Learning account: All aboard for the adult learning bus (and bring the children, too)

It's never too late to restart your education - that's the message the Government wants to drive home. In Lancashire, the Bolton Opportunities Bus, complete with creche and computers, is just the ticket for adult learners.
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The Independent Online
Bridie Wareing is an access officer at Bolton Institute of Higher Education and joint project manager of the Bolton Opportunities Bus.

When we got the bus last spring it was multi-coloured on the outside and full of bits of sticky paper and balloons. Bolton Council had used it as a children's playbus, and we had to do a lot of kitting out to convert it.

Our plan is to use the bus to take education opportunities to people in parts of Bolton who may have missed out the first time round. Often, they are wary about going back to college, or feel it's too late for them to gain qualifications. With a double-decker bus with a creche downstairs and computer suite upstairs, we can come right to their doorsteps. The idea is that students can do basic courses in IT or confidence-building and then progress as far as they want to, moving on to Bolton Institute or elsewhere.

Once we'd had the bus deep-cleaned to get rid of the sticky paper, joiners partitioned the top deck to create a learning centre with desks and room for six Pentium computers. Then the downstairs was set up as a creche, where parents will be able to leave their children while they study.

To make sure things would run smoothly when we launched the project this week, we ran a pilot scheme with the bus over the summer. The first problem to emerge was that the generator we had installed to power the computers was not large enough. We were getting into silly situations where you could have three computers working but couldn't have the kettle on at the same time, so people could get on the bus and learn about IT but couldn't have a cup of tea.

Our other challenge was to find a driver. In the end, we decided to combine the jobs of driving and lecturing. Our IT tutor, Phil, took a bus-driving course over the summer and really shone at it. He will drive to each site, leave his cab and teach keyboard skills on the top deck along with an outreach worker. Downstairs, we have qualified creche staff.

Now that it's properly on the road, the bus will run to a regular timetable throughout the academic year, so that people always know when it will be coming to their area. It's still brightly coloured on the outside from its fun-bus days, so it's very distinctive, and the inside is comfortable and not at all intimidating.

As far as we know, the Bolton Opportunities Bus is unique in this country. We were inspired by a similar project in Oldham, where they use a bus to take education advice and guidance for women from ethnic minorities who may prefer not to come to college.

Our bus will be open to everyone, and people will be able to take complete courses on board. Our outreach worker described the bus as a tutorial coffee bar - and that's a pretty fair description ... as long as the generator holds out!

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