A world-leading programme to recognise adult achievement in Scotland can deliver long-term economic benefits, according to Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney.
He told a conference on the Adult Achievement Awards at Newbattle Abbey College: “We need to maximise participation and engagement of adult learners in our society... to focus on the capacity and capability of individuals at the margins to allow them to realise their potential.
“Those who have participated in the Adult Achievement Awards have grown in confidence and their self-esteem has been strengthened, as well as their capacity to exercise self-determination. This all helps them to achieve great outcomes in their lives.”
Mr Swinney said there was a broader purpose too, as it helped more people to become economically active: “I want more people to be taxpayers and to contribute to our society and make them financial contributors. That enhances us all.”
Marian Docherty, depute principal at Newbattle Abbey College, near Dalkeith, which manages the Adult Achievement Awards programme, said: “There is no stopping it now. There is momentum and the interest is clear. “We have never seen awards like this for adults in Scotland or elsewhere and Scotland should be very proud of the success of the Adult Achievement Awards.”
The Awards were launched in 2015, based on the Youth Achievement Award and designed to recognise the wider achievement of adults learners in a wide range of contexts, including the community, voluntary sector, prison, workplace and outdoors.
“There were no entry requirements and the aim was to recognise what had been informal learning in a more formal way, and to acknowledge its value,” said Ann Southwood, principal of Newbattle Abbey College. Learners produce a ‘reflective journal’ in which they record and review their learning and plan for the future. It can be submitted in writing, online, orally or with support from a scribe – and is then assessed locally or by Newbattle as the central Awards hub.
Ten pilot schemes across Scotland saw 150 learners, supported by 40 local tutors, go through the programme – including adults with additional support needs, volunteers, offenders, refugees, travellers and those seeking employment.
All 10 pilot programmes, including several colleges, local authorities and charities, have returned for phase two this year. The size of the pilot has doubled, with 20 programmes and 300 learners. Newbattle will again act as the hub, but Ms Docherty said funding would be needed to continue the programme in the longer term.
She said: “We are looking at various options to make the Adult Achievement Awards a permanent fixture. As Catherine Hamilton of Education Scotland said at the conference, the awards tick a very wide range of government policy strategies and priorities – and they are filling a gap and doing something very different. This is a unique programme and we are getting international interest in the awards.
“The learners prove that. In the video we showed to Mr Swinney at the conference, one learner who had suffered from mental health problems described it as ‘a stress-free way of learning’. Another learner said: ‘I have learned a lot about myself and it has made me hungry for more’.
“These awards can set people on a pathway to making that wider contribution to society that Mr Swinney was so right to pick up on – a pathway to employment which benefits us all.”
Mr Swinney also praised Newbattle Abbey College for its long-standing support for adult learners, including the most marginalised in society, as it celebrates its 80th anniversary year.