Door-to-door diplomas

November 14, 1997

Mothers wanting a return-to-work course can find it difficult to get to college, soHendon brought classes to them. Simon Midgley describes a pioneering initiative in North London

A pioneering return-to work course brought to a local housing estate resulted in jobs or further training for 15 local women last year.

Lecturers from Hendon College in north-west London helped the women, many of whom had taken time out to have children, brush up their job-seeking skills and find the confidence to seek work.

The course was staged in a local community hall while the women's children were professionally looked after nearby.

Sue Hankinson, assistant principal for curriculum delivery and quality assurance, says: "It was a joy to see at the end of it what we had done for these people. They lacked confidence and the skills that were needed to get a job. But afterwards many of them got jobs or went on to other courses.

"It is this kind of direct relationship between staff and students on the latter's own territory so to speak which is expensive and difficult to do."

Hendon is a medium-sized further education college offering vocational, lower level courses leading to NVQs, GNVQs and university access qualifications.

Holistic therapies, sports management, leisure and tourism and media studies are growing areas. Its historic strengths include beauty, hairdressing, hospitality and catering and construction.

An access programme prepares some 200 poorly qualified mature students for university entry. Students study part-time choosing one of several paths, including nursing, law, business studies, art and design, teacher training and cultural studies.

Geoff Barrett, programme manager for access to higher education courses, says that these courses are run in the daytime, but increased funding would enable the college to extend them to evenings as well.

There is substantial course provision for those with disabilities and learning support needs, and a significant information technology department.

Hendon has a large English as a second language centre for refugees and other people from overseas intending to settle in the United Kingdom, and a substantial English as a foreign language section for students wishing to return abroad.

Before incorporation the college evolved by providing courses the local education authority wanted. But since 1993 it has relied heavily on labour market intelligence to tell it where the growing career opportunities are, and on surveys of what local people want to study.

The two-site college has an annual income of about Pounds 9 million, 300 teaching and support staff and 3,000 full-time-equivalent students. The last translates into some 2,500 full-time students, largely in the 16 to 19-year-old age group, and about 5,000 part-time students.

The part-timers include access, return-to-work and return-to-study students aged between 20 and 40-plus. Students who attend bridge, flower arranging and other evening classes at the college tend to be older.

Ms Hankinson says Hendon sees itself as serving a local catchment area, although some of its students come from further afield.

Although she is gloomy about the prospects of the government being able to find any extra money to help colleges increase their student numbers and expand course provision, Ms Hankinson says there are areas in which Hendon would like to grow.

The college is enthusiastic about Helena Kennedy's report on widening participation in further education, and about the Tomlinson report on making study easier for people with disabilities.

Ms Hankinson is especially concerned to find ways of bringing further education to those, often white, males in the local area who leave school without qualifications but are reluctant to return to study.

She is also keen to reach women from ethnic minorities who are reluctant to come into colleges for cultural reasons.

One way of doing this would be to go out into the communities to persuade these groups to participate, rather than expecting them to come to college open days. This, however, is time-consuming and therefore much more expensive.

"The college would like to see itself catering for people who have not traditionally thought of education as a route for enhancing their job prospects and improving their life experiences," she says.

Once the students have been attracted, Hendon would like to expand its learning support work to assist those for whom English is a second language. It has the capacity to do more, she says, and has wonderful sport and recreation, media studies and science facilities.

But because it is funded at a rate well below that of the average further education college, it would have more difficulty expanding its provision than the better funded institutions.

She cannot see how expansion can be achieved without an injection of new funds. Hendon is already looking for local business and community partners which might be interested in supporting some of its proposed initiatives.

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