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I'd turn up even if I won the lottery

NIACE mental health partnership programme research report produced for the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) in 2009, which examines the relationship between appropriate and effective support and attendance, retention and achievement in learning of learners with mental health difficulties.

A total of 35 learning providers agreed to take part in the research and 141 learners and 98 referral organisations and providers took part in the focus groups.

Key findings included:

  • Enduring mental health difficulties do not necessarily affect attendance and success in learning
  • The difference, it seems, between poor attendance and retention and good attendance and retention is less to do with learners’ mental health needs and more to do with support and quality of provision
  • Learners felt that what got them to classes even when they were finding it difficult
    was their own determination, will power, conscience and sense of personal responsibility
  • Pre-course information is important and needs to start early, even before contact with a learning provider is made. This shows the importance of health and social care services being able to talk about opportunities and being confident enough to encourage the take up of learning and to provide the encouragement and moral support that many learners said they needed in the beginning
  • The use of short taster courses to build confidence, prepare individuals for learning and ‘act as a bridge’ in a familiar environment was a strategy identified by several of the groups
  • The ability of the provider to respond quickly when a learner was experiencing difficulties, whether because of their mental health difficulties or in their learning, was important
  • Learners talked about the social interaction, fun of learning, sense of responsibility and reciprocity and group spirit, which shows how learning providers need to think about how they make their learning environments friendship-friendly
  • Learners were advised that good attendance was expected of them and that if they were absent they had to make contact with their tutors. In many groups learners revealed that if they were absent it was the tutors who contacted them. However, this did not feel like an intrusion, but rather they welcomed the contact as being evidence that they were valued and wanted as learners.
  • Reviews of progress, one-to-one sessions with tutors and Individual Learning Plans were all felt to be helpful in helping them stick with their learning. Learners liked the fact that they had a clear plan of what they wanted to achieve from the start with targets and goals to achieve.
  • Learners also said they felt motivated to remain in learning and achieve because  they could see positive changes in themselves
  • Poor teaching and learning, lack of support and lack of awareness of mental health were all cited by learners as reasons why they dropped out of learning 
  • Learners said that, occasionally, their mental health problems became too overwhelming for them to continue with learning. Support to return was important
  • Transport, money and inhospitable environments were all major reasons why learners dropped out of learning. Transport was a particular difficulty in rural areas
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Resource Author: 
James, K. and Talbot-Strettle, L.
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