A network for anyone with an interest in
adult education and mental health

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The Fortis Project (year 2)

 A DfE Community Learning | Mental Health Research site (2015/17) 

The Fortis Project - the name was chosen because fortis is Latin for brave, strong, powerful and courageous.

Medway Adult Education overview

The Medway area is made up of five urban centres plus extensive rural areas. Medway Adult Education (MAE) is the direct delivery provider of adult education in the Medway area which serves a population of 276,492 with predominantly low skills and a higher rate of unemployment than the South East. Medway has a lower job density than the rest of the South East (SE) and Great Britain resulting in fewer jobs per person being available. In 2015/16 those unemployed and seeking work including Job Seekers Allowance claimants were slightly higher compared to the SE at 6.9% in Medway. In 2015/16, 22% of Medway’s residents aged 16-64 were economically inactive (either not available for work or not looking for work), slightly higher than the South East.  However, in July 2016 2.8% of 18-14 year olds in Medway were claiming out of work benefits, more than halved since July 13 (6.3%). At the time of writing, Medway still had a higher proportion of 18-24 year olds claiming out of work benefits than the South East but was similar to rates for the rest of Great Britain. 

MAE contributes to Medway Council’s vision ‘achieving excellence for our community’ and key priority ‘supporting Medway’s people to realise their potential’ including ‘older and disabled people to live independently’. MAE provides a range of learning opportunities for adults to develop new skills, enabling them to enter employment, improve their life chances and also health, harmony and social well-being. Our courses provide opportunities to develop skills and gain qualifications in early years and childcare, ICT, business and administration, teaching and education, ESOL, English and maths, courses for LLDD learners, arts & crafts, health & well-being, modern foreign languages, family learning, work skills and apprenticeships.

MAE strategic plan sets out the direction, aims and objectives of the whole service, ensuring its contribution to Medway Council's, Skills Funding Agency and the Local Enterprise Partnership key priorities.

Medway Adult Education’s mission is ‘To achieve excellence for our community and businesses in Medway’. Medway Adult Education has adopted Medway Council’s vision: ‘A city of learning, culture, tourism and enterprise and as a place to live, work and have fun’

Strategic priorities

  • Embrace scrutiny, challenge and support performance
  • Improve performance, achievements and satisfaction to continue to offer good outcomes and progression routes for all our learners
  • Work across the council and with partners to enhance the education and skills level of people living and working across the Medway area
  • Work towards achieving the SFA objectives for Community Learning
  • Attract, retain and develop high performing staff
  • Work towards achieving a balanced budget and be judged a ‘value for money’ provider by funding bodies
  • Build brand recognition and reputation
  • Plan an increase in the use of technology to contribute to Medway Council’s Digital Transformation agenda

Fortis project -  course information

The following extracts from our marketing information provides an insight into the course offer provided on the project.

Yoga - to improve your sleep

This short course introduces a mixed collection of yoga exercises for mind and body that can help reduce stress and improve sleep.  Our experienced tutor will adapt the sessions to suit everyone and guide you through a range of techniques which can easily be used to help control your mood outside the classroom either in your own home or when out and about.  Each session will provide the opportunity to share ideas, strategies and experiences, check on progress and receive support from our tutor.

 Tai chi – to reduce stress and anxiety

Our friendly and inspiring tutor creates a welcoming environment for all, whether you are new or have tried Tai chi before.  Tai chi is an ancient exercise which embodies Chinese concepts and principles of health and movement offering harmony between body and mind, reducing stress and anxiety.  Tai chi helps restore health and maintain a happy attitude through mindful principle based practice, in a supportive learning community

Art Journaling – to better express yourself

Join this informal creative writing and art course and explore how to express your thoughts and feelings through writing and art.  Discover how writing can help you express yourself and cope better. Whether you are a complete beginner (good spelling and grammar not important) or have experienced the joy of writing before, we will all learn together in a friendly and supportive manner.  For many people art provides an opportunity to explore emotions and feelings through being creative.  On this short course you will learn about effective strategies for improving your mood and feeling more motivated whilst in a social environment.  Our tutor will guide you showing you how to use writing and art to improve your wellbeing. In a friendly and relaxed environment there will be lots of opportunity to share ideas and strategies to help improve how you  feel. Projects will help you to reflect on a range of topics that include personal feelings, relationships, beliefs and other personal, social and welfare related subjects.

Wellbeing- to improve the way you manage your feelings

On this course you will work with our experienced tutor  to explore some of the reasons we can feel low in mood  and practice ways we can help ourselves to feel better.  You will learn how to recognize which thoughts or behaviors can have a negative impact and develop strategies for turning them into positives. You will also identify ways to overcome problems and improve our motivation using a range of techniques.  Explore specific topics such as over coming anxiety, confidence, stress management and increase self esteem. There will be opportunities to recap and reflect on new ways of coping  in a supportive environment.

That floristry course

Lessons learned

Image of the floristry display each learner recreated at the Medway Group A CLMH course on 3.12.17, which is the subject of the accompanying story

Towards the end of 2016 the national research lead shadowed a class at Medway Adult Education, observed data collection in a one-to one setting and then met with project lead and manager.  It was fedback that the course did not meet Group A descriptors but was in actual fact meeting a  Group B course.  This was due to not focussing on mental health and well-being evidenced through the scheme of work or in the lesson, therefore to meet Group A changes needed to be implemented.  We were advised that there needs to be more focus on mental health in the scheme of work and within the class. We drew on this being not dissimilar to the Well-being course facilitated by a qualified counsellor, however interest in this was low with not enough learners to enable it to run to date.  We discussed the boundaries between therapy and learning, and the research lead stated that it is not therapy.  As the project manager was also a qualified Psychotherapist, the concern was raised regarding there being a very fine line between therapy and learning within the expectations of delivery in this setting. 

Discussions took place between project lead and manager and concerns discussed with the ethics and practice of supporting  tutors to encourage individuals within this setting to open up about their well-being, and then for the tutor to contain this if necessary. 

Resources on the MHFE website were used and information and support shared from other Group A projects.  A revised standard scheme of work was sent to all tutors with an explanation on the changes that need to be implemented.  Individual support was offered with additional time focussing on the next course

All reported that they were keen to look at more learning, and several comments indicated a feeling of growth in confidence, increased interest in creative activities, willingness to use a new skill and the importance of taking time out for self.  One learner fed back that the change in timings for 2 weeks of the course was unhelpful and increased their anxiety.

Learners were advised by the tutor of the outcome of the visit by the research lead, and that the data could not be used for the research.  The tutor explained that there needed to be much more focus on mental health and well-being through discussion and focus in the learning to meet the Group A descriptors.  This was followed up by a formal letter sent from the project manager. 

Verbal feedback received from the tutor said that they learners not want to open up here or within a group, and that it was a place to forget or escape those thoughts and feelings.  If they wanted to do that they would speak to a counsellor in another setting. 

The project manager followed up a learner on week 4 following concerns raised by the tutor regarding their behaviour. The learner had become distressed due to timeframes changing.  The learner said that they felt anxious by the time changing and felt they hadn't been informed.  They added that the tutor had then tried to get them to open up after everyone had gone, and they didn’t feel this was appropriate.  Additional support was explored for the learner while they wait for secondary support through local mental health services.

All learners were offered an additional course of five weeks of 2 hours, under targeted community learning.  Three took up this opportunity.

The project manager discussed the research and ethics within external clinical supervision to explore how to manage the expectations of the research within the local authority and support tutors in potential situations with vulnerable individuals. 

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