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Adult Education Budget (AEB) devolution from ESFA to 7 mayoral combined authorities

A parliamentary debate on the subject of the Adult Education Budget (AEB) devolution, which is planned for launch later this year, is happening later today in the House of Commons.

The adult education budget will be devolved from the ESFA to seven mayoral combined authorities. These authorities will have control over how the money is spent, including rates and rules, but will only be able to fund students who live within their boundaries.

The debate will give an opportunity for sector leaders to share ideas on current and future FE and Skills policy, and debate on whether the devolution of the AEB will prove successful.

The National Extension College is an independent education charity operating nationally to fill in the gaps left by state funded provision. NEC is self-financing and is therefore able to take an objective view because we do not draw on government funding, however we have serious concerns about AEB devolution. Believing it will exacerbate the existing postcode lottery which affects adults wishing to either extend or step back into education.

It is likely that controlling regions will all have different priorities when applying funding. We believe this will lead to skills-gaps and disruption to currently budgeted programmes. Aligned with this, the government will find it increasingly difficult to implement national policies and ensure entitlement to qualifications for everyone. This we feel, will increase the need to create overarching initiatives and institutions in order to balance the national with the local. All of which would require substantial government investment at a time when funds are stretched.

Furthermore, devolved adult education will struggle to meet the needs of people who are not tied to a region. Armed service men and women for example, or offenders who are moved between prisons. We fear will slip through the cracks and be left out altogether.

NEC was founded over 55 years ago to open up opportunities for adults who needed a second chance. We still hold those values today. We have supported thousands of students who have wanted to return to education later in life for either a change of career, or to go on to higher-education. As provision for adult education becomes narrower, distance learning is becoming one of the few viable options for working adults. NEC supports lifelong learning in all its forms. It is important to us that adult education is preserved and accessible to all.

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