Teenagers offered hands-on learning in Stroud

An accredited practical skills course has been launched in Gloucestershire as an alternative to sixth form education

A specialist independent college in Stroud, Gloucestershire is working with mainstream education to enable 16-19 year olds to gain qualifications through practical learning methods.

The Waldorf College and Stroud College have teamed up to offer Bridging the Gap, a two year course without fees, based on an experiential education approach.

The first course began in September 2011 and covers the creative arts, practical crafts and science. Activities include building, farming, gardening, blacksmithing, woodwork, pottery, leatherwork, stained glass, cooking, nutrition, creative writing, art, discussion, music and drama.

Through these projects young people will learn chemistry, physics, numeracy, biology and how the natural world works, as well as improve their confidence, presentation skills and self expression. The course will lead to a BTEC in Learning for Life Skills and a Diploma in Progression.

The new course is an important step in making alternative approaches to education more accessible to all young people, says Amelia Parisian, a 22-year-old tutor and assistant coordinator at Bridging the Gap.

“The original Waldorf College used to be private before it closed down in 2010, so the local college rang and asked if it wanted to collaborate on running some courses,” explains Amelia. “The local college offered to link the project with mainstream funding and accredit the course so that prospective students could get the best of both worlds.”

Sam Hall, an 18-year-old on the course who is from the local area says that after trying and failing to go to college, he wanted to do something different.

“This course is fantastic, it’s been really inspiring,” he said. “It’s very diverse and has given me confidence and enthusiasm, and I’ve met an amazing group of people.”

Sam believes that many other young people would benefit from hands-on learning. “So many young people are at a loss, they feel failed by the education system,” he says. “But not fitting into school is not your fault, it’s the system. The problem with normal school is you feel like another brick in the wall. On this course there is a sense of democracy and that you matter.”

Jenny Smith, a student from Grenta on the Scottish borders, agrees.“There needs to be more of these courses around the country,” says the 19-year-old. “I had to come 300 miles to be here, but I’ve got other friends in Scotland in the same position.”

Jenny was out of education for a number of years before finding Bridging the Gap.

“I’ve never done well with sitting in a classroom,” she says. “But I didn’t realise there was so much I can do, and through discussions during the course it’s helping me find what I enjoy. Now I’m getting qualifications, while doing interesting things, and I could go on to university. It’s a really good way of learning.”


Bridging the Gap’s experiential education approach

With a work portfolio instead of exams and an approach that gives students freedom while encouraging them to take responsibility, Bridging the Gap bills itself as the college for people who thought they wouldn’t like college.

  • Physical work – students feel fit and healthy
  • Working outdoors – learning about what underpins life on Earth through contact with the soil, plants, animals, the seasons and the weather, and through understanding ecology and the importance of sustainability
  • Working together – forming social bonds leads students to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of others and of themselves and they develop a sense of shared responsibility
  • Learning by doing – experiencing the technological processes that begin with raw materials and end with a finished product, be it an article of clothing, food, a public performance, or a bowl they can eat out of, for example
  • Understanding society and the environment – learning how we can influence the world by doing positive projects in and for the wider community
  • Creativity – becoming creative in all aspects of their work so students can discover their own uniqueness and develop confidence in being themselves
  • Self discovery – students learn who they are and what they want to do with their lives, through art, creative writing, presenting their own work and reflecting on the learning process and their place in the social group