From education to employment

WEA: ‘Fund education for adults with no qualifications’


Politicians urgently need to prioritise education funding for those adults who left school with no qualifications, according to the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), an adult-learning organisation. 

The WEA’s impact report, published today, reveals that adult education can make a significant difference to individuals, communities and the economy. 

Attending an adult-education course increases people’s chances of finding a job, studying further and receiving a pay rise. People who attend these courses are more likely to help their children with their schoolwork, and less likely to need to need a GP appointment. 

And yet politicians from all parties have not identified adults with no qualifications as a target for funding in their education budgets.  

Almost nine million adults have no qualifications – equivalent to almost one in five (18.2 per cent). Nine million adults have low literacy or numeracy. More than five million UK residents cannot speak English well. In addition, a quarter of the UK population struggles to access online services.  

More than half – 57 per cent – of people between the ages of 16 and 64 with no qualifications are unemployed.  

Prioritising Adult Education Funding and Bridging Educational Inequality

The WEA’s new impact report reveals that adult-learning programmes that focus on essential skills – such as English as a second language, digital capabilities or functional skills – are a vital first step towards encouraging learners to enter the job market. This, in turn, boosts their local economy – and the country’s economy overall. 

Forty-two per cent of WEA skills learners have gone on to find a job or take a further-education course. And almost a quarter – 24 per cent – of employed learners said that studying a new skill enabled them to secure a pay rise or promotion. 

Improving adults’ skills can also have a ripple effect beyond their own employment. After studying themselves, almost half – 48 per cent – of WEA learners encouraged their children or grandchildren to learn more. And 24 per cent said that they now felt more confident about helping their children with reading, writing or maths.  

Adult learning also has an impact on mental and physical health. A significant majority – 83 per cent – of learners reported improvements in their overall wellbeing. Taking a course enables learners to make new friends, discover a sense of community and become more understanding of other cultures. 

Almost all – 91 per cent – of WEA learners make fewer visits to the GP than the national average.  

Founded in 1903, the WEA offers courses ranging from budget planning to building confidence and self-esteem, to more than 34,000 students a year. Many of these courses simultaneously enhance students’ literacy and numeracy skills.   

Simon Parkinson, chief executive of the WEA, said: “Educational inequality still pervades all areas of society, influencing where people work, what they earn, where they live and whether they are likely to continue learning later in life. 

“People who had bad experiences at school can be wary of traditional learning. But a course that allows them to pursue their interests can transform their view of education, their life opportunities – and even their health.  

“Politicians from all parties need to prioritise funding for those who left school with few or no qualifications. We want to see adult-education funding return to 2010 levels by 2029. 

“We know that public finances are tight, but supporting adult learning reaps clear economic benefits, in terms of productivity. And it takes pressure off the benefit system and the NHS.” 

As the WEA celebrates its 120th anniversary year, it is calling for the introduction of a national lifelong-learning strategy, which defines the benefits of learning through the three lenses of health, culture and work. 

It would also like to see greater support for the adult-education workforce. “The WEA provides critical second-chance education,” Mr Parkinson said. “It should not be doing this with staff who are paid less than other teachers and lecturers – meaning that we struggle to recruit the best people.  

“Given that many of our learners are nervous in a learning environment – and many have avoided going into a classroom for decades – it’s particularly vital that we recruit enthusiastic, empathetic, dedicated educators for them. 

“I am very proud to be marking the WEA’s 120th anniversary year. Unfortunately, however, our founders would still recognise the need to close the gap between those who leave school with good qualifications and those who leave with few or none. 

“We need a national lifelong-learning strategy that recognises the value of learning at all levels.”  

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