How our pick n’ mix approach to adult learning is delivering for Calderdale

Taking inspiration from Woolworth’s iconic sweet stand has helped us create an inclusive, flexible, and industry-aligned program, writes Naseem Aqeel

Taking inspiration from Woolworth’s iconic sweet stand has helped us create an inclusive, flexible, and industry-aligned program, writes Naseem Aqeel

11 Sep 2023, 5:00

Few of a certain age can forget Woolworths’ irresistible pick n’ mix counter. It was the high street store’s unique selling point, providing customers the flexibility to choose from an array of sweets to create a bag that truly catered to their tastes. That concept is the inspiration behind Calderdale College‘s approach to adult learning.

Adult learners have varied backgrounds, ambitions and challenges that traditional education models can sometimes struggle to address. So with pick n’ mix in mind, we set out to provide our learners with the ability to select and combine elements of learning to suit their unique tastes – in this case, their interests and career needs.

To shape our programme, we leaned on a ‘triplex’ model, drawing insight from three core pillars: the college, the learners, and the labour market.

We started with foundational employability skills, but quickly recognised the potential for a more dynamic approach to learning using the Diploma in Progression. With this, we could cater to individual learners’ needs and ambitions while aligning their education to current and future market demands.

We initiated conversations with important employers in our area like the NHS and Bluebird Care to fully understand the dynamic nature of the labour market.

Changes in government policies like the extension of free childcare hours from September 2024 and 2025 will open up more opportunities in the childcare sector. This means demand for trained professionals will rise. Our curriculum is designed to prepare our learners for these and other opportunities.

These policies will also release fresh people into the workforce; many who previously had childcare responsibilities will be freed up to pursue their own career ambitions.

By partnering with Gateway Qualifications, we’ve created a blueprint for a flexible program that evolves with market needs and supports individual learner journeys.

In the Calderdale area, this is particularly important for sectors such as health and social care, childcare, digital, fashion, textiles and creative industries, where Brexit and Covid have left significant skills gaps.

It started with 15 students in 2021 and has engaged 900 learners since

This pick n’ mix approach has proven to be an enormous success. It started as a pilot with 15 students in 2021 and has grown to engage over 900 learners in two years.

Most importantly, we earned an ‘Outstanding’ rating from Ofsted for adult education. Inspectors didn’t just take our word for it; they went into the community and heard from our learners themselves, who are our strongest advocates.

As we look to the future, we remain committed to fine-tuning and expanding this model. There is significant potential to take the concept further, at higher levels, and make adult education more accessible, engaging, and rewarding for learners from all walks of life.

Adapting to our learners’ needs and engaging with local businesses has helped Calderdale College create an inclusive, flexible, and industry-aligned program. It’s a testament to the power of innovation in education, proving that when we think creatively, we can open new pathways that meet learners where they are and help them get where they want to go.

We’ve learned a few things along the way, so if you’re keen to explore the pick n’ mix model in your college, here are my top tips:

Understand your learners

A strong grasp of their backgrounds, aspirations, and challenges is crucial to design a programme that meets their unique needs and aids their personal and professional growth.

Engage with local employers

Understanding employers’ current and future needs is essential to ensure your curriculum aligns with market demands.

Build in optionality

Flexibility in course selection allows learners to personalise their education pathway according to their career goals and interests.

Don’t go it alone

Collaborating with supportive organisations like Gateway Qualifications can be instrumental in designing and delivering a robust, flexible and industry-aligned curriculum.

Iterate and evolve

The world changes and so should your curriculum. Regularly review and update your course offerings to stay relevant.

Engage with your community

Not only are they an excellent source of advocates who can provide insights into local needs and opportunities, they are fundamental to building a supportive environment for your learners.

With these in mind, you could be well on your way to the kind of offer that will be fondly remembered for decades to come.

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