Time to Rethink Adult Education?

Adult education is in crisis: decades of cuts in funding has led to a decline in courses offered for adult learners and around 1.8 million adults per year are not able to access courses to improve their skills (David Hughes, TES, September 2018).

But, unfortunately, the common discourse around adult education is linked to skills for employability and boosting the economy: what about education for the sake of education? Until 2017, I was the head of the Department for International Labour and Trade Union Studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin College, Oxford, an institution founded on the values of education as emancipation for the working class. We actively encouraged adults to study on a wide range of programmes that could, of course, help them to progress in their careers, but, more importantly, to develop critical thinking that can bring about social change.  My oldest student was a man in his 80’s, who had been a success in business but never had the opportunity to study a higher education course. He wasn’t there to improve his chances of getting a better job or promotion in the workplace: he was there to read, listen, think, discuss and debate with the other students (and staff, which was encouraged!)

With the obsession with education and employability, educators find themselves in a situation where everything has to be linked to the chance of the student getting a job at the end: from lesson plans to OFSTED (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, which inspects institutions with students up to the age of 18), and organisations such as Advance HE, teaching has become more about ‘social mobility’ through employment than challenging the status quo. Are we there to produce yet another generation of automatons, who accept low paid, low valued work, zero- hour contracts, when they should be challenging the whole concept of the way work is constructed?

There is a light at the end of the tunnel (well, I think so!): The Cooperative University Project. As a founder member of a new educational worker cooperative, the RED Learning Coop: Research, Education and Development for Social Change, I was thrilled for us to be invited to be part of the development of this exciting initiative. In 2012, the Cooperative College in Manchester, started to explore ideas about ‘doing education differently’ and the 2017 Higher Education Act gave the space for alternative providers. So, what is different about a Cooperative University? Well, the vision for a start:

‘Our vision is to develop a new type of university based on social justice and co-operative values and principles which works for the mutual benefit of all.

A Co-operative University will empower students, enhancing their skills to develop new ways of thinking, working, researching and learning for life’ (Cooperative College website, April 2019).

The University is founded on Cooperative Values and Principles:

  • Challenge injustice, inequality and exploitation in all its forms.
  • Recognise that teachers and students have much to learn from each other and should work together to design and develop content and delivery.
  • Be based on a social purpose and political and economic democracy
  • Enhance wellbeing and enable everyone to explore their full range of abilities.
  • Strengthen and grow a different kind of society with co-operative values at its heart

(Cooperative College Website, April 2019).

The first course starts in September 2019, so watch this space!

Tracy Walsh

Founder Member of The RED Learning Cooperative: Research, Education and Development.

Have your say to the Adult Education Commission

Workshop: Thursday, May 30th 2019, 11.00 to 1600
Location: Futurelearn, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP run by AEA (Association for  Education and Ageing)

AEA present: Older Adult Education and Learning: the way forward

Ransackers supports this workshop and invites any later life learners who can get to North London to attend.

The Workshop will be discussing the issues, and then putting together a response, to the Adult Education Commission’s Call for ideas and evidence on the way forward for Adult Education in the UK in the future*. The Call comes on the occasion of the centenary of the post WWW1 Ministry of Reconstruction’s hugely important Report to Government, which established the principles of adult education provision in the UK up to the 1990s.

This Workshop will focus on the education and learning of older people in the UK in the next decades and collect together views and arguments that will be forwarded to the Commission after the workshop. A central issue will be the role of the State.

The format on May 30 will be a pre-workshop collection of responses to the introductory document, introductory short inputs, small group working sessions and concluding debate.

All welcome. Free attendance
*See https://www.wea.org.uk/get-involved/our-campaigns/adult-education-100

AGE/NCY: Art, Ageing and Transition

An exciting (and free) Tate Modern workshop organised by Flourishing Lives in collaboration with several artists, community groups and organisations, including Age Allies (Age UK London)

26–28 APRIL 2019, Blavatnik Building, Level 5

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/tate-exchange/workshop/agency-art-ageing-and-transition

Age Allies have developed a plan of the Tate Modern exhibitor space, which is conceptualised as a board game, ‘Continuum

Research group Penzance

Helen Davies

I did Ransackers in 2008 and 2009. I was inspired by Kathleen Hughes to set up a U3A Research group in Penzance and below are some of the group’s research findings.


Llyn Aubrey

I became interested in u3a as there was very little to engage me in Penzance. I’ve been delighted to see it grow and become a very worthwhile organisation. Joining the research group was a big interest of mine having made films in the local area; two of which were broadcast on C4. I have also been a representative for Cornwall at the then called International Film and TV organisation. This festival goes around Scotland, Wales, Eire, N. Ireland and Brittany, showing films that represent local talent and interest. It is something that I am no longer involved with but researching ideas is something I am keen on.

Helen had been involved in fabulous research, having had a grant to do so, and very involved in her local community.

I really like the idea of the owner of a local house and gardens being originally a slave owner, back in the 1700. Very fascinating, as that is very unusual in this local area which at one time was very fabulously rich, on the backs of mining. In fact, the richest place in the UK in the mid 1800.

This area has a fascinating history, a very good private library, which has numerous books on local knowledge and is an area very renowned for its art. I feel the group is very talented and keen to press forward with its ideas, the meetings are very lively!

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Make dedicated learning spaces accessible

Dr John Miles (9th February, 2019)

Last summer in Manchester Professor Chris Phillipson gave a wide-ranging presentation on ‘recreating “spaces” for ageing – the role of education and learning in later life’. He used space in the sense of ‘making room’ – finding the motivation and encouragement for study and learning – but also to refer to the actual places – libraries, museums, arts centres, classrooms – whose future (particularly outside the bigger cities) is under threat. This year is the hundredth anniversary of the Ministry of Reconstruction’s Report on Adult Education which came out in 1919. A new Centennial Commission, supported through the Workers Educational Association, has been established. It sees the anniversary as ‘a vital opportunity to reflect on the needs and possibilities for adult education today and into the century ahead’ and seeks our views. Much has changed in the last twenty years. Education in later life has dropped off the policy agenda and many of the places where it used to be on offer have disappeared. For various reasons the profile of older people in the current revival of interest in further and adult education is unclear. So there is much to do. But, looking ahead, what sort of places might be needed in response to renewed interest from a future government?

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Lifelong learning at the RIBA and other museums

Wilson Yau
Digital Outreach Manager, RIBA

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is just one of many museums and cultural organisations in the UK working with older people to support lifelong learning. Together, they offer cultural activities, each unique to the communities they serve, locality and the historic and modern artefacts that they hold in their collections.

Since 2016 from its London base, the RIBA has grown its outreach activities and it works with older people, both individuals and community groups such as the Ransackers. This work uses architecture to reduce social isolation, break down digital barriers and support older people wanting to stay active and learn new skills. How has it done this? Firstly, by opening up its HQ building, exhibitions and library to enable everyone to learn about architecture for free. Back in May 2017, the RIBA team had the pleasure to spend time with the Ransackers when they visited for a guided tour of its building and architecture exhibitions.

The second was to welcome people by supporting their visits through engaging and free educational and creative art activities, such as drawing on iPads and model making, all with experienced RIBA staff. Uniquely, all visits and activities are inspired by architecture, whether that’s through the built environment in general, the RIBA’s own building or its collection of four million architectural books, models, photographs and drawings. The feedback received is that a visit to the RIBA is a positive and welcoming experience which offers participants a chance to overcome digital barriers in a supportive and social environment, and above all it was enjoyable for everyone involved – both staff and visitors.

iPad drawing workshop at RIBA, London_ Image credit - RIBA
iPad drawing workshop at the RIBA, London (Image credit: RIBA)
Architecture Drawing Day at the RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London, Saturday 6th October 2018
Creative workshop during Silver Sunday at the RIBA, London (Image credit: RIBA)

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Ransackers gets involved in Innovations for Ageing: digital exclusion

How many of you have had negative experiences in high street phone shops while trying to buy new phones or other equipment?

Ransackers Association has had many discussions in recent years over this issue. We are all about later life learning and education: part of this is access to information and use of the web.

The throwaway society is with us and IT and communications devices wear out or start malfunctioning after 4-6 years. This is very annoying for some older people, who often try to buy things to last, and who object to replacing their kit so  often. Without working phones, tablets and pcs people can   get excluded from so much information and ways of communicating.

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