Agnieszka Sandak chose to return to education to improve her English to enable her to better support her autistic son.
Born in Poland, her knowledge of English made it complicated in getting the help she needed from social services, charities and other organisations.
Agnieszka, 43, who studied a Level 1 Functional Skills course in English, said: “I wanted to improve my English and have more confidence with social interaction with friends, and to help my autistic son.
“The course was amazing and the teacher was perfect and so helpful. My English was already quite good, but it has definitely improved a lot.”
Adnieska is one of a growing number of adults who are returning to education at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) to gain new or improve their existing skills.
Some have used them to boost their career prospects or help with their everyday lives, such as a DIY project or to improve their English or maths to help their children with their homework.
Geoffrey Forde, 45, who studied a Level 2 Plumbing Diploma, said: “The teachers really sparked my interest. The course was very practical and informative, and it has really increased my confidence.
“There was really positive atmosphere in the classroom and workshop, and a great camaraderie between the students.”
CONEL became London’s first free college in 2017-18, offering all its adult courses from Entry Level to Level 2 for free, resulting in a third more enrolments.
Free part-time evening and weekend courses were also added to CONEL’s provision, with some 40% of those studying these courses having gone on to further study at the College.
These now include a series of Women into Construction courses as a result of extra investment following CONEL becoming one of the first Mayor of London’s Construction Academy hubs.
Elizabeth Minter, 54, who studied a carpentry course last year used her new skills to build a lean-to at her home.
She said: “It’s been brilliant. It’s given me the confidence to know I can pick up a drill or a jigsaw and use it, rather than having someone else do it.”
For others, like Natalie Galloway, 36, the decision to do a bricklaying course was not just about learning new skills.
“You can save money if you need a job done when you can do it yourself, so it’s more financially beneficial,” she said.
CONEL offers free courses in Accounting, Business, Construction, Media Production and Games Design, Engineering, English and Maths, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), Hair and Beauty, Health and Social Care, Computing, Music, Public Services, Science, Sport and Fitness, Travel and Tourism and Teacher Education.
The College introduced the free courses in response to more adults being trapped in low skilled, low paid jobs, ot who may have been put off by the cost of returning to education or felt they did not have the time to study.
Interim Principal Kurt Hintz said: “Affordability is one of the main barriers to many wanting to go back into education. Previously, adult learners would have to cover the cost of their studies out of their own pocket.
“At CONEL we wanted to remove this barrier to give everyone the chance to get back into education, regardless of age or income, knowing that education is the key to accessing higher paid jobs and getting ahead.”
CONEL is holding an Open Day on Saturday 9 March from 10am to 2pm. Book here to fast-track your entrance on the day.
If you can’t make it the College is also open every Monday during term-time from 4pm to 6pm.