National strategy needed for adult education and lifelong learning, new report argues

A new report launching today argues that adult education and lifelong learning must be a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship that is vital to addressing the huge societal divisions and challenges to democracy we currently face.

The report from the Centenary Commission on Adult Education states that Britain in 2019 faces major social, political and economic challenges - including the climate crisis, divided communities and Artificial Intelligence.

The Centenary Commission – which includes WEA CEO Ruth Spellman, has published its findings 100 years since the publication of the landmark 1919 Report on Adult Education by the Ministry of Reconstruction’s adult education committee.

The report is issued following a dramatic decline in participation in adult education, with funding for adult learning and apprenticeships having fallen by 45 per cent in real terms since 2009-10.

The Centenary Commission report is calling for:

  • A national Adult Education & Lifelong Learning Strategy, with a participation target to reduce the gap between the most and least educationally active.
  • A Minister with specific responsibility for Adult Education and Lifelong Learning to report annually to Parliament on progress.
  • Community Learning Accounts, alongside Individual Learning Accounts to provide funding for informal, community-based learning initiatives led by local groups.

Jo Cain, Deputy CEO of the WEA, said:

“We are operating in difficult times, socially and politically and the Centenary Commission’s report offers a vision for adult education that meets the needs of communities and individuals across the country to overcome the challenges we currently face. We hope that this new report is recognised by government in the same way as the 1919 report which gave government, national and local, a direct responsibility for ensuring the adequate supply of adult education to tackle the massive social, economic and political challenges of the time. Especially given that today the numbers of adults learners and the funding they receive are at an all-time low, despite the enormous impact of adult education on our society.”

Jo added: “We are delighted that the WEA were involved in the Centenary Commission through our CEO Ruth Spellman as our founder Albert Mansbridge played a key role in the Ministry of Reconstruction’s Adult Education Committee back in 1919.”


Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, Oxford, and Chair of the Commission, said:

“There is a national consensus in favour of adult education and lifelong learning. We need the next government to step up to the challenge, and deliver what is, in the words of the 1919 report and today’s report, ‘a permanent national necessity’. In meetings across the country our Commission found a huge appetite for adult education and lifelong learning - we saw evidence of communities being brought together through imaginative educational initiatives; new groups being formed to analyse and discuss the issues of the day, including the climate crisis; and a desire to understand and prepare for the changing world of work, including amongst those in the 'gig economy' for whom provision at present is scant. Our Commission's recommendations would address all these needs.”

The Centenary Commission’s report aims to stimulate a national debate, and new thinking about adult educational policy. The Report of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education is entitled: “A Permanent National Necessity...” Adult Education and Lifelong Learning for 21st Century Britain. It is available at www.CentenaryCommission.org

An ‘Adult Education 100’ campaign is leading a range of activities to mark the centenary of the 1919 Report. Find out more here

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