The answer is …… a bit. 

But not a lot. 

It’s true that nearly all mention learning and skills but it’s clear that skills for work are being prioritised while other reasons for participating in adult learning are being overlooked. 

Formal education settings such as colleges and universities are mentioned in most manifestos while community education settings are not. Qualifications are promoted but not learning for its own reward. 

Many adult learners – and the potential adult learners of the near future – appear to be forgotten. 

Looking through the manifestos, there are some pledges which would help adult learners in some contexts. 

  • The Liberal Democrat manifesto promises a Lifelong Skills Grant of up to £5k. They also talk of improving digital literacy and supporting social prescribing to tackle isolation and loneliness. 
  • The Conservatives will take forward the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, skills boot camps and pledge more Apprenticeships. 
  • Labour will establish a new body called Skills England and create a Growth & Skills Levy. They will also undertake a review of post-16 education. 
  • The Green Party promise a £12.4bn investment in skills and training, equipping workers to play a full role in the green economy 
  • Reform offer tax relief for businesses that support apprenticeships. 

But none of the parties so far have promised the sorts of measures which would really bring adult learning within reach for all. 

Where is a national Lifelong Learning strategy to really set out a thriving future for adult education?  

How far will the measures we have seen so far reverse the trends of falling investment and falling participation?  

Will there be support for courses supporting health or community outcomes, perhaps for learners who are carers, retired or out of work because of ill health?  

Manifestos do not often deal with detail and so maybe these sorts of measures are yet to come. It is certainly worth challenging candidates of all parties in this election to ask what they are doing to promote adult learning. 

Our Hey, Don’t Forget Me campaign pages have more ideas on how to engage candidates between now and Election day. 

The manifestos all mention skills and education so there is an opening to start a conversation. But challenge candidates on how they would support all adult learners in their constituency, regardless of background, age or reason for learning. If you are a learner then tell them your story and how it has made a difference for you. 

Let’s make sure that community adult education is not forgotten in this election. 

And after 4 July? The WEA has a good track record of engaging with Ministers as well as backbench MPs and Peers. Whatever the Election result, with so many MPs standing down before the Election, there will be a large number of new ones to contact in the new Parliament. 

We are already working on sessions at party conferences and in Westminster later in the year. It will be a busy time in Westminster and Whitehall in the coming months, with lots of voices vying for attention. We will work hard to ensure that the voice of the adult learner is being heard. 

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About the author

Chris Butcher

Public Policy Manager

Chris is the Public Policy Manager at the WEA.