Listen to the learners
Participation, persistence, achievement and progression for all. These are the continuing preoccupations of the Skills for Life community, both worldwide and in the UK, where we hear the same messages from individual learners via college leaders such as Jane Burnett ("The barriers are coming down"), right through to ministers (see the interview with Phil Hope MP, Minister for Skills).
Our special report focuses on learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LLDD). Mary-Lynne Jones is sure that, for provision for this group to be properly inclusive, it has to be specialised, with a specialised curriculum, specialised qualifications and specialised training for teachers. 'Above all', she says, 'we have to have clear leadership. There is an acute risk of drift as the strategic harness for this kind of provision remains incomplete and unconnected.' The NRDC interview with Phil Hope shows how far this 'strategic harness' is in place, and how far the Government's future plans demonstrate the leadership that is needed. It is time, he says, to review the Skills for Life priority groups, including learners with learning or physical disabilities, but he also reminds us of how wide-ranging are these groups and how varied are their needs. There is a need for an increase in the kind of specialised training and qualification described by Ross Cooper ("Workforce Development"), and specialised provision such as that offered at Lewisham College, both of which are inspired by the vision of John Tomlinson's report on inclusive further education, now more than 10 years old.
The ideas and the innovations come thick and fast. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the 2007 NRDC international conference, many of whose sessions are summarised on "A Global village meeting", was how it showed that, while the challenges faced by literacy and numeracy teachers worldwide are very much the same, the solutions are varied, visionary and imaginative. And variety is what characterises the writings of the eleven award-winners of NRDC's recent 'Voices on the Page' competition, published as a special insert in this edition of reflect. Each one of these pieces of writing tells a story in an interesting and imaginative way which captures the reader's attention. Some are poems and some are prose. All are moving, not least those that draw on the real-life experience of these writers, where they tell us something about their lives, and about the things that matter to them, reflecting the passion about writing that is celebrated by Sam Duncan ("A passion to write").
Proper research into the facts and figures about the workforce, about progression, about Train to Gain, and about national qualifications achieved are all essential, and feature in this edition, but the core message from, for example, Rachel Davies' work with learners with dyslexia ("The experience of dyslexia: some personal accounts") and the early findings of the Persistence, Progression and Achievement research reported on by John Vorhaus and Desiree Lopez ("In search of the secret of stickability") remains the same: listen to the learners.
Ursula Howard, Director, NRDC