What price self-worth if you're `too old' to learn?

5th June 2015 at 01:00

Teaching adults with learning difficulties is a real privilege. After many years in further education, I am still energised by my students, who show genuine commitment to attending college, a real joy in learning and a desire to improve their opportunities in life. Progress may be made in small steps, sometimes over many years, but it is a constant delight to see learners grow in confidence, move into supported living, travel independently, make friendships and find their place in the community.

What concerns me, and gnaws away at my sense of justice, is knowing that some of these enthusiastic and eager learners will soon be told they cannot return to college.

And why is this? Because they are over 25 and the government in England does not provide additional learning support funding to students above this age. What happened to "lifelong learning"?

I truly believe in the power of FE to provide adults with chances to improve their lives and self-worth. Some of our students have spent much of their lives in long-stay hospitals or attending day centres where their daily routines can become monotonous and predictable. Going to college provides them with the opportunity to learn new skills, discover talents and form meaningful friendships. For some, it has even allowed them to progress into paid work. Proud students' certificates adorn their walls at home and course folders bear witness to their progress in learning, and their enjoyment.

How can we pretend that it is right to say, "Well, you've had your chance at learning"? Or, even worse, "You can't start college education at your age"? One thing all my students regularly hear is the phrase "funding cuts", which yet again are threatening their chances of learning, progressing, achieving and being included. Shouldn't FE be supporting these vulnerable learners to achieve at any stage of their lives? Isn't that what we all wish for?

The writer teaches in an FE college in south-west England

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Email jon.severs@tesglobal.com

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