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Learning more about the implications for the adult learning workforce at the EPALE UK and L&WI's Annual Conference 2019

Cath Harcula
Valoda: EN


Plenary session tables before delegates arrive


The Upskilling Pathways: implications for the adult learning workforce conference was jointly delivered by EPALE UK and the Learning and Work Institute in its role as the UK National Coordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL). It was attended by 120 people who came from all four countries of the United Kingdom: England; Scotland; Wales; and Northern Ireland, as well as drawing delegates from other European countries. 

It was a busy day, with a variety of activities including keynote speeches, workshops, and panel discussions, and delegates were all well sustained with delicious refreshments.

Keynote speeches and panel discussion

The keynote speeches by Stephen Evans, Chief Executive at the Learning and Work Institute, and Anja Meierkord from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development set the scene for the day, focusing on the current position of adult learning in the UK and the sector from a worldwide perspective. Both Stephen and Anja contributed to the panel discussion, answering questions that delegates had on a range of topics touched on in the speeches. They were joined by Gina Ebner from the European Association for the Education of Adults.



For the first workshop session I attended a very interesting workshop about health, wellbeing and learning in Northern Ireland. Danny Power and Paul Donaghy told us about what has been happening in Belfast since it became a UNESCO city of learning, with particular reference to the links between learning and health. Learning as a tool for tackling health inequalities was discussed, with consideration given to the role of learning within personal, education and work contexts. With the morning’s workshops focusing on policy implications, this session also explored issues with policy and how it encourages economic, political and social inequality, as well as giving consideration to Belfast as a city that is combating against this and ensuring that all citizens have access to the same standard of benefits.

After lunch I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop about evidencing the wider outcomes of family learning together with Laura Kennedy from Glasgow Life. During my section, a range of outcomes were considered, including employment progression, children’s attainment, educational progression, health and wellbeing, family relationships and parenting skills. An infographic showing a process model for outcomes based evidence in family learning can be seen below. The delegates got involved in lively discussion about their experiences and the challenges faced in demonstrating long-term impact. Laura’s section focused on the Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge – an initiative that considers raising literacy and numeracy attainment, improving children’s health and wellbeing, enhancing leadership, supporting families to support their children, and raising attainment in secondary schools.


Family Learning infographic


Roundtable discussion

There was an opportunity to “meet the authors” who had written the nine Thinkpieces that are included in Learning and Work Institute’s report “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: implications for workforce development” during roundtable discussions. I joined the group led by Dragana Ramsden about personalised learning in which there was a lively discussion about the need for workforce development opportunities for staff to try out new approaches. 

The discussion focused on how learners can and should be involved in the development of a person centred curriculum and how the curriculum has to be reviewed and updated regularly to meet learners’ needs. It was agreed that there is a need for more professional development opportunities for tutors working in adult education so that they are confident about taking a co-production, assets based approach. It was suggested that through workforce development programmes tutors could experience this for themselves as learners.

The conference culminated in the formal launch of Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: implications for workforce development.  


Laura Kennedy and Cath Harcula deliver the Family Learning workshop

Next steps

So, what were the key themes and challenges that emerged during the conference? It was generally agreed that changes to policy will affect the adult learning workforce and that support for the workforce to adapt to new challenges is essential. There is a need for a whole system approach to workforce development across the entire adult education sector. Danny Power and Paul Donaghy in their workshop supported this by stating that the “Bingo mentality” (meaning that when playing Bingo, players have their eyes down and look in!) is not acceptable. Joint Practice Development and Action Learning Sets are seen as the way forward together with sharing of new approaches and good practice.  

Further discussion on setting the new agenda for adult learning workforce development will be continued on the EPALE platform. Please join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas in the comments box below. 



Cath Harcula
Cath Harcula is an EPALE UK Ambassador who is highly active in the Family Learning sector and routinely contributes content to the platform. She has over 30 years of experience as a tutor, manager and senior manager. She chairs the National Family Learning Forum in England and is interested in a wide range of adult learning topics, particularly family and community learning.



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