Adapting adult learning in Northumberland after 'most challenging year ever'

Education teams have had to overhaul courses for adult learners to get them through courses during the pandemicEducation teams have had to overhaul courses for adult learners to get them through courses during the pandemic
Education teams have had to overhaul courses for adult learners to get them through courses during the pandemic
The ‘unprecedented’ 2019-20 was ‘without doubt the most challenging year’ so far for Northumberland’s adult learning service.

However, performance remained good despite the need to adapt quickly to new ways of working during the first national lockdown, apart from among 16 to 18-year-olds.

The 2019-20 annual report for the county’s Learning and Skills Service went before councillors on the family and children’s services committee on Thursday, February 4.

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It explained that adult learning for those aged 19 and over forms the vast majority of the service, accounting for 98.8% of the 2,442 enrolments last year. Performance remained good with an achievement rate of 84%, just below the national average.

The achievement rate for apprenticeships fared even better at 83% – 19% above the national average.

However, the achievement rate for 16 to 18-year-olds was 55%, which is significantly below the national average.

The report notes: ‘The young people engaging with the Learning and Skills Service require wrap-around support and for some the lockdown, while continuing the support remotely, did not help their ability to achieve.

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‘The importance of face-to-face engagement with these learners cannot be underestimated and the impact of this being significantly reduced is the achievement rate. The service continues to support these learners and they remain positive.’

Despite the significant disruption caused by Covid-19, 84% of all learners ‘remained engaged and on target working and making good progress’ through to the end of the academic year.

Presenting the report, Audrey Kingham, the council’s interim director of education and skills, highlighted two initiatives during the pandemic which were supported by funding from the North of Tyne Combined Authority.

The first ensured that those who needed it had access to digital equipment so that they could continue engaging virtually, which was ‘particularly important for those with English as a second language, not just for learning but remaining part of society’.

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The other was an employment support triage programme which started in June 2020 and has now been accessed by 300 residents.

Ms Kingham said: “It’s three people constantly on the end of the phone to immediately deal with someone who perhaps comes into a different situation in the furlough system or at risk of redundancy, and we use that triage system to be able to help those individuals to move into training to bridge a gap or into employment vacancies.”

Cllr Scott Dickinson raised concerns about the funding cuts to the service outlined in the proposed budget for 2021-22.

Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, the cabinet member for children’s services, suggested it was ‘not impacting on frontline services’, while Ms Kingham said it was a case of addressing the service’s expenditure being ‘out of kilter’ with its income.

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“I’m not concerned at this moment that it will have a negative impact and over time we’ll continue to see this grow,” she added.

However, Cllr Dickinson said: “I’m a little bit anxious about the level of money being taken out.”

The schedule of efficiencies for 2021-22 features savings of £154,000 through a review of the careers guidance team and £200,000 via a review of education & skills services.

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