Many workers feel barred from promotion because of age, occupation, union membership and employers' attitudes, according to a Unison survey of participants on its Return to Learn programme.
The union got responses from 350 of the 2,000 people who have attended courses since they started in l989. Courses are designed for people who have missed out on the chance to reach their full potential in formal education. They last nine to ten months, with study groups, weekend schools and "distance learning" workbooks which allow students to work at home.
Report author Helen Kennedy, who teaches Return to Learn, argues that Unison could help by should ensuring participants are given information about locally available educational provision. They could also develop systems of progression which are not dependent on a large financial contribution from the union.
Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed described the Return to Learn courses as very successful. After being on the course some 23 per cent of respondents went on to become more involved with Unison, but again a small number identified obstacles which could be addressed in union structures.
The courses have been extremely successful in attracting women, low-paid and part-time members of Unison, but success in recruiting black and Asian members has been uneven. Enrolment of disabled members has been more disappointing.