Berwick Thought for the Week: Spotlight on extended learning vision

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My wife and I are of the generation when to miss a lesson at school was considered a problem, a week of schooling a disaster, a term missed a calamity.

Covid restrictions have severely impeded the education of our young. All have had their studies disrupted and many have found it hard to re-engage with their education and even normal socialising.

The Romans left no record of how they schooled their young when occupying Britain. Our earliest record of organised schooling comes from 6th and 7th Century Saxon records of Church Cathedral schools at Canterbury and Rochester.

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For almost 1,400 years, education provided by churches and religious societies were only for those children in their care or children of the wealthy.

Canon Alan Hughes.Canon Alan Hughes.
Canon Alan Hughes.

I find it extraordinary that in 1871, after the 1870 Education Act, one million children were still being educated in voluntary schools, barely 1.3 million in the new state funded schools and a staggering two million had no access to education whatsoever.

Astonishingly, it was not until 1923 that the then Labour Party made education for all their official policy, just a century ago, since when there have been as many Education Acts and White Papers as stars in the night sky.

In 1995, my wife and I began to share a vision with Berwick for the establishment of a place of extended learning. We travelled and researched widely, including to the folk schools of Scandinavia where young and mature adults could return to education.

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We envisaged an establishment, perhaps linked as a satellite to a college or university elsewhere thanks to technology, where folk could come and live and learn in Berwick, catching up on basic literacy and numeracy skills or studying history, geology, marine sciences etc. Such a venture would create a 365 economic model, silver surfers staying in student accommodation in between terms.

I still have the letter sent to us in 1999 by the then Borough Council, requesting us “to suspend your approaches to educational institutions while Berwick’s Regeneration Partnership’s initiative in this runs its course”, since when nothing and our then unborn grandchildren are now adults.

During Covid, most of our young retreated into social media. Meta/Facebook was recently fined £600million for sharing their data. That £600million, together with recently announced levelling up funds, must be used to establish local hubs of extended learning, much like the Scandinavian folk school models which we have visited, where individuals can return to learning and catch up.

The Government owes this to our teenagers at the very least.

Canon Alan Hughes – Chaplain to The High Sheriff of Northumberland, Chaplain to Berwick Infirmary