'If someone says a rude word on air, I will end up in the Tower'

Learning Account
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The Independent Online
Rod Sawyer is assistant principal of Bradford and Ilkley Community College in the school of Adult and General Education and chair of the Yorkshire Region Group running Adult Learners Week.

Adult Learners Week started in Yorkshire with sax - we had an adult jazz group playing at the ceremony in the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds to present awards for students in the region. This was the fifth year running of the event, but the feeling of celebration at seeing adult learners achieve - from degree to basic education - was as strong as ever, particularly as Bradford and Ilkley Community College won an award.

During the week we have masses of things going on in Bradford, but one of the more unusual is a local adult learners' radio station run by Bradford Community Broadcasting. There are other similar groups around the country, but I think BCB has one of the best track records for staying legally on the air and keeping within the fairly draconian licence regulations. The station goes live for a month and each year I have a feeling that if someone says a rude word on air I will end up in the Tower. This year, we kept to the mix of music, talk and programmes about adult learning, but felt we wanted to get away from the usual tales of typically successful students and find some who were less run-of-the-mill. Unfortunately, I got hoist by my own petard and ended up on air as a case study myself.

I left my school in the East End of London very early and went to sea with the Merchant Navy before eventually washing back up in London, aged 17, as a bouncer on the door of a club called Eel Pie Island in Twickenham. For at least 20 years it was run by a man called Arthur Chisnall, and had connections with all sorts of people in London in the Fifties, some of which I'd rather not go into. The Stones started there, among other bands - I suppose the Sixties started on Eel Pie Island in 1956.

There were quite a few of us working at the club, and Arthur Chisnall suggested we raise the money for one of us to go and study. I was the one chosen, and at about 23 got packed off to Harlech - a residential college which provided adult education. You could get a full grant and still can, providing the Labour government doesn't change the rules. That was my start in education, which led to Southampton University and eventually Bradford, where I have worked as an adult educator for the last 30 years.

Because further education funding is allocated per capita, we have got to estimate very precisely the number of students we wish to enrol or risk losing money. BICC is one of the largest colleges in the country, and we have around 10,000 students on the adult and general education courses alone. We are also downsizing at the moment.

Adult Learners Week culminated on Saturday with the completion of a sculpture and huge mural which college staff have been working on in Centenary Square in the centre of Bradford. The square has only recently opened and I was warned if a drop of paint fell on the pavement I would hang from the spire of City Hall. Miraculously, we left the streets as clean as we found themn Interview by Lucy Ward

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