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Southern and Eastern Region



The new face of union learning London ULR Joanna Szmit

Celebrating learning in the workplace

Barry Francis, Regional Manager 2

© Jess Hurd/

Adult Learners’ Week and Learning At Work Day are over after another successful year (which we'll cover in detail in the next edition of Update). They always help unions raise the profile of workplace learning, as does World Book Day earlier in the year, in which unionlearn also played its part, as reported on page three opposite. A massive celebration of books and reading, World Book Day gives unions another hook with which to attract more people into their workplace learning centres, especially with the annual publication of Quick Reads, short and exciting books which are ideal for adults who are new to reading or who find reading difficult. A couple of months after World Book Day, Adult Learners’ Week helps inspire thousands of people to see what learning could do for them, offering them the chance to catch up on skills they’ve missed out on in the past, or develop themselves for the future. And it always successfully raises the profile of adult learning through media campaigns, conferences and parliamentary activity pulled together by NIACE, the adult learning organisation. Learning At Work Day has been run by the Campaign for Learning for the past decade as part of Adult Learners’ Week and unionlearn has always offered its support. It’s the biggest annual celebration of workplace learning, in which hundreds of union learning projects (among others) stage fun and interesting events to help encourage more members and potential members to take those crucial first steps towards gaining new skills they can use at work and at home. This year’s overall theme of Skilled For Success could not be more timely, with the recession making greater investment in training and development a top priority, and the Government offering more money and greater flexibility for training through Train to Gain. We’re proud that the Learning At Work Day funds established in London, the SouthEast and East of England helped unions organise 265 events this year, and we know that all of them played their part in raising the profile of workplace learning at this very important time.

Apprenticeships help young people feel valued at work, says BT’s Rekisha Lewis

Training the next generation Record numbers of people started apprenticeships last year, record numbers completed their training, and the adult apprenticeship programme has proved a runaway success, Learning and Skills Council National Director of Apprenticeships David Way told an Apprenticeships Ambassadors Network event at Congress House in February. “There’s a broad political consensus that we need to grow apprenticeships,” he said. “A major re-positioning of apprenticeships is vital for young people and the economy.” Compass Group UK & Ireland Managing Director Ian ElMokadem pointed out that research by Warwick University for the Apprenticeships Ambassadors Network revealed that all employers are reporting a good payback on their investment in young people. “Employers in our sector say the payback is pretty quick; in engineering, there’s more to learn but even there the payback comes in two to three years,” he said. “If there’s one message to take away it’s that apprenticeships make sound business sense – as far as I’m concerned, it’s a no-brainer.” BT Openreach apprentice Rekisha Lewis told the event that even though she left school as recently as 2000, apprenticeships weren’t discussed by teachers and careers advisers at the time. “Apprenticeships makes you passionate about the work you do and the company you work for because you know they’ve invested in you and you very much feel valued,” she pointed out. The TUC has published a new guide to help union reps encourage more employers to take on apprentices. You can download Apprenticeships Are Union Business from:

World-renowned author Kate Mosse got the chance to find out about the successful learning partnership between Portsmouth City Teaching Primary Care Trust (PCT) and its trade unions when she launched her Quick Read The Cave on World Book Day.

© Rod Leon

Kate’s 2006 novel Labyrinth was number one in the UK paperback charts for six months, selling over 1.5 million copies, and was followed by Sepulchre last year. PCT Chief Executive Tracy Sanders was delighted that such a big name in literature was supporting the work of the PCT’s union learning reps in St James’ Hospital in the city. “The ULRs have made a huge difference in motivating staff to take on new challenges and in sign-posting people to the right course for them and the funding available: as a teaching PCT, learning is a core aspect of what we do,” Tracy commented. Unionlearn Regional Manager Barry Francis said the PCT’s excellent relationship with the trade unions was bringing real benefits to staff, by increasing their skills, and also to the PCT itself, by developing talent within its ranks. “By empowering staff to return to learning, union learning reps are really helping people to change their lives through education,” he said.

Quick Read, big payoff

Sherrie revealed that she’d left school without any qualifications and the only further education she’d had was a brief stint at acting school. “This made me feel left out and a bit of a second class citizen” she said. “But now I’ve written The Tannery for Quick Reads and shown that I have something in me to say: I’ve got it out and on paper and I want to encourage you all to do the same.” She was speaking alongside unionlearn Director Liz Smith, Further Education Minister Siôn Simon and London First Bus Managing Director Adrian Jones. “Quick Reads are making a huge difference helping people to improve

© Jess Hurd/

Union learners and ULRs at First Bus got the chance to meet Coronation Street and Loose Women star Sherrie Hewson when the Quick Reads author marked World Book Day at the London bus company’s Westbourne Park depot.

their reading skills, their confidence and their job prospects as well as helping their families,” the minister said. “The project is an impressive partnership between the book trade, education, libraries, unions and employers, and puts adults on the path to accessing more formal learning.” First takes workforce learning and development very seriously, working closely with Unite the union over the

past five years to launch over 50 learning centres around the UK, all of which use Quick Reads alongside other learning resources to help deliver vocational and non-vocational courses for First employees. To date, more than 60,000 learner visits have been recorded and more than 9,300 vocational qualifications been awarded.


Feature interview

Š Karen Robinson/PCS

Making his Mark on union learning Mark Serwotka CV Born in South Wales in 1963, Mark started work at 16 in the DHSS as a clerical officer, serving in the benefits service for 21 years, including seven years as a part-time worker to enable him to look after his children. After holding a wide range of lay elected union positions, including being responsible


for employment tribunal cases, he was a rank-and-file branch secretary from the DSS Sheffield branch of PCS when he unexpectedly won the union’s general secretary election in December 2000 (he was re-elected for a second term in 2005). Regarded as one of the new breed of

elected general secretaries emerging in the British trade union movement, Mark is on the left, and is a passionate believer in public services. He is married to Ruth and has two children, Rhys and Imogen.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka explains why union learning is a top priority You left full-time education as a teenager in the 1970s. Was school a positive experience overall for you? School was not a positive experience for me. Like a lot of my contemporaries, I wanted to leave and get a paid job as soon as possible. In the years that followed I did regret that and wanted to return to full-time education. But by then I was in a low-paid Civil Service job and couldn’t afford it: the opportunities offered by unionlearn were not around then.

What was the most important thing you learned on the union education courses you took as a lay member and activist?

support ULRs and make sure that their work is part of the mainstream work of the union. We are also increasingly negotiating on learning and skills issues (including the recommendations from the Leitch report on skills) with our employers and with the Sector Skills Councils that cover our area. We have learning agreements with a wide range of employers. We are currently negotiating a framework agreement on apprentices in government departments and agencies to help protect our members’ jobs and terms and conditions, to allow existing staff to re-skill through an apprenticeship, and to ensure that the apprentices get the best possible training and support.

Until relatively recently, there were not that many education courses being run for lay branch reps. On the courses I was able to attend, I did benefit greatly from the discussions that took place with other activists on the common problems we faced.

PCS has mainstreamed learning and embedded ULRs into union structures. How do you think the development of workplace learning has helped strengthen the union during the last decade or so?

You made the unusual leap from the shopfloor direct to the general secretary’s office. Did the union education courses you had been on help you make that transition?

We now have 1,400 ULRs and are recruiting and training about 200 every year. We know that the role of ULR has brought in a lot of new people to union activity: 43 per cent of our ULRs are new activists. Of these, 19 per cent go on to take up other roles in the union. This new layer of union activists can only strengthen the union. As well as the brilliant job they do in helping members get access to learning, our ULRs also bring thousands of people into contact with the union, many for the first time – in our previous Union Learning Fund project, 16,500 people took part in PCS learning events/briefings organised by ULRs. Our ULRs are also making a big contribution to the wider work of the union – for example, many ULRs play a leading role in our campaigns on pay and job security and in our campaign against the fascist right.

To be honest, I don’t think that any training course could have prepared me for that! It was the experience of being an activist for 20 years that was essential. I was determined, however, to do what I could to promote union learning. So, in an indirect way, the experience I had of union education did help me when I became General Secretary.

What are the major learning initiatives currently underway in PCS? We have major Union Learning Fund projects underway in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A key element of these is to recruit and

You were unable to speak at last year’s unionlearn SERTUC conference at the last moment: what would have been your key message to learning activists? My first point would have been to congratulate the ULRs in the region on the excellent work they are doing to help union members develop the skills they need to get on at work and to lead fulfilling lives. My second point would have been to remind the ULRs that they are union learning representatives and that if this excellent work is to continue through what may be difficult times ahead, it has to be part of the core work of the union. The leadership in unions has a responsibility to embed and support this work. But this will be easier if ULRs continue to work closely with their branches and continue to take part in the wider organizing and campaigning work of the union.

What’s the most important next step you’d like to see the Government take to strengthen workplace learning? ULRs have a statutory right to paid time off to perform their duties and to talk to their members. There isn’t a similar right for members to talk to their ULRs. The current Time to Train proposals will give individuals the right to raise training issues with their employer, but there isn’t a right for unions to deal with this collectively, to negotiate on training on behalf of their members. Learning and skills is not an issue that employers are obliged to negotiate on. I would like to see the Government further recognise the key role of unions in increasing the skills levels of the workforce by giving members the right to paid time off to talk to ULRs and by giving the unions the legal right to negotiate on learning and skills. 5

Celebrating ULRs

Photos © Jess Hurd/

Unite ULR Joanna Szmit helps promote workplace learning with Metroline Head of Training Neil Colston (left) and ULR Tom O'Callaghan (right and below with MBE)

Two union learning reps at West London bus company Metroline hit the headlines for their contributions to workplace learning earlier this year.

They’re queuing up to honour bus Veteran ULR Tom O’Callaghan travelled to Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE for his services to lifelong learning in the transport industry in March. Then just a few weeks later, one of the newest learning reps on Tom’s team, Joanna Szmit, was chosen as the face of the nation’s ULRs when unionlearn hit its target of training 22,000 a year ahead of schedule. Tom was one of the founders of Learning on the Move, the learning project at the bus company which has helped hundreds of staff gain 2,000-plus accreditations between them over the past decade. Picking up the honour was not the first time Tom has mixed it with establishment big names: on World Book Day last year, he drove the Learning on the Move learning bus through the gates of Downing Street, where he was one of several Metroline learners and ULRs who took tea with the Prime Minister and Skills Secretary John Denham. “I see the MBE as something to help me to champion the learning cause even more. I see what I do as helping people who want to be helped – it’s not an achievement, it’s what everyone should do,” Tom said. “In a time of recession, more and more training is what will be required and Learning on the Move can be part of that.” 6

Metroline Chief Operating Officer Sean O’Shea was quick to offer his congratulations: “Tom’s enthusiasm and commitment to Learning on the Move has now been recognised at the highest levels within the country and for this he should be rightfully proud.” And TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said he was delighted to hear about the award (as was the entire unionlearn team): “This is richly deserved and reflects real credit on the work which Tom does as a union learning rep at Metroline.” Just a few weeks after Tom picked up his MBE, his ULR colleague Joanna Szmit (known to everyone as Asia, pronounced Asha) was chosen to represent the 22,000 ULRs unionlearn has trained – one year ahead of schedule. Unite ULR Asia, who arrived in London from Poland five years ago, is a single mother but finds time to help colleagues at the Perivale bus garage further their

Joanna surveys the Westminster reception celebrating 22,000 ULRs getting trained

Marking World Book Day in East Anglia Prospect union learning reps Sonja van Leeuwen and Silke Kroeger organised a very successful event to celebrate World Book Day in March at the Cefas scientific research and advisory centre in Lowestoft, Suffolk.

learning ambitions and increase their skills. She is also a vital link to her countrymen and women throughout the company and feels she has a real role in helping to create and maintain social cohesion. “I’m very happy and very proud to represent the 22,000 trained ULRs,” she says. “When I came here from Poland I couldn’t believe I’d be doing this, but with the support of my union and fellow ULRs, I have, like many others, gained new and valuable skills.” Congratulating Joanna, unionlearn Regional Manager Barry Francis, said he was “delighted” that the ULR chosen to represent the 22,000 trained across the country came from the Southern and Eastern region and “extremely proud” of all the union learning reps who have given their time, effort and enthusiasm to help others to engage with learning.

Over 100 staff took part in the first event of its kind at the executive agency, which gave the union the chance to introduce the learning agenda and recruit new members. Activities included a book-swap which helped ‘re-home’ over 100 titles on the day, a quiz to test literary knowledge and the launch of a creative writing competition, while a stall run by The Book People sold over £1,000 worth of books (resulting in a £130 donation to lifeboats charity RNLI). But for many participants the highlight of the event was the arrival of Dr Who author and script editor Terrance Dicks. The author of two Doctor Who Quick Reads (Made Of Steel and Revenge of the Judoon), as well as over 60 other Dr Who books, Terrance also worked on the television series during the 1970s and ‘80s.

company ULRs “Here in the Southern and Eastern region, trade unions and ULRs have supported tens of thousands of local people in the workplace to learn, progress and change their lives – this is a great example of what the trade union movement can do to fight social inequality, through empowering workers to aspire to the best.” DIUS Secretary of State John Denham, who presented Joanna with an award at a Westminster reception to mark the training achievement, congratulated the unions on successfully reaching their target. “This is a fantastic return on the Government’s investment in union learning – keep up the good work and train many more,” he said. Dr Jan Mockrzycki, the Vice Chairman of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain who also attended the Westminster reception to mark the ULR milestone, said the recognition of Joanna’s work was a real sign of how Poles have integrated and contributed to British society. “Taking on a volunteer role like this, to help not just her fellow Poles, but other employees at Metroline, is fantastic, and I congratulate her and her union Unite on receiving this award,” Jan said.

Prospect Project Development Worker Nikki Simpson introduces author Terrance Dicks to Cefas staff

Terrance shared some of his lucky break stories (he also worked on The Avengers adventure series and the ITV soap opera Crossroads) and gave a fascinating insight into the design and production of the television series, as well as signing copies of his Quick Reads. In addition, over 40 staff chilled out with an Indian head massage, which proved so popular that the tutor, from Well Being in the Workplace, was working flat out to deliver sessions during the event.


Contacts Unionlearn Southern and Eastern Region Congress House Great Russell Street London WC1B 3LS 020 7467 1251

Haywards Heath Harlow London

014444 59733 01279 408188 020 7467 1342

© Rod Leon

Outreach offices

City College Norwich, which received a unionlearn Quality Award last year, is one of many learning centres praised in Ofsted’s new report

Top marks from Ofsted

Regional manager Barry Francis

Regional union development coordinator Jon Tennison

Regional development workers Mick Hadgraft Adrian Ryan Trish Raftery

Field workers Rickey Denton Jane Warwick Sean Ruddy Natasha Owusu

Union learning centres throughout the Southern and Eastern region attracted fulsome praise from Ofsted inspectors in their report on U-Net in April. Ofsted placed U-Net among the best providers in the country, awarding a Grade 2 for all aspects of learning provision, judging overall success rates as above national averages and support for learners as outstanding. Unionlearn Regional Manager Barry Francis, said the report was a credit to the union learning reps throughout the U-Net centres across the region that they were judged to be ‘highly effective role models’ by Ofsted. “Ofsted’s praise for our work among non-traditional learners and for ULRs proves what we have always said – that unionlearn reaches learners, other organisations cannot reach,” he said. “I’m particularly pleased that U-Net has been recognised for its ‘strong ethos to widen participation in learning and promote social inclusion’ and that success rates for Black and Asian learners have risen to well above the national average.”

U-Net support workers Sarah-Louise Lacey Phil Spry Regional education officers Rob Hancock Angela Perry

Administration Sonia Dawson Kelly Hillock Johanna Garcia Jaspal Ghtoray Emma Richards

Regional education office: 020 7467 1284


Linking together Over 80 ULRs from a wide variety of sectors got the chance to extend their knowledge of adult learning through a wide range of presentations at the ULR network meeting in February at Congress House. NIACE Regional Project Officer Victoria Sturdy gave a presentation and quiz on mental health and learning and Yasmin Miller (who participated in the BBC Horizon documentary How Mad Are You?) talked about her experiences as a mental health service user. Annette McCone from the Widening Participation scheme at Birkbeck College talked about the institution’s history (it was originally set up for working people) and explained how reps could get involved in encouraging people into higher education. Southern Trains ULR Ivor Riddell gave a presentation on how parents could protect their children from online dangers. ESOL project manager Anne McKeown from the London Strategic Unit talked about the new ESOL project running in London and the South-West. Cover photograph of Unite ULR Joanna Szmit by Jess Hurd

update - Southern and Eastern Region (Spring 09)  

unionlearn activities in the Southern and Eastern Region.

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