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Learning looms large

Education changes lives. Immigrant populations have always known that; the workers in the manufacturing cities of the 19th and 20th centuries knew it too; and for a modern day illustration of what happens when education fails, you have only to look at the phenomenally high levels of illiteracy in the prison population.

School doesn't work for everyone. There have always been those who come to learning late, via the evening class, the web or, as in Mrs Gaskell's "Mary Barton", via the volume of Isaac Newton which "lies open on the loom, to be snatched at in work hours, but revelled over in mealtimes or at night".

And whether your schooldays worked for you or not, in today's fast-changing workplace later education is an almost universal need. It's a case of evolve or die: few of us qualify and then have no further need for training. On top of that, we are living longer and we have more leisure time. Our lives are made more fulfilling by being able to turn to education. Without it life becomes simply a round of work and endless shopping for the something that will make us feel whole.

It is this power of non-compulsory, often informal, education that the STAR Awards celebrates. It's a chance to look at the undersung work being done all over the nation to update workers' skills, to expand all our horizons, to give many a meaningful second chance, to say: "Look, education can change your life."

In these pages you will read about such work going on in all sorts of places, from colleges to travellers' caravans. The book on the loom has evolved into many different forms of education. But it is as vital and as revitalising as it has ever been. The biggest star in all these pages is learning itself.

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