Where the students want to stay

Taking that step back into education is not easy. Langside's community campus, winner of SQA's Pride 'O Worth award, seems to have got it right

Douglas Blane

A community campus is a friendlier, more welcoming place for people who have been out of education for a while than a big and busy main campus. But you have to make sure students don't get too settled.

"That's the danger in a place like this," explains Frances Thom, Langside College's head of community learning and development, as she shows visitors around the Govanhill campus in Glasgow which collected two SQA Star Awards this year. "The teaching is great and the people are lovely. Why would you leave?

"It can be hard to take that first step back into education. So when they discover it's comfortable and cosy here, they want to stay forever."

The answer is not to stop being supportive to students once they have skills, certificates and confidence, but to build on these by showing what else is possible, beyond the five classrooms in the basement of the refurbished Royal Samaritan Hospital. "So we bring in people from Langside to tell them about courses there. We get advisers to talk about possible careers. We take trips to the main campus to show them around."

One of three community campuses Langside College runs around the city, Govanhill has 120 students, with close to 20 nationalities. "We have 15-year-olds through to people in their 80s, who come along often for IT skills," says Ms Thom.

She stops at a wooden door, knocks and says: "I never like to just walk in on this class." The reason is apparent when a woman in a smart black tunic reassures her that nothing too revealing is going on in the beauty salon this morning.

"This course is interesting," Ms Thom says. "At Langside, black and minority ethnic students were doing beauty but were dropping out because they couldn't handle the vocabulary. Their English was good but you'd be surprised at the many technical terms you need."

So lecturers in beauty and in English as a foreign language now collaborate at Govanhill to deliver an ESOL-beauty course. "The beauty lecturers pass on what they're going to teach and the ESOL lecturers build the vocabulary into their lessons. We thought that would make it a two-year course, but students are able to go to HNC after one year."

Around the building, Govanhill's other educational strands are well under way. Path to Progress is a personal development course with two separate intakes, one for teenagers, the other open to all. Usually they can organise all-female classes if students' culture makes them uncomfortable learning with men, says Ms Thom. Langside also lays on a wide range of "pick 'n' mix courses", from head massage, henna and first aid, to office admin, literacy and IT skills.

In computing this morning, half a dozen students have prepared their first PowerPoint presentations, but the lecturer is having computer problems. The students' prior knowledge of computers ranged from "little" to "I had to be shown how to switch one on". But they've been making progress, says the lecturer. If only computers were as reliable.

The main reason for the strides students make when they come to Govanhill, says senior lecturer Elizabeth Farrar, is how tutors tackle the job. "It takes a special set of skills to teach in a community campus," she says. "College lecturers usually insist on classes starting on time and on homework being done. That would not always work here. You have to be flexible with our students, who are often women with children.

"You also have to understand the individuals in your class and their backgrounds - one is homeless, two are suffering from depression, several have additional support needs. With some subjects you have to be sensitive to avoid giving offence to people from different cultures."

Govanhill students have one big advantage over Langside's other campuses, says Ms Thom - project support worker, Pauline Moore. "Her role at the main campus was purely admin but here it's broader."

The toughest task this week, says the former Langside student, has been searching for work placements for the Path to Progress people. "It is not always possible to get exactly what they want," says Ms Moore. "Employers can be reluctant to train people for just a week. We do our best. We've managed nine out of ten so far - and the week's not over yet."

Classes ended, the Path to Progress students have been hearing about their placements and are buzzing. "I've already visited the nursery where I'll be working and it was amazing," says Isobel McElhinny. "The kids took to me right away. We were making macaroni and cheese and theirs was better than mine."

Other placements include childcare and charity work. "I'll be doing admin in an office," says Humaira Khan. "I'm on this course to improve my skills and find work. They bring in lots of outside agencies to talk to you, which I like."

Getting work can be tough, says Mojtaba Arefi, who has been improving his English at the main campus, but finds Govanhill better for learning. "They have all the information up there, but it can be hard to know where to find it. Here, you can ask anybody."

This class has bonded well but it wasn't always so, says student Dee McCourt. "On the first day they were all very quiet. But I got them out of their shells. I'm the biggest gob in the group, they tell me. Since that first day, I've seen everybody's confidence go right up."

"There's a Dee in every class," says Ms Thom.

Langside College's Govanhill community campus won the Centre for Lifelong Learning category and took the highest prize, the Pride O' Worth award for centres, at this year's SQA Star Awards.


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Douglas Blane

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