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Pembrokeshire initiative helps over 1,500 adults back into education

A community adult learning project in Pembrokeshire that has supported over 1,500 adults to return to education is being recognised nationally for its work by winning a Community Project of the Year Inspire! Award.

[aoa id=”1″]‘Launch Adult Learning’ began as a Communities First project in 2006 to encourage engagement with adult learning within the community. Classes are run through Monkton Priory Community Primary School and coordinated by Headteacher Shelley Morris.[/aoa]

Demand for the classes grew and, in 2010, Shelley expanded the programme and employed Launch Adult Learning Co-ordinator, Kellie Bellmaine, to manage the growing number of courses and learners.

To date, 1,546 adults have enrolled on classes through Launch, with 79 going on to complete university degrees through the scheme in partnership with University of Wales Trinity St David (USWTSD).

The Inspire! Awards are hosted each year ahead of Adult Learners’ Week – initiatives co-ordinated by Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund. Inspire! Award winners are rewarded for demonstrating the power of learning in raising expectations, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities, and their stories will also feature as part of Adult Learners’ Week, which takes place this year from June 17-23.

Marking the 50th anniversary of The Open University, a special OU50 Award recognises the values it was created with – disrupting, innovating and extending educational opportunity. This celebratory award goes to an organisation that is creating the same impact in Wales today.

Shelley said:

“The catchment area for Monkton Priory Community Primary school is unique and presents us with a number of challenges. Around 46% of our pupils are entitled to free school meals, 40% have additional learning needs and 30% come from a gypsy or traveller background. Many of the parents at the school may have had negative experiences with learning in the past, or possibly didn’t receive the support they needed in school and left education with few qualifications.

“When the programme launched initially through Communities First, we offered a selection of classes like Family Learning, basic IT and Christmas card making to get parents engaged with the idea of learning again. The uptake for these classes was fantastic, and parents started approaching us to ask whether we could run courses in areas they felt they needed support in, were interested in, or would help them find employment. We’ve based our current programme on what our learners have asked us for. It’s a complete range – from IT and Site Safety, to Youth and Community, Creche Work and Paediatric First Aid.

“Classes are run through the school, with most taking place after school finishes for the day. The local college is 12 miles away so classes at the school are much more accessible for a lot of parents. It’s also a familiar environment – most parents are at the school twice a day for drop-off and pick-up – which can help make the process less daunting for first-time attendees. One of the key barriers to returning to education is the cost of childcare so we also offer free childcare for our learners.”

All the classes available through Launch are accredited, with a focus on vocational courses relevant to employment opportunities in the area, to help learners find employment or progress in their current work. Shelley says the school also aims to employ people from the community.

“Our Site Safety course is one of the most popular classes we run, because anyone who works on a construction site needs that qualification, regardless of their job role.” She added. “Around 80% of the people who complete that course go on to find employment. As demand for the classes grew, so did the demand for childcare, so we’ve been able to employ parents who have taken our Crèche Work course. We’re also launching a Mental Health and Wellbeing course this year, with the aim of establishing advocates within the community.

“Since Launch started in 2010, unemployment in the area is much lower and the number of children on free school meals has reduced by around 10%. While we know we can’t take full credit for this, the programme has shown adults in the community that the opportunity to go back to learning is always there, and demand for the classes has increased year-on-year through word of mouth. Once they’ve started learning and realise they can do it, a lot of learners get hooked and enrol on more classes, progressing to more advanced courses and even up to degree level.

“One learner in her late 30s who started out with an IT class said the test she took as part of the course was the first test she’d ever passed. The change in her was immediate, she walked away from the class with her shoulders back and head held high and went on to enrol on more courses. And when parents are passionate about learning, it also sends a powerful message to their children. We’ve seen an improvement in performance and particularly in attendance amongst children at the school as uptake for our adult classes has increased.”

Launch Adult Learning’s foundation degree and BA courses are run in partnership with USWTSD. Sue Ainsworth, Director of Academic Discipline (Social Justice & Inclusion) at USWTSD, said:

“The Community School and the Launch team have created a warm and welcoming learning environment which supports us in putting students, particularly our less traditional students, at ease. Our students tell us that they would not be undertaking these degree programmes if they had to travel to a university campus in order to complete them. The UWTSD lecturers, led by Programme Director Cindy Hunt, value the knowledge that the school has of its families and the wider community and we are proud to deliver our degrees in such an inclusive and supportive school.”

Louise Casella, Director of the OU in Wales, said “The work done by Monkton Primary School to open up education across their community demonstrates the exact values the OU was founded upon fifty years ago – to be open to people, places, methods and ideas. Monkton Primary shows the difference that can be made when educational opportunities are made accessible to everyone and we’re really pleased to be able to recognise such innovative and inspirational education in this way.”