'Urgent action' needed to protect adult education

New report sponsored by The Open University calls for cohesive national strategy to protect adult education

The first report commissioned by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education, sponsored by The Open University and conducted by the Institute for Employment Research (IER) at Warwick University, has called for a cohesive national strategy for adult education.  The report highlights a danger that national policy for adult education could disappear in just four years, by 2020.

The report is based on independent research and a comprehensive review of the benefits of adult education for individuals, employers and communities, addressing in particular the most disadvantaged in society.

It outlines the economic and social costs to not providing basic skills, and significant gains in providing them and highlights the uneven provision across England, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

The report makes five key recommendations:

  • A new strategy: establish a national and regional strategy for adult education, health, employability and wellbeing
  • Redistribute resources: Develop an adult education framework that seeks to rebuild and rebalance resources fairly for adults across the different life-stages
  • Improve awareness: Provide careers information, advice and guidance in local communities and building capacity in the adult education workforce to make greater use of labour market intelligence and midlife reviews
  • Data and evidence: Identify and gather more evidence on the full impact of adult education, including the voices of adults and their needs.
  • Private sector support: Encourage more employers to step up and offer opportunities to adults, particularly older adults keen to remain active in employment.

Chair of the APPG on Adult Education Chi Onwurah MP said:

As the country grapples with its future in what is a period of uncertainty and upheaval following the referendum, now is a good time for Ministers to take a fresh look at adult education and get behind something that clearly has huge potential to change lives for the better.


From reviewing literature, interviewing stakeholders and using surveys and focus groups, the report found:

  • Awareness: there is little awareness of adult and community learning. Those who knew about vocational and employability courses run by colleges or private training providers felt that these were low level courses that might not help them gain employment. Very few said that they had a written career or job plan and they were unaware of the role adult and community learning could have in increasing their chances of sustained employment.
  • Commitment to learning: attending an adult learning course can have a positive impact on improving: knowledge and skills for personal goals (84 per cent); motivations to keep learning (71 per cent); being able to make well informed decisions about next steps (58 per cent); and confidence in dealing with new situations (51 per cent).
  • Reasons for learning: a significant proportion reported that the course subject had been a source of encouragement (80 per cent), whilst location and transport links were a further important factor (42 per cent) together with the reputation of the college, course or tutor (42 per cent). For adults not engaged in learning, a desire for more tailored and flexible local provision that meets their needs was a common theme.

Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive at the Worker’s Educational Association, said: “We can see from this research that there is good work being done within the adult learning community. However it is largely going under the radar. We need to raise awareness of the work already being done and urgently address areas for improvement - the voices of adult learners need to be heard so that planned provision is relevant and linked to their individual needs.

"We need greater cohesion and improved strategy on a national level, and a commitment to improving awareness of adult learning services for the hardest to reach. Adult learning can transform lives, and that is why it is too important to be left to chance.”