So I have just returned from spending two and half days with participants from across Europe (and Russia and Turkey) at Erasmus Plus’ first ever cross sector conference. This meant there were participants from National Governmental Organisations (NGOs) including the wider voluntary sector, a number of vocational educational colleges (VET), adult education, a University, schools, the national agencies (ECORYS for the UK) and private sector organisations working across the Erasmus funding streams of adult education, vocational education and youth. The first cross sector conference by Erasmus, it was fantastic to meet so many different practitioners, with good networking opportunities and a range of contacts.
There were common themes of working with young people that we all share, and broader issues that came up – operational issues, unexpected positive outcomes, cultural adaptations, becoming a recognised accredited body, visas, insurance, full cost recovery, and terrorist threat issues. The workshops could be quite generic, especially considering the expertise often in the room. Surprisingly the definition of informal learning came up as a key outcome several times, possibly as there were few people from the youth sector in the room. We hoped our national agencies were listening closely.
An interesting aspect was how structures operated, for example in Spain vocational education training (VET) is completely organised through schools as an established route, as it is in Poland and others. I was lucky enough to share a room with Anita, a teacher in a Polish VET school, who spoke of tackling absenteeism of some of her young people, and supporting those teenagers who are pregnant (abortion is illegal in many instances in Poland and getting the birth control for under-16 parental consent is required). Anita as a language teacher helps support them tremendously in what we would call key skills, English and other teachers in the STEM areas. (Antia’s school – ZSGH Torun Technical High School of Hotel Management and Catering Industry website/Facebook)
Anita, like most of the delegates, runs the mobility exchange programme in addition to her day job. We found it was only a Swedish delegate who had the Erasmus programme designated as half of her job description. Yet many cited the added value Erasmus, and the European Voluntary Scheme brings to the young people and how schools/organisations cite this in their brochures and in promoting themselves.
Good practice presentations, workshops, photos, and a list of delegates and contacts are all saved on this Google drive, do please take a look. It is still being added and updated as we all return.
Dissemination popped up frequently and some delegates expressed frustration at this. They argued their job was to focus on their students and struggled to disseminate information widely, as self-promotion was not their place. It was widely stated that they did not have infrastructure support on hand, or knew where this was possibly in their country. Working for a network I have Twitter, LinkedIn accounts, network meetings and events, and our mailing lists so it has been easier for us to disseminate our Erasmus plus from school to work programme we did in June 2015. Yet the majority do not have the resources and time, and while we have shared some great practice over the years with some schools in London, we need to do more to reach the majority. I asked if the national agency could pick up on this and was signposted to Valor dissemination tool I immediately tweeted this out. I will pick up on this with the national agency and ask them to use us as a conduit to share practice, for people to find partners. So watch out, Ecorys the UK national agency will hopefully be at a future network meeting and events soon!
To summarise the best aspects for me were:
- The contacts and networking – if you need any contacts in schools, VET colleges and more across Europe please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mini workshops on good practice – learning the specifics on what people actually did.
- Learning about tools and practice materials available.
- Presentations from national agencies, and contact with the UK ECORYS.
- Being congratulated at breakfast on the election of Sadiq Khan as the Mayor of London – I got a round of applause. Delegates saw this as a hopeful sign, but expressed concern about the political situation in their home countries and the prospect of the UK leaving the EU.
I did also promise Trevor Winn from Waunifor in Wales I would share the link to his centre and his work which caters for many youth groups in a beautiful setting and The Young Template of Peace Y-TOP.