Sussex Learning Network was set up in 2005, as one of the UK’s first Lifelong Learning Networks, to tackle the barriers FE students faced entering university and create pathways to support them. Since then, our network has grown and evolved, and while equality of educational opportunity is still at its heart, our focus has widened to encompass social mobility and social injustice.
Through our network, we have created a space where people in the sector can network, share best practice and collaborate on projects they couldn’t undertake alone. Our membership remains strong, with senior-level professionals in educational institutions recognising that collaboration is the way to tackle these issues. Together, we have also celebrated our successes in transforming the lives of local people and creating higher skills for the regional economy. Since 2015, we have attracted over £9 million in funding, worked with more than 70 educational and 200 community organisations, and empowered some 20,000 learners to make informed choices about their futures.
We have accomplished much but there is still much to be done, and the arrival of Covid-19 has shone a light on how the education system is still failing some learners. In response to the pandemic, we set up our Emergency Outreach Fund to ensure there was continued and accessible support for learners, moving services online, and providing IT, learning materials and emotional support in a time of anxiety and uncertainty.
Looking to the future, our network will continue to evolve. The pandemic highlighted the important role community organisations play in supporting families and learners while they learn. So, going forward, we hope to bring more community organisations into our partnership, enabling them to work together and reach people we may not have reached before. We also hope to make our work more sustainable, monitoring the impact of our projects to make a case for future funding and developing models that can operate outside of the big government policy swings.
We will also be looking at how we can challenge the educational system and the government. We want to be part of that conversation, contributing our knowledge of what’s going in our region to the national picture, and working with other Uni Connects to lobby government to really recognise the massive gaps in the system and the role that elements other than education, such as housing, poverty and health, play in creating those.