Campaigning Alliance For Lifelong Learning Secretary Of State To Be Questioned Over 1.4m Lost Adult Education Places,UK

February 26, 2009 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, John Denham, will this week face questions from adults who can no longer access education courses because of changes in government policy that have seen 1.4m adult education places vanish across the UK.

Adult learners, and organisations representing them, are converging on Westminster on Wednesday (25 February) to lobby their local MPs and question the minister. Conservative Shadow Skills Secretary David Willetts MP and Liberal Democrat Shadow Skills Secretary Stephen Williams MP will also be quizzed on their parties’ policies. Former Education Secretary David Blunkett MP will speak at the lobby.

Supporters of the Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning (CALL) will have a face-to-face Q&A with John Denham about his policy to prioritise funding for adult learners on employer-led, work-based learning. Critics argue that the government’s narrow focus has put an intolerable squeeze on a broad range of other adult education courses, which have either closed or been forced to raise fees to prohibitive levels. A massive 1.4m publicly funded adult learner places have been lost since 2005.

With the onset of recession, thousands of unemployed people are expected to look to local colleges and adult education centres to reskill. However, the CALL campaign has warned that if the cuts continue they will find their options limited. Of the courses shut to date, the greatest losses have been short vocational courses in Health, Public Services and Care, Preparation for Life and Work, and Information and Communication Technology.

Many non-vocational courses have also been forced to close and CALL has highlighted the value of such courses for citizens’ personal, cultural, social, emotional, health and care needs. Campaigners warn that those with low skills, growing numbers of retired people, those with English as a second language, and people whose long-term mental and physical health difficulties restrict their employment options, will be particularly hard-hit by the changes. CALL has called on the government to match its rhetoric on lifelong learning with proper funding.

Mum-of-four, Emma Snell, left school with very few qualifications but after starting evening classes is now educated to degree standard and works in a school. She said: “I’ve heard people question the benefits of this type of informal adult learning and I think that is largely because the benefits aren’t usually measurable. I can’t wave a piece of paper at someone that says I have a formal qualification but I know that the learning I’ve done has had a massive impact on my life. “As a direct result of attending these classes, I gained the confidence and interest in study to enter a more formal learning environment. I used to do three courses a year but now I have to limit that to one.” The Rt Hon David Blunkett MP said: “The first tentative step to connect or reconnect with learning is crucial in building confidence, self assurance and aspiration. That is why to gain a foothold on the ladder of future fulfilment and success the first rung has to remain in place; and adult learning and access to the means for re-engaging is why funding is vital to make this possible.”

NUS Vice President for Further Education, Beth Walker, said: “Adult learners are constantly overlooked when the Government makes policy, but today they stand together in unity, making their voices heard and impossible to ignore. This isn’t just a campaign about course places or fees; it is a universal campaign about helping people to fulfil their potential throughout their lives. Given the current economic climate, it will be essential for many people to learn new skills in order to meet the needs of the changing job market; the Government needs to recognise that it is in our long term economic interest to ensure that these people are given support and guidance.” Director of NIACE, Alan Tuckett, said: “Government policy for lifelong learning is well-intentioned but lacks balance, and the price is paid by the least confident adults. No one can argue with the Government’s aspiration to strengthen skills in the workplace, nor with their hope to stimulate greater employer investment in low-skilled workers. However the net effect of major shifts in the balance of public investment has been the loss of 1.4m adult learners from publicly funded provision as community based courses have been cut to release funds to subsidise business investment in workplace skills. Opportunities to learn computers skills and languages have been decimated. “Yet the Labour Force Survey shows that despite Government’s flagship Train to Gain programme, there is an overall decline in the numbers of workers receiving training. And whilst there has been some growth in self-organised learning, take-up is limited to confident and affluent adults. What the recession makes absolutely clear is that we need opportunities for learning at work and outside it alike, and we need public investment.”

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “The government has acknowledged the vital role colleges and adult education centres have to play in reskilling those made unemployed in this recession. Yet figures show that thousands of short vocational courses have been closed. We urge ministers to rethink their budgets to ensure all forms of adult education are adequately funded so people can access a wide choice of courses to help them rebuild their lives in these difficult times.”

UNISON general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “The recession is leading to more redundancies, so putting the focus on employer led training will not help the many people desperate to get the skills they need, to get back into work. With even tougher times ahead, now is not the time to make it more difficult for adults to increase their skills and rebuild their confidence through training. It is vital that a vibrant adult leaning sector is maintained and lifelong learning is a tried and tested way of helping adults into work.” Workers’ Educational Association general secretary, Richard Bolsin, said: “WEA learners and members have been concerned about the availability and increasing cost of adult learning for some years. They responded wholeheartedly and in substantial numbers, along with lots of others, to the government’s consultation on Informal Adult Learning a year ago. They have every reason to be concerned and see CALL as a timely opportunity to express those feelings. “I am very encouraged by the response to CALL. We are seeing evidence at last from the numbers and diversity of the organisations and people supporting CALL that the general public now recognises the value of lifelong learning. I hope that the lobby not only provides a forum to raise our concerns over lost places in adult education, but also marks the start of a new culture in our society about the value of all forms of learning.”

Since its launch in September 2008, CALL has attracted 150 supporting organisations as diverse as the National Federation of Women’s Institutes; Help the Aged; the Refugee Council; the Church of England and the Muslim Council of Britain.




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