The result of the General Election seems to herald a new era. A change of Government after 14 years, especially with such a huge majority, will surely feel different in lots of ways. The winning party stood on a platform focused on change. And the results of the Lib Dems, Reform UK and Greens suggests Parliament will feel very different too. 

Although it’s important to keep alert to the bigger picture, let us just focus down on our own world of adult education for a moment. Will things feel different for adult learners? Will things change for them? 

Perhaps – but only if we continue to make the case for change. 

As we saw during the election campaign, community adult education is not on the radar of any of the parties and we cannot expect it to be an immediate priority for the new government. 

But there is hope. 

We have previously met with Shadow Cabinet members and look forward to seeing the shape of the front bench and ministerial teams, expecting some of those conversations to continue. 

The new Government inherits a series of policies and frameworks, some of which we want to see continue. In particular, the new outcomes framework for Tailored Learning which only comes into effect for the first time from September. 

This captures many of the wider benefits of adult learning – progression into work and further learning, as well as improvements in health & wellbeing, better connections to the wider community and understanding of democratic values. 

The WEA and others in the sector worked hard with the Department for Education to ensure that there would be scope to fund and recognise the value of adult learning for these broader outcomes. We hope that the new Government will value this. 

And we must also think big with the new Government 

With well over half of the Adult Education Budget now with the Combined Authorities rather than central government the relationship between Mayors and Ministers becomes more crucial. Labour is committed to further devolution – extending into areas which are not yet devolved as well as offering enhanced and expanded powers to existing Mayors. 

Most of the Mayors in the devolved authorities were elected or re-elected in May so they encounter the new Government only 2 months into their new term. Only one combined authority Mayor is Conservative so the national Labour majority is mirrored across the regions. 

We would like to see Mayors and other local leaders championing the wider benefits of adult learning, especially in the most disadvantaged communities. 

Adult learning touches on many other policy areas. Skills England will set the agenda for work related learning, meeting labour market needs and bringing employers together with government, training providers and unions. 

But it doesn’t reach as far a full lifelong learning strategy. Linking with the industrial strategy takes us so far but where are the links with health strategies, cultural strategies and wider community capacity building? 

We will be writing to various departments to highlight our work with Job Centres (DWP), to promote social prescribing (Health) and to highlight the importance of working with the Mayors (Communities & Local Government). 

With so many new MPs (and not forgetting those returning), this is also a great time to make contact and offer the opportunity of seeing the courses on their doorstep and meeting WEA learners and teams. Next week we will circulate a template letter for supporters to contact their local MP and introduce them to the work of the WEA. 

Further ahead we have events planned at some of the party conferences and a Westminster roundtable in the House of Lords in December.  

It will be a busy time for us and an even busier time for the new Parliament. Engagement will not be easy as everyone will want the ear of Ministers but we have a great story to tell about how adult learning can create a ripple effect through our communities.  

A new government and newly elected Mayors will be seeking those who can bring positive ideas to help tackle the challenges they face – but they might not be seeing adult education as part of the solution. 

If change is ahead then it should build on the best of what adult learning has to offer. Let’s make adult learning part of the bigger picture. 

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Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the WEA
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About the author

Simon Parkinson

Chief Executive and General Secretary

Simon Parkinson is the Chief Executive and General Secretary of the WEA.