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FE White Paper: boost for status of colleges needs proper funding to make it fly

Blog Editor, IOE Digital25 January 2021

Andy Green.

The much-delayed Government White Paper on skills (Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunities and Growth), published last Thursday, holds few surprises; it has already been widely trailed in Government announcements and reforms over the past year. What is most notable, though – and very welcome –  is its unusually strong statements about the centrality of Further Education Colleges to the Government’s skills agenda in post-Brexit Britain, arguably a distinctive contribution from the current Secretary of State for Education.

In his strategic speech to the Social Market Foundation last June, Gavin Williamson positioned himself as the champion of Further Education and the ‘forgotten 50 percent’ who do not go to university. He promised to be the Secretary of State who would finally ensure that technical education in Britain achieved the prominence and status it deserved.

His rationale is widely shared: that ‘building back’ after the pandemic will require a sustained focus on addressing the shortages in higher technical skills which have been growing in recent years and will be amplified by Brexit. FE colleges can be – and should be – central to this endeavour, he says, and (more…)

Will adult learning keep its sharp focus on employment and qualifications or can it become an ‘inseparable aspect of citizenship’?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 December 2019

 

Jay Derrick.

Exactly 100 years ago, it was argued in the 1919 Report, published by the Government Ministry for Reconstruction after World War 1, that Adult Education was essential for a confident, fair and democratic society. Its central recommendation was:

‘Adult education must not be regarded as a luxury for a few exceptional persons here and there… but a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore should be both universal and lifelong’.

Three separate Commissions on Lifelong Learning have published their reports in the last few weeks, and a fourth, a Parliamentary Inquiry, published its oral and written evidence in October.

The timing of these reports – by the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and also a politically-independent Centenary Commission, is striking. Rates of participation in learning activities among adults have fallen dramatically over the last decade, and the decline is sharpest among those who have benefitted least from their schooling

(more…)

OECD Skills Survey: the adult learning perspective

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 November 2013

Brian Creese & colleagues from NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy, language and numeracy)
The results of last month’s OECD Survey received considerable coverage in the UK media. However, despite it being a survey of adult skills, with a focus on lifelong learning and the skills of the workforce, the reporting has focused entirely on schools:
Schools go backwards (Daily Mail)

OECD: English school leavers ‘among least literate and numerate in the developed world (Daily Telegraph)
England’s young people near bottom of global league table for basic skills (The Guardian)
The slightly hysterical reactions appear to have been sparked off by the finding that not only are England’s 16 to 24-year-olds falling behind their Asian and European counterparts in literacy and numeracy but that, as the Daily Mail put it: “England  is the only developed country producing school leavers who are worse at maths and reading than their grandparents.” Overall England came 22nd out of 24 countries for the reading skills of its young people and 21st for maths. These are worrying figures. However, the focus placed on schools by the media and by politicians alike misses the point that improving schools will not help those who are beyond school age.
So what does the report actually say? It suggests that the skills levels nations require to compete in the global economy continue to rise, that adults lose their skills with time unless they actually use them, that immigrants do not magically learn the home language without help and that in all countries surveyed, at least 10% of adults lack the most basic of computer skills.
In the UK social background has a major impact on adults’ basic skills. Poor skills are associated with poor outcomes in most measures of wellbeing, as well as in income. It doesn’t have to be that way. Countries such as Austria, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden manage to combine above average performance in the survey with high levels of social equality.
For those of us who work with adult learners, the report’s key recommendations reiterate what we already know about the need to foster lifelong, skills-oriented learning. In order to continue to compete in a changing environment, lifelong learning must be made accessible to all. This, the report suggests, requires concerted engagement with Government, employers and employees as well as parents and students for adults to be able to constantly improve and update their skills over the lifecourse in order to maximise their economic and social outcomes.
Promoting education to all adults is vital for the economic and social future or our nation, but since those most likely to undertake more education are those who had the highest levels of education in the first place, Governments need to pursue active and positive steps to encourage those with poorer skills to re-enter education as adults in order to escape from the vicious cycle of low skills leading to low income. However, the survey also makes it clear that lifelong learning opportunities are relevant to workers in both high and low-skilled occupations and regardless of their level of initial education.
However good our schools become there will always be a need for adult education. Not everyone can succeed at school and even those who do will need to learn new skills and maintain those that they have. It’s easy for the media to blame schools and those who set schools policy for England’s poor performance in international comparative surveys; it’s much harder to develop effective adult skills policies that provide us with a competitive workforce and address issues of social justice.