From education to employment

The writing’s on the wall for adult learning

Sally Dicketts is chief executive of Active Learning

Further education providers across the country finally received the news they’ve been dreading last week as the Skills Funding Agency confirmed cuts to the adult skills budget.

The chopping of 24 per cent off funding for adult learners was delivered with a message that things could in fact have been much worse.

SFA chief executive Peter Lauener announced that a last minute deal with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills managed to cushion an even more devastating 32 per cent reduction. Providers who do not deliver apprenticeships, traineeships, nor English and maths will still face this higher level chop and it is difficult to see them surviving at all.

Cuts are cuts, and it is unlikely that anyone in the further education sector is breathing a sigh of relief at a figure of 24 per cent. For a group such as ours, cuts to the adult skills budget will reduce annual income by £1.4m.

It feels that the writing is on the wall when it comes to the viability of adult learning, with budgets soon to be entirely given over to apprenticeships. For a government big on social mobility and developing skills, we are at risk of losing a sector that is one of the biggest drivers of change and opportunity. I know that the further education sector transforms lives and offers countless adults the chance to re-train, change career or re-enter the workforce. But for how much longer we cannot tell.

As further education funding remains unprotected and the sector goes overlooked, apprenticeships continue to be a hot topic in the run up to the general election.

There was a welcome boost to national minimum wages for young apprentices in the chancellor’s pre-election budget. The increase will halve the gap between apprenticeship pay and the minimum wage for 16 to 17 year olds and will do no harm to the apprenticeships brand. Balanced with reductions in National Insurance contributions for those employing young people, the move shouldn’t deter businesses from growing their own.

This kind of investment will help to develop a particular type of training, but we need backing for the broader delivery of NVQs and other vocational training programmes if we are to develop skilled workforces and achieve the economic growth the country needs.

It feels like the writing is on the wall for adult funding but let’s hope that it doesn’t spell out the end for the further education sector.

Sally Dicketts is chief executive of Active Learning, an education group that includes Banbury and Bicester College, City of Oxford College and Reading College

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