Adult and community learning at North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College (NWSLC) has been given a boost after the college was shortlisted as part of the national TES FE Awards. The college has made a significant impact on its local community during a challenging year in which it has delivered opportunities for adults to improve their digital skills and increase their chances of success in the job market.

The college’s Online and Distance Learning Academy has been inundated with enrolments including for those wishing to improve their awareness and understanding of mental health and wellbeing issues, topics which have seen rising interest in the wake of the pandemic.     

During the 2020 coronavirus lockdown, student numbers grew exponentially, and provision was extended in direct response to demand from individuals and employers. The college’s online learning became a lifeline across a wide community while adults were unable to attend colleges, enabling them to gain qualifications in numbers never seen before providing a vital service to people in self-isolation, and improving accessibility and social mobility by widening participation.

The provision was accessed by over 4,000 adults aged between 19 and 80 from over 35 counties in most English regions and via a variety of employers including Leicestershire, West Midlands, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire Police, Warwickshire Care Services, Cadent, and trades unions as well as a range of hospitals, care homes, schools, colleges, universities, and nurseries. Organisations such as Birmingham LGBT, Birmingham Muslim Centre, Down’s Syndrome Association, Deaf Plus and AGE UK have enrolled staff on to the courses to better support their customers.

At the start of 2019/20, the ODLA offered 40 nationally recognised qualifications covering health and wellbeing, business, administration and management, equality and diversity and warehousing and storage. In response to student and employer demand, an additional seven qualifications, including some at Level 3, were added to the suite for 2020/21 covering topics such as digital skills, health and nutrition, personal care, and mental health first aid in the workplace.

Responding to digital skills shortages, NWSLC introduced online delivery of the highly popular CompTIA suite of qualifications enabling students to gain skills in IT security and networking taught via simulations in bespoke ‘virtual labs’ during lockdown. Qualifications are promoted via Jobcentre Plus to engage the unemployed and support them into job roles, particularly digital job roles in the West Midlands where the qualifications are free to study thanks to funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Sally Denning, Director of Adult Education at NWSLC, “We are delighted to have been shortlisted for this prestigious award. It is a fitting tribute to the hard work of our teams over the last year which has been extremely challenging for everyone. We put our success down to being in tune with the market, providing course subject areas that everyone is talking about, and delivering learning in a highly accessible and flexible way.” Marion Plant, OBE, FCGI, Principal and Chief Executive of NWSLC said, “This is fantastic news and provides welcome recognition for the importance of adult and community learning at a time when college budgets are under threat from cutbacks. The demand we have seen amongst adults over the last twelve months has reassured us that we are investing in the right type of provision that will help towards the social and economic recovery of the UK. Good luck to the team for the finals of the TES FE Awards”.

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