Claire wins Inspire! award for commitment to learning with her young son through Families Learning Together with CAVC

14 Oct 2021

Claire Gurton has won an Inspire! Award for adult learners for her participation in a Cardiff and Vale College initiative to engage families and support their children’s learning.

Claire, who is 46 and from Cardiff, is taking part in CAVC’s Families Learning Together project at Coed Glas Primary School with her son Mackenzie. She has found that it has both boosted her confidence and improved Mackenzie’s performance at school.

Claire was just 22 when she lost the sight in one of her eyes. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was suffering with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), an autoimmune disease affecting the eyes and spinal cord.

Claire continued to work for another 20 years, until four years ago when her health deteriorated, and she made the difficult decision to leave her busy job at the YMCA. She lost the sight in her other eye and developed some mobility issues, deafness and tinnitus, all of which caused her to become anxious and lose confidence.

When her seven-year-old son Mackenzie’s school started advertising CAVC Families Learning Together classes, Claire was apprehensive. But, seeing the classes as a positive way of helping Mackenzie, who has ADHD and other neuro development issues, to improve his concentration and keep up with his classmates, Claire persevered.

Families Learning Together aims to engage with as many families as possible to foster positive attitudes to education and help parents and carers support their children’s learning while learning new skills themselves.

Now, Claire and Mackenzie have completed six classes and are planning to continue learning together. Mackenzie’s teachers have noticed an improvement in his concentration and schoolwork, and Claire has a newfound confidence in her abilities.

Claire has been awarded the ‘Family Learning’ Inspire! Award, a recognition of her commitment to lifelong learning and helping her son to achieve at school.

The Inspire! Awards is co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund. They recognise those who have demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.

For Claire, who had been used to working in a busy environment with lots of responsibility, learning with Mackenzie wasn’t just a way of helping him learn. It also helped to fill her days and keep her mind active.

She said: “Mackenzie was only recently diagnosed with ADHD so he’s getting a lot more help now, but before he was medicated, we really struggled to get him to concentrate. You can’t just teach him from a piece of paper, he needs to be actively engaged.

“He’s behind his classmates at school. Going to classes together seemed like the perfect way to help him catch up and bring me up to speed on what he’s learning so I could help more with his homework.”

Going into the first class, Claire worried that being disabled might prevent her from keeping up with the other parents, but she quickly gained confidence.

She continued: “I felt really nervous and anxious. I hadn’t done any learning in a long time, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. And I didn’t know what impact being blind and deaf would have on my ability to take part. I asked my husband to come with us to the first class, but I felt so supported that Mackenzie and I and guide dog Peggy went on our own after that.

“We started with a Literacy and Number Skills course. The courses aren’t designed specifically for children with ADHD but because the activities are so practical and fun that I found it was much easier to keep Mackenzie engaged.

“Every class starts with the teacher reading a story, and then all the activities are based on that story. There’s a lot of physical counting, cutting and sticking and drawing. We both enjoyed the first course so much that as soon as it finished we signed up for more.

“We did eight during the first lockdown. I was shielding so it was great to have something to occupy our time. It was a bonding experience for us, and we learned tips and tricks to help with Mackenzie’s homeschooling while the schools were closed.”

For Claire, who had been used to working in a busy environment with lots of responsibility, learning with Mackenzie also helped to fill her days and keep her mind active.

She continued: “In work, you get recognition for working hard. Every day you feel like you’re achieving something. When I stopped working, I lost that. Going back into learning has helped me in so many ways.

“I always thought I wouldn’t be able to do the same activities the other parents can do. Now I know I can, I’m much more confident and independent. I’ve made new friends and improved my own basic skills. I’m proud of what Mackenzie and I have been able to achieve.”

Since enrolling on Families Learning Together with CAVC, Mackenzie’s concentration and ability to sit still have improved.

Claire said: “Learning with Mackenzie can be challenging. It sometimes takes us a bit longer to complete activities, but we have so much fun doing it.

“I can see a huge difference in Mackenzie’s attention and the amount of interest he shows in the lessons. He’s learning new skills and knowledge with every class that will help him catch up to where he should be. His teachers have noticed the difference, too.

“The benefits of taking these courses have been huge for both of us. I would recommend it to anyone – if we can do it, so can you.”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said: “What better way to realise the value of adult learning than to hear the uplifting stories of our Inspire! Award winners. Each and every one of our winners demonstrates the benefits lifelong learning can bring – from improving mental wellbeing, to gaining the skills to land a new job.

“We hope their incredible stories will inspire people across Wales to take that first step back into education. Whatever your motivation for gaining new skills, there’s never been a better time to change your story.”

CAVC’s Families Learning Together courses feature classes and workshops either online or in school for parents and carers to attend with their children. Its provision has expanded this year due to increased demand and the range of courses include Nursery, Foundation Phase, KS2, KS3, English for Speakers of Other Languages and Welsh Medium.

There are 171 courses planned for the 2021-22 academic year which will reach more than 1,400 families in the region. If you are interested in a Families Learning Together course email for more information.