Adult Learners’ Week 2014 – what next?

19 June 2014

Just over a year ago I wrote this blog after our 2013 Adult Learners’ Week campaign, arguing that we needed to become “multi-lingual” in reshaping our arguments for the dramatic impact adult learning and skills have on UK economic growth and society.

A year on, and as another tremendous community, stakeholder and NIACE staff effort on the 2014 campaign draws to a close, it’s worth reflecting on the progress we have made.

Firstly on the campaign itself this year. We said we wanted to have a bigger, more dramatic impact, and to make sure our award winners felt even more special, valued and recognised than ever before.  At our Inspire Awards ceremony in Llandudno last week, and the national Adult Learners’ Week awards in London on Monday, we certainly achieved this.  Fabulous stories, dramatic Oscars-style events, and a real feel-good factor.

And like last year, tears and laughter in equal measure. You can review our winners’ stories here. It’s difficult not to be touched by the endeavours and achievements of Amy King, Robert Nott, Robin Hood Primary School and so many others. Their stories are indelible markers of adult skills changing people, improving society, and delivering economic improvement for the country. Exactly what we intended to showcase, in other words.

We also wanted to sustain and improve our grassroots connections and support for the campaign.  Despite all the bad news and gloom from continuing austerity, funding pressures and demographic challenges, it is heartening to see we still received close to 1,500 award nominations nationally – a figure that could have nose-dived but has held up, testifying to the appetite for the campaign, and the continuing appetite for learning across the population, notwithstanding the pressures on participation on which we continue to campaign.

The extent of local engagement across Wales through Learning Festival Groups continues to impress and has been supported actively by our staff. Local ‘Have a Go’ activity continues apace in England, this year in a stronger partnership with the Skills Show, and we have supported some fantastic regional award events across the country as well as a number of individual college and provider awards.  I was bowled over at City and Islington College in the middle of this week, and it was great to see this level of grassroots support continuing this year.  Nationally, we were also pleased to welcome new corporate partners to the campaign for the first time, including the National Portrait Gallery and the CIPR.

All of this has converted impressively into PR, which matters to show these stories to the world, with early evaluation already showing coverage in outlets as diverse as the Daily Telegraph (online), The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, FE Week, TES, MJ, FE News, Training Journal, Choice Magazine, and Bon Marche.  Local and regional coverage is also growing.  And we have pushed even harder on digital and social media as #alw14, #niacemanifesto and #alwcymru14 demonstrate.

But we also said we wanted better impact with our work on the national stage, and a stronger public affairs strategy.  Prior to this year’s campaign we launched our new website and brand to support this.  We now describe ourselves, as our Members wanted us to, as “the National Voice for Lifelong Learning”.  Our visual identity is deliberately striking and more strident and speaks proudly for our national agenda and on behalf of our core supporters.

We used this to support the launch of our “Skills for Prosperity” manifesto  at a sold-out conference in London yesterday. All three parties reacted warmly to this, making serious responses to a powerful vision for the future of learning and skills in supporting growth. Our localism and LEP engagement also continues to strengthen through this work.

Many existing and new supporters have commended us for setting, not reacting to the national agenda on adult skills and economic growth in our manifesto. The difference in the perception of NIACE is palpable and we are now more confident of our manifesto asks making headway in the parties’ manifestoes for 2015.  Plans are already in place for political party conference season this autumn to take this work to the next level.

At the end of my blog last year, I said NIACE was an organisation “with big ideas and lots to contribute to the debate on UK recovery and social renewal…[we need to] have a lasting influence on that debate.” I’m delighted that with the support of our fantastic staff who have made all of this possible, that we are starting to see the results of this in action across the country, and in strengthening our national reputation.