Manchester's Adult Education Service (MAES) has been given the thumbs up by government inspectors for its inclusive and ambitious curriculum, high quality education and training, and passionate leaders.
In their report published this week Ofsted inspectors graded every aspect of the service Good - from its overall effectiveness, quality of education, and adult learning programmes, through to provision for learners with high needs, and its leadership and management.
The service - which has over three thousand adult learners studying at centres throughout the city, with most learners studying courses in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), digital skills, English, maths, early years, and health and social care - was inspected over three days back in June.
Inspectors highlighted the respectful and inclusive environment in which learners study that gives them a sense of belonging, and enthusiastic tutors who are supportive and encouraging, with the result that learners are happy at MAES and proud of their achievements.
The report praises leaders, managers and governors who it says are passionate about their provision and promote a culture of compassion and care through an inclusive and ambitious curriculum that is adapted to meet the strategic skills priorities of Manchester and the wider city region.
Inspectors found that most learners make good progress and benefit from high-quality education and training that is informative and varied, delivered by tutors who are well qualified and hold relevant professional qualifications.
The range of opportunities on offer through MAES for learners to help them develop their personal and social skills was also identified as a positive by inspectors - including speaking clubs for learners on ESOL courses, and enrichment activities including a community football programme and charity work with a local food back for learners with high needs.
Inspectors also praised the support provided to learners to find future employment through a comprehensive careers strategy across MAES provision, with a large majority of learners progressing on to employment or further learning after finishing their courses.
They noted that as part of the 'Make it Happen' careers programme, most learners benefit from careers guidance and opportunities that help them move on to their next steps and to develop the knowledge, skills, and behaviours they need to progress in their personal lives, communities, work, and further learning, whilst also developing their communication skills and growing in confidence on their courses.
Councillor John Hacking Executive Member for Skills, Employment, and Leisure, Manchester City Council, and Chair of Manchester Adult Education Service Board, said: "We're very pleased that despite a difficult couple of years through the pandemic for learners and staff alike, the service has been able to maintain its previously Good rating, which is in no small part thanks to the hard work and determination of everyone involved.
"We already have plans in place to improve the service even further and are excited about what lies ahead for the service and for learners.
"As the cost-of-living crisis bites we're more determined than ever to do what we can to help people through it, and Manchester Adult Education Service has a key role in this.
"It has a lot to offer that can really help adults of all ages and all abilities to learn and through this to earn. Whether it's improving your basic skills in maths or English, upgrading your digital skills, or help with CV writing and interview techniques, there's lots of support available and who knows - taking a course with MAES could be the start of a bright new future, not just for you but for your whole family."
One learner who has been helped into work after taking courses with MAES is 41-year-old Ioana Hayder from north Manchester. Originally from Romania, the mum of three is celebrating having recently secured a job with Manchester Libraries as a Library Assistant after taking courses to improve both her English and maths.
A good student when she was at school in Romania, when she arrived in Manchester, she found spoken English here very different from what she had learnt in school.
She said: "I thought I could speak English but then when we arrived I didn't understand what people were saying to me. I used to dread speaking on the phone, I was terrified of having to call people like the doctors because I didn't understand properly what they were saying, and was scared of trying to make myself understood."
With no friends or other family here and a young baby, coupled with the pressures of repeated lockdowns during Covid, the mum of three decided she needed to do something to improve her language skills and so she enrolled on a Level 2 English Language skills course with MAES.
She said: "At MAES you really focus on what you're learning. There are no distractions, and everyone who is on the course is there because they want to be - they're not being forced to be there. It was a really good experience for me, I've made friends through the course and it's been great."
As well as completing her Level 2 English qualification Ioana also decided to improve her maths and completed a Level 1 Maths course, after which she went on to also successfully complete a Level 2 Maths course.
She said: "Maths had always been like a horror story to me - I just didn't understand it, my brain was blocked to maths, I just didn't get it. But if you have a good teacher - like I did here in Manchester, it makes a one hundred per cent difference. I started doing it and the teacher was brilliant, and I suddenly thought this is not so difficult after all and I passed my Level 1 and after that I also did Maths Level 2 and passed that. So suddenly I am becoming like a maths genius after not getting it at all before! It's great, and I'd like to go on and do my GCSE maths at some point."
The learning hasn't stopped there for Ioana - this year has seen her sit her GCSE English exam, the results of which are due any time, she has completed a Digital Skills Level 1 course, and she has also taken part in a special focus week organised by MAES on getting a job - how to find a job, different kinds of employment, interview skills, and how to write a good CV.
She said: "This was a very good course and I recommend it to everyone. I used to be terrified of job interviews, but after doing the course I felt much more confident about them, and I think it really helped me to get my job at the library."
Ioana firmly believes adult education is for everyone and that it's never too late to go back to learning, and so strong is her belief in this that she has even started to work as a volunteer with MAES - helping tutors out in the classroom to explain things to other learners.
She said: "Adult Education isn't just for people with no English, it's for everyone who wants to improve their skills and their knowledge and to get a better job. It's never too late - your age doesn't matter, it doesn't come into it - you will learn things that will help you and it could help you to get a job, or help you to do some volunteering like I do which is also a really good way of improving your skills."
Another learner who returned to the classroom as an adult is Faiza Chohan who lives in north Manchester.
A good student who always did well at school in Pakistan and went to college there to do A level equivalent exams, the 37-year-old mother of two works part-time in an administrative role for the NHS, but decided to go back to learning to help her children with their studies.
She started going one day a week to Abraham Moss Adult Education Centre where she completed an English Level 2 course and also Maths Level 1, before going on to Greenheys Centre to complete a Level 2 Functional Maths course - the results of which she is expecting in the next few weeks.
If all goes well, she is due to start a foundation year in Business studies at Salford University in September, and then plans to go on and study for a degree in the subject.
She said: "Learning with Manchester Adult Education Service has been good for me. The staff were really helpful and my confidence really grew. At first I thought I was too old to be learning and was worried if I would remember things and how to learn, but it's been great.
"The tutors were really helpful, they explain things really well, and the courses were very practical - it wasn't learning from text books which is how it was a school. The courses were much more practical than this, we would be given scenarios to study and learn from there.
"It was also very different from being at school - there is no pressure in adult education classes, not like at school where teachers would give you a deadline and you'd get told off if you didn't make it. Things are much more relaxed, so it makes it easier for you to learn when the pressure is off you.
"The great thing about the classes for me was also getting to meet other people as well - the tutors and other students, mixing with them and socialising with them - so I also made new friends out of my classes.
"I'd say if you want a good job, or a better job, then you should really think about doing some courses. It's been great for me.
"I've got my confidence back, and now I'm looking forward to starting my foundation year at Salford University in September and then after that I want to go on and get a degree."
Find out more about the courses on offer through MAES here