Thematic Networking Event: Shaping the Future of Lifelong Learning in the UKPosted: May 31, 2011
Thematic Networking event overview: ‘Reflecting on the Achievements of Thematic Networking & Aligning with Policy for the Future’, 24 May 2011.
For those of you with an interest in UK and European lifelong learning policy and practice, I’ve compiled an overview of last Tuesday’s Thematic Networking Groups (TNGs) event in Birmingham.
First of all, a bit of background. Hosted by Ecorys, the TNGs seek to integrate the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) into UK education and training at the planning level. They are made up of stakeholders and policymakers at local and national level (the people responsible for setting the direction for the UK) and also senior managers at education and training provider organisations, including LLP project representatives (who are ultimately responsible for implementing policies through learning provision).
Unlike most events, which focus on one theme or issue, TNGs spread their tentacles across four distinct challenges for lifelong learning. They are:
TNG 1 (Transparency of qualifications and skills); TNG 2 (Continuous training of learning professionals); TNG 3 (Meeting training and skills needs); and TNG 4 (Working with under-represented groups).
TNG 1. ‘Transparency of qualifications & skills’ is all about making it easier for employers, training institutions and colleges to recognise work, education or training experience gained in other EU countries.
There is a lot of work underway at a European level to improve this process, and in the morning session the group focused on the main mechanism for recognising qualifications – the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), which is currently being rolled out (slowly but surely) across participating countries. The plan is simple: all qualifications are to be pegged against an internationally recognised framework so every employer, teacher, trainer and learner will immediately understand what a qualification or category of experience is ‘worth’.
As you might expect, given the number of countries involved, the process of implementing the EQF is not straightforward. James Churchill from the Association for Real Change briefed the other members on some of the barriers and solutions experienced during his project as it works to get a certificate referenced to the EQF.
According to James the main difficulty is that the EQF is dependent upon the development of the national frameworks in participating countries. Whilst the UK and Ireland, for example, have had national frameworks for many years, others, particularly newer Member States, need to first develop these before they can implement the EQF. This presents a difficulty for UK projects since in countries such as Romania there is nothing to match qualifications against.
James emphasised that it is a slow process and it is important to ‘make inroads where you can’. For example, a Leonardo Transfer of Innovation project, working to get a training package accredited in Italy will need to get the package recognised by one regional authority at a time, since the system is regionally managed. For the time being, a patient approach is needed, but this is likely to improve with time.
TNG 2. The ‘continuous training of learning professionals’ group explored how UK education and training providers can make use of European opportunities. One of the presenters, Peter Hodgson is President of EfVET (European Forum of Technical and Vocational Education and Training) and Corporate Director of Norton Radstock College, near Bath. He described how his college’s involvement in the Leonardo programme has broadened its organisational perspective and improved the continuous professional development (CPD) of its employees.
To support this process TNG 2 continued discussions regarding the pilot of a series of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) tools. The CPD tools inform the National Agencies’ strategy of enabling LLP projects to better demonstrate the outcomes of their European activities, and to enable participants to record their CPD hours easily.
A successful tool has already been produced for senior education and training professionals who are intending to embark on a Transversal Study Visit and further versions are planned for aspects of the Leonardo and Comenius programmes.
To give you an idea, the Transversal tool helps Study Visit participants to plan, record and evaluate their experience in order to exploit the opportunity to the full. Not only does the tool help the participant to organise and prioritise their time whilst on placement, it also gives them a record of their study visit which they can present to their employer as part of their review process.
For a copy of the Transversal Study Visits tool, please email the Study Visits team.
The group went through some of the findings of the recent evaluations of the LLP and discussed how recommendations should be incorporated into future planning.
TNG 3. The ‘meeting training and skills needs’ group explored issues around measuring impact, validation and accreditation of European Mobility – one of the key points on the current European VET policy agenda. A critical factor for consideration was the importance of establishing sound systems for validating trainees’ experiences whilst on European placements and improving already existing tools such as Europass.
Mark Graham from Grampus Heritage & Training presented examples of his organisations’ approach in this area and the group debated which aspects of the experience should be prioritised – for example should language skills be prioritised or is skills development more important? The consensus was that both are important factors but more could be done at a national level to boost the status of language learning.
The group discussed a need for better tools for measuring the impact of mobility projects on trainees, hosting organisations, sector and employability. Mick Carey from Careers Europe presented the Euro Apprenticeship project and emphasised the benefits of building and developing networks of competent bodies and intermediary organisations which provides expertise and support to learning mobility.
“Very interesting discussions. It was great to have a forum for discussion with other experienced promoters and Ecorys around the same table. It gives a sense of partnership and a shared purpose in a diverse programme.” TNG 3 member feedback.
TNG 4 explored the extent to which volunteering can help people with fewer opportunities to develop their education and training skills. Tamara Flanagan from Community Service Volunteers (CSV) presented examples of how her organisation is empowering those who have been supported by volunteers to volunteer themselves. She also discussed her involvement in preparations for the European Year of Volunteering 2011 and shared some CSV case studies about how UK volunteers had become involved.
This European perspective was balanced by input from the UK Health and Social Care Volunteering Fund (HSCVF). Ashfa Slater and Karen Hayer from the HSCVF attended with a representative of one of their UK projects, Fair Shares, Gloucestershire.
“The HSCVF is a relatively new, England based scheme, which is strategically focused on the Department of Health’s strategic objectives” explained Karen. “We wanted to share our perspective and also to understand, from the point of view of one of our projects, how UK volunteering organisations might benefit from European resources and activities – including the European Year of Volunteering and the LLP.”
Laurence Hughes of Fair Shares presented an innovative approach to broadening the appeal of volunteering called ‘Time Banking’, which encourages people to pledge small amounts of time (as little as one hour) to give to the community. Because the level of commitment required is low, and volunteers stand to benefit from reciprocal support (time ‘owed’), Time Banking makes volunteering attractive to people from all walks of life.
The group also explored opportunities for volunteers available under the LLP including Grundtvig Senior Volunteering Projects and Grundtvig Partnerships. Rowenna Hoy and Jessica Keller from Ecorys shared examples of inspiring projects in this area.
Did you know?
INCLUSION is a Europe-wide initiative aimed at making the Lifelong Learning Programme more representative of people with fewer opportunities. The project involves 14 European National Agencies and is led by Ecorys. The initiative was borne out of recommendations from TNG4. See the INCLUSION website.
The next steps…
The four groups are currently drafting briefing papers containing key recommendations for policy makers and key stakeholders. These short papers will reflect lessons and successes of our programmes in key areas linked to the TNGs, including topics and case studies selected by the four groups. The papers will be circulated at the end of 2011.
Please subscribe to the Transversal Study Visits mailing list to receive further information.
If you would like to contribute to TNG discussions, you can do so as a virtual member. Virtual members receive bi-monthly up-dates on the work in the groups and have access to the results of discussions from the TNG conferences. To get involved, please email the group you are interested in:
Thematicgroup1@uk.ecorys.com: Transparency of qualifications & skills.
Thematicgroup2@uk.ecorys.com: Continuous training of learning professionals.
Thematicgroup3@uk.ecorys.com: Meeting training and skills needs.
Thematicgroup4@uk.ecorys.com: Working with underrepresented groups.
You can view a diary of all previous TNG events here.
View the photo album: