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MPs call for adult skills revolution to foster new culture of life-long learning

The Education Committee (@CommonsEd) has this evening (18 Dec) published its four pillar approach to revolutionise Adult skills and lifelong learning.

The report is the culmination of  Committee’s inquiry into Adult skills and lifelong learning that was relaunched in March this year following on from the work of the previous Committee.

It makes recommendations on areas including:

  • Community learning
  • Individual learning accounts
  • Part-time education, and
  • Employer-led training.

Report calls for community learning centres in every town and individual learning accounts

A community learning centre in every town, individual learning accounts and boosting part-time Higher Education and employer-led training should be at the centre of an adult education revolution to tackle social injustice and revitalise the country’s economy, MPs say today.

The Education Committee report A Plan for an Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning Revolution sets out the role an ambitious and long-term strategy should play in helping the nation meet the major employment challenges stemming from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an ageing population, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Committee calls for an end to the model of education funding overwhelmingly focused on learning before the age of 25 and a move towards a system and culture of lifelong learning that encourages education at any age. Help for part-time learners and skills tax credits are needed to boost participation.

The report identifies four key pillars to revolutionise the adult education system:

1. A community learning centre in every town

There has been a 32% decline in participation in community learning between 2008-9 and 2018-19. 

The report finds that the DfE does not fully grasp the value and purpose of community learning and calls for an ambitious plan for a community learning centre in every town. These do not need to be new buildings or organisations: existing organisations and assets, such as colleges, church halls and libraries, could be used.

2. Individual Learning accounts (ILAs)

The failures of the Individual Learning Accounts scheme in 2000-01 have meant that ILAs remain political kryptonite for English policymaking, but provided lessons are learnt, introducing ILAs could kickstart participation.

ILAs must have a truly lifelong emphasis, with adults receiving top-up investments throughout their working lives to revitalise training and upskilling.

3. Nurse part time Higher Education back to health

Part-time student numbers collapsed by 53% between 2008-09 and 2017-18.

The DfE must instate fee grants for part-time learners from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who study courses that meet the skills needs of the nations, as well as extend the maintenance support loan to part-time distance learners.

4. A skills tax credit to revitalise employer-led training

Employer-led training has declined by a half since the end of the 1990s, with 39% of employers admitting to training none of their staff over the last year.

The Government must introduce tax credits for employers who invest in training for their low-skilled workers.

Other areas requiring urgent reform

Alongside the four key pillars, the Committee identified other areas requiring urgent reform including:

  • Childcare for adult learners,
  • English provision for speakers of other languages,
  • Modular learning,
  • Local skills offers,
  • Information, advice and guidance, and
  • Adult learning for those with SEND

On SEND, the DfE needs to assess what funding is needed for proper support. There needs to be a funding premium for learners to ensure learning provision really is available to everyone.

Following the devolution of the Adult Education Budget to Mayoral Combined Authorities, the Committee is also recommending local authorities are given the powers and funding to take on a bigger role in delivering adult skills and lifelong learning.

With their knowledge of local communities, skills gaps and employer needs, they are ideally placed to take on this responsibility.

Sector Response

Robert Halfon 100x100Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said:

“Poor access to lifelong learning is one of the great social injustices of our time. Despite the overwhelming benefits for both the economy and individuals, participation is at its lowest level in 23 years, funding has fallen by nearly 50% in a decade and around half of adults from the most disadvantaged background have received no training since leaving school.

“Despite well intentioned reforms in recent years, the Government’s approach to adult education has too often suffered from ‘initiativitis’, lurching from one policy priority to the next.

“A holistic approach is required, that provides consistent opportunities for adults to access learning and reskilling opportunities wherever they live and whatever their background. This is essential not just for people’s personal development, but for our country to fill the skills gaps in our ever-changing economy.

“The four policy pillars that we have set out of would lay the foundation for a coherent long-term adult education strategy that goes some way to fostering a national culture of lifelong learning and allowing everyone the chance to climb the ladder of opportunity.”

Stephen Evans Dec 2018 100x100Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, who contributed to the inquiry, said:

“Lifelong learning has always been important. But with huge changes to the labour market and the skills that employers need, it’s more crucial than ever.

“Our adult participation in learning survey shows there has been a decade of decline in lifelong learning, and the people who could most benefit from participation are least likely to take part.

“The recommendations in this excellent report could make a real difference. We’ve long called for a personal learning account to help people retrain and up-skill throughout their lives.”

Pat Carrington 100x100Pat Carrington, Chair of HOLEX, said:

“The Adult Community Learning sector will be pleased that their efforts have been recognised and will, willingly but humbly, accept being called the “jewel in the crown” of the nation’s adult education landscape. This Select Committee report is very timely and we hope the narrative contained in the report that adult learning benefits the economy and personal wellbeing is taken forward in the FE White Paper.

“The recommendations are well thought through and, when implemented, would bring about a step change in participation and provide the necessary direction and structure to promote delivery of adult education in the 21st century. We feel it is vital for this country’s recovery to have a Lifelong Learning Strategy that brings government departments together, sets a framework for regional and local delivery and supports underpinning delivery strategies – for example, on Basic Skills and ESOL.

“We also support the enhanced role for Local Authorities but would go further and add scrutiny to their new responsibilities so they can ensure there are clear local progression routes for their residents. We support the concept of a visible adult community education centre in every town, there is coverage now but it’s not enough. We would argue that capital funding should be available for Adult Community Learning providers and they should be allowed to grow to meet local skills needs.”

Professor Josie Fraser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, The Open University said:
“We endorse the call for a long-term and ambitious strategy for adult skills and lifelong learning. Part-time higher education is a critical part of the infrastructure needed to deliver the vision that the Committee calls for: Learning that works for every adult in every community. At The Open University, there is no typical part-time student, people of all ages and backgrounds come to us because they need flexibility to study around their everyday lives to unlock their learning ambitions.
“Covid-19 has only served to fast forward the critical need for policies and incentives to support more flexible study and lifelong learning, which will be vital for economic recovery. The Education Committee rightly focuses on the importance of incentives that support adult learners to manage their living costs. Many part-time higher education students mix learning with caring, so access to maintenance support and support that’s already available for those that study full-time – such as childcare grants and the Parents’ Learning Allowance – would make a big difference.”

The current state of adult learning & the need for a cohesive national policy

  • Alongside a 45% decline in funding for adult skills over the last decade, participation has fallen to its lowest rate in 23 years.
  • By 2024 there will be a shortfall of four million highly skilled workers. Nine million working-age adults in England have low literacy or numeracy skills, or both, and six million adults are not qualified to level 2 (equivalent to GCSE level).
  • 49% of adults in the lowest socioeconomic class have participated in learning since leaving school, compared to 20% in the highest.

The Education Committee relaunched their inquiry into adult skills and lifelong learning (ASALL) to examine the state of adult skills and lifelong learning (ASALL) provision. The inquiry explored key themes such as participation in ASALL, the balance and range of different forms of provision, and the role of employer-led training.

The inquiry also examined the role played by local authorities/combined authority areas in providing adult education.

  • The individual, social and economic benefits of adult skills and lifelong learning (ASALL).
  • Levels of participation in lifelong learning, and how to address the barriers to participation faced by disadvantaged groups.
  • The role of ASALL in addressing skills needs of workers whose jobs are at risk, and those experiencing in-work poverty.
  • The role of community learning providers, and whether enough is being done to support them.
  • Regional disparities in ASALL provision across local and combined authorities, and how well devolution of the Adult Education Budget is working.
  • What measures would be effective in supporting employers to invest in training and reskilling, particularly for low-skilled workers.
  • The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on ASALL provision and demand.

The report can be viewed on the Committee’s website from Saturday 19th December.

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