Women's training revisited
Maggie Coats' latest book seeks to identify best practice in provision for women and to tease out some issues of funding policy and the impact of accreditation. Her study is based on more than 70 written submissions for the 1995 National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education women's education and training awards.
While I welcome celebrations of this important work, published here to coincide with International Women's Day on March 14, my expectations of the book's usefulness were not high. But I found commentary scattered through the book which could stimulate a useful rethink of our women's programmes.
A number of submissions raised questions about the dangers of encouraging women into national vocational qualification programmes in a single field which may only lead to poorly-paid jobs. By contrast, a construction skills programme and a science programme offer well-established routes to financial independence and possibly higher-level courses.
One particularly interesting programme aims to enable participants "to become better choosers". Good examples of user-groups, student committees and fund-raising initiatives reminded me of the enduring values of student lobbying and participation in evaluation. Have we in FE colleges lost sight of the energies students bring to programme development in our preoccupation with counting units?
NIACE invited the providers themselves to display their own good practice in this book and two impressive initiatives are presented by Glenys Kinnock MEP. This adds a welcome political edge, reminding us of the significant contributions it makes to social and economic development.
My main reservation is that the book gives inadequate attention to provision to support women already in work (more than half the UK workforce). Surely the efforts of Opportunity 2000 - the campaign to get more women into work and into senior posts - together with many local government and company-based initiatives, or even the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and the FE Women Managers Network, have led to provision that should be included in a comprehensive survey.
Nevertheless, the two examples for employed women are definitely worth considering at my college: one for women managers in education and one based at a university offering professional women a variety of progression routes.
Although the intended readership of the book is planners, providers or personnel workers, any politicians browsing through it would notice the essential features of childcare and transport, and acknowledgement that often only European grants allow these underpinning services to be provided.
The book left me with a deep sense of respect for the creativity and resilience of the work which has been done.