This year Swarthmore is celebrating 110 years of delivering adult education across the community. Based in the centre of Leeds, in what used to be a row of Edwardian residential properties, it is a special building that offers a unique friendly, supportive and inclusive learning experience to all adult learners who enter through our door. Many gravitate toward Swarthmore at times of great change in their lives, such as bereavement, divorce, separation or job loss. Others simply enjoy the relaxed and enriching atmosphere that is built around their personal and individual learning needs rather than a standard script. We also offer a study programme for high dependency students between 16 and 24 years of age. Swarthmore’s environment provides the perfect warmth and healing required to deliver a truly inclusive learning experience with a real community feel.
We are bucking the trend in a number of areas. So whilst there has been an overall decline recorded nationally in the number of adults in education over the past few years - the number of Swarthmore adult learners has gradually increased and across a wider range of adults.
When Emran Mian - the most senior civil servant in the Department of Education with the lead responsibility for higher, further and adult education - gave a speech at the Holex conference he talked about a knotty problem we are facing as a country. That was understanding how education can provide the personal motivation and self-confidence to adult learners so they can break through the current hour glass shaped skills profile in this country. A lot of individuals, due to a range of complications, feel that learning is not attuned to their needs and have therefore stopped at quite a low level of attainment, often feeling let down by the education system. The thing he emphasised was the importance of education as part of a lifelong learning journey for adults, enabling them to constantly develop, maintain resilience and use an overall growth mindset so they can face our changing world with courage. This I see as Swarthmore’s greatest strength and something we could enable other establishments to achieve.
The demand on Swarthmore will only continue to grow, recognising that the average 19 year old today is likely to need to work until 70 and may retrain up to 19 times. An incredible opportunity for Swarthmore to continue to support and challenge those adults so they can achieve their best in ever changing work situations.
Swarthmore’s unique range of courses, delivered by amazing teaching staff who put motivation and confidence building at the very heart of all they do - our unique selling point. It shines through everything we do. It may be invisible to the human eye, but it is felt in the heart of all who cross our threshold and is the reason we are defined by so many as delivering friendly, supportive and inclusive teaching. Enabling our students to be and do their very best.
Of course we are not without our challenges. We are always looking for new sources of funding and support so that we can continue to achieve our best for more and more students whilst maintaining the quality of our teaching and the safety of our incredible building. The new Director will therefore need to have the ability to grow our income, increase awareness of Swarthmore through a range of networks and make it a sustainable organisation going forward, whilst continuing to maintain our high quality teaching and learning provision.
This Chief Executive role is a very special, challenging but rewarding opportunity for the right individual. We are looking for a healthy balance of competence, courage, compassion, curiosity, caring, community mindedness and commitment in anyone coming forward to lead the Swarthmore team through the next decade.