In April this year, adult learning body Niace invited me, along with others in the further education sector, to write my adult learning wish list for the new government. I turned to the inspiration of the educational visionary Michael Young. This year is the centenary of the birth of this remarkable social entrepreneur, who founded the National Extension College (NEC) and the Open College of the Arts, and who was a prime mover in establishing the Open University.
The day before the Open University’s first lecture was broadcast on national television in 1972, Michael wrote in The Times of a “university without walls”. More than 40 years later, there are still too many walls preventing adult learners from fulfilling their potential. They include the difficulty of accessing GCSE and A-level assessment for private candidates; 24-plus advanced learning loans (unlikely to be much of a draw for people already managing the financial responsibilities of adulthood); the lack of a stable credit accumulation and transfer framework for further education; a restrictive ELQ (equivalent or lower qualification) rule in higher education; and IGCSEs of uncertain status.
Of the many lessons I learned from Michael, the most important was to fight for what you believe in. Two years ago, the NEC was bequeathed a £19,000 legacy by Eileen Sellers. A valued and long-standing tutor of the college, Eileen was born in 1922 and went to school in Manchester. She graduated from the University of Sheffield in 1943 with a degree in French and Latin and went on to study for a diploma in education, qualifying as a teacher and working in schools throughout South Yorkshire until she retired in 1982. She also taught adult literacy in Sheffield.
Eileen was known at the NEC for her gift for instilling confidence in students whose previous experience of education had often been less than positive. It came as no surprise to us that she had requested that her legacy be used to support students who had to overcome disadvantage in order to study.
Partnering with the Refugee Council, Crisis and St Giles Trust, we used Eileen’s legacy to set up a bursary scheme. For two years now it has been helping 28 clients of the three charities – refugees, the homeless and ex-offenders – to change their lives through learning.
So who are the 28 beneficiaries of Eileen’s lifelong commitment to lifelong learning? Among them is an asylum seeker from the Ivory Coast – a lawyer in his own country who spoke little English when he arrived in the UK but who, with an IGCSE in English, aims to continue his studies with a course in counselling. He also hopes to practise law again one day.
Read the full story in the 17 July issue of TES. You can do so on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.