Lords, MPs, and adult education champions gathered in parliament this week to mark the inspirational achievements of WEA learners and tutors.
The WEA awards – sponsored by Skills and Education Group and FE Week – celebrate the positive contribution of learners and tutors on their families, communities and workplaces.
This year’s award winners were invited to the House of Lords for an afternoon tea to share their stories with parliamentarians.
Simon Parkinson, the chief executive and general secretary of the WEA, paid tribute to the bravery and resilience shown by adult learners: “Every single one of our courses helps build confidence, helps build essential life skills and actually really, really enable people who maybe didn’t have the best experience of formal education to step into that space.
“And I tell you now, the bravest things you see are adults stepping back into a community venue to learn something new, maybe after being 35 years away from education.”
Skills minister Andrea Jenkyns paid tribute to the WEA’s work: “The WEA is an amazing organisation. Adult education is so important. You really reach people who quite often society writes off”, she said at the event.
Leaving the ‘darkest times’
But the most powerful speech came from Jayne Gosnall, winner of the community contribution award. Jayne described how she was in recovery from addiction and, for her, isolation during the pandemic were some of her “darkest times”, especially as she became a carer for her very ill partner during that time.
“He was in quite a shocking state, so I will be a carer for as long as we’ve got. Which means it is incredibly valuable for me to stay connected,” she said.
Her experience in learning was “magic”, adding that “to go into a space – even in cyberspace – with people from as far away as St Ives and Newcastle and be believed in, is magic. Because even if you don’t have a job, we have a role and what we need is a purpose. Learning gives us a purpose.
“And when the time comes when my life takes a significant change again, I will be able to step out and be earning and contributing again in a different way.”
The ceremony recognised six award categories for learners and three tutor award categories.
The winner of the academic excellence award, sponsored by Learning and Work Institute, was learner Jay Smith. Jay successfully completed the WEA level 1 award in stress awareness earlier this year, his first ever qualification.
He grew up in a Romany Gypsy community and described how learning English from his uncle and his wife meant finding work difficult. He is now working towards a level 1 award in mental health awareness and hopes to set up a community farm and explore volunteering opportunities.
ESOL learner Iryna Rud arrived in the UK from Ukraine with very little ability to communicate in English. With her daughter’s help, she joined a WEA beginners ESOL course.
“When I arrived, I was very stressed because of the war in my home country. Step by step I’m starting to communicate more, and feel more confident. I believe I will be able to find a job soon. Last time I even managed to talk without a translator in Jobcentre Plus.” Iryna was awarded the WEA enhanced English award, sponsored by NOCN.
Lorna Poole won the inspirational teaching award, sponsored by Skills and Education Group, for her work with the Nottingham Women’s Centre. Lorna uses her skills in music and digital technology to support vulnerable women through difficult experiences through the WEA choir.
“Lorna is an exceptional tutor” her nominator said, “she puts in so many hours to make sure her students get the best ever experience and is always looking for ways to improve”.
And Anila Maqbool, a former WEA student, won the tutor award for learner support. She was inspired by her WEA crafts teacher to work to become a tutor herself. “It was my tutor who not only supported me, but recognised the potential I have in teaching. The opportunity came and I took it. I want to give the same kind of support to those people who are looking for it,” she said.
Anila was nominated by one of her students, level 1 student Diane. Diane explained that the class speak several languages, with many have low levels of English. Despite this, Anila was able to motivate the whole class and get the class talking to each other.
Speaking at the House of Lords soirée on Wednesday, Margaret Greenwood, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for adult education and former adult education teacher, said adult education changes lives regardless of learners’ motivations.
“Some people learn for a particular career path and some people step in because they’ve been away from education for a long time and they’re just a little bit curious. Some people step in because they’re retired. But the great thing is that once you engage, things can take off. It’s a wonderful way to meet new people and progress in life,” she said.