Adult education remains as fundamental a part of further education as ever, with 1 million adults studying or training in colleges in England in 2021/2022.
Despite this, government spending on adult and community education by councils in England fell from £395 million to £311 million per year between 2013-14 and 2019-20, representing a drop of 21%, according to Department for Education (DfE) records.
Furthermore, the Learning and Work Institute has explained that the number of adults participating in learning has decreased by around 10 percentage points since 2010 — this is 3.8 million fewer adults studying or training in colleges.
A reversal to government cuts since 2010 is much needed for the adult education sector. A speech made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in May 2021 centred on a so-called ‘levelling-up’ agenda. Adult education and training laws will be “rocket fuel” for the agenda. Number 10 announced that the planned legislation will build an adult education system that is “fit for the future”.
Deputy Chief Executive of AoC, Julian Gravatt, welcomed the news: “We have long called for colleges to get the recognition they deserve for their role in uplifting people and communities, so we welcome the positive comments from the Prime Minister today about the role of education in giving opportunities to people and communities but more specifically we are pleased that DfE is getting on with the FE white paper implementation.”
The Association of Colleges has previously pointed out that professional development and technical qualifications are key for growth, and removing adult education training will cause a dramatic blow to the UK’s economy. As the country looks to recover from the damaging effects of the pandemic, this has never been truer.
Adult education benefits the job market, but is also extremely beneficial to individuals who decide to re-enter education. What would adult learners miss out on if they were unable to get into further education?
In the words of the 2021 Social Mobility Commission (SMC)'s State of the Nation report, “across the UK there are already signs that attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children are getting wider”.
Adult education can help address low levels of social mobility with apprenticeships an important tool to help adults upskill. The report acknowledges that “good quality training can help adults escape low paid jobs” and welcomed the DfE’s announcement of a new Lifetime Skills Guarantee.
Responding to the report’s findings, Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, David Hughes said: “The State of the Nation report rightly challenges the government to ensure a generation of young people are not left behind due to pandemic disruption and widening inequality gaps”. He added: “They simply cannot wait for the next spending review – without immediate support, we risk them slipping through the net.”
The key role of adult education is to allow workers to develop their skills and acquire new ones. In the wake of the economic crisis, it gives adults a chance to retrain, which is particularly important to people who will need to work past pension age and need support to train for a new role.
Being able to access further education is particularly important for adults in disadvantaged groups, such as migrants or women from ethnic minorities.
The State of the Nation report is, therefore, crucial in addressing the inequality that currently exists in the provision of education in the UK. Its recommendations seek to create opportunities for disadvantaged people “and they will benefit everyone in society”.
The last major piece of governmental research into the positive impact on wellbeing of adult education found that taking up studies later in life has a positive effect on health: a study that focused on the 33 to 42 demographic found a number of benefits to their overall life, including giving up smoking, decreasing alcohol consumption and exercising more.
Learning throughout life is also responsible for improved mental health, with the NHS citing a boost to self-confidence and self-esteem, the building of a sense of purpose and connecting more with others as key advantages attached to the learning of new skills.
The UK has a significant and growing problem with adult skill shortages, which are more apparent in more technical areas. As a result, growth in productivity has stalled over the past decade — before the 2008 financial crash, there were average rises of 2% a year, which then dropped to just 0.3% on average each year during the decade after the crash.
An independent review of post-18 education funding in 2019, called the Augar review, proposed the introduction of a lifelong learning loan allowance, which aims to provide everyone access to funding for the equivalent of four years of post-18 education. The DfE’s recent ‘Skills for Jobs’ White Paper came out of the review and proposed the National Skills Fund. This may result in an extra £2.5 billion spent on adult skills over the parliament, although the Institute for Fiscal Studies said there was a “distinct lack of detail” to the strategy.
Adult learning is a fundamental component of prison rehabilitation and data have shown that it is an effective way to discourage reoffending. A Ministry of Justice review found that education in prisons is one of the pillars of effective rehabilitation, which can then help lower reoffending rates.
In terms of the effectiveness of different types of learning programmes, a government report declared that “ballpark figures indicate savings of, for example, £2.10- 3.50 for each pound invested by a local authority in adult learning”.
AoCJobs, part of the Association of Colleges, connects teachers and support staff with schools and colleges for online job opportunities.