Now they're motoring

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Car mechanic Ian Bowden is typical of those neglected by the school system. So how was he enticed back to learning? Karen Faux reports

Car mechanic Ian Bowden may have had to wait 16 years to complete the National Vocational Qualification he began as a teenager, but despite this hiatus he is now fired up to go on to study for a BTEC.

Ian is typical of many students who dropped out of the system at an early age but who are now being recruited by further education colleges as part of a drive to increase student numbers.

"When I took my first job, I had completed six months of the course but couldn't carry on due to time and funding," he says. "Although I am still working for the same company, I have been able to take advantage of Cornwall College's flexible way of working - that makes it viable for both myself and my employer."

Cornwall College says close links with local firms are boosting work-based learning and widening the age range for apprenticeships which are usually closed to those over the age of 25.

The college boasts a formidable team of 24 liaison officers who link with companies, provide health and safety checks and other kinds of support.

They have helped to pull in 1,000-plus students each year for work-based learning programmes, including its Modern Apprenticeships For All scheme.

Last year a European-funded apprenticeship attracted 450 students who ranged from their 20s to their 30s to study subjects such as construction, accountancy, engineering, administration and engineering. This particular programme boasted a 95 per cent full-award pass rate.

"The objectives of the course were to deliver training and qualifications to those who were over 25 years old and too old to join an apprenticeship scheme," says Ron Champion, head of Cornwall College training. "We need more of this kind of funding because there is huge demand locally to upskill workforces, and this brings many people of all types and ages back into the college."

For Bury College the challenge has been to target people who suffer disadvantages when it comes to studying. These people may have no formal qualifications and low self-confidence. Many had a bad experience at school and have a negative attitude towards education. People with disabilities and health problems may also find attendance problematic, as will young mothers and older learners who cannot attend courses in conventional locations.

For Bury the solution has been to create a "classroom in the community" scheme, which offers informal learning in familiar surroundings such as local schools and other community venues.

Michelle Lynch, marketing officer, says: "Throughout the year the college promotes adult learning opportunities through presentations at local community groups, including churches, youth groups and community centres.

"As part of this, we recently linked with the Rivers Housing Association to deliver basic information technology training. We expected a response of 10 to 15 people but more than 50 arrived at the centre to enrol."

Men remain a particularly tough group to attract, but Bury reports that its IT Centres are recruiting them in large numbers. To increase participation it offers a wide range of courses, including Start IT and City and Guilds E-Quals.

"To target adult males, the centres have recently offered a bite-sized course in PC Maintenance," says Ms Lynch. "Marketing support is tailored to specific groups through promotional literature, direct mail, presentation evenings, press advertising and public relations."

Waltham Forest College in east London is another institution that has created a high profile for itself. It believes it must find out what potential students want and then fulfil their needs, rather than matching them to an inflexible programme of courses. By doing this it attracts a broad variety of students, including those who may be disaffected.

Carol Gibson reports that Waltham Forest's Pathways to Progression programme has proved successful, offering courses in football, basketball, film-making and music recording to students who may otherwise be struggling to find subjects which interest them.

Ms Gibson believes it is important to provide an easy route for people to get back into education.

"For example, our Kickstart scheme is designed to benefit the many school-leavers each year who don't go on to further education," she says.

"By January when all their friends are back at school they can be left thinking, 'What can I do now?' We offer two options: they can either go on an intensive training module for a course they know they want to do, or have a range of tasters. Either way, they can gain credits so that they can proceed from there."

For Ms Gibson, motivation is key to getting people into college against the odds.

And Ian Bowden agrees. "It's great to have the bit of paper to show what I can do as far as my job is concerned," he says. "And I'm looking forward to taking it to the next level."

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