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The wheel deal for basic skills

Young adults in Manchester are developing essential skills while preparing for their driving test, reports Martin Whittaker

A YEAR AGO a driving licence seemed beyond Lyndsey Brown's reach.

As a single mother with a young child, she couldn't afford driving lessons. And she says she found the idea of sitting a written theory test daunting - she stopped going to school when she was 13.

"To tell you the truth, I would have just got into a car and driven," she admits. "That's what my friend did. But she got caught and banned for having no insurance or tax."

But now Lyndsey, 20, from Manchester, has passed her theory test and is about to take her full driving test.

And her achievements don't stop there: in the process she has also gained her first qualifications and is now learning business administration.

She has done it with the help of a course which teaches young people to improve their driving ability hand-in-hand with basic skills.

"You do everything in groups - it's like teamwork," she says. "If people don't know a lot or can't read or write, they'd still be able to do it. Everybody helps each other."

The course - called Cognitive Driver Training - is offered through the Manchester Foyer, an education and training project for 16 to 25-year-olds run by the city's St Vincent's housing association.

It is one of the programmes to influence the authors of Getting Up To Speed, a new pack to help adults with poor basic skills to improve their driving (see below).

The Manchester course was developed by driving instructor Ian Canham. He says it stems from his own experience as an adult learner.

Held back at school by dyslexia, Mr Canham returned to education in his ealy 30s when he decided to take an access course. He went on to take a degree and a postgraduate certificate in education.

During the eight-week programme, young people get an introduction to driving, car mechanics, and first aid. The aim is also to get them through their theory test and prepare them for proper driving lessons.

Alongside this, they are taught communication skills and information technology. They keep a portfolio of their work, and this earns them credits towards a

level 1 qualification in basic skills.

"All we're doing is linking key skills with certain parts of driving that I think are relevant," says Ian Canham.

Students are taught in groups instead of one-to-one with a driving instructor.

"It's difficult to get people's confidence up when it's just them and an instructor. I think they learn a lot more from each other.

"The idea was to bring driving into an adult learning forum; take it out of the one-to-one and put it into the classroom."

In a typical session, students might look at newspaper cuttings involving real-life situations, for example an incident involving cyclists. "They are reading and responding to written information. But at the same time, they're learning what cyclists really do.

"It gives a realism to what we're doing and why we're doing it."

He believes from his own experience as an instructor that adults are being put off the driving test because of the theory part.

"It's down to confidence. Imagine if they've never taken an exam successfully or even if they had a bad time at school."

Mr Canham's driving course is also being taught through projects in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Braintree and Brentwood in Essex.

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