Hang Ups

29th March 1996 at 00:00
No more books, no more learning, won't be long before we're earning." That playground rhyme made perfect sense a decade or two ago, but now seems as much a part of a bygone age as songs about pocketfuls of posies. This is the European Year of Lifelong Learning, a salutory reminder that to survive the roller-coaster of changes ahead, we must be perpetual students, endlessly learning new skills.

Those of us who have already benefited from further and higher education can fend for ourselves. It's a lot harder for the rest of the population. But Pam Elliot proved it can be done.

Five years ago she had just turned 20: a mum with no qualifications and not much hope of finding a job. She knew she should train but, for someone who left school without sitting a public exam, returning to formal education can seem intimidating. And, with a young family, it's not easy to find the time, the money or the oomph.

However, when she discovered she could be taught at the local primary, by her children's teachers, she jumped at the chance. Staff at Orgill Junior, in Egremont, Cumbria, do more than spout about serving the whole community: they do it.

Parents - mostly mothers, mostly unemployed - can enrol for courses leading to Royal Society of Arts diplomas and certificates in information techology. It's no doddle, involving twice-weekly three-hour sessions, but for the last five years more than 90 per cent of the intake have completed the course. Last month the school received a National Training Agency award, something normally reserved for big businesses. The scheme is now going to be extended to other schools in the area.

An RSA certificate does wonders for students' self-esteem and helps their chances of employment. It was enough to land Pam Elliot a job - in Orgill School. As resources manager, she maintains the network and teaches her teachers.

It's not only the mature students who benefit. Pupils receive a vote of confidence in their school when they see that mums, dads and the occasional grandma are willing to give up their evenings to attend lessons. They also come into daily contact with Pat and the four other ancillary staff who also trained on the scheme - living proof that you can achieve things if you set your mind to it.

The teachers benefit as well. The course is supported by European Union funding so, although it is free to students, teachers are paid for their services. The evening stints also give them a chance to get to know mums and dads away from the formal environment of a parents' evening.

The information revolution, which will make learning at home so much easier, can sometimes seem to threaten the traditional school. Orgill proves that the opposite is true: a school can play a crucial role in making IT accessible to everyone. Learning for Life with Technology (LIFT) is run by parents and teachers who are devising practical measures to cope with these new demands. The community will benefit, of course. And a few schools might be lucky enough to find the likes of Orgill's Pam Elliot to add to the pay-roll.

LIFT, PO Box 1577, London W7 3ZT. News of other initiatives to arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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