Golden Age for learning

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
Buckinghamshire County Council has run a dedicated adult education service since 1974 and now has one of the biggest programmes in the country. Lessons are taught in 140 locations and 25,000 students use the service, from adults returning to take A-levels to workers taking lessons in the workplace.

Provision has expanded rapidly in the county since further education colleges were taken out of local authority control in 1993. County councillors continued to support adult education when other authorities were cutting back.

Alan Noble, head of the county's continuing education, sees the Learning and Skills Council as a chance for it to grow even more.

"I really see it as a golden era for adult learning," he says. "It will enable us to re-engage learners in a variety of ways. We'll be able to focus on the learner and develop opportunities to meet their needs.

"Many people like to engage inlearning, but they felt that the accreditation procedure for the FEFC was not what they wanted. People who have studied at school and failed need to have a process where learning can be recognised in small bites. This can easily happen under the new Act."

In the mid-1990s, Buckinghamshire also established a partnership of adult learning providers called Gateway to Learning and there is now a single prospectus that lists all the programmes available to adult learners.

Noble envisages that a few years from now Buckinghamshire will have common provision of adult learning across the county that is not institutionally branded.

"My honest belief is that learners really want access to learning," he says. "They don't care who's providing it as long as it's of good quality, there's rigour in it, it's affordable and it's at a time and place that's convenient to them."

Martin Whittaker

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