the borough which will act as a centre of further outreach locations as well as offering courses five days a week in its newly-equipped accommodation.

Mr Ledger said a measure of the success of the courses offered was that 40 per cent remain with the college after completing their first course to take new subjects or a more advanced course.

The service has also played a large part in helping people to get job, he continued.

Glad Barraclough, head of the community provision department, said: "People in Barnsley always used to think that education and training was not for them. That has now changed. I think we have raised the self-esteem of the community."

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