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Evaluation of the Scottish union learning fund— Year one (2000-2001)


Evaluation of the Scottish Union Learning Fund - Year 1 (2000-2001)

Chapter one: background and evaluation objectives


1.1 Learning has been a central tenet of unions since their conception. However, in the 1980's there were few resources available to support education initiatives, shop stewards training was one of the few programmes to survive. Local Enterprise Companies (LECs) which collectively make up the Scottish Enterprise Network and the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Network were established in 1991. The STUC and Scottish Enterprise's first working relationship was on the Bargaining for Skills initiative. The Bargaining for Skills initiative was essentially about joint action between the STUC and Scottish Enterprise to raise awareness amongst unions about skills and lifelong learning initiatives, and amongst LEC staff about the union role at the workplace and its potential impact on employer-led activity.

1.2 Whilst unions were involved in lifelong learning in Scotland before SULF, it was not in a coordinated way. The STUC Lifelong Learning Unit (LLU) was established in October 1999. Scottish Enterprise and the STUC established the Unit in partnership to promote and raise awareness of lifelong learning, and work with the unions to develop lifelong learning opportunities and to develop a strategic approach to lifelong learning. SULF was introduced soon after the establishment of the STUC LLU to fund activity by trade unions with the STUC LLU providing support to the unions and to SULF.

1.3 In terms of the policy agenda, when SULF was introduced Individual Learning Accounts were in operation and were available to everyone aged 18 and over (these have since been suspended). The Adult Literacy and Numeracy Strategy in Scotland was published in June 2001, thus any union involvement, through SULF, with literacy and numeracy was not related to the strategy and there was no specification in the SULF 2000 prospectus for unions to consider literacy and numeracy in their projects. SUfI and learndirect Scotland was launched in October 2000, thus enabling some of the projects to work with SUfI.

1.4 Finally, since SULF Year One there have been a number of developments in terms of the unions and policy agenda. The most notable developments are:

  • The Adult Literacy and Numeracy Strategy was published in June 2001
  • Adult Literacy Pathfinder projects introduced and funded the STUC Adult Literacy Coordinator
  • The establishment of the Trade Union Lifelong Learning Working Party
  • The establishment of STUC Learning Forum, which meets quarterly and has representation from 22 of the affiliated unions
  • Careers Scotland was launched in April 2002


1.5 In April 2000, the Scottish Executive introduced the Scottish Union Learning Fund (SULF) with its primary aim "to help promote activity by trade unions in support of the Scottish Executive's lifelong learning programme". The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) Lifelong Learning Unit has a role to promote the fund and support projects funded by it.

1.6 SULF is now in its third year. It promotes activity by trade unions in support of the Executive's lifelong learning and skills development programmes and priorities. The Fund is intended to ensure effective and sustainable activity by trade unions and their partners to encourage learning in its widest sense. Successful projects will contribute towards the goal of creating a dynamic, successful Scotland through a highly skilled workforce.

1.7 The total funding for SULF was 1.6 million and 400,000 was available for each financial year from 2000-2004. However, at the STUC conference in October 2002, it was announced that 800,000 was available for SULF in 2003/04. Sixteen projects bid for funding from SULF in Year One, 12 of which were successful. In total, 11 unions were involved in managing SULF projects during this first year.

1.8 The emphasis of the projects supported by the Fund is on building up unions' capacity to promote people development and workplace learning, especially by encouraging and supporting non-traditional learners. The fund has been used, amongst other things, for the training of learning representatives. Learning representatives are trade union activists who specialise in learning issues. They work on behalf of members of the union at the workplace (in some instances they work on behalf of all employees in the workplace) and undertake a range of roles including providing information on learning, negotiating with employers, identifying learning needs and organising access to training.

1.9 Skill initiation in supporting non-traditional workers into learning is just one strand of the Fund. The Fund as a whole is about employee upskilling and skills acquisition of the union members as a whole. Skill initiation is an important pre-requisite to skills acquisition.

Objectives of SULF

1.10 The trade union movement is increasingly recognised as being in a position to promote the learning 'message' and opportunities to both individuals and employers - in particular, the importance attributed to lifelong learning as a means to secure economic opportunity for all. The Scottish Union Learning Fund aims to promote and embed activity by trades unions that support the Scottish Executive's objective of creating a culture of lifelong learning in the workplace whilst addressing the productivity and competitiveness challenge. These activities should be sustainable and build upon union strategies for competitiveness, employability and inclusion.

1.11 As with similar Union Learning Funds in England and Wales, SULF seeks to build capacity within the union movement to maximise learning engagement with both individuals and employers. The trade union movement is increasingly recognised as being in a unique position to advance the learning message and opportunity to both individuals and employers in an environment of dialogue, trust and support.

Evaluation Objectives

1.12 The Executive defined a number of criteria against which bids for SULF round one funding were assessed, and against which the success of project activity can be gauged:

  • is the bid innovative, and/or
  • complement key Scottish Executive initiatives on lifelong learning, such as Individual Learning Accounts and the Scottish University for Industry, and/or
  • consolidate and embed systems and provision successfully demonstrated by projects funded by the Union Learning Fund in England, and/or
  • involve all the main unions and other key partners in a given sector or Scotland wide, and/or
  • relate to strategies for learning developed by unions for their Scottish membership, and/or
  • demonstrate a commitment to equality of opportunity in access to learning, and
  • relate to projects that will operate in Scotland, and
  • will be successfully completed by the end of a specified period (normally one year but, exceptionally, no more than two years).

1.13 To assist the assessment of progress towards meeting the Fund's objectives, the key objectives of the evaluation study are to:

  • examine the outputs and future likely outputs of the 12 round one projects
  • assess the longer term impacts of projects including
  • - union/employer and employee attitudes to learning

    - capacity of unions to deliver or organise learning

    - more or better partnerships with other organisations and particularly with employers to organise and deliver training

    - sustainability over the longer term without direct funding

  • examine the range of projects and evaluate the most beneficial type of project, identifying key success factors
  • explore the unique contribution that unions have made as a result of funding, in particular their ability to engage disaffected/non-traditional learners
  • make recommendations on the future development of the fund.

Work Plan

1.14 The Evaluation was undertaken in several stages as shown in Figure 1.1. In summary, the stages were:

  • YCL asked all project managers to complete a questionnaire ( Annex A) in May 2002 to report progress against objectives and targets described in the initial bid
  • Project managers were then contacted during June to discuss their responses and to explore issues that were identified
  • Four case studies were also undertaken in June. The case study projects were those run by EIS, BECTU, ASLEF and AEEU. Those led by ASLEF and AEEU were joint union projects. The projects were chosen to reflect the range of unions, sectors, learner types and types of activity. Through the case studies, interviews were conducted with a cross-section of those involved, including project workers, union officials and elected representatives, learning representatives, employers, partners and learners. In addition to the four case studies, to ensure good coverage, a further structured focus group was held with a group of learning representatives working in the public sector
  • Stakeholder consultations were carried out alongside the case studies in June. A list of stakeholders is provided in Annex B
  • An employer survey was undertaken in July. The project questionnaire asked project managers to provide contact details for employers involved in the projects. These employers were then contacted via telephone to discuss their experiences. The employer survey was only conducted with non-case study projects of which 4 unions provided contact details for 14 employers 2
  • A database of objectives and achievements has been developed by YCL and this will be handed over to the Scottish Executive


Data Availability

1.15 The availability of data varies by project, depending on the nature of the project. For example, while vocational education training is expressed through certification, SULF learning is more about flexible and broad learning and although some learners will gain a qualification, the learning the fund supports is much broader and thus less easily quantifiable.

1.16 In addition, as the Year One projects were developmental projects, run by unions that on the whole had limited experience of project management and the collection of management information, the data available for analysis (in particular, information on the characteristics of learners) was limited in nature.