From education to employment

Adult education for our grandchildren

We have just had Adult Learners Week, and inspiring it has been too.

A piece of my past education history surfaced in an unexpected way a few days ago. My almost one year old grandson is about to start at nursery, and for various reasons, the chosen nursery is in Keynsham, near Bristol (I can hear those of you of a similar age thinking ‘Keynsham – spelt K E Y N S H A M’ as you read this, remembering Radio Luxembourg and Horace Batchelor – his old house has been turned into flats just down the road from the nursery!) The surprise for me is that it turns out the nursery is in the adult education centre on the edge of Keynsham which I used to run from the mid-1980s into the mid-1990s, which has not been an adult education centre for some time! It will be odd the first time I pick him up or drop him off!

This has made reflect on what it was like to run an adult education centre during that period of time. The centre, Ellsbridge House, had just become part of my further education college, and over the time I managed it, I felt we were able to give local people the adult education service they deserved. For four evenings and four days a week, with some weekend and holiday activities as well, Ellsbridge House was the centre of a range of venues including village halls, schools, community centres and this lovely listed building where adult education took place. On offer was a choice of education from A-Levels to pottery, from early computer literacy courses to programmes for women returners, and many more. If you were on a low income, there were generous reductions, and over a period of time we managed to access grants and subsidies which meant a good deal of the education was free. I’m sure I am perhaps over nostalgic about this, but it did seem to be a great time for adult education.

Since I realised my grandson is going to be spending time at Ellsbridge House (he may even play in my old office!), I have started to wonder what adult education service he may receive when he becomes an adult. The answer I’m afraid, as things stand, is that he may not receive any such service (unless of course he can pay full cost for it). Recent cuts and newly proposed cuts have led the AoC, the Policy Consortium and others to question whether we will have any adult education left by 2020. G.K. Chesterton said (in 1924) that ‘education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another’. I believe that any civil society should be proud to protect the adult education which is part of that soul, not to destroy it.

I can already hear voices talking about hard choices in difficult times, but this isn’t a hard choice, it’s a very easy one. There is so much evidence (from NIACE, the OECD, Ewart Keep of Oxford University and indeed research from BIS) that investment in adult education reaps rewards in terms of employment, social capital, community cohesion and gains in individual attainment that it is beggars belief that all countries don’t guarantee its existence.

Successive governments however have ignored this evidence, and continue to concentrate funding and attention on the early years of our lives, not all of our lives. During my time managing Ellsbridge House, which was exciting, really hard work and totally enjoyable, there were thousands of examples of souls being transformed, recovered, renewed and rejuvenated, and that probably included mine. I don’t have benchmarks or performance criteria to prove that but I know it happened, as do the many people who benefitted.

It’s difficult with pressure on so many budgets to argue that one should have more priority than another, but I want my grandson and others to still have adult education when they are adults, so I’ll keep on promoting its value.

Jim Crawley is a senior lecturer in education studies at Bath Spa University, and convenes the TELL network

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