Paul McGovern

Many routes to an education

Paul McGovern left school at 15 – but that hasn’t stopped him helping dozens of colleagues to get qualifications and new skills.

“Back in 1979 it didn’t seem as important to get qualifications – I left school on the Thursday, and had a full-time job to go to on the Monday,” says Unite learning rep, Paul McGovern. “Things have changed, though. There are so many people my age who have gone for interviews and not got the job because they are missing basic skills.”

In 2008, the new union learning centre at Blackpool Transport was looking for volunteers to help out. Paul, a bus driver who had been with the company for 20 years, decided to give it a go. He was already a branch officer for Unite, but this would be his first role in education and he started by taking the exams himself.

About a year later Paul passed exams in maths, English and IT. “That gave me such confidence,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to get into the learning centre to show other people how easy it could be once you get past your personal barriers.”

Since that milestone, Paul has continued to lead by example. Most recently, he took a course on mental health first aid. One of his proudest moments was completing his Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector course, which qualifies him to teach other adults. He now leads courses in basic functional skills, while tutors are brought in for more specialist subjects – teaching anything from holiday Spanish to genealogy to sign language. “If we can get at least 10 students together, we’ll offer any subject you can think of,” he says. Hundreds of courses have been on offer over the past decade.

Blackpool Transport subsidises the cost of some courses and, says Paul, managers allow employees some flexibility to plan their shifts around classes.

For some students, this second chance education has had a big impact on their personal lives.

“Halfway through the numeracy courses you’re almost guaranteed someone will come in to us and say, ‘Thanks so much — I was able to help my child with their homework last night’,” says Paul. This, he says, is the biggest reward of the job.

Paul was named TUC’s union learning rep of the year in 2016. His hard work and willingness to jump at opportunities have more than made up for starting work so young. “I actually ended up with more qualifications now than if I’d stayed in school,” he says. “I’m proud of that.”