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The Skills Bill will bring significant changes to the skills landscape – But it is not a revolution in lifelong learning

Simon Parkinson, CEO and General Secretary, The WEA

The Skills Bill is quiet on support for any qualifications below Level 3 and also support for subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines. We have argued that these lower level qualifications offer many adult learners key progression routes and also that they lead to skills and behaviours which employers value.

We do not necessarily expect these omissions to be addressed directly in the Bill but we believe that the funding system must continue to support a wide range of adult education and skills, including non-accredited provision and qualifications below Level 3. Otherwise many adults will be left behind.

We welcome that the Government have acknowledged the importance of adult learning to individuals, employers and our economy through the publication of the Skills Bill today but we are concerned that it will not go far enough. The Bill includes provision for the  Lifetime Skills Guarantee which will provide support for many adults seeking qualifications but this approach is too narrow leaving many others behind.

Today’s announcement is in the right direction but we urge the Government to ensure that a wide range of courses are truly accessible to all including those who need to gain qualifications below Level 3.

It is those people from disadvantaged backgrounds who did not pass their GCSEs at 16 and need English and maths proficiency to gain skills and access work.  They must be a key focus for the government as it is this hard to reach group of people who have been badly hit by the pandemic.

Lifelong learning has been treated as a marginal issue for too long within the education system and the Skills Bill is an important first step. With major changes in the economy and society, many  people will need to work for longer so opportunities to learn and retrain are increasingly important.

The emphasis in the Lifetime Skills Guarantee has been on upskilling but we would also encourage the Government to recognise the vital role that adult education plays within the local community and economy.

We urge support for a lifelong learning system that provides a breadth of subject choices for students including those strategically important yet vulnerable arts and culture subjects that are an important part of our communities and which improve the wellbeing and mental health of adult learners.

Simon Parkinson, General Secretary and Chief Executive of the WEA

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