Practitioners come together for Local Network Group event to discuss social justice in education

More than 35 practitioners came together to discuss social justice in education at a Birmingham Local Network Group (LNG) event last week, led by the Society for Education and Training (SET) and held at Fircroft College of Adult Education.

Practitioners said they thoroughly “enjoyed being a part of a community of practitioners who are engaged in social justice and considerate of their learners” at the meeting on 18 July, which focused on engaging marginalised learners.

Led by Mandy Gutsell, founder of kNOw Limits and tutor for personal and social development at Fircroft College, one of only three adult residential colleges left in the country, practitioners were given the opportunity to hear from a range of people in an “inspiring environment”, learn how to support learners to fulfil their potential, and consider how colleges can plan for the demands of the future.

Speaking to SET after the event, Mandy revealed how many told her how they valued the opportunity to remember that they are not working alone in further education to improve lives: “Education is at the heart of transformative learning. The knowledge that comes from education can be powerful. What’s even more powerful is what we choose to do with this knowledge and how we can learn to apply it to our lives.

“By living to learn we learn to live a more empowered life. As Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever’,” she said.

SET members were invited to attend two of the three workshop sessions, following a keynote session on ‘Fircroft College and Social Justice’, presented by Mel Lenehan, Principal and CEO of Fircroft College.

The three workshops covered the following topics:

  1. Engaging survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking in Adult Education (Jane Williamson).

An estimated 130,000 people are victims of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK. Northern Colleges Free Thinking Programme supports survivors to build resilience and self-confidence, develop their communication skills and learn about living and working in the UK. This workshop provided an overview of the first year of the programme, issues encountered along the way and outcomes for students who participate.

  1. Transforming Lives – How Further Education connects with issues of Social Justice, (Rob Smith and Vicky Duckworth).

This workshop drew on data from the Transforming Lives research project to provide a picture of how Further Education can and does connect with issues of Social Justice. Presenters explored the range of meanings that attach to transformative teaching and learning and participants were invited to connect these ideas with their own experiences.

  1. A Panel with LLE (Leaders with Lived Experience) (Angela Sheridan-Hunt, Chrissy Butterworth, Jake Bird and Scott Ashmore).

This workshop provided an opportunity to explore first-hand the range of barriers the panellists have experienced to their own personal learning. They shared the range of strategies and support that helped them to overcome these barriers, the impact that studying and learning has had on their lives, and their ideas for future goals. All panellists were ‘Leaders with Lived Experience’ (LLE). This included homelessness, addiction, mental health, domestic violence, transgender and LGBT, crime and unemployment, loss, and autism.

Reflecting on the evening itself, Mandy said: “There was a lovely vibe in the room and everyone was very supportive. Luckily things appear to run smoothly, with no power cuts this time (unlike the first event we held!). The feedback from participants was very positive and everyone seemed really moved by the stories that people shared about their own lived experiences.

“I am looking forward to our next event on Thursday 12 December, which will focus on the theme of mental health. I will also be attending the SET Conference in Birmingham on 6 November – it is great to live so close to the venue, make the most of the learning opportunities, and meet with other LNG leads.”

Also attending the LNG event, was Teresa Carroll, Head of Wellbeing and Inclusion at The Education and Training Foundation (ETF). She said: “One thing that struck me in the discussions between the learners, participants of the workshops and staff at Fircroft College, was that everyone had a story to tell about how the further education system had been instrumental in their lives in removing barriers so they could become the people they intended to be and allow them to fulfil their potential.”

Read Teresa’s full blog: Lifelong learning, social justice and chocolate.

What are SET Local Network Groups?

SET Local Network Groups are an opportunity for FE professionals to meet each other and best practice. They support SET members to reflect on the Professional Standards, the framework for effective practice in teaching and education.

These events have attendees from across the sector, from FE colleges, schools, adult education, sixth form colleges, independent training providers, the charity/third sector, local authority, armed and uniformed services, offender learning, employer provider, higher education institution, educational consultants. In addition:

  • 86 per cent agreed it was an opportunity for them to network with other practitioners
  • 85 per cent agreed it improved their knowledge of the topic area
  • 86 per cent agreed it will have a positive impact on their professional development
  • 75 per cent agreed it will have a positive impact on their teaching practice
  • 79 per cent agreed it will have a positive impact on their learners
  • 85 per cent agreed it helped them feel connected to a community in further education.
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