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Calls for an Adult Education Strategy in 2017

Calls for an adult education strategy

61 MPs have written to Skills Minister Robert Halfon demanding publication of the overdue adult education strategy, an increased investment in lifelong learning, and the reintroduction of “Night Schools” for adults. This was in response to anxieties about skills post-Brexit, the 40% real term cut to the adult skills budget since 2010, and frustrations that the Government’s 2016 Post-16 Skills Plan promise of a “new approach” to adult education and lifelong learning by end of 2016 has not yet emerged. According to the government’s own figures, there are 1.5 million fewer adults participating in learning than there were ten years ago.

The letter follows an adjournment debate called by David Lammy MP on Friday 13th Jan 2017, and highlights how little the Post-16 Skills Plan says about adult education at all, let alone any new approaches, investment or ideas.  It says: “We call on you to come up with a national strategy that works across departments in recognition of the huge range of beneficial outcomes that adult education has for individuals, our economy and society in general – not least in terms of employability and helping people return to work, but also in terms of tackling mental ill health and social exclusion”.

The letter further points out the swingeing cuts that adult education has been subject to, and the fall in both the numbers of adult learners and the number of adults achieving at higher levels.  It highlights the importance of adult education in helping people build communities, escape low-income jobs and develop skills to keep up with a changing economy.   David Lammy MP said: “My message is simple: bring back night schools.... For far too long Parliament and Whitehall have been obsessed with young people getting into university or undertaking apprenticeships but education doesn’t end at 18 or 21. We need investment and we need a strategy for adult education and lifelong learning.

Skills minister Robert Halfon responded by talking about apprenticeships and advance learner loans, but also said that the government would “soon bring forward potential policy options from the current review”. He listed its priorities as “meeting our skills deficit, helping the socially disadvantaged and the community, being as widespread as possible, given the funding pressures, and being good quality.”

There is some hope that future debate and action will acknowledge the benefits of wider adult education, and the challenges of both getting people into learning and keeping them there. With not just digital skills but also basic language, literacy and numeracy skills still embarrassingly low across the country, any adult education or skills strategy has to consider what it means by “lifelong”, and how it will engage those potential learners who cannot or will not engage with formal learning. Step forward the Third Sector......

Read a transcript of the parliamentary debate

Adult Education not a priority for Halfon?

In an article for FE Week, Skills Minister Robert Halfon outlined his plans, priorities and resolutions for 2017. He mentioned careers, apprenticeships, skills, social justice, quality and jobs, focussing on the apprenticeship levy and the new Institute, the Sainsbury reforms around professional and technical education, and the impact on colleges of area reviews. But not much on adult education and lifelong learning.

Read the full article

WEA adds its voice to the adult eduation strategy debate

Since David Lammy’s adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 13th January, there have been more calls for a national adult learning strategy. Chief executive of the WEA Ruth Spellman has highlighted how compulsory under-19 education alone cannot address the UK’s growing skills shortages.

She says that while Skills and Apprenticeships Minister Robert Halfon has stated that “lifelong learning is firmly back on the government’s agenda”, what is really needed is a national lifelong learning strategy that facilitates pathways and opportunities for all adults. This is particularly relevant for those furthest from the labour market, who are educationally disadvantaged or who are in low-paid or unskilled work.

Her comments come against a backdrop fewer unemployed adults taking part in learning (dropping 6% to 35% in the past year, according to the Learning and Work Institute), along with a 35% drop in adult skills funding between 2009/10 and 2015/16 (AoC figures) and a 40% drop since 2010 in adult participation in HE .

The WEA wants the government to act on the five key recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) adult education report, which includes establishing a national strategy for adult education, rebuilding and rebalancing resources fairly for adults, providing careers information advice and guidance in local communities, ensuring a systematic approach to gathering evidence on the full impact of adult education, and encouraging employers to provide educational opportunities for employees.

The WEA also wants the government to consider introducing an entitlement in English, maths and digital, and create “plural pathways” back into learning for all learners irrespective of age or current qualifications. Ruth Spellman considers that a national lifelong learning strategy could help address the problems of an aging society, help future-proof our society and our economy. The government’s industrial strategy green paper promises ‘ambitious new approaches to encouraging lifelong learning’ but an ‘approach’ is not enough without long-term commitment and a plan of action.

Read the APPG report and evidence     

Read Ruth Spellman’s article in FE Week