Off to a flying start

30th November 2007 at 00:00
Inspectors found innovation and enthusiasm in the WEA Scotland. Kay Smith reports.The Workers' Educational Association Scotland has received a glowing evaluation from HMIE. Awarding "very good" to "excellent" ratings in all nine of its quality indicators, the inspectors praised the organisation for its "high-quality innovative learning programmes for adult learners".

WEA Scotland has 14,000 enrolments on courses in more than 200 locations. According to the report, it has shown what "a positive difference that sustained educational investment, underpinned by a strong and purposeful ethos, can make to the lives of disadvantaged individuals and their communities".

In a fulsome commendation of the organisation, which has been active in Scotland for 102 years, the HMIE report continued: "WEA Scotland was developing and delivering work that no other ... organisation was providing and ... was a sector leader in terms of its practice and range of partnerships.

"The enthusiasm and commitment of WEA staff and members at all levels was a testimony to strong and effective leadership and strategic development of resources."

Four "excellent" scores, indicating outstanding or sector-leading standards, were awarded for the organisation's impact on adults, paid and voluntary staff, involvement of members and partnership working.

WEA Scotland's turnover in 2005-06 was pound;2.7 million, and its funds come from the Scottish Government, the enterprise companies, the European Union, local authorities and a range of trusts and foundations.

Joyce Connon, the association's Scottish secretary, lost no time in urging funders to give more generously in light of the inspectors' judgments. "We hope HMIE's positive recognition will encourage funding bodies to continue their support and enable us to extend our work throughout Scotland," she said.

The inspectorate noted, however, that the organisation was "highly effective" at prising cash from external sources for specific projects. Other key strengths were its commitment to quality, staff and members who were "passionate about learning" and high-quality learning materials.

One improvement urged in the report was for WEA Scotland to raise its profile with young people, working through national bodies such as YouthLink Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament.

Ms Conlon agreed: "We need to lower the age profile of our volunteers. At the same time, young people who are involved in citizenship activities through organisations like Youth Link would benefit from having another organisation they could progress on to as they get older.

"Through their WEA Scotland branch, they can be volunteer members, helping shape policy and organising events."

Job Rotation was one of a number of programmes singled out as examples of good practice. It is based on a Danish initiative where unemployed people are trained to take over from permanent workers who, in turn, are released by their employers for further training.

It was a model, the inspectors said, that successfully addressed three needs in the Scottish economy - the development of small and medium-sized companies, ongoing development of the workforce and breaking the cycle of long-term unemployment.

The programme currently runs in 10 local authority areas. Throughout the three Ayrshire councils, for example, it has involved 200 unemployed people who have enabled 800 workers to be released by their employers for continuing professional development since January, 2006.

Work placements are generally for a 26-week period, preceded by a preparatory six weeks of training provided in community venues; work shadowing is built in, along with personal development activities.

Judith Thomas, the association's Strathclyde South area tutor organiser, said: "We don't just provide set menus - trainees are given individually-tailored packages of employment skills."

Nine out of 10 of the unemployed Ayrshire trainees have found jobs after their placements in the past year. "This level of success is unprecedented among employability schemes," said Ms Thomas.

Another successful activity, the HMIE found, was training in adult basic literacies. Often delivered in the workplace through adult learning partnerships, it currently operates in 10 local authorities. Workplace literacy tutors raise awareness with both employers and employees, encouraging individuals to come forward for confidential counselling.

Elizabeth Bryan, the association's area tutor for Edinburgh, Lothians and Falkirk, said: "We don't adopt a carrot-and-stick model, which could demotivate learners and drive them underground. Instead, we normalise literacies training as part of continuing professional development."

Praise was also given for courses, devised and written by the workers' Educational Association Scotland, in parenting and child rearing in the home and community, which have been accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

The HMIE report noted: "The programme provides formal recognition of the vital role parents and carers play as the most influential educators in the early years."

The courses - taught through four Intermediate 1 units - were originally piloted with a group of vulnerable parents at Peterhead Maternity Hospital and are now taught by the association in Aberdeen.

Alison Morrison, WEA tutor organiser for north-east Scotland, said: "There are a number of parenting skills courses in the community, but they do not lead to anything. Through this programme, parents and carers can go on to creche work or to study developmental psychology."

The HMIE particularly noted the requirement to keep a diary as a way to "capture learning".

Ms Morrison said: "An important aspect of the learning is using the natural environment of the home to teach young children. The diary helps ensure that this happens.

"The units could be run in schools. There are a lot of girls in third and fourth year who think that having a baby will bring an end to their problems - when, in fact, it is just the beginning. They quickly get isolated and they have no idea how to meet their baby's needs."

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