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Pottery is 'route back to serious learning';FE Focus

The majority of the population believes more cash should be pumped into leisure courses such as flower arranging and pottery in colleges, research carried out for The TES suggests.

People see such classes as a sound route back into serious academic study, as well as improving the overall quality of life for jobless and employed alike.

The previous government's decision to carve up adult education into vocational and leisure pursuits was one of the most damaging decisions under the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, the research reveals.

Further analysis of The TESLancaster University focus group study (reported in detail last week) shows considerable support for a new push to raise the status of so-called leisure courses.

For many, such courses offered new insights into the way other people think, radically changing assumptions gained at school.

A 51-year-old Welsh farmer told researchers: "I did a pottery class at the arts centre. It was a revelation, a turning point in my life. I'd gone through grammar school - academic, university - again, academic. It was such a narrow education."

His pottery evening class changed his outlook. "The teacher was taught pottery in the Sudan, learning from a potter who fuelled his kiln with camel dung."

Similar reports emerged repeatedly from all eight focus groups for the study held throughout the UK. As reported last week, there was universal opposition to the unfair system of FE fees and much support for the role FE colleges were playing in the local communities.

But in pressing for a fairer system of student support, the participants drew no distinction between those on courses set up specifically to improve skills and those for leisure purposes. "One leads to the other," was an oft-repeated comment.

The research offers clear views for ministers now shaping lifelong learning policies following the recent Green Paper, The Learning Age. This was meant to be a White Paper, but repeated redrafting delayed its publication.

The paper was pared back to one limited to Britain's skills agenda. But there was an 11th-hour rescue by Hilary Benn, adviser to the Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett, who rewrote it to restore the broader vision of the adult education.

The focus group studies show clearly that Mr Blunkett's office is more in tune with the nation's thinking than probably any other Government department or Opposition politician on this issue.

Professor Bob Fryer, chairman of the Government's advisory group on lifelong learning, which drafted the blueprint for the Green Paper, believes adult education will now no longer be seen as separate.

Professor Fryer, principal of Northern College, in Barnsley, West Yorkshire, wants fairer financial support for students, in line with the views expressed in The TES focus groups. "It would be inequitable if parents could not get some financial help while their sons or daughters could get a loan to go to university after leaving school."

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