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MPs call for adult skills revolution to foster new culture of lifelong learning

18 December 2020

A community learning centre in every town, individual learning accounts and boosting part-time Higher Education and employer-led training should be at the centre of an adult education revolution to tackle social injustice and revitalise the country’s economy, the Education Committee has said.

The Committee's report A Plan for an Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning Revolution sets out the role an ambitious and long-term strategy should play in helping the nation meet the major employment challenges stemming from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an ageing population and the impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

The Committee calls for an end to the model of education funding overwhelmingly focused on learning before the age of 25 and a move towards a system and culture of lifelong learning that encourages education at any age.

The report identifies four key pillars to revolutionise the adult education system.

A community learning centre in every town

There has been a 32% decline in participation in community learning between 2008–9 and 2018–19.

The report finds that the Department for Education (DfE) does not fully grasp the value and purpose of community learning and calls for an ambitious plan for a community learning centre in every town.

These do not need to be new buildings or organisations: existing organisations and assets, such as colleges, church halls and libraries, could be used.

Individual Learning accounts (ILAs)

The failures of the Individual Learning Accounts scheme in 2000–01 have meant that ILAs remain political kryptonite for English policymaking, but provided lessons are learnt, introducing ILAs could kickstart participation.

ILAs must have a truly lifelong emphasis, with adults receiving top-up investments throughout their working lives to revitalise training and upskilling.

Nurse part-time Higher Education back to health

Part-time student numbers collapsed by 53% between 2008–09 and 2017–18.

The DfE must instate fee grants for part-time learners from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who study courses that meet the skills needs of the nations, as well as extend the maintenance support loan to part-time distance learners.

A skills tax credit to revitalise employer-led training

Employer-led training has declined by a half since the end of the 1990s, with 39% of employers admitting to training none of their staff over the last year.

The Government must introduce tax credits for employers who invest in training for their low-skilled workers.

Other areas for reform

Alongside the four key pillars, the Committee identified other areas requiring urgent reform including:

  • childcare for adult learners
  • English provision for speakers of other languages
  • modular learning, local skills offers
  • information, advice and guidance
  • adult learning for those with SEND

On SEND, the DfE needs to assess what funding is needed for proper support. There needs to be a funding premium for learners to ensure learning provision really is available to everyone.

Following the devolution of the Adult Education Budget to Mayoral Combined Authorities, the Committee is also recommending local authorities are given the powers and funding to take on a bigger role in delivering adult skills and lifelong learning. With their knowledge of local communities, skills gaps and employer needs, they are ideally placed to take on this responsibility.

Chair's Comments

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said:

“Poor access to lifelong learning is one of the great social injustices of our time.

"Despite the overwhelming benefits for both the economy and individuals, participation is at its lowest level in 23 years, funding has fallen by nearly 50% in a decade and around half of adults from the most disadvantaged background have received no training since leaving school.

"Despite well intentioned reforms in recent years, the Government’s approach to adult education has too often suffered from ‘initiativitis’, lurching from one policy priority to the next.

"A holistic approach is required, that provides consistent opportunities for adults to access learning and reskilling opportunities wherever they live and whatever their background. This is essential not just for people’s personal development, but for our country to fill the skills gaps in our ever-changing economy.

"The four policy pillars that we have set out of would lay the foundation for a coherent long-term adult education strategy that goes some way to fostering a national culture of lifelong learning and allowing everyone the chance to climb the ladder of opportunity.”

The current state of adult learning and the need for a cohesive national policy

Alongside a 45% decline in funding for adult skills over the last decade, participation has fallen to its lowest rate in 23 years.

By 2024 there will be a shortfall of four million highly skilled workers. Nine million working-age adults in England have low literacy or numeracy skills, or both, and six million adults are not qualified to level 2 (equivalent to GCSE level).

49% of adults in the lowest socioeconomic class have participated in learning since leaving school, compared to 20% in the highest.

Further information

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