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Warmth Without Waste


Many participants on basic skills courses are from low-income households and are at greater risk of fuel poverty. For that reason, they are a prime target for advice and guidance on managing their energy use, reducing fuel costs and how to access efficiency measures. However, the current curricula and teaching materials do not offer any opportunity to learn more about these topics. National and local government simultaneously seek to promote greater understanding of the need to reduce energy use, tackle fuel poverty and address the skills gap, which affects a significant percentage of the working-age population, and hence the potential to join this work up is considerable.

Key research Question

To determine whether the subject of energy conservation could be used as a vehicle for improving literacy, numeracy and other basic skills in formal learning settings.

Summary of activity

The report was based on two trial courses run at East Essex Adult Community College, of which one targeted individuals with learning difficulties and the other Basic and post Basic students. Energy conservation was also inserted into Foundation classes at the college. The report was based on feedback from tutors and students and a selection of case studies of individual students.



The initial recruitment was challenging, which the authors suggest was partly due to a lack of interest in the subject. Learners were eventually recruited from other courses. Nevertheless, the project did demonstrate that home energy conservation is viable as a topic for basic skills education. Feedback from those who did participate was broadly positive. The ‘real life’ applicability of what they had learnt was appreciated – in particular, learning about running costs and condensation/mould was popular, but the energy consumption of appliances less so.

Examples were identified of students and tutors saving on their bills and passing advice on to others, demonstrating clear changes in behaviours and attitudes. Current accreditation (e.g. National Energy Action [NEA]/City and Guilds Energy Awareness certification) is too advanced for this level, but college-based qualifications are a feasible alternative.


  • Basic Skills providers in other parts of the UK should implement similar schemes, with comparisons between urban and rural communities. The learning pack should be promoted within the sector. Better support from industry, particularly energy suppliers, is needed.
  • The marketing of such schemes must be carefully planned to attract students, and more work is needed to identify what works.
  • The lessons of the project should be reviewed to consider a) how existing accreditation schemes can be broadened to allow greater access to energy awareness training and b) how the topic can be integrated into adult education in general. The authors advise that NEA, as a current accreditor, may wish to pay particular attention to these questions.

Other themes



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