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16-18 participation rates still under 94 figure; adult learning suffering

6 million learners benefited last year from a £10 billion fund dedicated to further education, work-based learning and adult learning.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has released its first progress report, entitled Delivering Learning and Skills, detailing how much money has been spent in specific areas.

And it found that the proportion of 16 to 18 year-olds currently involved in education or training lags behind the 1994 figure by over 1%; this represents a fall in excess of 100,000 students. In 1994, that figure stood at 77.6%; at the end of 2005, the percentage was 76.2%. Further, statistics indicate that these participation rates have never emulated the 1994 percentage, dropping to 74.5% in 2002.

Also, the percentage of 16 to 18 year-olds who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) has increased by 1% from 2004 to 2005; the current figure now sits at 11%.

The report also indicates the extent of the government’s priorities: “Adult learner numbers in FE stood at 3.1 million in 2004/05. This marks a slight fall on the preceding year (3.2 million) and reflects the focus on priority provision at Level 2 and 3″. However, that figure has taken a more exaggerated fall for the period 2005/2006, with 2.6 million 19+ students on LSC-funded FE programmes ““ a decrease of 636,000 adult learners.

This fall in adult numbers is set against a backdrop of increased funding: “Total funding of FE participation for adult learners in 2005/06 is estimated as £2.9 billion, which marks a 4.6 per cent increase on 2004/05, despite the fact that overall adult learner numbers have fallen”.

However, it is stated that across all FE provision, adult success rates have increased from an average 72% in 2003/2004 to 75% in 2004/2005.

As is well documented, the overall LSC budget increased from £9.2 billion [up to March 2005] to £10.4 billion to March 2006, with nearly half going towards FE provision. From this budget, approximately 50,000 more students enrolled onto FE courses, while the figures for work-based learning and adult/community learning dropped by 3.3% and 0.8% respectively.

The report also provided a gender breakdown, indicating that female participation in two sectors outstripped their male counterparts: in FE, 59% of learners were female throughout 2004/2005 and in Adult/Community learning, the proportion was far more exaggerated; 77% of female learners compared to just 23% male. However, in work-based learning, over half [57%] of learners were men.

While the LSC’s administration costs increased by £48 million, the percentage of the budget remained consistent with its 2004 figure of 3%.

Post-16 success rates have increased across the board by 2%, now standing at 74%. According to the report, “increasing retention and achievement rates have both contributed to this overall improvement”. FE college success rates surpassed the 72% target, reaching 75%. The report continues: “In autumn 2005, 69.8% of people aged 19 were qualified to at least Level 2 and 73.2% of economically active adults had a qualification at Level 2 or higher”.

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Following last month’s national rollout of Train to Gain, 16,000 more Apprenticeship frameworks were completed from the period 2003/2004 to 2004/2005, indicating a 31% increase. Further, apprenticeship completions for the period 2005/2006 are expected to reach in excess of 75,000.

In terms of satisfaction, “the proportion of learners expressing themselves as “extremely satisfied” rose in all areas of learning”. However, the figures for work-based learning suggested “scope for improvement”: 9% of learners were not satisfied with the learning experience and 29% were only “fairly satisfied”.

According to a November 2005 OFTED report: “Most teaching in FE colleges is good or better, and the great majority of colleges are satisfactorily or well-managed. Sixth form colleges make almost uniformly good provision”.

And against the Public Service Agreements, the LSC is on course: 1.286 million adults have already achieved “basic skills” against a target of 1.5 million; 841,000 working adults have already achieved a Level 2 qualification against a target of 1 million between 2003 and 2006.

Mark Haysom, Chief Executive of the LSC said: “Delivering Learning and Skills is a ringing endorsement of the impressive progress made by the sector. That said, there are still big challenges ahead and further work is needed to meet them”.

“Learning and skills are the cornerstone of the economic and social well-being of the country and so we have to strive to deliver better and better performance every year to ensure we achieve our goal to make England better skilled and more competitive”.

Bill Rammell, Minister for Further, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, added: “This Government has increased Further Education funding, delivered through the LSC, by 48 per cent since 1997. Together we are driving towards implementing a truly demand-led system by 2010 based on genuine partnership between employers and educators”.

“The newly restructured LSC is delivering the skills businesses say they need working closely with the FE sector. [This week] we will announce the ongoing funding strategy for the LSC and the strategic planning to support it in its essential role underpinning our sweeping reforms to skills and FE in this country”.

Read the full report here.

Vijay Pattni.

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