Government should underpin adult education policy with a National Lifelong Learning Strategy. This would help other departments such as Health, Work & Pensions and Levelling Up recognise the importance of adult learning and would maximise the impact of funding. The strategy should be accompanied by national campaigns to increase participation and make lifelong learning the norm.
According to the most recent Learning & Work Institute Participation Survey “only four in ten adults are aware that free basic skills courses are available, falling to 33 per cent of those who left education at age 16”.
Besides a modest increase in participation during lockdown – mostly among better-off learners – participation rates have fallen significantly over the last decade.
New government targets are not going far enough - the mission of 200,000 more adults gaining qualifications by 2030 would only reverse one quarter of the falls in adult learning since 2010.
A combination of better investment and more focused and effective awareness raising is required to overcome barriers, encourage take up and to tackle the nation’s essential skills challenges. This would be hugely strengthened by the introduction of a National Lifelong Learning Strategy.
At present, the government’s approach to adult learning is piecemeal. As this Impact Report shows, adult learning has wide benefits which in policy terms would touch on health, communities, welfare benefits, arts & culture and many other areas, with responsibilities spread across Government departments.
A national strategy would enable the lead department – Education – to articulate a vision for lifelong learning and encourage investment and support from all other departments which in turn would drive up participation and create a nation of learners. Scotland and Wales are already well ahead on this.