Adult educators – an ageing profession?

Is there a problem brewing as many of our most skilled and experienced adult educators are growing older and a significant cohort is nearing retirement? Is our profession becoming a grey area? If so, we need to act now to make sure we have continuity by developing younger colleagues to pick up the baton. We need to make sure that much-needed enthusiasm, passion, understanding and know-how is not lost from this important area of teaching, learning, educational outreach and management.

(This blog is based on observation within the wider sector and awareness of the age profile in meetings and events. It is not focusing specifically on the WEA although we have to be aware of succession planning for our future sustainability.)

Adult and community educators have worked with determination and professionalism in a too-often overlooked field of education for decades. They act as teachers, advocates, advisers, mentors and managers who know the difference that second chance learning can make to adults. They develop mature students’ potential. They link them into multi-agency support networks to complement learning activities and can steer them sensitively towards further learning and development opportunities.

These professional experts are often unnoticed in education debates yet they play a crucial role in many communities, especially where there is poverty and social breakdown. They are a comparatively small, specialist and effective group of change makers. They negotiate and develop courses and nurture relationships. They eke out funding. They teach people who are often the most reticent and reluctant learners and who need the benefit of specially honed approaches to teaching, learning and assessment.

Some WEA tutors meet the General Secretary and Trustee members of the Education Strategy Committee

Some WEA tutors meet the General Secretary and Trustee members of the Education Strategy Committee

It seems that people need their distinctive brand of customised professional support more than ever. Recent statistics on adult English, maths and digital skills show the scale of some problems facing the UK and reinforce the need for education that extends beyond school years and throughout life. English, as a first or second language, and maths skills have become critical issues for our economy and society.  Recent years have been hard for many people, but austerity has affected people who can’t speak, read or write functional English especially hard and this has had a knock-on effect on the public purse in various ways.

English and maths are only part of a bigger picture. Adult educators’ unique roles contribute to several policy areas, including school-based education, health, work and pensions, communities and local government, criminal justice and culture, media and sports. They enhance employability, health and wellbeing, community engagement and involvement in culture. They improve life chances for countless adults and their families. They enrich people’s lives, adding fulfillment, social benefits and enjoyment.

We need to build greater awareness and raise the status of adult education and community learning in policy debates and developments in initial teacher training and continuing professional development.

What do you think should be done to develop and secure continuity of professionalism in community learning?

How can we raise the profile of teacher educators who are preparing people to work in adult learning?

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn:

12 Responses to Adult educators – an ageing profession?

  1. Pingback: The More Things Change… | Working in Adult Literacy

  2. Interesting post, Ann. I read it while I was preparing a post on a similar theme about conditions in the field in Canada. Adult literacy education gets squeezed here, too, between those giants of primary-secondary schooling, and post secondary education, until it is almost invisible.

    • Ann Walker says:

      Thanks for your comment Kate and for the timely link to your blog. The parallels between the situations in Canada and the UK are remarkably striking.

      Why is community learning so marginalised as part of the education landscape, even though adult literacy and numeracy are key elements of global education goals as well as individual nations’ plans and are central to social and economic development?

      Dorothee Komangapik’s perspective is interestingly defiant. She’s right about her wisdom, experience and adaptability, but even she can’t go on for ever.

      We need urgently to raise the visibility and status of working in adult and community learning and to make sure that it’s a realistic career option for people of all ages. I’ll be interested to follow progress in Canada and to learn about comparisons with other nations.

      Do any of them have this cracked?

  3. Ann Walker says:

    The outcomes of a current ‘workforce survey’ on adult and community learning carried out by the Education and Training Foundation should provide more reliable evidence to complement the Canadian research. (

  4. gogwit says:

    Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    The article does raise concerns. In an ideal world there would be no need for ‘second chance learning’ because ‘life long learning’ would be central to an education system designed to fit the demands of a flexible population updating existing skills to keep abreast of rapid change in their areas of competence and reskilling completely to acquire the means to switch competencies.
    We need a Victorian style Royal Commission to determine what an education system fit for purpose in the twenty-first and into the twenty-second century should look like; and how it should then be brought into existence.

  5. Ann Walker says:

    Thanks for commenting Ben and for what you’ve said.

    We only need second chances if a first chance is the only one and if it’s finite.

    You put it in a nutshell.

    Thanks also for reblogging.

  6. joaniepthemadhatter says:

    Reblogged this on The MadHatter's Corner and commented:
    Very interesting post Ann!

  7. joaniepthemadhatter says:

    Maybe we could develop and secure continuity by making people more aware of this at an early age! It seems to me that people very often do not think about the possibility of promoting adult learning and getting involved with a view to a good career move until they are older themselves and thinking about a career change – why should it have to be a “good career move”? Surely it would be more beneficial to reach out to these potential adult educators before they have set out on a different career path and encourage them to see that adult education could be a much more viable “first career” option. Why wait till they are older themselves? We need to reach them first! I do acknowledge that older educators have a lot more life experience behind them which will always be invaluable but at the same time there are lots of well – educated younger people out there who would have a good rapport with their peers and lead and educate by example!

  8. Ann Walker says:

    Thanks for adding to the discussion Joanie and for reblogging this. It’s very good to see you online again and to hear your views.

  9. Larry Ullian says:

    I have frequently thought that academic departments of adult education in the States appeared to be disconnected with activities of adult education in the “real world” – e.g., training and development, community development, health-related activities such as patient education, navigation, and advocacy, and all activities associated with volunteering. There are several more examples too numerous to list. Why not link academic progams in adult education to internships or mentorships where the younger student is assigned to one of those “aging” adult educators within a requirement for so many hours of internship per month or year. That way, you get someone who has some theory and someone who can apply that theory based on both academic and real-world experience. I know I’m leaving out a lot here but I thought you were looking for some concrete suggestions so here’s something to chew on.

Thoughts, comments or links to other resources? Click here to add.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: