Monday, March 9, 2009

Blathering To Some Purpose

The photo below is taken at the close of last night's discussion meeting. As our discussions then continue in the lounge bar afterwards, three people had already left to get their orders in. Dave Hill is behind the camera. The speaker was Geoff Bratley-Kendall who is centre-front with his arms crossed. We all felt that we had had an excellent and fruitful meeting discussing the problems being experienced in Adult Education.(Click onto the photo for a larger image).

Geoff's Kes Experience

Geoff set the scene by describing his own experiences. These resonated with his listeners as was revealed in the power of the subsequent debate.

When he was 14 he had what he called his "Kes experience". At school he was called in to discuss his future and he said that he would like to be an architect. The career advisor abruptly told him that he had only three options. (1) The armed forces, (2) Staveley Works and (3) the pit. As he had no military aspirations and did not like the smell that came from Staveley Works, he opted for work at the pit.

One saving grace was that in becoming an electrician at Markham No.2 pit, he gained vocational qualifications at Clowne Tech. The other was that with a group of his mates he became active in the NUM. It helped that they met in the Barley Mow pub.

Into Adult Education

Because of his NUM interests he moved on to attend a three-year Industrial Day Release Course for Derbyshire Miners run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department studying Industrial Relations and Political Economy, topped up with TUC and WEA week-end schools. As the provision moved to its close, the bulk of his day-release class showed an interest in moving from part-time study to full-time residential adult education. With two of his mates he embarked on a two year course at Coleg Harlech.

When the three went by car to the College in Wales, it was the longest journey he had then made in his life. The students and tutors were friends. Life was so uplifting that 40 years afterwards he still visits the College three times a year.

He then went to Hull University, which in comparison he felt was elitist and unsatisfactory. But after a stint back as a pit electrician, he moved into work as a Further Education (FE) Lecturer who taught adult education classes, eventually lecturing at Sheffield College for 21 years. When he retired, he returned to being an electrician. But not at the pit, which had in any case been closed.


He learnt that education does not have to happen at a particular time in one's life. He had seen the regular tapping of unknown talents. He saw the strength of educational provision which started out on a voluntary basis, where those studying did not have to be present if they weren't interested. He also knew he had to stay with Trade Unionism and he became an Executive Member of NATFHE.

Decline and Fall

He saw the decline of such forms of adult education as arising from the time of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Bill where the funding restrictions of the FE sector were spread to bodies such as Adult Education Colleges at Coleg Harlech, Ruskin, the Northern College, Fircroft, Hillcroft and Newbattle Abbey.

Unemployment, Student Loans, the Foster Report claiming that Colleges were not for older students, employer-led educational qualifications, education by the stepping stones of modules and certificates had all led to a loss of adult educational provisions. Some 2 million places in FE and Adult Education have been lost in England since 2005 and Age Concern point to a 24% cut in provisions for the over 60s.

What Is To Be Done?

Geoff is Secretary of the Coleg Harlech Association of Old Students (CHAOS) who have moved to form links with other student and ex-student organisations of Adult Education Colleges to seek to influence public policy on adult education.

He participated in the lobby of parliament organised by the Campaign for Lifelong Learning (CALL) on 25 February. Although CALL was only founded last summer it has gained the support of 150 organisations; numbers of whom can be found here. And it was able to mount a lobby which attracted 400 people including Marianne Quick the Secretary of the Dronfield Labour Party, who contributed to our discussions. As part of the campaign people are urged to get their MP to sign Early Day Motion 533.

The debate around Geoff's talk revealed a depth of interest and experience in his topic. To see where we go next, watch this space.

The debate continues...


  1. Geoff pointed to the problems created by the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act and Student Loans - which commenced with the 1990 Education (Student Loans) Act. I remember them well as I served on the Commons Committee stages of the two Bills, throwing words at the measures with a total of 23 speeches and 29 interventions. Those were the days before New Labour, so our front brench also opposed both measures. Jack Straw led from the front bench against Student Loans and the late Derek Fatchett led on Further and Higher Education. Kevin Barron who addresses our next Discussion Meeting and I were amongst a group of Labour MPs who had been full time students at Adult Education Colleges who then went to see the appropriate Tory Minister (Tim Egger) in a vain attempt to save the traditional two year courses. It is not now, however, a matter of all our yesterdays but of supporting Geoff and company and heeding the CALL.

  2. This thread gains a considered and sympathetic response from Peter Riley of the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Hull, see here -

  3. Below I give another link to a telling thread on Adult Education by Peter Riley. The links he provides are well worth pursuing. Whilst his Video of Joni Mitchell is also spot on in relation to our earlier items on Integrated Transport.