At the edge

25th February 2005 at 00:00
Flexibility is the key to Anne Morahan's success since most of her students are awaiting deportation

Teaching failed asylum seekers awaiting deportation must be one of the biggest challenges in adult education. The Dover immigration removal centre houses some 250 detainees of more than 70 nationalities, and the average length of stay is just 34 days. This high mobility makes planning lessons virtually impossible for the centre's education department.

"One week, a third of the intake had left within seven days," says Anne Morahan, the centre's education manager. "So we really don't know what's going to happen from one day to the next."

Anne, 40, was among the first 13 winners in the STAR Awards last year, with an award for Outstanding Management of Learning. Judges cited her "innovative and flexible approach" to the challenges of running education programmes for the detainees.

The centre was a young offenders' institution until three years ago, when it was re-designated to detain failed asylum seekers and those appealing against deportation. Its education department is run by Kent adult education service and offers detainees a range of courses, including English for speakers of other languages, CLAIT computer qualifications, art, woodwork, short courses in food hygiene, and music and relaxation classes.

Because of the high turnover of detainees, the 15-staff education department has to operate as a drop-in centre, offering programmes seven days a week. "They don't have to arrive at 9am and leave at 11pm," says Anne. "They can come in whenever they like because they're dealing with immigration, phone calls and visits, so it's a roll-on roll-off programme."

Anne uses surveys to identify learners' needs, and runs poster campaigns in different languages to promote what is on offer. And she gets her staff to adapt lessons to match detainees' abilities, offering different levels in English and IT. "We get a lot of letters from the detainees after they leave thanking us for what we do," she says.

"The teachers are committed to what they're doing, and that's the only reason it works. Staff have to be incredibly flexible to continue on a daily basis here because you plan a lesson thinking you have students who were here yesterday, and you find they have gone and new ones have come in."

Anne began her career as a chef and worked with award-winning chef Anton Mosiman at London's Dorchester Hotel before taking a career break to have children. She did an Open University degree in psychology and moved into education by teaching cookery to young offenders.

She says her award has helped improve the immigration centre's image. In 2003, security at the centre was criticised after a spate of break-outs by asylum seekers. But after the award, the centre opened its doors and invited local newspapers in to see the work of its education department.

"A year ago, every time you opened the papers, it was all about immigration and asylum seekers, and it was always very negative," says Anne. "I think this has changed the balance. The local papers have been in and spoken to the detainees and given a different side to the story."

STAR AWARD WINNER

Name: Anne Morahan. Job: Education manager, Dover Immigration Removal Centre. Winning category: Award for Outstanding Management of Learning, sponsored by Centre for Excellence in Leadership

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