30th October 2015 at 00:00

supporting learners is good for the soul

In this tumultuous time, colleges must remember their social mission, argues principal Alan Sherry

When the college sector is facing such enormous challenges, it is helpful to focus on the aspects of our work that really make a difference. My institution, Glasgow Kelvin College, serves some of the city’s most deprived communities. Many local residents have few or no qualifications, poor employment prospects and a negative experience of past education.

The college is committed to delivering lifelong learning. To support that, we have developed a community-based network of learning centres in partnership with local third sector organisations and sponsored by the Wheatley Group. There are now 28 learning centres in the north and east of the city providing fast, online access to college learning materials and tutor support to groups of previously disengaged local residents.

So why do we do this? First, we believe in the power of education to help people change their lives. In our experience, delivering tailored learning in the community is the best way to develop the confidence that learners need to progress to the next stage of education.

Second, by working with partners we develop capacity for the individuals, organisations and communities we serve. This contributes to the regeneration of our local area and provides people with the tools to hold professionals (including me) to account.

Third, it enables people to develop the confidence and skills to complete mainstream programmes that will give them the experience they need to compete effectively for sustainable jobs. This is key if Glasgow is to tackle the issues of poverty that still affect a large number of residents. Too many sustainable jobs go to non-Glaswegians so there is much work to be done.

Fourth, evidence indicates that early intervention strategies work best when young people go home to families supported by stable jobs and incomes. Providing opportunities for adults to acquire the skills and qualifications necessary for well-paid jobs is crucial if early intervention strategies are to deliver long-term change. Therefore colleges need to be funded to do this work.

In our view, it also contributes effectively to the Scottish government’s economic strategy and to the priorities of Glasgow City Council, two key stakeholders in our efforts to improve the life chances of local residents.

The feedback from learners has been incredible. “By being involved in this activity I have learned that nothing is impossible,” one said, while another told us: “I now have other skills which I never thought possible.”

During difficult meetings about budget cuts, restructuring and mergers, it is good for the soul to remember comments like these and to recognise the impact that colleges have in supporting learners to change their lives. This is really what matters.

Alan Sherry is principal of Glasgow Kelvin College

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