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Keeping the Options Open Brings Concerns of Adult Education Professionals

The debate on the future success of adult education in the current funding environment came in for further scrutiny this week as the National Institute of Adults Continuing Education (NIACE) released a document about the detrimental effects of increased funding pressure on further education colleges and local education authorities to conform to Government policy targets.

This pressure, it has been argued, has contributed to the closure of a number of colleges and an overall constraint of adult learning opportunities. This comes at a time when the Association of Colleges (AoC) have delivered a 60,000 strong petition to Downing Street expressing dismay at the current funding situation, with the Further and Higher Education Lecturers” Union (NATFHE) and the public sector union (UNISON) joining in the call for a re ““ appraisal of funding decisions.

The Paper

The paper, entitled Keeping the Options Open, was completed by NIACE Principal Research Officer, Dr Veronica McGivney, and highlights the concerns of many people working in adult education. One of these is the alleged distortion and limiting of the curriculum by pressures to meet the Government’s priority targets, such as Skills for Life and the Level 2 entitlement. A great deal of government investment has ensured that areas such as these produce impressive results.

However, the paper suggests that current targets and funding changes could have a negative impact on the diversity of learning opportunities and the ultimate goal of widening participation. This could be said to be another instance of education professionals pointing out that it is not always best for education policy to be target driven.

Skills for Life

For example, providers of Skills for Life, under pressure to meet targets, often feel forced to accept learners that are considered most likely to successfully complete the required level of qualification rather than those with the lowest standards of education and skills. This means it is already an unfair game as it does not provide those at the least advantage with an opportunity to improve their skills. Higher costs for adult courses and the exclusion of courses that gradually reintroduce adults to learning could also have a negative impact on the possibility of achieving the Level 2 target.

Dr Veronica McGivney claimed that “Keeping the Options Open explores the assumptions about “usefulness” that underpin current priorities. She summed up that the most efficient method of the achieving national priorities and targets by describing an urgent need for a “broad and flexible curriculum” that would respond “not to external targets and requirements, but to adult learners” own diverse interests and needs.”

Sara Hashash

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