Cleaners called on to mop up tears

November 9, 2006

Forget personal tutors - heartbroken, overworked or just generally stressed out students at Sheffield Hallam University are turning to professionally trained cleaners for emotional support, The Times Higher can reveal.

Cleaners and other support staff at the university can sign up for training in counselling under an innovative scheme to promote adult learning.

Graham Sykes, the training manager who runs the Jump Start programme, said:

"There is a formal counselling service in the university, but when students arrive cleaners and caretakers are often the first people they see.

"The cleaners in halls of residence are like surrogate mothers. It makes sense for them to be trained informally."

Jump Start is designed to encourage staff who have abandoned education to return to learning. One administrator who trained in counselling through Sheffield Hallam went on to work for the Samaritans.

Other course options in Jump Start include driving lessons, IT skills and scuba diving.

Mr Sykes said: "A lot of these people don't work full-time hours, and this initiative makes them feel part of the university community. It makes people more likely to stay. Even those who don't take the courses say they are happy that they are available."

He added: "We have found that if we give staff training that is nothing to do with their real job, they are more likely to also accept training on more relevant skills."

Some courses take place off campus, at the further education college or at other local centres.

Jump Start, which Mr Sykes believes is the only scheme of its kind in the UK, claims to boost morale, cut absenteeism and raise the self-confidence of support staff.

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