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Diary of a journeyman

January 29, 2012

‘I bet you spend a lot of time on the train’ is the usual comment I get when I tell anyone about my job. And they’re not wrong. Since August I’ve been WEA lead director for London and South West Regions as well as being overall lead for curriculum and provision. So I  do spend a fair amount of time travelling back and fro  whilst still living in the West Midlands.

Doing this has prompted me to think afresh about the nature of work communities, communicating in a very dispersed organisation, and differences and similarities,

London region’s spacious centre is five minutes from Liverpool Street and just over a couple of hours from home; it serves as a learning centre and meetings’ venue as well as an open-plan staff workplace. Most of the tutor organisers are based here so there’s a work community and plenty of informal contact between us. I’ve mainly worked with the management team to sort some of the immediate problems around the building and filling some of the gaps in the staffing structure. There’s lots of adult education going on in London but I was attracted to working there because I can’t believe there isn’t scope for lots, lots more.

South West region, needless to say, is much more spread out. The meetings, admin and management centre is in Exeter; the accommodation is more compartmentalised so there seems less informal contact between people. The region reaches from the Cotswolds down to Lands End and we have a widespread presence with lots of provision in Plymouth and Bristol. The distances involved mean that it takes me longer to get to know the people in the region and groups of staff only come together occasionally for prearranged meetings.

 Getting to know two new regions (previously I was just based in the West Midlands) is shifting my perspective on the organisation. There is a lot that people have in common; the day to day work of organising and supporting adult education is absorbing and those doing it have a strong commitment and ownership of it. This gives the organisation a real resilience. There are  lots of examples of challenging and interesting provision that I hadn’t previously heard about. For example SW do a lot of arts based work with groups recovering from substance abuse. London have a link up with an organisation of domestic workers who come along every Sunday for a variety of educational activities. It’s fascinating to think about what has led to the initiation and sustaining of these programmes.

At the same time it’s striking how dealing with the highly complex funding and inspection methodologies are part of our DNA and dominate so much of discussion and planning. We take this for granted and I know it is necessary but it can obstruct looking at problems and concerns from a straightforwardly educational perspective. It may mean that something  fairly simple and immensely valuable- the  organising of lots of informal courses in response to the needs of different local communities – can become very complicated. Moreover, the dispersed and diverse nature of the organisation does make it difficult to develop a common understanding and practice.

Most evenings I check the dashboard on my blog to see if anyone’s reading it. Blogging seems to me a good way to communicate in a dispersed organisation. It’s an opportunity both to report on activities and to float ideas and get some feedback. I usually aim for about 750 words- long enough to develop an argument but can be read quickly. Several hundred view each blog with some subjects (such as ESOL and IfL) attracting more interest than others from outside the WEA. My Corsica blog attracts a steady trickle and is the main one referred by search engines. It’s not really adult education but it illustrated to me the power of a well led group to enable you to achieve what you doubted was possible. So perhaps it is education. I also tweet intermittently; Twitter’s a good source of information and links and a way of letting people know what you’re doing. It’s been described as eavesdropping on conversations; again it’s there if you want it and another way of communicating .

Back to journeys. I actually quite enjoy being on a train and can usually work with a laptop, writing or reading, I don’t particularly like phone conversations partly because you keep losing the signal and also I feel a bit self conscious going on about the WEA in front of strangers.

However after a few months I’m beginning to feel that the journey from home to the regional offices has become a familar corridor and I am unconnected with the environment in which the actual work takes place. This year I’m hopeful I can really help to develop the organisation but I’m going to have to get out more. I want to see more classes and meet more students, voluntary members, tutors and partners as well as getting a better sense of the geography of these two great regions.


From → Adult Education

  1. I’ve lived in the Southwest all my life and parts of it are still a mystery to me, good look with your continued journey.
    Best Wishes

    • Karen permalink

      Indeed you do need to interact with your tutors and learners to understand from the frontline what the issues are and how WEA London Region really potray’s itself to its’ consumers.

  2. Hi Pete! You ought to try travelling all over South Africa stirring up municipal workers. No passenger trains to speak off apart from suburban lines in the large metro areas, and of course the main lines beltween major cities, which are highly recommended for a leisurely break (it takes 28 hours to travel by train from Joburg to Cape Town) but not if you are in a hurray. Sadly, frieght rail still not fully utilised by the main retailers, but they are learning (economically and environmentally). Time you came down and had a look at adult education here! Study Visit anyone? Happy to facilitate! Anyway, I am really saying hello and wishing you and all comrades in the WEA who might remember me a happy new year. In solidarity Steve Faulkner :

    • Pete Caldwell permalink

      Well! That gives a bit of perspective! Glad to hear you’re still so actively involved and will pass your message on in WEA. It would be great to meet up with you in SA if that were possible. All the best, Pete

  3. whoops….should have checked spelling!

  4. Karen permalink

    Why is there only 1 black teacher teaching from Clifton St when many of students i’ve seen using that college are from the ethnic minorities?

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