Learning & Work Institute (L&W) has been working with partners across the UK as part of its 2017-19 programme of work as National Co-ordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning. Its report Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: the impact of adult learning in the UK (2017) sets out a compelling agenda to strengthen the role of adult learning in equipping individuals and communities to both respond to and shape the changing world around us. Further research has considered the implications for the adult learning workforce. One of the challenges that the family learning workforce face is how to evidence the impact their work has on individuals, families and communities.
The importance of family learning and the challenges of obtaining funding
Family learning successfully engages and supports families which face social and economic disadvantage. It can engage those furthest from learning and from the labour market, and offers progression routes into further education, training and employment. Family learning has been shown to be particularly successful in supporting parents and carers to increase their employability skills and to progress to employment, as well as contribute to health / well-being, and wider outcomes such as likelihood to engage in community activities. However, with changes to funding structures and differential approaches to family learning it is essential that substantial and trustworthy evidence demonstrates its value.
Family learning practitioners may challenge the use of funding and staff time to find and report on impact evidence. At a recent meeting a tutor used the well-known saying “weighing a pig doesn’t make it grow any faster”, arguing that with the reduction in funding in recent years, she could not justify using staff time to collect data and other evidence after a course has finished.
An old English saying
In the English language the meaning and interpretation of many of the old sayings has been altered over time. I found one old instance of the expression "Weighing a pig doesn't make it grow any faster"—from The Swine World (July 5, 1919) , involving a story about a child in Iowa who told his father that he wanted to weigh his pig every day. The story  goes:
"Why," the father replied, "you can't do that for we haven't any scale. Anyway, weighing a pig doesn't make it grow any faster." But the boy insisted he was going to find a way to weigh that pig and do it right there at home. Finally his father said, “Well, I've got no objections to your weighing the pig, but there's no way to do it but to take the pig to town, and you can't do that. But go ahead, and if you can weigh your pig I'll furnish all the feed it eats this summer and not charge you a cent for it." He had made a safe offer, for the only scale on the farm was a small kitchen balance that might weigh as much as fifteen pounds. But the boy didn't quit and the next day he weighed his pig. This is how he did it: First, he selected a strong piece of 2x4 and balanced it over a 2-inch plank in the barn-lot fence. Then he hung a box on each end of the 2x4 and balanced it carefully. Then he put the pig in one box and into the other box piled stones until it just lifted the pig's box on the other end. Then he took the old kitchen balance and, a few at a time, weighed out the stones, added up their total weight and he had the weight of his pig. That perseverance won the summer's feed for his pig,’
So, weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter, but it could win you a lot of pig food!
How to approach family learning development
If providers wish to grow and develop their family learning, or indeed any learning provision, they will have to provide the evidence required to demonstrate the value to individuals, communities and society, and ultimately justify the allocation of funding.
At the EAAL/EPALE Upskilling Pathways conference in London on 23rd October 2019 I will be sharing a process model for collecting evidence in family learning. This has been informed by research into the range of good practice that is being used by a number of providers across the UK. Each provider was aware that it did not have “the whole answer” but they had adapted their approach according to the purpose of the programme, the course planning and delivery that often included partner organisations, embedding evaluation into the quality process and celebrating the outcomes achieved. Methods used to collect evidence are various including the use of external companies and researchers. Providers have devised tools and documents to aid data collection and where these have been used consistently, they provide evidence of trends over time.
This weight of evidence will hopefully ensure that family learning continues to be fed and will grow for years to come.
1 Poland China World, Volume 6, Poland China Record Association (1918) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Digitized 27 Mar 2013
Cath Harcula is an EPALE UK Ambassador who frequently contributes content to the platform. She recently won a blog writing competition for her post focusing on the positive impacts of adult learning on health and wellbeing. Cath has worked for over 30 years as a tutor, manager and senior manager. She chairs the National Family Learning Forum in England.
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