Skills Minister Phil Hope's recent statement on the new materials available to learners has been welcomed by the UK's leading non-governmental organisation for adult learning in England and Wales.

The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) is delighted to see the new materials are being provided for learners in colleges across the country. The materials are especially welcome across the FE sector as they are supplied free of charge, which is always a boost for any area of education where funding is an ongoing concern.

Successful Trials

In his statement, Phil Hope ushered in the new college year with the announcement that initial trials of the materials have met with great success. Early trials have shown that some 90 % of post-16 students and trainees in work-based learning have welcomed the more active approach on offer, building on the solid foundation of more traditional text book based activities. Phil Hope said: "Early trials for this package showed an immediate pay back in terms of higher motivation, better retention and more active learning."

The sheer size of the FE sector affected was made clear by the minister, who said: "The transformation of teaching, training and learning across the learning and skills sector lies at the heart of our Success for All strategy, now in its third year. We are working with the sector to drive up standards and success rates for some six million learners of all ages and backgrounds." The materials provided cover 11 areas such as business, construction, Entry to Employment, science, health & social care, information & communication technologies, land-based studies, mathematics all currently available), adult & community learning, engineering and modern foreign languages (available from September 2006).

NIACE Respond

The Associate Director of Further Education at NIACE, Colin Flint, agreed with the statement from the University and College Lecturers" Union (NATFHE) in welcoming the new materials that are either already available together with their support packages, or that are coming online in the next year. "This [the new initiative that sees these materials being trialed and offered free of charge to colleges] sounds excellent," he said. "We are all in favour of innovative approaches that result in successful learners."

However, he raised NIACE's concerns regarding the situation in Adult and post "“ 19 Education, an issue which also concerns NATFHE and the Association of Colleges (AoC). In the latest Learning and Skills Council (LSC) budget, funding for post "“ 19 education dropped in real terms, raising concerns over the future of adult and continuing education in Britain.

The Government are focusing their energies on education up to the age of 18, and basic skills training at all ages, and is calling for either individuals or employers to foot a greater share of the cost for adult education courses. Colin Flint referred to this issue, saying: "We just hope that there are as many adult learners coming to colleges this year to make use of these new resources, despite the reported funding problems."

It is certainly laudable that the Government is providing better quality materials for learners in college; and better yet, free of charge. But if the learners cannot afford to attend the course, as it is feared will be the case for thousands of older learners, then surely the materials must fall under the heading of a qualified success.

Jethro Marsh

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