The Government released a White Paper yesterday to help boost informal adult learning classes in more than 7,000 public buildings rooms – with private firms providing the space.
John Denham, Skills Secretary, said: "Over the past few years there has been a quiet learning revolution, but the government wants to ignite this, raising the profile and take-up of learning wherever it happens."
The scheme aims to support learning for pleasure and will give individuals and groups places, such as shops, pubs and offices, where they can learn together.
Alan Tuckett, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), welcomed the Government strategy, entitled ‘Learning Revolution’.
"This White Paper represents a bright light at the end of the tunnel for adult learning and provides concrete evidence of the personal commitment and vision of John Denham. It is no mean achievement to find new money on this scale at a time when there have never been more pressures on public funding. Working together, we want to make this the start of a renaissance of learning opportunities for adults in Britain, for the benefit of individuals and communities alike," said Mr Tuckett.
"NIACE will continue to press for a re-balancing of funding for adult learning to restore opportunities lost in further, higher and community education in recent years, to contribute effectively to the support for and re-engagement of individuals and communities affected by the recession. However, the White Paper does mark a significant step change in government policy and we will work hard with all our partners to realise its vision."
The plan will bring £20 million in new resources to back adult learning’s creative and innovative developments, and will charge local authorities with the responsibility for co-ordinating provision.
Helen Milner, managing director of UK online centres, which runs a network of computer centres helping people in deprived communities get online, supported the Government’s approach to informal learning.
Ms Milner said: "For the most socially excluded, ‘formal’ education can be inaccessible, intimidating and impractical. If you need to bid for a council house online, for instance, you don’t want to wait until term starts and sit through an entire ICT qualification for the internet bit to come up. That’s where UK online centres come in – supported by a huge range of third sector intermediaries and partners. Learning and support are local, personal and flexible, often long term and often don’t include traditional educational milestones. I’m delighted to see the value of that work officially recognised and endorsed in this White Paper."
"Indeed, the network is seen as central to the Learning Revolution the paper wants to see instigated across the country, and a clear role is outlined for centres to champion both digital inclusion and informal learning. UK online centres were involved in the consultation process around the paper and were on hand at the Tate Modern to see its official launch. UK online centre learners showed the Secretary of State some of their work, and told them how informal ICT skills had helped them improve their lives."
She added: "It’s because UK online centres have a local presence that we’re in a prime position to help government realise this very important vision. UK online centres are already taking laptops out to pubs, community centres and even empty shops to make access to digital skills and support as easy as possible for as many people as possible. The Learning Revolution ‘open space’ announced in the paper will see us build on that work across the country. In addition, our annual Get online day campaign in October will fit perfectly into plans for the Autumn Learning Revolution Festival.
"This is an exciting time for skills, and a chance to really make learning a possibility and a reality for those who most need opportunities and support to see them through the economic downturn. This ‘revolution’ is about bringing learning back to the people, so they can own it, direct it and follow it as they see fit. That’s something I’m excited to be a part of."
However, some argued that more support was needed for the action to be more widespread and effective.
Beth Walker, NUS Vice-President for Further Education, said: "We welcome the Government’s renewed commitment to the promotion of adult education, particularly its moves to reconnect formal and informal learning and the empowerment of local authorities to plan adult education to meet the needs of the communities they serve.
"However, we are concerned that these proposals still fail to address the imbalance in funding between employer-led training and individually motivated learning. We also believe that the proposals do not go far enough in addressing the complex inequalities in access and opportunity to education that arise from factors such language, wealth, location, confidence, literacy and access to technology. Far more support and resources are required if the ‘learning revolution’ is to reach all adults who could benefit."
Others, like Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), pointed to its incapability to reverse the tide of plummeting adult education places.
Dr Bousted commented: "The Government’s learning revolution White Paper is a B&Q approach to adult learning. It is a do-it-yourself solution which seems to be devoid of teachers. It doesn’t restore any of the 1.5 million adult education training places which have been lost over the past two years. There is no mention of improving access for people with disabilities or learning difficulties. And the White Paper seems to totally ignore any role for teaching staff."
Pictured: John Denham, Skills Secretary