Mike Hedges explains how Communities First has offered a vital lifeline to people in Wales.
There are lots of anecdotes about those who left school at 16 with few or no qualifications and went on to be captains of industry or successful entrepreneurs. There is also no shortage of stories about people with degrees who are unemployed or serving customers in the fast food industry. The reality, however, is that those with higher level qualifications earn, on average, substantially more than those who are unqualified and unskilled. That is why education is one of the three main areas of Communities First, because academic success will help improve the life chances of those living in the community.
In Swansea East, each of the four clusters has prioritised improving educational attainment both by helping adults back into learning and by supporting young people with their education.
In the North West cluster the Community Learning project which is aimed at people over 16 has had 331 participants throughout the year. The project was particularly successful in the following areas:
- Helping local people to improve their digital and online skills,
- Engaging local people in non-traditional training (such as gardening including grass cutting),
- Helping local people who may volunteer with local groups to gain accredited qualifications – such as first aid or food hygiene certificates.
In the East cluster the Adult provision has included a Welsh for family course; IT courses, a community development course and basic skills (English and Maths) courses. Child care placements have been provided for members of the community in order for them to be able to attend the training courses. Some members of the community have been supported and encouraged to go to the local college whilst others have done accredited courses where they have learnt skills relevant to entering into employment
In the South Cluster a series of courses such as taster sessions, learning activities and more advanced courses leading to qualifications have been held to help boost the skills and confidence of adults in the area. Examples of courses run include First Aid, Food safety, child protection, Health and safety, textiles and ECDL. One of the learners has been nominated for NIACE adult learner of the year award.
Whilst in the North East Cluster free introductory IT courses, Ipad courses, new online courses and drop in sessions are run in order to help adults learn and improve their IT skills, help is also provided on CV writing and on line job searching. Other free courses available include everyday First aid, retail skills, photography, parenting and basic skills.
The area where there is the greatest scope for improving life chances is with family learning and supporting children in their education.
The North West cluster team delivers a Family Learning Project that involves working with local schools in the area to establish relationships with parents, who then take part in their Family Learning Signature sessions. The Family Learning Signature Session focuses on the value of education in the home and participants have found it an extremely useful experience. It is well known that children from families that do not value education perform less well at school.
In addition the Family Learning project has also operated, in partnership with local schools, homework club sessions targeted at children and parents who do not have ICT and Internet facilities at home. Work has also been done with local schools using the Welsh Rugby Union All-stars programme and this has proved to be a great way to get parents to engage and interact with their children.
The East cluster has used the Bonymaen family centre to run a parent and toddler group aimed at increasing the development and learning of pre-school, children. It also supports parents with any parenting issues they may have by offering support, advice and guidance.
There has also been a scheme supporting young people to do well at school with open access play schemes run during the holidays for children between the ages of 5 and 14. A homework club is also available providing support to children with their homework, with Maths being especially popular. There is also a scheme that encourages a learning environment in the family and home.
Communities First has been a key partner in the FAST (Families and schools together) project in Hafod Primary school. FAST is an award winning early intervention programme that brings the wider community, teachers and parents together to make sure that children get the support they need to fulfil their potential. It helps children improve their reading, writing and maths skills as well as encouraging a positive attitude to school and learning. It also helps parents become more involved in their child’s education.
Communities First is doing an excellent job in both helping reskill older people, but more importantly, promoting and supporting the education of the children in the area. These schemes along with flying start should mean that no children are left behind educationally and whilst this will not be a quick fix it does give hope for the future.