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Lifelong Learning - Building on Success: A discussion of Specific Issues Related to Lifelong Learning in Scotland

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Consultation on : Lifelong Learning - Building on Success: A discussion of Specific Issues Related to Lifelong Learning in Scotland

February 2007


The consultation document is based on a mid-term assessment of, and progression into, the remaining period set out in the Lifelong Learning Strategy "Life Through Learning Through Life". UNISON will formulate its response, adhering to the thematic approach, as requested by the Scottish Executive.

Executive Summary

1. Engagement with Employers

UNISON Scotland's substantial membership and its ability to reach disparate and diverse groups within the Scottish workforce offers the Scottish Executive a unique opportunity to promote equality of access to lifelong learning. More than two thirds of our members are women, more than one third work part time in low paid, often low skilled jobs and many fall into the criteria of non-traditional learners and therefore reflect a very significant section of the workforce which the Scottish Executive wish to reach. A more skilled, informed and valued workforce can lead to improved productivity thus enhancing Scotland's economy.

2. Flexible Learning Opportunities, Entitlement and Discretionary Support

UNISON recognises the substantial barriers to accessing learning that exist in today's society and utilises its Union Learning Reps, Branch structure and support from the Scottish Executive to sustain and progress learning in the workforce for all employees. We believe in equal opportunity for all to access lifelong and life-wide learning, leading to a more informed and educated workforce and greater social cohesion with more active citizens in the wider community, thus enhancing Scotland's society.

3. Information, Advice and Guidance

UNISON's expertise in disseminating information, advice and guidance to its membership Scotland-wide makes it the perfect vehicle to promote lifelong learning to the workforce. UNISON highlights its unique position with employees as a trusted source to promote the learning agenda and its partnership approach with employers in this promotion. This underlines the necessity of trade union consultation on any proposed changes that may affect the working conditions and environment of employees and therefore its significant role in promotion of the lifelong learning agenda.

4. Community Learning and Development

UNISON recognises the need not only for lifelong learning but also for life-wide learning, which is primarily obtained through Community Learning, and which complements the Learning@Work programme underwritten by the Scottish Executive and promoted by UNISON and WEA.

5. Journeys Into and Through Learning

Recognising and working to alleviate barriers both into and through learning is fundamental to the lifelong learning process. UNISON will continue to address this issue and assist the workforce to return, and continue, to learn. The impetus to learn, and aspirations of those on the learning journey, need to be facilitated and supported by the Scottish Executive and UNISON is keen to be an active part of this process.


UNISON has more than 1.3 million members across the UK.  Around 160,000 work in Scotland, the majority of who are directly employed in the public sector, but increasingly many work in private or voluntary organisations providing services for the public. UNISON members include: manual, non-manual, administrative, technical, professional, supervisory and managerial workers.  They work part time or full time in local authorities, the NHS, Social Care, schools, universities and colleges, the police service, the electricity, gas and water industry, as well as in local transport provision.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive: Lifelong Learning - Building on Success: A Discussion of Specific Issues Related to Lifelong Learning in Scotland



1.1 We need to know about your experiences of our skills policies, in whatever capacity be it as a deliverer, a recipient or a policy maker.

UNISON recognises that within our membership in Scotland there are significant numbers of potential learners who are not engaging in learning programmes because of perceived and real barriers. The issue of "gaining the confidence and interest of the most excluded groups is time-consuming, but an essential part of creating a level playing field for those learners." (ELLC evidence, WEA, p36: Life Through Learning Through Life) continues to be a challenge. Significant ground has been covered since 2001 in tackling this fundamental issue, building confidence in the workforce - both with employers and employees to facilitate progression into the learning agenda.

More than two thirds of our members are women and more than one third work part time. There are significant pockets of low paid members - (often low skilled) especially among the more traditional manual jobs, which are dominated by women, aged over forty, working part time. Records show 90,000 members in Scotland earning less than £15,000 per annum. There are significant numbers of members with literacies needs in this group who have, and continue to, benefit from the Scottish Executive's support for the Learning@Work programme.

1.2 We want you to share with us your views on how our policies have impacted on and influenced what you do.

The Scottish Executive policy on lifelong learning runs alongside the fundamental trade union ethos of informing and educating that UNISON has always promoted, and continues to promote, for its members.

Funding and support from the Scottish Executive has underwritten the promotion of the Learning@Work programme and has assisted in opening doors to employers who may have resisted formulating a learning partnership with the union. In addition to this, UNISON uses its organisational approach, its robust branch structures and union learning rep network to facilitate the lifelong learning agenda.

1.3 We need your reflections on how our policies are communicated and perceived.

Through interaction with employers, participants and potential participants on Learning@Work courses, UNISON is aware that many people find the plethora of available learning confusing, often cost prohibitive and can be geographically challenging. UNISON is uniquely placed to unravel the lifelong learning agenda and promote its delivery to both employees and employers. UNISON works in partnership with the Workers Educational Association (WEA) to promote and deliver the Learning@Work programme funded by the Scottish Executive. UNISON is a perfect vehicle to disseminate the details of the Scottish Executive policies, as employees trust in unions to promote issues that will improve their working conditions.

1.4 We feel that our training offers compare well with the rest of the UK and would like your perspective on this.

UNISON is involved in Union Learning Fund initiatives in England which complement UNISON Scotland's involvement in SULF to ensure our members have equal opportunities in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland.  Although it may appear that Scotland compares favourably with the rest of the UK in terms of its promotion of learning, that comparator is set against the UK situation, according to Leitch "the UK's skills base remains weak by international standards, holding back productivity, growth and social justice. The Review has found that, even if current targets to improve skills are met, the UK's skills base will still lag behind that of many comparator countries in 2020. The UK will run to stand still." (Leitch Review 2006: p8) There is therefore a need to continually address this situation to sustain and progress Scotland's position and defend against decline. We would look to the continuation of SULF projects to augment the support mechanisms continually developing within UNISON.

1.5 We would welcome three key suggestions as to how we could build on the activity we currently undertake or address any gaps in the system.

UNISON would urge the Scottish Executive to support the next steps for people who have completed Return2Learn and are very keen to continue on the learning route.

In order to offer equitable access to all, the Scottish Executive should consider extension of funding beyond Social Care and Health to allow at the very minimum, all employees within public service employment to access learning at a level appropriate to their needs.

As IT is one of the fastest growing areas of learning requested and required by all people in society, UNISON would recommend that the Scottish Executive extend its existing funding for IT courses to encompass not just beginners and early stages but those wishing to move further along this learning route.

1.6 We want to know how you could work with us to deliver our shared ambitions.

We would recommend that the Scottish Executive continue to recognise UNISON's importance regarding non-traditional learners and its unique position to work with the Scottish Executive to promote lifelong learning. Funding is essential to assist learning and motivation of those in the lower echelons in employment.

UNISON would wish to work with the Scottish Executive to deliver our shared ambition of equitable access to lifelong learning and, in this regard, the issue of the right to time off work to learn is a priority issue. "The one single change that might transform learning activity within workplaces is a right to time off for learning for all workers." (Evaluation of the SULF 2000-2005: para 8:66)



2.1 We want you to share with us your views on how our funding and delivery mechanisms have impacted on and influenced what you do.

UNISON funds an internal learning programme available only to its members and within their own time, however, a programme where all employees can attend in their work time, be supported by their employer, their trade union and their government is the most attractive option and carries huge benefits for all concerned. A Scottish Executive funded programme allows UNISON to reach all employees - both UNISON members and non-members.

UNISON has, through funding from successful SULF bids, continued to build a robust branch infrastructure to sustain the Learning@Work programme. Each branch has a Branch Education Co-ordinator and Branch Learning Teams continue to be set up. We are working towards increasing the number of Union Learning Reps to ensure that all members, and indeed non-members, have access to an adviser.  We have ULRs, working in 50 branches, who currently:

  • encourage members and potential members into learning
  • work with branches to negotiate learning partnership with employers covering such issues as time off for learning
  • help to identify and articulate the learning needs of particular groups of learners
  • create a positive experience of what learning can do for members around learning issues thereby creating a culture in the workplace where learning is seen as a real benefit
  • promote opportunities for learning activity through UNISON Open College

2.2 We want your view on any barriers that exist in the current system which might prevent people from participating or achieving.

  • Employers: available staff to backfill; costs of backfill; facilitating time off to study; adding more training/learning opportunities to already busy training programmes; offering opportunity for access to SVQs for staff who need and want to participate; lack of SVQ assessors.
  • Employees: guilt re backfill; time for study; finding the ‘right' course; lack of confidence or motivation to participate in learning; costs of unfunded courses; lack of info on available funding/courses etc.
  • UNISON: cessation of funding from Scottish Executive for perpetuation and escalation of routes into returning to learn would be a distinct barrier to lifelong learning.

2.3 We need your reflections on how our policies are communicated and perceived.

UNISON consistently promotes the Scottish Executive's underwriting of the Learning@Work programme and explains to employers and employees the support given by the Scottish Executive. Leaflets and materials used to publicise the programme carry Scottish Executive, UNISON and WEA logos. The funding, support and consequent accountability of UNISON to the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Executive's accountability to the Scottish people bring all the players together in a positive and progressive lifelong learning agenda. Employers understand the importance of being part of this programme, as much as the programme allows employees to feel valued in their workplaces and in the wider community. UNISON's feedback from our Learning@Work information sessions for employers reflects the acute retention and recruitment problems they experience, particularly in the lower echelons of staff. Skilling and up-skilling staff in a ‘grow your own' model is their preferred option. It is our members' views that this approach from their employer, to offer learning opportunities, makes them feel valued. UNISON appreciates the contribution and impetus from the Scottish Executive to participate in promoting learning and is keen to be part of the further promotion of lifelong learning.

2.4 We feel that our current education funding and delivery models compare well with the rest of the UK and would like your perspective on this.

According to the Leitch Review - "Our nation's skills are not world class and we run the risk that this will undermine the UK's long term prosperity." (Leitch Review 2006: p6) It is recognised that the recommendations of Leitch's Review are primarily based on an analysis of England's learning provision and that further analysis involving Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are returned to the devolved administrations and that this consultation document will be the basis of Scottish Executive analysis. It may be that "Scotland, in comparison with England has for the last three decades invested 18% more per student each year" (Bell and Sarjevs, 2004). However, Leitch states "In 2003, 16 per cent of the working age population in England, over five million people, lacked Level 1 literacy skills and 21 per cent (6.8 million) lacked Entry Level 3 numeracy skills. More than 15 million people in England lacked Level 1 numeracy skills, equivalent to a GCSE Maths at grades D-G." (Leitch Review 2006, p48) thus, calling into question the use of England as a benchmark when looking at the quality of Scottish provision.

2.5 We would welcome three key suggestions as to how we could build on the activity we currently undertake.

Consideration should be given to provision of a wider range of courses/opportunities funded by the Scottish Executive to allow people, having taken the opportunity to return to learn, to link into learning at whatever stage is appropriate to them.

We would urge the Scottish Executive to recognise the importance of UNISON's Learning@Work programme: Return2Learn and Improve Your Study Skills, and the impact this has on the lives of people who are non-traditional learners. Continued funding for this programme would offer routes into learning for those people whom the Scottish Executive wish to target.

UNISON would recommend that the Scottish Executive consider extended funding to underwrite life-wide learning within a lifelong learning context. Learning designed to extend the knowledge and skills of people in society to promote good and active citizenship complements other strands of learning supported by the Scottish Executive.

2.6 We want to know how you could work with us to deliver our shared ambitions.

UNISON Scotland wishes to consolidate and extend our broad and long term strategy for Learning in the Workplace.  We wish to continue the strategy which is building UNISON'S capacity to develop, promote and support workplace learning, particularly for those who have traditionally been excluded from learning such as part-time, low paid employees with few or no vocational or professional qualifications.  Part time women workers constitute the majority of those in low paid, low skilled employment.  Records show that UNISON Scotland has more than 90,000 members currently earning less than £15,000.  It is recognised that skill gaps are prevalent within low skilled employment.  At present we have 300 trained ULRs in 50 workplaces and require to train more to stimulate new demand and meet the enthusiasm for learning which has been created from previous activity. UNISON would urge continued support from the Scottish Executive to assist in meeting appropriate targets to sustain and progress learning in the workplace for all employees.  UNISON wish to work with the Scottish Executive to continue to train ULRs to capacity build within the trade union and sustain the Learning@Work programme.


3.1 We need to know about your experiences of IAG, in whatever capacity be it as a deliverer, a recipient or a policy maker.

UNISON operates a regional structure with Scotland as one of 11 regions. We are a lay-member-led organisation and at local level we have over 80 branches providing negotiation, representation and advice to our members and also providing information, education and training to both members and non-members.  UNISON Scotland uses its robust branch structure and sound communication systems to disseminate information, advice and guidance to its members and potential members.

UNISON Scotland's Regional Officer Education has responsibility for co-ordinating all education and training activity across Scotland.  Our Learning and Organising Team consists of Scottish Organiser/Team Leader, Regional Organiser - Education, three Lifelong Learning Fieldworkers, and administrative support. This Team works with the Learning & Organising Committee of lay members as well as with other staff colleagues to promote Lifelong Learning and other organising activity.

It is recognised nationally that low paid members receive the least amount of training.  Therefore, UNISON Scotland has sought to develop a co-ordinated approach to education and training for UNISON activists and members working closely with under-represented groups - including women, black, and disabled members, many of whom work part time, or who are manual workers or low paid workers to ensure that equalities issues are integrated into all learning provision.

3.2 We want you to share with us your views on how our IAG systems have impacted on and influenced what you do.

Lack of clarity on available learning opportunities is one of the barriers to learning for the very people that lifelong learning is aimed at - non-traditional learners and those people who fall into the NEET category. It is necessary for this to be demystified and promoted in a "concise and straightforward" manner. In line with the approach taken by the Scottish Executive, UNISON gives information, advice and guidance on the lifelong learning agenda in many ways to reach all employees. It uses its branch structure, websites, newsletters and information sheets, to disseminate information to both employees and employers. We continually seek new ways in which to participate, advise and offer guidance. We are also involved in Sector Skills Councils and Learning Networks which will assist in highlighting skills gaps and offer a route for UNISON to work with employers and be an integral part in filling these gaps, not only through recruitment but by retaining and up-skilling existing employees.

With Learndirect Scotland we will have direct mailing promoting Individual Learning Accounts for 30,000 members over the next three months. This provides another opportunity to promote the accessibility of the lifelong learning to our supported by this project.

3.3 We need your reflections on how our systems are communicated and perceived.

The support of the Scottish Executive to the learning agenda and its consequent information and guidance produced in a "concise and straightforward" manner runs in tandem with that produced by UNISON. UNISON strives to be innovative in its promotion of information and guidance around lifelong learning and recognises the impact that the support of the Scottish Executive has when UNISON is encouraging both employees and employers to link into the lifelong learning agenda.

3.4 We feel that our IAG offer compares well with the rest of the UK and would like your perspective on this.

According to Leitch, in England, "The Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) review of Learndirect advice in 2005 identified this as a principal area for development and improvement. They noted that competition between Learndirect advice and nextstep is hindering the development of an integrated Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) service for adults." (Leitch Review 2006: p114).

The Scottish Executive's promotion of IAG brings together the key stakeholders in the learning arena and Learndirect Scotland not only promotes significant learning opportunities such as ILA Scotland but directs enquirers to other appropriate learning providers.

3.5 We would welcome three key suggestions as to how we could build on the activity we currently undertake.

In order to reduce the barriers experienced by people trying to locate information on-line, UNISON would suggest that there be a dedicated Scottish Executive website on learning, which is easy to access and has links to all relevant associated learning websites, including trade unions.

We would ask the Scottish Executive to provide access to free literature and information that can be used to good effect by UNISON's network of Union Learning Reps in their promotion of the lifelong learning agenda.

We would urge the Scottish Executive to continue to support UNISON in the promotion of the Learning@Work programme.

3.6 We want to know how you could work with us to deliver our shared ambitions.

Support and funding for UNISON's promotion of Learning@Work should continue to facilitate this important strand of available learning provision, from fundamental literacy provision to wherever personal aspiration leads, for each member of the Scottish workforce. UNISON is in a unique position to promote learning to non-traditional learners as our members trust us to promote their best interests.


4.1 To tell us about your experience of community learning and development.

UNISON understands the vital part that CLD plays in the lifelong learning agenda. CLD can be the most available and appropriate learning for many people in and outwith employment. We believe that it complements the current learning initiatives available nationally and those available through the trade union movement which are promoted, where possible, to those in employment within working time.

One of the major strengths of CLD is its localised aspect which assists in reaching disparate groups. It can also provide a useful first step into learning.

4.2 To share your views on how our existing CLD policies have impacted on what you do.

UNISON is profoundly involved in promoting the lifelong learning agenda and has the opportunity to speak with its members, non-members and employers at various stages of the learning process. We are therefore uniquely placed to promote, and do promote Scottish Executive policies whenever possible. UNISON has members who are employed within Community Education and therefore has opportunity to promote lifelong and life-wide learning within this arena. UNISON believes that our policies and those of the Scottish Executive complement each other and provide a comprehensive learning programme to all people within communities.

4.3 Your reflections on how we communicate our policies and how people involved in CLD and in the wider lifelong learning sector see them.

Scottish Executive policies on lifelong learning, such as The Big Plus, are clearly communicated in a concise and straightforward manner which makes them accessible to their intended audience.

4.4 To tell us whether you agree that bringing together community-based learning with youth work and community capacity building through CLD gives Scotland a key advantage.

As stated in 4.1 above, the learning initiatives promoted by the Scottish Executive through CLD complement other available learning initiatives. Community-based learning is a necessary cog in the learning wheel as ‘Labour … recognised that in addition to learning for work, adults use learning to enrich their lives, to contribute to their communities, to help their children, and to prolong their active lives.' (Alan Tuckett, 2007)

    1. Your views on any significant gaps in what we are currently doing.
    2. UNISON recognises that not only do we need lifelong learning but we also need life-wide learning where qualification is not a ‘currency' used to ‘buy' employment and in turn sustain and develop the nation's economic growth. Life-wide learning is often best obtained through community-based learning and is the life-blood of the creation of good and active citizens and vibrant communities.

    3. Three key suggestions as to how we could build on the activity we currently undertake.
    4. UNISON has a good relationship with the Big Plus, working with them in a number of areas through adult literacy partnerships, working together to get the learning message across and encouraging workers to engage in the first steps to learning. Additional information publicised by the Scottish Executive on how UNISON, as a significant provider of learning opportunities, works together with and complements the various learning policies of the Scottish Executive would be a useful exercise.

    5. To tell us how you could work with us to deliver our shared ambitions.

Whilst working with the support of the Scottish Executive, UNISON will continue to use the strength of its considerable membership and organising approach through its branch structure to promote a route to lifelong learning for the workforce.


5.1 We would like your perspective and opinions on entry to and progression through learning in Scotland. What are the barriers and difficulties learners face on their journey?

Although the lifelong learning agenda has been promoted to the workforce by UNISON for many years, the same barriers, although diluted, remain. We continually challenge these and hope that the tide will turn. Barriers on entry to, and progression through, learning in Scotland could fall into one, or a number of, the following categories for individuals:

  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of motivation
  • Stigmatisation of those with learning needs/aspirations
  • Low expectation of learning
  • Previously only had negative learning experiences
  • Lack basic skills in literacy and numeracy
  • Accessibility due to disability
  • Geographical/distance difficulties
  • Costs involved in non-funded courses, particularly long term courses
  • Lack of time - carer responsibilities / people with more than one job
  • Limited knowledge of how to fund and find learning opportunities
  • No access to, or understanding of, computers
  • Limited or no opportunity to access learning in the workplace
  • Lack of SVQ Assessors
  • Difficulty in getting time off work to attend courses or to study
  • Shortage of places on desired courses, SVQs, HNCs etc
  • Lack of support by middle/operational management to encourage workers to learn
  • Lack of understanding by employer of learning and development - are the best people for the job in learning and training positions

As can be seen from this list, there are barriers that may not be present for someone beginning their learning journey, but which can come into play at some point and make the learning route difficult or impossible.

UNISON can offer a continual spotlight on, and facilitate, lifelong learning for its members by using its branch structure, its ULR network and working in partnership with employers.

5.2 We want you to share with us your views on how our current strategies and policies work. What works well? What needs to work better? Are there any gaps? Are there areas of good practice that we can learn from and could potentially build on?

The Scottish Executive's vision laid out in their strategy document ‘Life Through Learning Through Life' has been acknowledged by UNISON as a positive way forward for learning and is reflected in our application to the lifelong learning agenda as a fundamental union philosophy. From UNISON's perspective, the Scottish Executive strategy addresses economic stability, socio-economic progression, social inclusion and active citizenship - all considered by UNISON to be trade union issues.

UNISON is in a position to convey Scottish Executive policies to a wide audience. Using UNISON as a vehicle to disseminate evidence that Scottish government is working with the interests of its people at heart serves the Scottish Executive well. Scottish Executive support can open doors to resistant employers and employees feel valued not only as employees but as Scottish citizens.

Scotland's geographical spread of communities and workplaces will always be a challenge to fully inform in respect of any government policies. UNISON is a key player in promoting the learning agenda and as an important link in the learning chain for the Scottish Executive requires continued funding and support to augment its promotion of the learning agenda.

Skills gaps within the Scottish workforce will continue to be highlighted by the Sector Skills Councils, and UNISON, as one of its associated organisations, will be in a position to seek ways to fill these gaps. UNISON, however, is aware of the importance of return to learning as a first step and, working with the Scottish Executive, has the experience, capability and capacity to facilitate this.

UNISON has, for a considerable time, been at the forefront in assisting people to return to learn. Our promotion and delivery of this, working in partnership with WEA, has resulted in a programme of excellence. This first step will continue to be a necessary element in the promotion of lifelong learning for the foreseeable future - as can be seen by the current recognition of the situation around NEET. We would envisage a continuation of this successful programme of return to learn and would urge the Scottish Executive to remain supportive of this initiative.

The ILA Scotland system encourages individuals to fund part of their learning through government assistance. UNISON works with the support of the Scottish Executive to fund and deliver learning to the workforce. The gap in the system sits with resistant employers who do not promote or deliver learning provision. In order to achieve the balance and promote equitable access to learning, UNISON would ask for consideration of a levy system either on those employers refusing to engage in learning provision, or on all employers, with the proceeds used to offset learning costs of those who do engage.

5.3 We feel that what we do compares well with the rest of the UK and would like your perspective on this.

The Scottish Executive's policies on lifelong learning has ensured that ‘…Scotland's labour quality stands comparison with the world's best performing economies. The same is true of Scotland's standing within the UK.' (FSS, 2005: 3-5). UNISON urges the Scottish Executive to continue to work with us to promote the lifelong learning agenda to maintain and expand on this success.

5.4 We would welcome three key suggestions as to how we could build on the activity we currently undertake or that would address any gaps in the current system.

UNISON, working in partnership with WEA, and supported by the Scottish Executive has built a successful and enviable programme of Learning@Work and we would urge that this continues.

In addition to this, UNISON consistently receives feedback that those who have participated in the Learning@Work courses wish to continue on the road of lifelong learning within a comparable learning environment. We would urge the Scottish Executive to work with UNISON to look at lifelong learning as a progressive route and to offer and support the ‘next steps' to those wishing to continue.

In order to achieve the ‘next steps' all appropriate provision should be available to prospective learners and the current dearth of SVQ assessors and available courses, ie SVQ and HNC level, should be considered and addressed to offer a robust learning route for all learners at all stages.

5.5 We want to know how you could work with us to deliver our shared ambitions.

With the support of the Scottish Executive, UNISON Scotland would wish to continue to work in partnership with the WEA and, in addition, look to expand this partnership to include other organisations with a reputation for excellence in the learning field. The Open University have developed and promote ‘Openings' - courses, which we believe can be the next steps on the learning route, following on from our successful Return2Learn course. Use of this proven excellent learning institution and UNISON's ability to disseminate the learning message to the Scottish workforce would be a powerful means for the Scottish Executive to promote its lifelong learning agenda and UNISON would urge the Scottish Executive to offer support for this learning approach.

Any additional general comments that are not covered elsewhere.

UNISON has led the field with innovative learning in workplace programmes such as Return2Learn and Women's Lives, which offer new life chances to people who have traditionally been excluded from learning often because of low literacy and numeracy skills.

Our successful Return2Learn programme has been delivered for four successive years with Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA) and for seven years with the Scottish Executive Health Department. In partnership with the WEA we have delivered Return2Learn, meeting the needs of non-traditional learners, for social care and health sector workers with few or no formal educational qualifications and low literacies levels in the public and voluntary sectors.

In order to engage employers and learners consideration should be given to the need for bite size learning as taster to discovering learning and use as first step into Learning@Work programme. This has been successfully piloted in City of Edinburgh, where UNISON works with workplace literacies co-ordinator/tutor to organise taster sessions for all social work staff. This leads to UNISON/WEA Starting Points course and then to Return2Learn.   


UNISON/WEA would ask the Scottish Executive to consider funding the development of shorter courses as part of the Learning@Work programme to augment the lifelong learning strategy. 

UNISON's brokerage role for lifelong learning across all public services has developed and extended over the last four years. Partnerships with WEA, Open University, Open College and National Extension College enable us to offer a comprehensive range of learning opportunities.

We have had four Scottish Union Learning Fund Projects which again focused on the promotion of learning opportunities for non-traditional learners supported by Union Learning Reps and Branches with achievements in:

  • setting up and supporting a union learning rep network
  • participation in learning events
  • learners access training
  • learning newsletters
  • awareness/dissemination events
  • employer partnership
  • flexible learning provision

Our Skills for Life provision can support the development of the literacy language and numeracy skills necessary for employees to be able to fully access development opportunities.


For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
14 West Campbell Street
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141 342 2835
e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk


The Scottish Executive, (2003), Life Through Learning Through Life: The Lifelong Learning Strategy for Scotland.

Evaluation of the Scottish Union Learning Fund (SULF) 2000-2005: University of Strathclyde, Scottish Centre for Employment Research.

Leitch Review of Skills, (2006) Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills, Final Report, London: HM Treasury, (Crown Copyright).

Bell, D. and Sarajevs, V. (2004), Scottish Education: Spending More - Earning Less?, Stirling: University of Stirling, Scottish Economy Policy Network.

Tuckett, A (2007), Leitch cannot disguise the death of lifelong learning, The Guardian, 2 January 2007.

Futureskills Scotland, (2005), International Comparisons of Labour Market and Skills Performance - Summary Report, Glasgow: Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise.






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