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WEA gets behind 'learning age' paper;FE Focus

The Government must redistribute funds from research into higher education teaching and break down institutional barriers to achieve the "learning age" as outlined in its Green Paper, says the Workers' Educational Association.

In its response to the paper, the association warmly welcomed the "inclusivity" of the document as it recognised the value voluntary and community organisations made to lifelong learning.

As the major voluntary provider of adult education in the country, the WEA also endorsed the findings of the Fryer report, Learning in the Twenty-First Century, which informed the Government's thinking. The report highlighted the barriers facing many learners - lack of confidence, tutorial and personal support, as well financial difficulties.

Mel Doyle, WEA deputy general secretary, said the paper was a step in the right direction - but institutional barriers could not be allowed to belittle the objectives of developing a learning society.

"It is unlikely that there will be substantial additional resources to realise the learning age. If that's the case it will require a redistribution of existing ones, which means we come up against the institutional players in further and higher education," he said.

However, he applauded the vision Education Secretary David Blunkett has of lifelong learning as it meant he recognised there were key issues other than narrowly-based vocational training.

The association's response cites examples of the WEA's good practice - such as "learning pathways" to help students progress to other educational programmes -and how the WEA has targeted specific groups such as women, unemployed people, ethnic minorities and rural communities, to help them return to learn.

In Sheffield, a Somali education project had run courses on counselling, dressmaking, computing and childcare, some of which were accredited through the South Yorkshire Open College. A joint project with the union, UNISON, targeted full and part-time workers in the public sector on low incomes.

The key characteristics of the WEA's approach which emerge from the case studies include a strong base in local communities; effective partnerships with education, health and social service departments; outreach work; flexible approaches to learning and the involvement of learners in planning their courses.

The association has more than 700 branches in 14 districts, reaching some 110,000 adults a year who take part in 10,000 courses.

'Breaking down the barriers', free from the Workers' Educational Association, Temple House, 17 Victoria Park Square, London E2 9PB

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