Education & Family

Adult classes: 'Rekindled my interest'

The government is cutting funding for 5,000 adult vocational courses to "simplify and streamline" the adult skills system in England.

Among the courses to go are self-tanning, balloon artistry and teaching pole fitness. But David Hughes from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education says such courses can be friendly ways back into education.

BBC News website readers have been giving us their views.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lucy Bowden says her course gave her the confidence to get a job in a supermarket

Lucy Bowden, a supermarket worker from Surrey

When I was recovering from a mental health problem, I did several vocational courses. It was never intended to lead to a career but did allow me to work towards being able to get a paid job.

Skills like motivation, travelling to the college and being around other people can be easily lost when you have been ill for a long time or out of work for a long time.

I don't think the content of the course itself and the qualifications are the only skills you gain.

I did a course in aromatherapy for example when I first came out of hospital. It helped me get back in to normal daily life.

I now work full time in a supermarket. I don't use the aromatherapy skills at all but there were many more skills that I learnt which were much more important.

Jeni McConnell, a career changer from Cheshire

Image copyright Jeni McConnell
Image caption "Looking up the attic stairs," by Jeni McConnell who is now a full-time artist after taking an evening class

I already had a job and took an evening class in watercolour painting with my local college in 2001 with no intentions of doing anything with it.

The class unexpectedly rekindled my interest in thinking creatively and after two years of the classes I found I wanted to be pushed some more. The college suggested trying an A-level, which I moved on to. A tutor suggested I followed on to do a foundation course.

I had just changed my working hours to part-time so tentatively enrolled as one of only two mature students on the course.

I went straight on to a BA course, then an MA, which I completed in 2010. Today I am a full-time artist, I was made redundant from my part-time job earlier this year and I am seizing the opportunity with both hands.

When I am ready and my understanding and questioning is refined further, I aim to take this into a PhD.

This simple vocational course took me on such an unexpected journey to where I am today.

Kevin Brown, from County Durham, is unemployed

Image copyright kevin brown
Image caption Kevin Brown left his bakery job in 2005 to study for a degree but has struggled to get a job since

The adult-education work programme does not work. I attended nine courses under the work programme, none were of value to me or an employer.

The training providers we are sent to are screwing the government funding agencies for money. Once you are there, the course is extended so they can get more funding.

I tried to get a forklift truck licence. If an employer sent me on the course, it would take two days. Through the work programme it took 19.5 weeks.

I was also sent on a six-hour first aid at work course. But to be able to practise first aid at work, you need to have completed a three-day course, so ultimately this was irrelevant.

I spent 15 years in a factory and warehouse environment and feel the warehouse and storage course was a waste of time and government money, one cap does not fit all.

Richard Le Corney, a teacher from Nottinghamshire

I teach adults who "failed" at school and are very nervous about returning to education.

I agree with David Hughes from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education that these "low-value qualifications" offer such adults a friendly way back into education.

The reason they are "low value qualifications" is that they shouldn't be qualifications at all, just courses, like in the old days.

What is a waste of time for pupils and teachers is the work needed to fulfil the criteria for a "low value qualification".

Time would be better spent on enjoying the classes and then moving on to study for qualifications that will help their job prospects.

Frances Parlane, from Somerset, works in the care industry

I work at delivering some of these courses to carers and nurses in the care industry.

For some, they are the only form of professional development they can manage due to the funded status awarded them.

For others it is a wonderful resource in educating them about the needs of those living with mental health illnesses, dementia and those approaching end of life - the very people they are caring for.

I hope that the work I do helps to improve the experience of service users and their families and friends by empowering the carers with knowledge and practical skills on the ground.

I would have hoped, for the care industry especially, that the government funding agency might have encouraged some of these courses to be upgraded before drawing the axe, thereby being exempt from the cuts.

But in a country where we can't afford to provide a working health service, house and feed some of its residents or dredge ditches, I guess education is not likely to figure highly on the priority list either.

Neville Bruce, in Nottinghamshire, has completed a course

I've done some part-time courses and suspect that at least some of the funding is being "misdirected" away from service-user facilities.

The equipment and conditions appeared to be "bare-minimum" or less - and staff were too few and too busy, meaning people were waiting for hours to get simple advice to move on with their coursework, and many learners were helping each other as best they could.

Staff turnover appeared high, morale was low, and our queries, and then complaints, to said management by phone and email were given the run-around.

Many months later I'm still waiting for promised incentives and basic courses to materialise.

I'm surprised to find balloon artistry et cetera being offered anywhere as I'm struggling to get on "employability" courses such as food safety, first-aid, and getting construction-site and security licences.

Joanna Hayes, from Essex, is seeking work

I asked my job centre for help to complete a phlebotomy course, the course itself was a two-day course for £280. I have already completed the written side and received a certificate, but I can't finish it because I need to complete the "live" course which involves taking blood.

I even said I'd pay it back out of my income support. They said I had to have a job placement to get funding, but who's going to give me a job with no qualifications?

The fact is no-one will hire a phlebotomist if they haven't done the full course. Yet the government is helping immigrants take flying lessons?

I've got a disability and want to work. This type of job is perfect for me without affecting my health, but I'm stuck at home with my terminally ill child not knowing how to move forward when she's in full-time school.

Michael Hearmon, in Worcestershire, has a Higher National Diploma (HND) in business

After leaving school with very poor GCSE grades I spent six years doing random low level work until a work colleague told me about the HND in business.

I always felt that I couldn't achieve much but after an interview with the Worcester College of Technology I got on to the course and it changed me for the better.

I understand what [National Institute of Adult Continuing Education chief executive] David Hughes means about vocational qualifications, as they are a really good way to ease yourself back into education.

Afterwards I continued studying and achieved a BA (Hons) in Business Management. However courses such as "self-tanning" and "balloon artistry", are silly, pointless courses which won't amount to anything.

Vocational education is good, but only if the subject is relevant to the working world.

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