Headlines: March 3rd, 2005

A specialist training programme run by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has become the first to be awarded the highest grade 1 “outstanding” for its approach to equality of opportunity by the Adult Learning Inspectorate. The council also becomes the first local authority provider of Workstep to get a grade 1 rating for any aspect of its programme and the first ever provider working with all disabilities to get the highest grade.Only one other Workstep provider in the country – the Royal London Society for the Blind – has ever been awarded the top grade for any aspect of provision. There are 2,000 organisations delivering the schemes across England and Wales and the council’s achievement is the more remarkable because more than half the Inspectorate’s assessments so far have resulted in re-inspections.

Workstep focuses on people with disabilities who face more significant barriers to work and who require additional support to get them back into employment. It is managed by Jobcentre Plus and provides job support to more that 26,000 disabled people. Of the 30 learners on, Blackburn’s suit-your-need programme 40 per cent are women and 12 per cent are from ethnic minority groups.

The programme, which has been running since 2001, was also awarded a grade 2 “good” for its foundation programmes and for its approach to leadership and management.

Councillor Maureen Bateson, the council’s executive member for social services said the results underlined the authority’s commitment to providing opportunities for everyone. ” We should also recognise the contribution of employers in Blackburn with Darwen, whose support is crucial to the success of the scheme. But the real achievement here is by the disabled people who have seized the opportunity offered by Workstep,” she added.

David Sherlock, the Chief Inspector of Adult Learning, said an independent assessment had shown that learners in the borough were benefiting from the organisation’s high quality approach.

One former trainee, Gemma Maxwell, is now a nurse for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, and is working towards an NVQ in care. Another, Peter Cafferty, started on the scheme in the council’s sheltered workshop and now works as an administrator in the education department. He said, “They’ve helped me to manage my condition, access the right training, become more confident, helped me go for promotion and helped me set out my long term career plan.”

The success of the scheme is also recognised by local employers. Raymond and Alison O’Neil, of Blakewater Coach Hire, said they had been impressed with the way the council’s team had supported two Workstep employees and the thoroughness with which they had handled all aspects of it.