WEA response to the State of the Nation 2016 report


Ruth Spellman, CEO of the Workers' Educational Association, writes in response to the report 'State of the Nation 2016: Social Mobility in Great Britain':

The new report from the Social Mobility Commission published this week looks at social mobility across the life-course, from early years through to the challenges of adulthood such as finding work and somewhere to live. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that adult education also features strongly in the report and we strongly welcome its emphasis on the need for opportunities to learn at all stages in life as a way of achieving social mobility.

The report is deeply troubling in its conclusions that the poorest in our society have fewer opportunities to get on and that this lack of opportunity is becoming entrenched across so many areas of life – employment, housing, health and education.

Quite rightly the report does not seek simple solutions and quick wins but instead proposes a ten year programme of reform. It would be wrong of me to propose adult education as the “cure-all” solution but it certainly has a place, as the report recognises, in helping people to make progress.

The Social Mobility report happens to have come out on the same day as the WEA’s Annual Impact Survey. Our Survey shows, for example, that:

  • 72% of unemployed students looking for work knew better what to do to get a job as a result of WEA courses
  • 65% of students tried to improve their knowledge or skills independently as a result of the course
  • 71 percent of parents improved their confidence in helping their children with reading as a result of their course

Each of these outcomes tells a story about a form of social mobility. People being helped into work, people being motivated to learn, people being able to pass their learning on to the next generation.

We hope to see the Commission’s proposed ten year programme taking these outcomes further and in particular we support:

  • The Commission’s call for the Department for Education to adopt “innovative and holistic approaches” to connect adult education to other areas of education policy and practice
  • The rebalancing of vocational training and qualifications which currently has an over-emphasis on apprenticeships to the detriment of other routes
  • The need for funding for adult learning beyond English, maths and digital training up to Level 2 (as well as an ongoing recognition that basic skills are still desperately needed in our unequal society).

We look forward to playing our part in meeting these challenges in the decade ahead and hope that the Autumn Statement and the Government’s response to the Commission’s report provide a solid platform from which to do so.