To review the work of the Westminster Adult Education Service (WAES).
6.1 The Committee received a report providing an overview of Westminster Adult Education Service (WAES) that included the findings of a strategic review of the service. The Committee noted that WAES offered a diverse portfolio of education and training, had an excellent reputation both locally and across London and that the review had given WAES the opportunity to highlight its work and identify future needs of the service in line with the wider City for All Vision.
6.2 The Committee welcomed Stephen Lay, External Reviewer of SLA Consultancy Ltd, who commented on the rigour of the review process and shared his professional impressions of WAES. He advised of the benefits of setting up a working group with the aim of clarifying the roles and responsibilities between the WAES governing body and the Council. He explained the importance of maintaining learner enthusiasm, securing appropriate accommodation and ensuring the future financial viability of the service. He emphasised that the WAES Forward 2019-2022 Strategic Plan centred around innovation and the wider benefits of learning to a person’s health and wellbeing, confidence and ability to participate in society and that there was every opportunity for WAES to gain an outstanding rating at its next Ofsted inspection.
6.3 The Committee welcomed three WAES learners (Geraldine Crimmins, Cristinel Hogas and Nasima Begum) who addressed the Committee on what had influenced them on becoming a user of the adult education service and their experiences of it. The Committee heard that they had chosen to use the service to develop their skills which had provided them with the confidence to gain employment, enter their work for exhibitions/competitions or enrol onto further courses preventing social isolation and promoting social integration into the community.
6.4 The Committee further welcomed Dr Sue Pember, Policy Director HOLEX, who described lifelong leaning in terms of the national policy context and key developments in the sector. She advised that lifelong learning was a growth industry and that other countries had a national Lifelong Learning Strategy. She advised of the need for increased funding for those people who had not flourished at school and faced barriers to learning and employment. She stated that WAES was an amazing service and that it needed to continue to build on its success to face the challenges of the future.
6.5 The Committee welcomed that 50% of learners were Westminster residents’ and that 80% of those learners lived in the most deprived Westminster wards. The Committee noted that the service specially targeted vulnerable and hard to reach groups to promote community cohesion. The Committee further noted that 71.5% of learners progressed to higher education or employment and that even informal learning focused on progression and job employability.
6.6 The key themes that emerged from the Committee discussion were:
· the huge difference that lifelong learning made to people’s lives and the key role it played in combating isolation, promoting social integration, good health, employment and community cohesion.
· the importance of ensuring that WAES was seen as part of the Council and the benefits of building a close and collaborative working relationship.
· the importance of identifying collaborated opportunities with businesses, organisations and the community.
· the importance of ensuring that the transition to new accommodation was not disruptive to the WAES broad curriculum.
· the importance of clarifying and reviewing the governance arrangements between the WAES governing body and the Council.
· the importance of ensuring that straight forward branding was used by the Service such as its full name instead of WAES.
· the importance of basing the curriculum around courses that enabled people to acquire skills valuable to employers.
6.7 The Chairman thanked everyone who had given up their time to attend the meeting and contribute to the discussion.
6.8 RESOLVED: The Committee concluded with the following comments, which would be forwarded to the Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Education and Skills:
1. The Committee commended WAES on its work, noting its excellent reputation with the local community and the key role it played in combating isolation, promoting social integration and celebrating the diversity of Westminster’s communities through its family and community learning programmes.
2. The Committee supported forming a working group to clarify roles and responsibilities between the WAES Governing Body and the Council. The committee emphasised the importance of having a collaborative and close working relationship between WAES and Council services.
4. The Committee encouraged that suitable accommodation for WAES be identified without delay and that the transition to the new accommodation was not disruptive to the WAES broad curriculum.