Let's support a turn in the tide

24th April 2009 at 01:00

I think you were much too grudging in your coverage of the "Learning Revolution" white paper ("DIY learning shelves teachers", March 27).

John Denham, the Universities and Skills Secretary, recognises - as far too few do - that state funding will never be enough to pay for all the learning which could and should be done and he is trying to find a way of encouraging more people to do more. He recognises that even the best, most welcoming colleges are not going to attract everyone and he is trying to find ways of encouraging others to draw people back into learning.

Far too few people still talk the language of "widening participation". This is good news. And I know it works.

In my "day job", my consultancy has been evaluating a successful community-based learning centre in south-east London funded by the New Cross Gate New Deal for Communities programme. It is run by a modest local charity and has succeeded in setting up a small training centre which clearly does succeed in bringing people back into learning.

These are people who have not chosen to go to the local college, Lewisham College, which is unquestionably one of the best, with a strong welcoming ethos. No college can do everything, even as good a college as Lewisham. We do learners, and potential learners, a great disservice if we pretend otherwise, and we should stop.

It needn't be all or nothing. I would like to see more work done to understand better how and when to encourage people to move on from informal provision to something more formal at the college, and I see lots more scope for colleges to form partnerships with charities and community organisations to get the best of both working for the benefit of learners.

None of this excuses major cuts in government funds for adult learning, of course, and none of it is reason for those of us who care about these things to stop making the case for more funding. But let's encourage Mr Denham in trying to turn the tide after years of unremitting bad news for adult learning, not snap at his heels.

Iain Mackinnon, Managing director, The Mackinnon Partnership; chair of governors, Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College.

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