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learningrep » Autumn 2011

INSIDE ❚ Lee Hall on the lessons of the pitmen painters ❚ Why more managers need better skills ❚ Give an hour to get someone online


can make

the change

» Comment

Stating our case The party conference season has just come to an end and, as you will see inside this issue of The Learning Rep, unionlearn has again been visiting all the parties at their annual gatherings to put the case for workplace training, skills and union learning. It’s good to be able to report that unionlearn received a warm response from delegates and politicians at all three conferences and there is growing recognition of how effectively unions and ULRs increase training in the workplace. With the latest economic forecasts showing that the UK economy is struggling and that unemployment is still rising, ensuring effective training and development in the workplace remains vital. Vital both in terms of ensuring workers facing redundancy have the skills to seek new jobs but also vital in that a company that invests in its staff is more likely to survive in harsh economic times – a message that was reinforced by Stephen Uden, head of skills at Microsoft UK, at our fringe meetings. The high levels of youth unemployment, now over 20 per cent, and concerns about even higher levels among Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) youth not in work or training was raised. Both unionlearn and City & Guilds expressed our concerns with the governing parties over the changes to careers advice in schools and reinforced the message that this is vital in helping school leavers into work and effective training schemes. We were therefore pleased to hear LibDem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes acknowledge this as a problem. The Skills Minister John Hayes also re-affirmed the government commitment not only to increasing apprenticeships but also to ensuring that the quality and standards were high and completion rates were increased, an area vital for addressing skills for young workers. Unionlearn will continue to build on the work done during the conference season to argue the case for more training, apprenticeships and better workplace learning.

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ULR of the year News Conferences round-up Janet Brownhill WorldSkills2011 The Pitmen Painters Digital learning Quick Reads Learning centre Interview TUC Education round-up Contacts Calendar Resources



Tom Wilson Director, unionlearn The Learning Rep autumn 2011 Editor: James Asser Writers: Astrid Stubbs, Martin Moriarty Cover photo: Speech therapist Janet Brownhill by Paul Carter Design: Print: Ancient House Printing Group Distribution: Cavalier mailing

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News «

Usdaw rep takes top award

USDAW learning rep Jonathan Waterhouse collected his ULR of the Year award from TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber at this year’s TUC Congress, which was held in London for the first time since 1902. Photo: Rod Leon

“It was a big surprise finding out I’d won the award in the first place, but it was fabulous to go up and get the recognition at Congress,” says the ULR Coordinator, who runs the Learn4U centre at the Mcvitie’s factory in Manchester. USDAW General Secretary John Hannett was one of the first to congratulate Jonathan and his team of ULRs at McVitie’s when he heard about the award. “By promoting lifelong learning they have given hundreds of their members a second chance to improve their skills, increase their confidence, and enhance their employment prospects,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation for both workers and the company and credit to the management at McVitie’s, who I know have been very supportive.”

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» ULR of the Year Anyone at the McVitie’s factory in Manchester who wants to develop themselves can take a course at the Learn4U centre run by ULR of the Year Jonathan Waterhouse and his team. By Martin Moriarty

Help yourself! When USDAW opened the Learn4U centre at the McVitie’s factory in Manchester three years ago, Jonathan Waterhouse was so enthusiastic about the possibilities of workplace learning that he volunteered to run the project. “I was very excited about the challenge of addressing learning in the workplace,” he says. It was something of a return to the fray for him, since he’d already put in a few years as deputy convenor onsite before calling it a day a decade ago (although he never gave up his union card). Now named ULR of the Year at at this year’s TUC Congress, Jonathan is immensely proud of everything the entire ten-strong team of learning reps has achieved over the past three years, with the active support of the rest of the branch. The team has encouraged more than 150 workers to use the Go ON suite of online basics (formerly the myguide package) provided through UK online since the centre is a registered UK online centre. In addition, the ULRs have set up an NVQ programme at the centre, which has helped 100 workers achieve their first full Level 2 qualification (before the centre opened, the company’s NVQ programme was restricted to supervisors and above). And after running the Six Book Challenge in partnership with Stockport Libraries for three successful years in a row, the team picked up the Reading Agency’s workplace award earlier this year. ULR Coordinator Jonathan doesn’t have particularly happy memories of going to school in the deprived area of Gorton in Manchester during the 1980s. “It was quite a bleak area, and school wasn’t taken very seriously: unless you were bright, most of the teachers weren’t very interested and that rubbed off on the rest of us,” he recalls. This less than ideal learning culture meant Jonathan left school without English and maths qualifications, which severely restricted his options when it came to finding work. But his experience made him an excellent candidate to run the Learn4U centre when it opened in 2008, since he knew the majority of his colleagues had ended up in the same boat. Assessing his own Skills for Life when he trained as a ULR reminded him how his co-workers would need courage and commitment to return to learning.

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ULR of the Year «

Photos: Jon Super

“I did my own initial assessment of my literacy and numeracy at the start of my ULR training: it was a big sweat because I’d never done a test in that kind of environment,” he recalls. That’s why he determined that he would do everything he could to make the Learn4U centre feel light years away from the school classrooms that had proved to be such negative environments for him and for so many of his colleagues. “I put a lot of my experience into the work I do, and I try to put myself in the position where I can think how other people might feel, which is why I try to create a relaxed atmosphere in the learning centre that’s nothing like school,” he says.

“What I find exciting is that learning has now become the norm: if people want to learn, they can just come in to the centre.”

Jonathan aims to create a relaxed environment in the learning centre that’s nothing like school

“If you’ve got someone who’s in his 50s with no qualifications and you try to engage them with English and maths, it needs to be in an environment where they feel relaxed – and I think we’ve cracked that, because our learners have achieved more than 150 Skills for Life qualifications.” He’s impressed at the response on the shopfloor, especially the way more and more people are taking the opportunities to improve their lives at home as well as at work. “One lad who came in here pulled me to one side (because people are embarrassed when they want help with English and maths) and he said he wanted to do some maths,” Jonathan recalls. “I always ask people why they want to study and he said he wanted to help his daughter who was only six months old at the time: he was thinking ahead, and helping people with those kind of basic skills is a real important one for me.” Jonathan says that workers who improve their Skills for Life at the centre can also boost their performance in the company’s SHL testing programme, which United Biscuits uses to test problem-solving, communications skills and creativity on the shopfloor. “If you don’t possess the basic English and maths skills, you’re not going to get through the SHL testing, and that will have a major impact on your progress and your earnings here,” he explains. The centre allows workers to take practice tests to familiarise themselves with the approach so that they don’t blow the real thing. Promoting learning has helped grow the union onsite, he says. “We had quite a high density of union members here anyway but we’ve been able to get more people through the centre, and we’re now signing up agency workers into USDAW as well.” The branch, which has been supportive of the project from day one, is now backing plans to hold a ‘union day’ in the canteen this autumn to highlight all the benefits of union membership to the workforce, and make another push to recruit more learners. Jonathan is proud of the way learning has changed from ‘added extra’ to part of everyday life in the factory. “What I find exciting is that learning has now become the norm: if people want to learn, they can just come in. And it’s not dependent on me: if I were to step aside, I’m quite confident this would continue.”

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» News

Heathrow learners cleared for take-off Photo: Marley Showler

CWU General Secretary Billy Hayes (left) and ULR Parminder Kaur help launch the new Royal Mail Heathrow learning centre

Communications union CWU has opened a brand new onsite learning centre at the Royal Mail Heathrow Worldwide Distribution Centre (HWDC) with the support of the Union Learning Fund (ULF) and the company. CWU learning rep Parminder Kaur persuaded management to let her turn a defunct shop near the cafeteria

into a dedicated learning centre for the 1,600 staff, wiring it for broadband and installing laptops with the help of its ULF grant. More than 200 HWDC workers were already studying through the union onsite, but the new facilities mean learners have a permanent home in which to pursue all aspects of their development. “I am confident in the future we

will bring even better and more varied courses that everyone will benefit from,” Parminder told the official opening ceremony in September. CWU South East Regional Learning Project Worker Joe Showler said Parminder had done excellent work to establish a learning culture at HWDC. “It is a large, multi-cultural workforce and Parminder has created good relations through the courses in English, maths and computer skills and by putting on social events, such as trips to Weymouth,” Joe said. HWDC Head of International Communications Bob Lawrence said he was delighted to continue the close partnership work with the union on the learning agenda. “The HWDC management team have always been fully supportive of the CWU ULRs based at HWDC and believe that the opening of our new HWDC learning centre will enable the learning reps to continue with the excellent work they are already doing to promote lifelong learning for all members of the HWDC community,” he said.

Web resource helps engineers find work

The national web-based Talent Retention Solution (TRS) will help match skilled employees facing redundancy to advanced manufacturing and engineering companies that are recruiting new staff. TRS is the outcome of joint work by the Skills and Jobs Retention Group (SJRG) and Sector Skills Council Semta to help defence engineers struggling to find work in the current economic climate. “This new web-based talent retention system will assist businesses in the high-growth

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engineering and manufacturing sector to recruit the staff they need to compete successfully in the international market,” says Allan Cook, who chairs both Semta and the SJRG. “With leading companies like Nissan and Siemens partnering with Semta, we have true employer ownership to solve a problem affecting the public and private sectors and the talented people they employ.” Major employers including Rolls Royce, Airbus, Siemens and Nissan have already signed up for the scheme, which aims to have recruited 1,500 employers of all sizes by the time it goes live. “Nissan is currently recruiting for up to 200 new engineers and maintenance technicians at our Sunderland plant and we see the Talent Retention Solution as a

Photo: Mark Pinder/

A new web-based recruitment system to help defence and aerospace workers find new jobs in advanced manufacturing and engineering companies will become fully operational early in the new year.

Defence and aerospace workers will be able to find engineering jobs more easily through the Talent Retention Solution

valuable source of potential new employees who could fill these posts,” says Colin Lawther, Nissan vice-president for production engineering in Europe.

>> Visit:

News «

Jobless youth fear for the future Photo: Philip Wolmuth/

Opening doors to more black trainees Unions, employers and government must work together to encourage more Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) youngsters into apprenticeships, unionlearn Director Tom Wilson told a conference in September.

who chaired a panel of experts, said radical action was needed to end the labour market marginalisation of the BME community. “The TUC will be impressing upon government that it must inject cash into the apprenticeship programme to ensure that BME young people can find a quality route into the workforce,” he said. The conference highlighted a number of specific initiatives aimed at encouraging more BME young people to take the apprenticeship route, including: ❚ A scheme encouraging Muslim families to let their daughters find work that provides tailor-made training and support for the young women. ❚ Telecoms giant BT marketing its sought-after apprenticeship programme to BME youngsters. ❚ A Leicestershire college offering nine-yearold primary school pupils a taste of the workplace and information on apprenticeships.

Almost half of BME young people are not in employment, education or training, and while 22 per cent of school pupils are from BME communities, the figure drops to only 8 per cent of apprentices. “Many of the areas hit by the recent riots are also areas of high unemployment among BME youth: too many of these young people are being shut out of the labour market,” Tom told the unionlearn SERTUC conference Apprenticeships For All. “We are here today to see how unions, employers, government agencies and local communities can make a special effort to get BME young people interested in quality apprenticeships.” TUC Race Equality Policy Officer Wilf Sullivan,

Usdaw learning reps at the Tesco Extra in Hastings celebrated the Six Book Challenge at the store in September by presenting everyone who took part this year with a certificate, and running a raffle where the top prize was an Amazon Kindle e-reader. With the help of Usdaw’s Southern Division Project Worker Peter Chalklin, ULRs Sandra Crowhurst and Maura Winchester organised the event, which involved 65 staff members at the store. Unionlearn SERTUC supplied the books for challenge participants to read and Tesco provided the raffle prizes. “We are so pleased with the enthusiasm shown by learners here that we are already planning to replicate it in stores all over the region,” commented Usdaw Divisional Officer Jim Carty. He was especially pleased to be celebrating union-led learning in Hastings, which

Photo: Wanda Wyporska

Every little (book) helps in Hastings

famously formed the basis for the fictional town of Mugsborough, the setting for Robert Tressell’s working-class classic The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. “In Hastings, where Robert Tressell lived, it’s great to be celebrating the learning agenda that Usdaw is doing so much to promote: I was inspired by The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists when I left school and it helped to set me on my learning path,” Jim said.

Three-quarters of young unemployed people believe their life is being wasted, according to hard-hitting figures from FutureYou that highlight the dangers faced by those not in employment, education or training (NEET). The FutureYou: A Wasted Generation report also reveals that the average NEET spends eight months unsuccessfully searching for a job or training, and says almost half believe it is unlikely they will ever have a job or career that utilises their skills or talents to the full. The report also uncovers how young people outside education and employment suffer serious blows to their emotional health and wellbeing, with one in five abusing alcohol, one in three believing they face discrimination and one in four contemplating suicide. “Traditional methods of getting young people into work aren’t working: young people have told us that career advisers and Jobcentres were the least useful tool available to them,” says Patrick Gifford of FutureYou. “What they want is support from people their age, their families and working people they can take realistic advice from, and their ‘go-to’ destination is online.” FutureYou was launched in 2010 to give young people aged 14–25 real-time online access to support and counselling from trained peer mentors, FutureYou Mentors, professional advisers and accredited counsellors.

>> More details: future-you-neet-survey.htm

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» News

Brand new centre helps Sunderland shine Sunderland MPs Bridget Phillipson and Julie Elliott formally opened the new Learning Styles learning centre at Sunderland City Council in September. The Learning Styles workplace project, which has already helped more than 4,800 staff and members of the community access IT courses, played a vital role in helping the authority secure £10 million in Microsoft vouchers to promote learning throughout the city. Opening the new learning centre was the best way of moving the project forward, explained ULR Coordinator Howard Fawcett, the UNISON activist who leads a team of more than 40 dedicated ULRs from UNISON, the GMB, UCATT and Unite. "The Learning Styles project has been a joy to work on from the beginning and its continued expansion and integration into the workplace demonstrates the need and demand for it,” he said.

"The addition of a further learning centre was the next logical step: the ability to deliver more learning to more people is the ideal scenario – I hope everyone who can take advantage does.” Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson said she was delighted to open the new learning centre, since it provided opportunities that were especially important in the current economic climate. “This impressive partnership between unions and the city council has been very successful in achieving and promoting learning opportunities which will benefit individuals, organisations and the wider community by encouraging adults of all levels of ability to consider returning to learning," she said. Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott was equally enthusiastic at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The centre is a shining example of what can be achieved when employers and unions work together: everyone

Sunderland MPs Bridget Phillipson (left) and Julie Elliott open the new Learning Styles centre

benefits from employees who have access to lifelong learning and training," she said. Sunderland City Council Leader Cllr Paul Watson said he was sure the new centre would be a fantastic tool to help the authority provide opportunities for staff to learn new skills to help deliver the best possible services to local people.

Action plan for adult literacy Photo: Philip Wolmuth/

Adult literacy can be improved only by raising standards of teaching, extending family learning programmes and improving outreach to underrepresented groups, according to a major independent report published in September. The year-long inquiry was commissioned by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) to examine

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progress made since the launch of the nationwide Skills Strategy. The final report, Work, Society and Lifelong Learning, called on the government to continue investing in adult literacy to boost economic performance and combat the social exclusion that leads to personal misery and civil dysfunction. According to the inquiry, the government should prioritise: ❚ raising standards of teaching and learning ❚ extending family literacy and learning ❚ creating a Challenge Fund to improve outreach to underrepresented groups by working with unions, employers and community organisations. “In spite of remarkable efforts and considerable public investment, this problem simply won't go away,” commented inquiry chair Lord Boswell of Aynho. At least five million adults were

missing out because they did not have good enough literacy levels, he explained. “This damages their chances of working, and depresses their performance and that of their company, if they are at work,” he said. “No less important, it cuts them off from full participation in our society.” NIACE Director of Development and Research Carol Taylor echoed Lord Boswell, arguing there was much still to be done to improve adult literacy levels in England. “With the resources at our disposal in this country, surely we must be able to give everyone the skills of adequate literacy to help them to work, engage with society and give their children the best possible start in life,” she said.

>> Download your copy of the report from:

News «

Science centre team picks up Prospect award Prospect has handed over its Union Learning Section of the Year Award to the ULR team at the John Innes Centre (JIC), the independent centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology based at Norwich Business Park. Gill Ashby, Tom Betteridge and Sarah Tolland secured the recognition for the very successful Learning At Work Week programme they ran in partnership with PCS and JIC management last year. More than 100 people took part in sessions on everything from computer brush-up and speed reading to growing vegetables and writing a will, while archery and Pilates attracted so much interest that the team has since started running ongoing classes. “I liked the idea of encouraging people to continue learning in some shape or form, using the excellent facilities here to support them: in fact, it developed more than we could possibly have imagined,“ explained Gill. The team built on the first Learning At Work Week it put together in 2009. “In 2010 we learned from the feedback from the first event, and spread the activities more evenly throughout the week,” Gill said. “It was very rewarding to see the large numbers of people who signed up for the events and the positive feedback from them.”

Gill Ashby, Tom Betteridge and Sarah Tolland pick up their award from Prospect President Nigel Titchen

Prospect President Nigel Titchen presented the ULRs with their award at a campus-wide Health and Well-Being Expo this summer, which they had also helped organise as part of a cross-site team. “On top of their day jobs, they have put in long hours and boundless enthusiasm to help others access learning at work, thereby demonstrating the breadth of activities that unions undertake in the workplace,” Nigel said.

CBI says Yes to training, No to levies

Business investment in skills: the road back to growth argues for a voluntary approach to increasing investment in skills, which would include: ❚ larger companies opening up their resources and expertise to smaller firms within the sector ❚ smaller and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the same geographic area sharing resources to drive efficiency ❚ universities and further education colleges focusing on tailor-made courses to up-skill junior and middle managers through greater use of unitised learning and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes ❚ using Investors in People as a people development tool.

“Our report finds a wealth of good practice among employers of all sizes who are developing the skills of their staff by a range of methods including formal qualifications, but also on-thejob coaching and learning,” commented CBI Director for Education & Skills Susan Anderson. “But employers are clear that a regulatory approach, including the extension of levies and licence to practice schemes would actually hinder investment in training.” Unionlearn Policy Officer Richard Blakeley said it was positive that the CBI was joining the debate about investment in training, given that 10 million workers miss out on training and lower qualified workers are four times less likely to receive training. “While we may not agree with all of the CBI’s recommendations, I think there is plenty of room for debate and consensus,” he said. “Unionlearn is actively working towards co-investment schemes in training and we would welcome discussion on the most effective way to introduce occupational standards

Photo: Janina Struk/

The CBI has laid down a marker in the ongoing debate about investment in training with its new report that argues employers can invest in the skills of their workers to achieve growth without recourse to statutory levies.

and licences to practice.” Unionlearn is holding a seminar on skills investment on Thursday 1 December.


To find out more and book your place, please contact Zoe Molyneaux. Email: Tel: 020 7467 1273

Lower-qualified workers more often access learning through their unions than through their employers

>> CMI interview: pp24–25 autumn 2011 « 9

» Round up » Conferences Unionlearn took its skills and development message to all the party conferences this autumn to show politicians and party activists how workplace learning is helping economic recovery. By Frances Rafferty

It’s all about

progression Skills Minister John Hayes and his Labour shadow Gordon Marsden both used the same mantra at different unionlearn party conference fringe events this year: ‘progression, progression, progression’. They were speaking at events under the theme ‘Unleashing The Talent’, which unionlearn organised to spread the message that enabling workers to improve their skills is vital for individual advancement and economic growth. Unionlearn also took the chance to highlight its achievements with politicians and policy-makers, and to tell ordinary conference-goers about the 250,000 people introduced to learning every year through the work of 28,000 trained ULRs. A parade of politicians, including LibDem leader Nick Clegg and ministers Vince Cable and Sarah Teather, visited our stall at Birmingham; while at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, MPs Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna and Stephen Timms called by for a chat. The meetings at all three major party conferences made the argument that the workforce needs to have the means to adapt and progress as low-skilled jobs are replaced by work requiring higher-level skills and IT competencies. At the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, John Hayes was fulsome in his praise for unionlearn at our fringe meeting chaired by Julie Margo, deputy director of Demos. The minister said that the government was serious about dispelling the myth that the only way to gain accomplishment, prowess and worth was through the university route. It was time for those with practical and technical skills to have their moment in the sun, and apprentices should be able to celebrate the end of their studies in the same way as students whose photographs in graduation robes take pride of place on their parents’ mantelpieces.

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The government was creating 500,000 apprenticeships, he said, and was making good on its pledges to invest in higher level apprenticeships with the conference announcement of 10,000 more at Level 3 and above. Unionlearn Director Tom Wilson argued that it was vital that the expansion of the apprenticeship programme was not at the expense of quality; the brand must not be tarnished and unions would be supporting quality schemes. Microsoft UK Head of Skills and Economic Affairs Stepen Uden said that the IT giant oversaw the training of 500 apprentices a year and was working towards qualifications that would open up jobs, such as software design, to non-graduates. Since 90 per cent of jobs now required the use of a computer, the workforce of the future would need to be more highly skilled, and as 70 per cent of the present workforce would still be there in 2020, employers should upgrade the skills of their staff, he argued. “We have to get the message across that companies that do well are those which train their staff,” he said. Tom Wilson pointed out that one practical way to improve the workforce’s skills was to make employers accountable for the £5 billion in tax relief on training. At the Labour conference in Liverpool, Tom Wilson joined City & Guilds Head of Policy & Corporate Affairs Kate Shoesmith, Labour’s Gordon Marsden and Lord Glasman, creator of the ‘Blue Labour’ philosophy, at a fringe meeting organised with the think tank Progress. In a flying visit to the event, Lord Glasman lived up to his controversial reputation by proposing that half our universities should be closed and turned into vocational colleges, which would include medical, law and accountancy students, as a way to “get over the contempt” that the UK holds for vocational education.

Conferences « Round up «

Photo: Gus Campbell

Photo: Rod Leon

Labour's Ed Balls (left) visited the unionlearn stall in Liverpool, while Skills Minister John Hayes praised unionlearn at the Conservative Party conference

“Apprentices should be able to celebrate the end of their studies in the same way as students whose photographs in graduation robes adorn their parents’ mantelpieces.”

He said the previous Labour government had mistakenly relied too heavily on the financial sector and an emphasis on ‘transferable skills’: we should have a higher regard for cable layers and a lower regard for doctors than we do at present, he argued. Gordon Marsden paid tribute to John Hayes for supporting unionlearn, praised the crucial role of ULRs and argued that FE colleges and employers would have to engage more with each other if they were to respond to the needs of the labour market. At our fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham, chaired by the new head of Demos David Goodhart, LibDem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes revealed that there was a ‘battle royal’ between two government departments over the future of the careers service. Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) believed that young people should have access to face-to-face interviews, particularly in the light of high youth unemployment, rather than schools deciding what service to provide. Kate Shoesmith from City & Guilds argued that young people needed career advice at an early age and that employers should see work experience as an opportunity to spot talent.

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Photos: Paul Carter

» Feature » Higher level learning

Getting some career Since leaving the floristry trade, Unite member Janet Brownhill’s career has blossomed in the NHS. By Martin Moriarty

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Like many pupils leaving school, Janet Brownhill didn’t have a very clear idea about what she wanted to do with her life. She thought that staying on in the sixth form, let alone planning to go to university, was for the bright kids who racked up A grades in everything, not for students like her who managed only Cs. So when her careers adviser suggested that she train as a florist at Cannington College near Bridgwater in Somerset, she said Yes because she knew she could get a lift with one of her friends who was doing the same course.

“At school, I was always quite an average student: you’re distracted by other things, I didn’t really have any direction, I didn’t know what to do – hence the fact that I went to do floristry because there was a girl I could get a lift with,” she recalls. “I didn’t think university was something I’d be able to access at the time: I didn’t think I was bright enough.” After six years in the floristry trade, Janet took a break to start a family, and it was while she was at home with her children that she started thinking more carefully about what she wanted to do with the rest of her working life.

Higher level learning « Feature « Interested initially in speech therapy and midwifery, and keen to work in the NHS, Janet realised that she’d have to go to night school to get a good grade in Biology at GCSE before doing anything else. Once she’d done that, she moved on to take A Levels in Human Biology and Sociology, plus a course in sign language as well. It was while she was taking her final A Level that she applied for a job as a speech and language therapy assistant at Yeovil District Hospital in Somerset. “There were 70 applicants for two places and by the time they interviewed me, they’d already offered the jobs to other people, but they ended up creating a third by scratching together some money to make a post for me,” she says. After a year in the job, Janet decided she wanted to aim higher – and with the support of her manager won a place on the Human Communication: Speech and Language Therapy BSc course at Leicester’s De Montfort University. That meant stopping working as a childminder and moving her whole family from the West Country to the East Midlands for three and a half years, so it’s no wonder that she could feel the pressure when she first arrived on campus. “It was quite terrifying to go back into full-time education: I sat there

on my first day thinking: ‘At some point they’re going to notice me and wonder how I got here’,” she recalls. But the pressure also paid off. “The fact that I had to drop my income as a childminder and commit to three and a half years study, that helps to focus you,” she says. “It was a great experience to go back as a mature student: I loved university, I really enjoyed it – I loved coming home having learned something new every day.” It was as an undergraduate that Janet realised it was fine to own up to not understanding something in a learning context. “When you’re at school, you don’t like to put your hand up and look a bit silly in front of people, but I sat right at the front of the class and quite often kept the class late because I was asking questions,” she says. “I felt that if I’m going to be here, I’m going to get absolutely everything out of it, and maybe if I don’t understand it, other people might not understand it as well, so I’ll get the tutor to explain it again in a different way.” Her positive attitude and work ethic paid off. “I did lots of evenings and weekends of revision and studying and assignments, and I ended up getting a First-Class Honours degree, which was a bit of a shock!” she laughs.


“University was a really good way of building my confidence: when I qualified I was a completely different person from when I started.” Janet says that one of the biggest benefits of her degree was the impact it had on her self-belief. “University was a really good way of building my confidence: I certainly felt that when I qualified in Leicester I was a completely different person from the person I was when I started.” After qualifying in 2006, Janet secured a speech and language post back in the hospital where she’d been working before her degree, and the family moved back to Somerset. “It’s scary going out there as a newly qualified therapist, but it was nice to come back to a team where I knew most people (almost like coming back to a bit of a family), and I had regular supervision and support,” she says. Eighteen months later, Janet secured a new job as a Specialist Voice Speech and Language Therapist at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, and a year later successfully applied to become clinical lead for dysphagia (swallowing problems). In learning and development, taking the first step is always the most difficult and the most important, Janet reckons. “You have to have the confidence to think ‘I can do this’,” she says.

You could aim higher too Unionlearn and its partners, the Open University, Foundation Degree Forward, the Lifelong Learning Networks, AimHigher and the Sector Skills Councils have developed a range of resources to help you to find out more about the different routes and pathways you can take through higher learning.

>> Visit: autumn 2011 «


» Briefing » WorldSkills 2011 Photo: Joanne O’Brien

Dutch courage (from left): Joep van Meel, Johnny Eijskoot and Mitch van Vugt get to grips with designing their sustainable island at WorldSkills

Six teams of young people put their green skills to the test in the environmental science competition staged by Prospect and its partners at WorldSkills London 2011.

Building a better world Newcastle College won gold and Pembrokeshire College took silver in the environmental science competition at WorldSkills 2011 in London, the first union-led challenge ever to be mounted at a WorldSkills event. The competition was developed by Prospect, which has been working in partnership with unionlearn and a range of sponsors and supporters over the past five years to run the pioneering event. “The environment is one of most important challenges facing the world and it is vital that we have young people with high-quality skills committed to taking on the challenges for climate change,” explained Prospect’s head of research, Sue Ferns, who has been central to the development of the initiative. “The competition raises awareness and motivates young people in taking up careers in these areas.” Five teams from the UK and one from the Netherlands had to design a sustainable energy solution for an island community; build a

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renewable energy generator; and present a report to judges to justifying their solution and win over members of the local community. Robert Lee and Emily Athey (who competed on the two different teams fielded by Newcastle College) both decided to take part because the focus of the competition fitted with their university plans: Robert is thinking about studying environmental management, while Emily wants to do environmental science and law. Robert was especially keen because he’d heard nothing but good things about the competition from one of his friends who’d been part of the Newcastle College team at last year’s event in Pembrokeshire. “You have to have quite a bit of endurance to get through the days but it is fun when you get into it: it’s challenging, but it’s really fun,” he said. Emily, whose team ended up taking gold, admits she was feeling the pressure on day one. “On the first morning when we got all the information I felt it was too much to

handle, so I had quite a slow start,” she said. “But I picked up really well, got on a roll, and skipped a couple of breaks because I thought: ‘I don’t want to stop now I know what I’m doing’. I really enjoyed it, more than I thought I would, to be completely honest.” Richard Jones and Katie Phillips, two-thirds of the team from Coleg Sir Gâr in Carmarthenshire, had never taken part in anything on the scale of WorldSkills. “It felt very big and very official!” Richard admitted. But they relished the challenge. “It’s interesting and fun and we’ve worked together well,” Katie said. The Netherlands team of Joep van Meel, Mitch van Vugt and Johnny Eijskoot from Radius College had to overcome the language barrier in addition to everything else, but enjoyed the London challenge even more than the Pembrokeshire competition that two of the three took part in last year. “Everything was really well organised and it was nice to see how people from other countries

WorldSkills 2011 « Briefing «

Photo: Joanne O’Brien

“I’m absolutely certain that this competition will go from strength to strength and hopefully we may see other unions coming forward with interesting new competitions in their areas too.”

Netherlands tutor Ruud Janssen says taking part was a positive experience

Baroness Margaret Wall presents gold to the winning team from Newcastle College (from left): Damian English, Molly Secret and Emily Athey

looked at environmental issues,” Joep said. “The language slowed us down, but we wrote very good reports and did a really great job, better than last year: we worked very hard and we had a really great time and if they asked us again we would do it again, I’m sure about that.” Their tutor Ruud Janssen was also very positive about the entire WorldSkills experience. “It’s wonderful to see all these students who are the best at their skills competing in an international environment,” he said. Baroness Margaret Wall, the former union official for Amicus (now Unite) who came up with the competition idea in the first place, presented the medals to the winners at the end of the event. She was thrilled with the competition’s high profile, even though it wasn’t an official part of WorldSkills 2011. “In our darker moments we had this view that we were going to be

somewhere away from where everything was happening, but actually we were in the middle of it, which was fantastic,” she said. Principal sponsors of the environmental science competition were the Tec Trust Fund and the National Skills Academy for Power, with supporters including British Geological Survey, EAL, Energy Solutions, Green Collar Academy, NNL, Semta, Summit Skills and unionlearn. After the success of the challenge at WorldSkills London, unionlearn and Prospect are lobbying hard to have a similar competition as part of the official programme at the next WorldSkills, to be held in Leipzig in 2013. “I’m absolutely certain that this competition will go from strength to strength and hopefully we may see other unions coming forward with interesting new competitions in their areas too,” commented unionlearn Director Tom Wilson.

Team UK wins big Team UK won its best-ever medals haul at WorldSkills 2011 in London, with competitors securing five golds, two silver, six bronze and 12 medallions for excellence. The five golds were Philip Green from Lisburn in Northern Ireland (bricklaying); Londoner Ben Murphy (cooking); Shane Trevitt from the Wirral (plumbing and heating); Chris Berridge from Crewkerne (stonemasonry); and Kirsty Hoadley (visual merchandising). Almost 1,000 young people from 53 countries across the globe demonstrated their superior skills in competitions covering everything from hairdressing and hospitality to bricklaying and plumbing at the four-day event in London’s ExCel centre in October. Organisers ensured young visitors to the event had the chance to have a go at what was on offer and talk to employers, colleges, universities and training organisations about how to go about making it happen as a career choice. Unionlearn maintained a high profile throughout the event, running a seminar and hosting a reception in Congress House for participants in Prospect’s environmental science competition. “We need an imaginative skills strategy fully aligned to an intelligent industrial strategy – delivering the green skills, jobs and industries of the future,” TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady told the WorldSkills Leaders Forum. Business and government both stood to gain by involving unions, she said. “You get a new partnership for workplace learning and, as the evidence consistently shows, you get real performance gains.”

autumn 2011 «


» Interview » Lee Hall

Painting the stage

Newcastle playwright Lee Hall has followed up Billy Elliot with a play that explores the remarkable story of the Durham miners who took an art class that changed their lives forever. By Martin Moriarty

Photos: Keith Pattinson

Anyone who’s ever caught themselves wondering whether trade unions should be organising informal learning like art classes, poetry workshops or salsa lessons should book a ticket to Lee Hall’s play The Pitmen Painters. Set in the 1930s and ’40s, the play re-tells the remarkable (and true) story of a group of Durham miners who decided to start evening classes on art appreciation through their union. After a tricky beginning, what made the course really catch fire was when the tutor from the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) suggested that the best way to learn about painting was simply to do it. It was a life-changing moment for everyone involved. At first reluctantly but gradually more and more prolifically, the miners began to explore their own creativity, building up a body of work that was exhibited both locally and in London. Famous in the art world of the time, the Ashington Group continued to meet and paint until well into the 1970s, when a young Lee Hall first heard about them in an item on the local news. But he’d all but forgotten about that until he stumbled across a study of the group by art critic William Feaver in a second-hand bookshop a few years ago.

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“I was just browsing when I saw the title Pitmen Painters and I was intrigued: I’d read the first chapter by the time I’d got home and knew immediately this was a play,” he says. Working with colleagues in Newcastle’s Live Theatre (where he’d first developed Billy Elliot in the 1990s), he wrote what became The Pitmen Painters, which was premiered in the north-east in 2007. But he didn’t have very high hopes for the new play, he reveals. “You’re always told as a writer that no one’s interested in class any more, that class doesn’t even exist any more,” he recalls. “I thought ‘Nobody’s going to be interested and we’re going to get hammered by the critics’.” He was wrong on both counts. Since its opening run in Newcastle, the production has enjoyed massive success at London’s National Theatre, where it picked up an Evening Standard Award for Best New Play, transferred to Broadway, and is now running in London’s West End after a lengthy UK tour. What’s remarkable in all of this is that The Pitmen Painters doesn’t adhere to the standard formula where talented individuals have to escape the collective or turn their back on their roots in order to express themselves. It’s one of the aspects of the story that most attracted Lee, and makes the play all the more resonant in an era like ours when the biggest challenges we all face demand collective solutions, he argues. “All the pressing problems we have – the economic, the ecological, the democratic – cannot be resolved individually,” he argues. “They have to be resolved collectively, and this is one of the themes of the play, how you work things through as a group.”

Lee Hall « Interview «

The Pitmen Painters follows the learning journey of a group of Durham miners exploring their creativity in the 1930s

The play doesn’t just talk the collective talk: it’s the result of collaborative effort by a group of people who have been working with each other in a variety of contexts for the past two decades and more. “I went to school and youth theatre with a lot of the cast, we’ve all known each other for 25 to 30 years at least, and I think that’s also what’s made this enterprise work,” Lee points out. “The principle of how we’ve done the work is the same as what we’re trying to say with the work.” Born into a working-class Newcastle family in the mid-1960s (his father was a painter and decorator and both his parents had left school at the age of 14), Lee went to a comprehensive where his teachers inspired him to read English at Cambridge University.

“All the pressing economic, ecological and democratic problems we have cannot be resolved individually: they have to be resolved collectively.”

“They made it seem really normal that if you read books and discussed them and were pretty good at that, you should go to the best place,” he recalls. Although he wasn’t he most diligent student when it came to attending lectures and writing essays, he thrived at a university that had what he calls a “strangely anarchistic” attitude to learning. “I was really allowed to pursue my own intellectual and artistic interests and you can sort of design your own course: I think the freedom and the tacit understanding and encouragement to trust your own sense of intellectual curiosity and creativity was very important,” he argues. He remains passionately committed to the ideal of education for its own sake. “I feel that this cookiecutter, bean-counting approach where the purpose is to educate the drones for more exploitation is antithetical to me – it’s a travesty of education,” he argues. And like the pitmen of his play, Lee believes we should all be integrating our creativity in our day-to-day lives. “I think we can’t be fulfilled if there is a division of intellectual and creative labour, where some people make it and some people consume it,” he says. “I don’t know if everybody’s going to be a great painter or a great writer, but I do think none of us can live a really full life if we’re not creative.” As the play proves, this is an idea with a long and distinguished history inside the labour movement. Union learning reps are ideally placed to make sure it has an illustrious future, too.


The Pitmen Painters runs at the Duchess Theatre in London until Saturday 21 January 2012. Book online at or call 0844 482 9672

Looking for ideas? UNISON has produced Learning for everyone: a ULR toolkit for developing informal learning at work. The booklet gathers together resources and ideas from branches around the country on running sessions as varied as developing IT skills, poetry workshops, using social media, history workshops and dealing with debt.

>> Read and download from:

autumn 2011 «


» Feature » Digital learning

There’s a whole world Heather Davidson has joined the network of Digital Champions helping convince the 8 million-plus people who haven’t yet used the internet to start exploring the online world. By Astrid Stubbs

Usdaw member Heather (left) and mentor Carol Gill improve their computer skills at the Cavaghan and Gray learning centre

Food quality control worker Heather Davidson barely knew how to start a computer a few years ago but now she’s making her own Christmas cards online, to to the surprise and delight of her family. Now Usdaw member Heather wants to pass on her enthusiasm for all things digital so she has signed up to be a Digital Champion, one of the everexpanding network of people who help their workmates, friends and families get online. The aim of the Digital Champions initiative is to enable people like

Heather who use the internet everyday to help friends, neighbours and customers who aren’t online to discover what’s on offer on the internet. Race Online 2012, which is running the Digital Champions initiative with the support of unionlearn and others, hopes it will reach the 8.7 million people in the UK who have never used the internet up to now. Heather has spent the past 27 years working at Cavaghan and Gray in Carlisle, which makes ready meals for companies like Marks & Spencer. When she changed her job five years ago, she realised she would need to improve her IT skills from basic email. “The new job involved lots of inputting figures and using databases and I didn’t want to be forever asking people to help,” she says. Heather took a basic IT course at her firm’s learning centre and was “absolutely hooked” by the end of it, she says.

Ahh, so cute: Heather’s grandson featured on her Christmas card last year

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Digital learning « Feature «

online to explore She’s now completed numeracy and literacy Levels 1 and 2, applied for the next IT level and reports that her new-found skills have helped her at work and everywhere else in her life. “I was given a new laptop for my birthday and I’m now doing digital scrapbooking and made my own Christmas cards online with a picture of my new grandson: my family were flabbergasted,” she reveals. “Now I try and help people: I tell them that if I can learn IT after 27 years at work, so can they. People are missing out by not being online: you can do anything online.” For example, she says, she didn’t know where to go for her ULR course, so she used Google Maps to find out where it was. “Now I know how to get there and the quickest way without having to ask,” she says. “I’m definitely not frightened to do anything online now. Nothing scares me about it. Now I just want to encourage more people to do it too.”

Heather was recruited into learning about computers by her Usdaw Branch Secretary Carol Gill, who helps run the company’s learning centre and is now also a ULR. Like Heather, Carol had little experience of computers when she first came to learning. “When I took my first class I was the star pupil because I knew how to turn it on!” she recalls. “It’s surprising how many people say they are too old to learn – then when they come along they have really enjoyed it. I talked one woman into it and she did the computer course and has now taken literacy and numeracy and is moving on to higher courses.” So what’s Carol’s secret for encouraging people into the centre? “We make it as much fun as possible. We have a cup of tea and a laugh. We’ve just had pension changes and people have been able to complete them online because of doing the course. People are less frightened.”

Why be a Digital Champion?

Pete now has the skills to help others enhance their digital learning

❚ 16 million of us are already watching TV or listening to the radio through the web. ❚ Households can save up to £560 a year shopping and paying bills online. ❚ Government public information is moving online – you’ll increasingly need to access the web to do everything from influencing decisions that affect your area to collecting benefits. ❚ Seven million job ads appeared online last year. ❚ You now need computer skills for 90 per cent of new jobs. ❚ Good computer skills can increase your earnings by 25 per cent.

Pete spreads the digital word Before an online course at his learning centre at First Bury, bus driver and Unite ULR Pete Slater’s computer experience was limited to social networking. So, when the chance arose for him to attend an ITQ course, he jumped at it, knowing full well the potential benefits, vocationally and personally. “What I’ve learned has had a direct impact on my role as a ULR,” he says. “I now have the knowledge to produce posters, newsletters and information that I can pass on to my colleagues and I can work out budgets and keep track of my bills. “As a ULR, I am eager for other learners to take up similar opportunities to enhance their digital skills.” Most recently, Pete gained a Level 3 Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) qualification and he appreciates that without the knowledge he gained from his ITQ course, the PTLLS qualification would have been far more difficult. “Overall the IT experience has enriched my life and I feel empowered to embrace digital learning and my aim is to support others with improving their online skills,” Pete says.

autumn 2011 «


» Feature » Digital learning

Help more people get online with these new resources BBC First Click has created new resources that will help recent beginners use computers and the internet to explore their hobbies and interests online. New topics include: Family History, Health & Wellbeing, Managing Money and Sport.

Race Online 2012, UK online centres and the BBC have got together to run the computer campaign Go ON, Give An Hour this autumn. The idea is that anyone already using the internet can pledge to give the extra hour we all enjoyed when the clocks went back to help someone get online for the first time. There are taster sessions throughout November largely run by UK online centres and BBC First Click centres, where internet beginners can get help taking their first steps into the online world. Unionlearn joined Liverpool City Council, Race Online 2012 and UK online centres to launch its Go On Liverpool campaign this autumn, with an event featuring local MP Louise Ellman, Liverpool City Council Cabinet Member for Skills and Employment Cllr Nick Small, UK online centres Director of Operations Kevin Mclean and Natasha Innocent from Race Online 2012. The Go On Liverpool campaign aims to get an extra 25,000 people in the city online by March 2012, with the help of 5,000 digital champions (including ULRs) across all sectors of the community.

Health This simple guide helps beginners find lots of useful and important health information online. What you can do: Host a health and well-being themed event and ask your local GP surgeries and community health groups to display posters and leaflets; or run additional activities.

Money This guide shows internet novices how to use the Money Advice Service’s interactive ‘health check’ tool to help people make decisions about how to make the most of their money. What you can do: Why not hold a ‘Managing your Money’ themed event and invite local organisations that often provide money advice such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or Post Office?

>> Visit for top tips, videos and information. There’s also a digital champion page to make it simple to network and swap stories and pics with other champs.

Sport This sport-themed guide shows beginners how to explore the BBC’s London 2012 website. What you can do: Run a sports or Olympic themed session and invite your local leisure centre or health and fitness groups to get involved and support your event.

Want a computer at home and looking for a low-cost package to get you started?

>> £92 from Remploy ( or 08450 268 293) >> From £95 (available to people receiving >>

certain benefits and to charities) or from £165 for others ( or 03719 100 100) £299 from XMA ( or 0115 846 4120).

Get online for less 20 » autumn 2011

Marketing materials To encourage people to ‘spend an hour’ to give the internet a go, the BBC and UK online centres have produced a range of posters and flyers to help partners promote their courses and any special events during November. These can be downloaded to print from

Quick Reads « Feature « There’s going to be much more to February than Valentine’s Day cards, flowers and chocolates when Quick Reads launches its new campaign to encourage us all to fall in love with reading. By Astrid Stubbs

Are you ready for love? Get ready to snuggle up with a good book in February when Quick Reads, its main sponsor Galaxy and freud communications unveil their new campaign ‘Fall in love with reading’. “The Galaxy Quick Reads ‘Fall in love with reading’ campaign will include partnerships with national media outlets and engagement of credible, authentic celebrity ambassadors,” explains Quick Reads Chair Gail Rebuck. “Key employers such as Mars, First Bus and P&O will be introducing ‘reading breaks’ for their employees, to enhance their skills and productivity, and self-sustaining reading groups will be developed nationwide.” All these initiatives will be given prominence by a high-profile launch, which aims to give renewed impetus to Quick Reads and also remind everyone of what the initiative has achieved to date. The campaign launches a few weeks before the next set of Quick Reads is published on World Book Day in March. The 2012 books include titles from best-sellers Maeve Binchy, Conn Iggulden and Alexander McCall Smith as well as a thriller from Lynda La Plante, books by Tony Parsons and Maureen Lee, a new Doctor Who story and a self-help guide from James Caan (from BBC’s Dragons’ Den). Quick Reads has helped hundreds of thousands of people pick up books and enjoy reading again. In a survey covering 50,000 new readers, 98 per cent said that Quick Reads had made a positive impact on their lives. "They have reintroduced me to reading: I had forgotten how enjoyable it is, they are short enough to read anywhere and don’t take that long," said one reader. There are lots of resources for inspiring new readers on the Quick Reads site, including Being Creative with Quick Reads, a short guide to give you ideas for engaging new readers.

What you can do >> Download the titles as e-Books: you

can buy them directly from a range of online retailers. Applications that allow font and text size to be changed can help readers with impaired sight or dyslexia.

>> There are special offers for

employers to engage staff at employers-resources

>> Run a Six Book Challenge. The Reading Agency’s scheme encourages lessconfident readers to read six books and record their reading in a diary in order to receive a certificate and the chance to enter a national prize draw.

>> Do something different. Try an

‘extreme reading competition’ encouraging members to read in crazy places and record their adventures on camera, or run a creative writing or poetry competition on a theme inspired by any of the books.

>> Contact your local bookshop or

participating supermarket, and ask if it could make sure it has someone on hand to answer questions about the range of books that is available.

>> autumn 2011 «


» Feature » Learning centre Railworkers and other union members are taking education into their own hands at Red Star Learning in Kent. By Martin Moriarty

Photos: Jess Hurd/

Letting your fingers do the talking

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When the old Red Star railway parcels operation was swallowed up by courier company Lynx in 1999, what used to be its office just outside Chatham station in Kent became something of a glorified dumping ground. Not any more. Five years ago, the three rail unions RMT, Aslef and TSSA cleared out all the rubbish, gave the rooms a bit of a makeover and re-opened as a new learning centre for staff working for the Southeastern rail company. Jointly run by the rail unions in partnership with Southeastern, Red Star Learning offers a range of mostly informal courses to railworkers and their families, with digital photography and British Sign Language proving most popular. “The majority of courses tend to be informal: that seems to be the way people like to learn,” says RMT Development Worker Ivor Riddell, during a break from teaching a British Sign Language course at the centre. Digital photography is a case in point. Not long after it opened, the centre ran a couple of photography courses designed by Lewisham College, but learner feedback suggested the approach was too academic and not interactive enough. Now Ivor runs the courses himself – and he takes a very hands-on approach. After introducing learners to how cameras work and what makes a good picture, he sends them out of the centre for an hour to start photographing by themselves. When they return, he shows them how to transfer the images to a computer for editing and how to burn them onto a disc they can take home. “It’s very basic stuff: we’re not going to teach them to be David Bailey, but we take them through what they need so they can start learning themselves, and the courses have been really successful,” he explains. In fact, the courses have helped bring on so much talent that the centre ran a photography competition during Adult Learners’ Week this year, with the best of the 36 entries on display revealing a remarkable variety (and only two pictures of trains). Most of the courses might be non-accredited, but they’re all extremely effective. In fact, you could safely say that many railworkers have changed their lives as a result of visiting Red Star Learning.

Learning centre « Feature « “There’s one guy who hadn’t read a book since he left school so I gave him a copy of Ricky Tomlinson’s Quick Read,” says Ivor. When I saw him six weeks later he said, ‘I hate you – that book’s started me off again and now I can’t stop reading!’” What makes the story even sweeter is that he was reading with his kids for the first time. Andy Green is another Red Star success story. Andy came looking for help when he decided to try to return to work after long-term illness: he was terrified of the prospect of the written assessment in the application process, especially since he hadn’t had a job interview in 30 years. At Ivor’s suggestion, he tried a mock assessment at the centre: it took him several hours to finish and showed he needed a lot of help with his English and maths. But with Skills for Life support from the centre over the following weeks, Andy was eventually able to finish a mock assessment with 10 minutes to spare and get a passing grade. When he did the same on the day of the real thing, he was so chuffed with his results that he headed straight back to the centre to spread the good news. Ivor happened to be in the middle of a meeting with the extremely old-school director of human resources, Nigel Cotton, when Andy burst in celebrating his success with the kind of Anglo-Saxon you don’t usually come across in a literacy test. “It frightened the life out of Nigel but he saw the funny side of it,” Ivor laughs.

RMT lead ULR Caroline Goodwin (right) teaches some basic BSL words

“When you step back and take stock, you see we’ve done quite a lot over the past five or six years: Red Star Learning is a little jewel in the crown.”

Ivor Riddell (left) has shared his sign language skills with dozens of learners at the centre, which also hosts TUC Education courses (right)

Now Andy’s one of the best ambassadors for the centre and for the union, Ivor adds. “He goes out there and he’s sold on the RMT – he thinks we’re the best thing since sliced bread – and he’ll tell everybody else about it, so it’s very powerful stuff.” Red Star Learning doesn’t only help railworkers: it’s also currently the only venue for TUC Education in the whole of Kent, and holds courses for all workplace reps delivered by Lewisham College. Although he’d always been a union man since he started working for the old British Rail in the late 1970s, Ivor himself had never been active before he became a union learning rep a few years ago.

“RMT lead ULR Caroline Goodwin found out I did sign language (my daughter is profoundly deaf) and asked if I would do a taster session for Adult Learners’ Week, which I enjoyed,” he recalls. “And then she and Mike Sargent, who was the project worker at the time, persuaded me to take on the role.” The centre’s achieved a great deal since RMT General Secretary Bob Crow officially cut the tape back in early 2007, Ivor reckons. “It’s really coming together,” he says. “When you step back and take stock, you see we’ve done quite a lot over the past five or six years: Red Star learning centre is a little jewel in the crown.”

autumn 2011 «


Leaders n Organisations that train their managers as well as their workers improve their performance, argues Petra Wilton, the CMI’s director of policy and research. By Astrid Stubbs

“It is important that businesses genuinely encourage a culture of ongoing skills development by creating a supportive and learning environment.”

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Petra Wilton « Interview «

eed learning, too The success of union-led workplace learning over the past decade has helped persuade more and more companies to boost their bottom line by investing in the skills of their workers.

autumn 2011 «

Photo: Jess Hurd/

But it’s often a different story when it comes to developing leaders at work. Only 40 per cent of UK managers have any professional qualifications, and over 65 per cent describe themselves as ‘accidental’ managers who have ended up behind a desk through promotion rather than vocation. As the professional body for management and leadership in the UK, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) exists to change all that, and it’s currently working closely with unionlearn on common concerns about developing leadership in the workplace. “We have a shared interest in terms of leadership skills, relations with employees and how effective management can drive up employee engagement,” says Petra Wilton, CMI’s director of policy and research. She likes what she’s seen so far. “I’m impressed by the work with unionlearn supporting learning across workplaces where we are looking for greater innovation, use of technology and up-skilling of workforces generally to keep the economy going,” she says. A survey of human resources managers at the joint CMI/TUC Management and Leadership Workshop at this year’s TUC Congress confirmed some of the challenges ahead. Of the 13 HR managers who took part, only two said they had been adequately trained before taking on management responsibilities, and nearly half believed their organisation didn’t provide enough management training and development. Nearly three-quarters thought most UK organisations were not well managed; over threequarters reckoned management failure was compromising UK economic performance; and they all believed the country should invest more in management development. All that means it’s good news that CMI is working with unionlearn to ensure more managers have better access to learning. “Training and skills studies show significant increases in performance when companies have increased management learning and development,” Petra points out. Management development also has an important knock-on impact. “When you have improved management teams who understand the benefits of learning and have had appropriate learning themselves, they are far more likely to pass that

learning on and also give workforce development a much higher priority,” she says. “Effective managers do understand the need for training and to develop their own skills: it’s very hard to inspire your own team to see value in learning if you are not a role model.” Petra singles out transport firm First Group as a shining example of best practice. “They have done a lot of work to enable real career progression from employees joining as apprentices to reach senior management positions, and they have also opened up their learning environment more widely to families and the community at large – it’s fantastic,” she says. CMI is currently working with the TUC and conciliation service ACAS on a new research project logging more examples of partnership working to deliver new skills through effective management relations with their unions. CMI supports the Skills Pledge, which encourages companies to demonstrate their commitment to developing the talent and skills of their workforce, and Petra hopes to see more explicit commitments to developing management and leadership skills in similar initiatives in future. “It’s important that businesses genuinely encourage a culture of ongoing skills development by creating a supportive and learning environment,” she argues. Failure to invest in management training will hand the UK’s competitors a massive advantage, she warns. “The need is very urgent: in terms of management training, we are being left behind with the amount we are investing, much less than France and even Romania per head,” she says. The problem will only become more acute given that the number of managers is expected to grow in the years ahead. Figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills suggest we’ll have 5.7 million managers by 2017, or 18 per cent of the total UK workforce. Clear about the need to continue to invest in skills during our current economic troubles, Petra is encouraged by the cultural shift towards treating training as an essential rather than a luxury that can be foregone when times are tough. “It used to be that training budgets would be the first to go in hard times, but in this recession we have seen more cooperation from employers to work with employees, whether it’s to reduce hours or have a pay freeze – anything rather than lose staff,” she points out. “People are realising that having the right staff in place is vital: it costs a huge amount to recruit during an up-turn, so if we can keep skilled staff that does benefit the business in the longer term – it’s an encouraging new way forward.”


» Roundup » TUC Education with unionlearn

English for everyone Migrant worker Gosia Piasecka (centre) has progressed at work wih the help of First Manchester ULRs Bob Holt (left) and Stuart Smith

Unite ULRs Paul Brown, Stuart Smith and Bob Holt have worked tirelessly over the last five years to design and deliver customised English language courses for migrant workers at bus firm First Manchester. They started the programme to help colleagues who were having trouble understanding the local dialect and needed support with their English. “It’s important that all colleagues understand the regulations that apply to their particular role, especially in the area of safety and injury prevention,” says Stuart. “These key issues for the business were the initial motive for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) materials we developed to support mainstream training.” Stuart and Bob’s material initially focused on workplace hazards and industry regulations, as well as encouraging staff to become more comfortable in speaking English in an everyday context. They have focused their attention on fostering a relaxed learning environment in the onsite learning centre, where the company covers the running costs and the union supplies the computers.

26 » autumn 2011

To fit in with shift patterns, the ULRs run ESOL sessions on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings, with ‘drop-in’ sessions available most days. One of 30-plus migrant workers at the company, depot support worker Gosia Piasecka couldn’t speak a word of English when she first moved to Manchester five years ago. “I started attending the ESOL classes on Saturdays and found the relaxed and friendly environment made it easier to learn: here you are encouraged and supported every step of the way by the ULRs,” she says. “My confidence has improved greatly and I am now able to communicate without the need for a translator and I can converse with confidence in English with my mum and sister.” As her English has improved, Gosia has been given more opportunities at work, including a recent appointment to the First UK Bus North Region Charity & Sponsorship Committee, where her role includes reading lengthy charity applications and engaging in regular committee meetings. Gosia now has Level 2 qualifications in Maths, English and ECDL, and is currently taking a Preparing to Teach in

xe l p h o t o g r a p h ndall /w w w.pi P h oto : C l int R a

Language and Numeracy is a pack of publications that offer essential information on Skills for Life, including ESOL skills/learn-4072-f0.cfm

>> Literacy,

the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) qualification. The company has been supportive throughout. “First Manchester has a positive approach to lifelong learning and the senior management team appreciates the benefits that have been brought to the business,” Stuart says.

We need to talk about ESOL Public funding for workplace ESOL ceased in August and the government now expects employers to pay for it. Other adult ESOL will be fully funded only for those from settled communities on active benefits, while ESOL learners not on active benefits will have to pay 50 per cent of fees. ULRs can discuss the imact of these changes with other workplace reps and their union branches using these key discussion points: ❚ What are the ESOL learning needs in your workplace/learning centre? ❚ Are there current learners and arrangements with employers and providers? ❚ How can you map these arrangements and the future need for ESOL courses? ❚ Keeping the new funding arrangements in mind, how would you approach the employer to pay for the course cost? ❚ What are the winning arguments for ESOL? ❚ What does the union gain from having a learning agreement on ESOL funding? ❚ What are your first steps in starting this discussion with the employer?

TUC Education with unionlearn « Roundup «

Dagenham film show inspires new reps Come and learn online TUC Education is taking its programmes online in a bid to help reps having trouble gaining release from the workplace to attend training.

Made In Dagenham packed them in at the WEA London Region showing

A free showing of the film Made In Dagenham at the WEA London Region Learning Centre proved so popular people had to be turned away. The film tells the story of the Ford women sewing machinists’ struggle for equal pay in 1968 that eventually led to the implementation of the Equal Pay Act. The room was packed with union reps from Bectu, PCS, RMT, UCU, UNISON and Unite, many of whom had been on WEA courses, as well as members of the Latin American Workers’ Association (LAWAS) with which WEA London Region has a partnership. WEA branch members and work colleagues and people who had connections with Ford were also in the audience. TUC Regional Education Officer Theresa Daly introduced the film by speaking about her early memories of her first proper job in 1974 working as an assembler on the track at Wilmot Breedon in Birmingham. When she asked why she got an increase every month, the women told her it was an equal pay rise – which immediately won her over to what a good thing equal pay was.

Theresa also used the opportunity to profile the brand new TUC Diploma in Equalities course, expected to run at the WEA in 2012. Documentary film maker and author Sarah Boston, who interviewed the Ford Dagenham sewing machinists for a TUC oral history project, spoke at the end of the film on the historical perspective and some of the factual inaccuracies in the film. “Each day you learn something new and, just as important, you relearn something old,” commented Gurdeep Ubbi, a new PCS rep for the London Courts Service. “The film showing taught me that, even in your 60s, if you really want something you can get it with determination – it’s certainly inspired me in my new role as a PCS workplace rep.” The Construction Safety Campaign, London Hazards Centre, Institute of Employment Rights, PCS, Thompson’s solicitors, Unite and the United Campaign to Repeal the Trade Union Laws all ran stalls at the event. Audience members also picked up information on TUC and other courses that will be running at WEA London Region in 2011/2012.

Online learning offers a convenient and effective solution for reps who want to develop their skills and knowledge. It’s especially useful at a time like this when some employers are feeling too hard-pressed by the state of the economy to grant release for reps to attend courses in person. The online course structure aims to suit the needs of both the reps and their employers. For more information and for a list of available courses visit: This autumn, TUC Education launches an innovative addition to its online training programme in the form of bite-sized e-learning. Each module is under an hour long and is designed to provide brief summaries of topics such as the changes to the sick note and new paternity rights. By compiling these highly digestible and easy-towatch modules, TUC Education is hoping to keep reps up to date with learning that they can access quickly and conveniently. The modules include the use of video and interactive technology such as a fun online quiz. They are available on: In addition, the TUC is at the forefront of a new European project for Developing e-Learning Tools for Trade Union Education (DeLTTUE). The project aims to produce innovative tools, strategies and good practice guidance to support the development of online learning within European trade union education. It involves partners from Sweden, Finland, Bulgaria and Greece as well as others in the UK. The results of the project will be shared through conferences, events and workshops, with the first conference taking place in Brussels. For more information, visit or

autumn 2011 «


» Roundup » TUC Education with unionlearn

Debbie Wooley’s dad died when she was five and her mum didn’t cope well. Teachers at her primary school helped a lot and Debbie was top of the class, but all that changed when she went to secondary school and she found herself falling behind and hating school. A stint at college didn’t help and Debbie left, finally getting a job as a production worker with BAE Systems in Radway Green near Crewe – a job she’s held for 29 years. Debbie came back into contact with education when she decided to become a health and safety rep for her union, Unite. “I needed the training to do the job properly,” she says. “And it was great, so relaxed, so different from school. You are not on your own, you are part of a team.” Since then she has taken not only Stage 1 and 2 Health and Safety stages but also her Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety. She’s now taking an ITQ course to improve her IT skills and lifelong learning is a constant feature of her life. With women in the minority at the company, Debbie is also a member of its women’s forum. She found herself at one such event talking to 150 people about her horse, Bee, who, in a moving parallel to Debbie’s educational experience, was neglected but, with support and training, has gained a new-found confidence.

Women map way forward at summer school The Trade Union Education Women’s Summer School more than fulfilled the expectations of its participants. The 15 women of all ages who took part had held a variety of union roles and hailed from a range of unions, including Aspect, CWU, FBU, NASUWT, NUJ, PCS, TSSA, UNISON and Unite. The high-powered programme heard from TUC Head of Equalities and Equal Rights Sarah Veale and Unite Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail, who recalled her days as an apprentice hairdresser, while Baroness Jeannie Drake unravelled the mysteries of pensions. Lots of group work meant that everyone had a chance to learn from each other, which helped create a genuinely supportive environment.

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Sessions on economics, organising, employment law and pensions all generated serious and impassioned debate and emphasised how these are all extremely important issues for women. “This course was distinguished by the patience and respect shown by all participants and the genuine space for mutual discussion and learning,” commented one participant. “The week was also a time to take stock of our lives as women and as trade unionists, to plan how we could improve things for other women, but there was also a lot of laughter.” The course also provided access to policy officers and high-ranking trade union women, who were able to speak frankly about the challenges they faced as women in a movement still dominated largely by men. A different perspective on reaching the top was provided at a reception organised at the House of Commons, where the group met a number of women MPs.

Photo: Paul Herrmann

Debbie rides to success

The horse and her girl: Debbie and her trusty steed, Bee

TUC Education with unionlearn « Roundup «

Tutors go back to school The TUC Education Tutors’ Course earlier this year brought together everyone from college and university lecturers to informal tutors in learning centres, with union roles ranging from ULR to AGS.

Equalities was an important strand of all the work, allowing promotion of the Tackling Racism publication as well as a range of TUC Education products such as the union professionals’ website, new courses and online courses.

“With a mix of characters, ages, and backgrounds, everyone was united by the desire to prepare members for their union roles.”

With a mix of characters, ages, ethnicities and backgrounds, everyone was united by the desire to teach and prepare union members for their role. An important element was to look at people’s motivations for becoming reps or tutors. By the end of the course, confidence in teaching abilities had grown to such an extent that no one doubted their own intentions. The course was intense and built up to a teaching practice, with participants asked to deliver a 30-minute lesson, which was then critiqued by the class and tutors. It also looked at learning styles; the specific needs of trade union learners; barriers to learning; and how to get the best out of group work. Some of the most interesting aspects were in learning what not to do and how to deal with challenging behaviour.

Tutors looked at the specific needs of union learners on the TUC Education tutors’ course

Prize-winning architect gives Stephen Lawrence lecture The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust’s 11th Memorial Lecture was delivered by Stirling prize winning architect and global phenomenon Zaha Hadid. Through her work around the world and her experiences in practice, Zaha reflected on design and diversity in an ever more competitive global marketplace. Previous speakers at the annual memorial lecture have included the Prince of Wales, Mayor Boris Johnson, Dr Maya Angelou,

Michael Mansfield QC and Lord Richard Rogers. While Stephen Lawrence had his dream of becoming an architect cruelly taken away, the trust that bears his name hopes to ensure that other young people are given every opportunity to fulfil their aspirations. Through its bursary programme it aims to help young people, in the UK and internationally, achieve their ambitions of working in construction, design and architecture.

Forthcoming events >>

TU Education Women’s Conference takes place on Friday 18 November at Unite the Union, Jack Jones House, 2 Churchill Way, Liverpool. Details:


Introduction to Greening the Workplace takes place on Friday 2 December at the Northern TUC office in Newcastle upon Tyne. It will consider why the environment is a trade union issue and the implications of climate change for work, jobs and skills. Contact Helen Parry. Email: Tel: 0191 232 3175.

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» Contacts

unionlearn contacts All TUC email addresses are first initial followed by

» Unionlearn Tel: 020 7079 6920 Fax: 020 7079 6921 Director Tom Wilson Tel: 020 7079 6922

» National unionlearn managers Standards and Quality Ian Borkett Tel: 020 7079 6940 Research and Strategy Bert Clough Tel: 020 7079 6925 Communications James Asser Tel: 020 7079 6942 Trade Union Education Liz Rees Tel: 020 7079 6923 Union Development Judith Swift Tel: 0151 243 2568 Business and Finance Catherine McClennan Tel: 07795 606 982 Informal Adult Learning Joe Fearnehough Tel: 0151 236 7678

» U-Net centres Helen Gagliasso Tel: 0191 227 5567

» Website Jay Sreedharan Tel: 020 7079 6943

30 » autumn 2011

» Southern and Eastern Tel: 020 7467 1251 Regional Manager Barry Francis Union Development Coordinator Jon Tennison Regional Education Officers Rob Hancock Theresa Daly

» Midlands Tel: 0121 236 4454 Regional Manager Mary Alys Union Development Coordinator Gary O’Donnell Regional Education Officer Pete Try

» Northern Regional Manager Kevin Rowan Tel: 0191 227 5565 Union Development Coordinator Beth Farhat Tel: 0191 227 5576 Regional Education Officer Ian West Tel: 0191 227 5572

» North West Regional Manager Dave Eva Tel: 0151 236 2321 Union Development Coordinator Tony Saunders Liverpool office Tel: 0151 236 2321 Manchester office Tel: 0161 445 0077 Regional Education Officer Peter Holland Tel: 0151 243 2564

» South West

» Union contacts

Regional Manager Helen Cole Tel: 0117 947 0521 Union Development Coordinator Ros Etheridge Regional Development Worker Alan Shearn Tel: 0117 947 0521 Regional Education Officer Marie Hughes Tel: 0117 933 4443

Aslef Shirley Handsley Tel: 07739 473 174 Aspect Nelly Tackla-Wright Tel: 01226 383 428 ATL Kate Quigley Tel: 020 7782 1558 BECTU Brian Kelly Tel: 020 7346 0900 BFAWU John Vickers Tel: 01132 565 925 BSU Vikki Botham Tel: 07717 805 521 Community Tom Davis Tel: 01562 749 170 CSP Penny Bromley Tel: 020 7306 6666 CWU Trish Lavelle Tel: 020 8971 7340 Equity Louise Grainger Tel: 020 7670 0214 FBU Trevor Shanahan Tel: 07917 759 473 FDA Neil Rider Tel: 020 7401 5575 NAPO Jonathan Ledger Tel: 020 7223 4887 NASUWT Stephen Smith Tel: 0121 453 6150 NUJ Linda King Tel: 020 7843 3717 NUM Chris Skidmore Tel: 01226 215 555 NUT Andrew Parry Williams Tel: 020 7380 4800/4780 PCS David McEvoy Tel: 020 7801 2727 ext 2360

» Yorkshire and the Humber Tel: 0113 245 4909 Regional Manager Alan Roe Union Development Coordinator Sharon Burke Regional Education Officer Trevor Sargison Tel: 0113 200 1071

Calendar «

Forthcoming events PFA Alan Irwin Tel: 07717 467 718 POA Phil Kelly Tel: 020 8803 1761 Prospect Rachel Bennett Tel: 020 7902 6687 RCM Denise Linay Tel: 020 7312 3422 RCN Linda McBride Tel: 020 7647 3855 RMT Teresa Williams Tel: 07881 812 244 SCP Liz Salem Tel: 01625 829 396 TSSA Sal Morawetz Tel: 020 7529 8049 UCATT Jeff Hopewell Tel: 01302 360 725 UFS Patricia Mayo Tel: 01242 253 259 UNISON Joanna Cain Tel: 020 7551 1700 Unite Tom Beattie Tel: 020 8462 7755 Unite Jim Telford Tel: 07980 874 662 Unity Gerald Crookes Tel: 01782 280 588 URTU Graham Cooper Tel: 07795 562 874 USDAW Ann Murphy Tel: 0161 224 2804

For full details of the events go to the unionlearn website

November 30 October–6 November Give an Hour Week 31 October–6 November Dyslexia Awareness Week 1 SERUC regional conference (Southern & Eastern) 1 Update on Equality Act (Northern) 8–10 CIPD annual conference 10 A day of equality and diversity (North West) 10 Tackling Racism (Northern) 12 Creativity in the workplace (South West) 16 North West regional conference (North West) 18 Voice of the Apprentices 18 TU Education women’s conference 18 Yorkshire & the Humber regional conference (Y&H) 21 Understanding disability at work (Northern)

December 1 2 12 14

Skills Investment Seminar Introduction to greening the workplace (Northern) Employment law update (Northern) Equality and diversity forum (North West)

Unionlearn’s offices are closed from Monday 26 December until Tuesday 3 January for Christmas and New Year.

2012 Dates for your diary 6–10 February 3 March 5 March 12–18 May 17 May 20 May

National Apprenticeships Week World Book Day World Book Night Adult Learners’ Week Learning at Work Day Digital Day including Silver Surfers’ day

autumn 2011 «


Resources « Roundup «


Order now from And postage and packing is also free new

Literacy, language and numeracy These six new Skills for Life publications are essential reading for ULRs. The six booklets come in a handy folder. They include: ❚ General guide ❚ Reading and writing ❚ English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)


unionlearn Annual Conference Report Review of the previous year for unionlearn. Published for the annual conference.

❚ Dyslexia ❚ Speaking and listening ❚ Maths4Us

Working for learners This handbook is one of the resources unionlearn has designed to help unions and their ULRs in England negotiate and broker learning opportunities and to support their members in that learning. This third edition has been revised to include new developments in union learning as well as changes in government policy resulting from the election of the coalition government and also new case studies.

Learning journeys – trade union learners in their own words This report explores, in the words of the learners themselves, the extent to which union learning facilitates equality and diversity in access to learning and precipitates further personal development, job progression and/or employability for learners.

new Progression pathways for all trade union reps This guide is about progression in the work that you do to support union learners. It will help you to think about gaining skills and knowledge in advice and guidance and coaching, mentoring and facilitating learning.

Union learning: adding value Summary of the report published last year evaluating unionlearn and the Union Learning Fund by the Centre for Employment Relations at Leeds University.

new Supporting learners (2011 revised version) The popular toolkit of Supporting Learners Guides for all union reps has been updated and is now available to download or as a printed copy. If you have any of the older versions please order the new ones because things have changed quite a lot. All new reps will get a copy as part of their basic training. If you are a ULR or other union rep and are involved in supporting union learners in the workplace then these guides will be a useful additional resource. Spread the word about the work of ULRs and learning project workers by ordering more copies of The Learning Rep. Give them to colleagues at work, learners and anyone interested in union learning.

Scan this code to go straight to the link for The Learning Rep mailing list or to order additional copies.

The Learning Rep - Autumn 2011  

Lee Hall on the lessons of the pitmen painters, why more managers need better skills and give an hour to get someone online