Ruth Spellman, CEO, reflects on what the General Election means for adult education


The General Election has been many things but it has certainly not been predictable and nor has it resulted in a straightforward and settled outcome.

As I write this blog, the Speaker and the new MPs have been sworn in ready to start the new Parliament yet elsewhere in Westminster, the Prime Minister is in talks with other parties to determine whether she can be assured of a Parliamentary majority and the date of the Queen’s Speech has been moved back. Politically, it is the most peculiar hybrid of “business of usual” meets “anything can happen”.

Following the smallest of reshuffles, the Secretary of State for Education is once again the Rt Hon. Justine Greening and her Department has retained the same responsibilities as before. The new Skills Minister, the Rt. Hon. Anne Milton MP, faces many of the same challenges and priorities as the previous incumbent, such as delivering Apprenticeships and meeting the skills challenge that comes with leaving the European Union. We have written to the new Skills Minister setting out our thinking on how the WEA could work with Government to secure a better future for adult learners.

We were struck by how lifelong learning and adult skills featured in all the manifestos and as we move into an era when cross-party consensus will be necessary to move things forward, we take some hope in the fact that Parliamentarians of all persuasions seem to agree that adult education needs to be part what a post-Brexit Britain requires.

The Election outcome means that the Queens Speech will be much shorter than it might otherwise have been and many of the ideas in the manifesto will fall by the wayside. There were several pledges which we hope might go forward as they may not require legislation and they may garner sufficient cross-party support: there was the idea of a national retraining programme which could use the Apprenticeship Levy more flexibly; there was the broad emphasis on “career learning” and the right to request leave for training; digital skills were prominent in more than one manifesto as a right and a necessity; and while there may or may not be a full-scale review of tertiary education funding, there should at least be a consideration of the best balance between further, higher and adult education.

We will also be working with others to re-constitute the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education so that Parliamentarians across both Houses can discuss and promote the benefits of adult education in areas such as employment, health and community engagement.

Another prominent characteristic of the Election was higher turnout and a renewed appetite for informed debate around the main issues, particularly among young people. As an organisation which has always promoted participation we will continue to champion an engagement in democracy. We promoted #YourVoteMatters over the Election period and we will be considering ways in which we can keep that message going in the coming months.

It is certainly going to be an interesting period in our history and we want the WEA to be fully engaged, supporting our learners to be well-informed and active in their communities.