Ufi is proposing its own national awards scheme to recognise the achievements of learndirect learners, tutors and learning centres. The prototype Regional Achievement in Learning (Real) Awards were launched in learndirect's East region last year, culminating in an awards ceremony in July.
The event was well-received by learners and helped raise the profile of learndirect's work across the region's six counties. Now Ufi is considering extending the scheme across all the English regions from next year.
Dereth Wood, the Ufi's director of operations, says: "We want to recognise our learners, but also very importantly our tutors. The awards in the East region did what we wanted them to do, which is to celebrate personal achievement."
Since Ufi's launch six years ago, its commitment to awards has involved sponsoring other organisations' awards schemes. A presence at awards events was seen as an important way of gaining initial recognition.
The organisation is now conducting a review of how it delivers through its learndirect centres to simplify its network and cut costs. Ms Wood says:
"It's a very big change programme which ultimately brings us closer to our learning centres and our learners." Developing its own award scheme would play a crucial role in raising learndirect's profile, she says.
One of the Real Award winners is Mainstream, a private training company which runs a learndirect centre in Sittingbourne, Kent. The centre is tucked away in an industrial estate warehouse, but its apparent anonymity belies the breadth and quality of the work it does. As well as offering programmes to members of the public, Mainstream works with employees from the building and transport industries.
It also runs learndirect facilities in four prisons and helps with training and resettlement of offenders. It has an outreach centre in south-east London where it works to retrain the long-term unemployed in building skills for the redevelopment of the Millennium Dome. Around 1,000 learners per year benefit from its learndirect centre programmes.
Mark Smith, director at the centre, says: "Learndirect is a good way to engage people. Because most people are capable of achieving something, it's just finding what they can achieve and then facilitating it."
The learndirect centre offers more than 450 online courses, ranging from basic IT skills to website design or starting your own business. Some learners use learndirect as part of a wider training programme. For example, someone attending a forklift truck training course might be encouraged to improve their basic literacy and numeracy in the process of their training. "We're engaging learners who would never normally achieve anything," says Mark Smith.