10 reasons to Save Adult Education

Please sign and share the link to the petition to Save Adult Education. Evidence shows successive and massive funding cuts over recent years and a decline in numbers of adult learners in part-time education.

Why does this matter?

There are countless reasons, but here are some:

  1. Education equips us for life, but the world keeps changing after our compulsory school leaving ages. Adults need to adapt to social and technological changes if they are to keep up with developments. What is the cost of leaving people behind?
  2. Being able to read and write English fluently and to use numbers accurately are basic skills, not only for jobs but for understanding how public services work, being a savvy consumer, reading health information, taking an active part in society and for leading a dignified life. What is the cost of low levels of adult literacy and numeracy?
  3. All government services are now designed to be ‘digital by default’. How does this work for people who can’t use technology effectively? What is the cost of digital exclusion?
  4. Young people leaving school now without specific grades in GCSE English and Maths have to reach those standards. How will they be supported if full-time education didn’t meet their needs and adult learning is being starved of resources? What is the cost of limiting adults’ educational opportunities when need is evident?
  5. Many school leavers with low attainment levels will become parents of children who follow the same pattern. Educating the parents through family learning partnerships is shown to break the cycle and improve attainment levels for both generations. What is the cost of continuing cycles of educational inequality?
  6. Education is not just for work. It promotes health and wellbeing, reducing isolation for older people and keeping their minds active, while harnessing the benefits of their experience and knowledge.What is the cost of not enriching older people’s lives through learning?
  7. Low levels of participation in voting means that democracy is not representative. Learning about how political systems work is important if we are to engage people in civic life. What is the cost of disenfranchised citizens?
  8. All aspects of life depend upon adaptability and active minds. Learning to learn is a skill in itself. What is the cost of failure to adapt?
  9. Education is a means to address inequality in many forms.What is the cost of inequality?
  10. Learning is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Art, literature, history and culture should be available to everyone and not only those who can afford them. What is life without interests and pleasure?

Every question about cost can be replaced with another, more positive, about opportunities and possibilities.

Spending on adult education is an investment. There is evidence that it can lead to saving money in various government departments by reducing reliance on public services.

How you can help

1. Write to your local MP – the sooner the better

2. Spread the word on social media

  • Use #saveadulteducation on twitter and tell the world about the impact adult education has had on your life, family and community
  • Join our Facebook Campaign at https://www.facebook.com/saveadulted

3. Sign our campaign petition at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/sae

Go to the WEA’s website for more information about the Save Adult Education campaign.

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Politics and making adult education a priority

(A Twitter exchange with Prof. John Field prompted this blog. You can read his latest tweets here.)

Some politicians are drawing attention to the severe threats facing FE and adult education, with criticism of cuts from across UK parties and in all four UK nations. The politicians speaking up most loudly against the savage cuts tend to be in opposition  – but the balance of power between parties varies geographically in the individual countries that make up the UK.

We need to get beyond negative point scoring

We need to get beyond negative point scoring and campaign for positive action

Tories are criticising the impact of Labour party policy on FE in Wales and condemning the SNP’s record in Scotland. Meanwhile, Labour politicians in Wales are slating Tories in Westminster for their handling of FE and adult education budgets. No nation is showing a shining example of good practice in adult learning policy as they wrestle with managing public spending and investment but at least there’s some understanding of the serious implications and of the need to prioritise.

It’s worth knowing that there are Westminster MPs, Welsh AMs, MSPs and Northern Irish MLAs who are taking a stand for adult learning – and then building positively on that knowledge to create more momentum for current campaigning.

An article on the Wales Online website under the headline, Tories warn of ‘fatal damage’ to Wales’ further education sector as number of students enrolling falls, reports that the Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns (Conservative) has warned that the downward trend must be stopped “before it’s too late”. She is reported as saying:

 “Such a significant fall in further education enrolment raises extremely serious questions, particularly within deprived areas.

Labour claim they’re committed to closing the attainment gap – yet these figures confirm they’re failing spectacularly.

It’s in deprived areas where the most significant support is required to encourage further education, advance skills and boost jobs growth.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis (Labour Co-operative) hit back, highlighting the worsening financial situation facing colleges across the border. He said:

“Wales won’t be taking any lessons from the Tories on further education, given the mess the UK Government are creating in English colleges.”

Criticising FE cuts in Scotland last month on the Scottish Conservative website, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said:

“We knew the Scottish Government had cut tens of thousands of part-time college places and replaced them with only a smattering of full-time ones.

But now we know where that axe has fallen geographically.

Thousands of people, from Glasgow to Aberdeenshire, the Lothians to Lanarkshire, have been denied the opportunity to study in a way that is flexible to them.

The SNP has slammed the door of opportunity in the face of thousands – people trying to change career, single parents and mothers simply trying to get the skills they need to get back into the workplace.

It’s no wonder businesses are increasingly worried about the skills gap.

The Scottish Government’s approach to colleges is failing students and failing business – the First Minister needs to explain what she is going to do to turn this around.”

Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph has reported redundancies that slash the FE workforce in Northern Ireland by just over 12%. The chairman of the Assembly’s Department of Employment and Learning’s scrutiny committee has said the redundancies were “another casualty” of the continuing impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein over welfare reform.

Robin Swann of the Ulster Unionist Party said that:

“money would be better spent investing in further education to equip young people to enter the workforce “rather than divesting it of the staff that are there to support and develop their students”.

Whatever the party politics and underlying point scoring, FE and adult education must be kept in the spotlight as a priority for political debate and, more importantly, positive action.

It’s interesting to know that the following Westminster MPs expressed active support for FE and adult education during Adult Learners’ Week and as part of the #Love FE campaign.

  • Alan Campbell (Lab) Tynemouth.
  • Jeremy Corbyn (Lab) Islington North
  • Pat Glass (Lab) North West Durham
  • Stephen Hepburn (Lab) Jarrow
  • Caroline Lucas (Green) Brighton Pavilion
  • Andy McDonald (Lab) Middlesbrough
  • John McDonnell (Lab) Hayes and Harlington
  • Cat McKinnell (Lab) Newcastle upon Tyne North
  • Fiona McTaggart (Lab) Slough
  • Chi Onwurah (Lab) Newcastle Central
  • Cat Smith (Lab) Lancaster and Fleetwood
  • Catherine West (Lab) Hornsey and Wood Green
  • Ian Wright (Lab) Hartlepool
  • Daniel Zeichner (Lab) Cambridge

David Lammy (Lab) has also written positively here about the value of evening classes.

Which other politicians should be included as supporters?

FE and adult education cuts and cuttings

This blog features a small selection of headlines and links to articles about cuts in Further and Adult Education over the last 2 years.

The current round of cuts is on top of massive earlier budget reductions and will affect many people including the most vulnerable in society, marginalising them further and removing chances for self-improvement. It will also affect skilled, professional adult educators whose jobs will be at risk.

The #loveFE Save Adult Education campaign seems to be the main focus of campaigning. It has wide support from across the FE and Adult Education sectors.

#loveFE

There is also a “Don’t cut ESOL funding” petition on the 38 Degrees website here.

The headlines below are clickable links and show the scale of the crisis facing adult learning.

The skills we need now in Further and Adult Education include campaigning skills to encourage more people to join us in standing up for precious services.

Cuts2

Cuts 4Cuts !

Cuts 8

Cuts 3

Cuts 9

Cuts 6

Cuts 5

Cuts 7

Cuts 10

Will a whole class will have to stay behind?

Social class still determines most people’s life experiences in the UK.

Inequality in wealth, health, social networks and the contrasts between privilege and poverty are marked, as shown in an OECD report of February 2015: Income inequality data update and policies impacting income distribution. The Equality Trust has also published a recent report, The Scale of Economic Inequality in the UK, which shows that:

  • The poorest 20% of society have only 8% of the total income, whereas the top 20% have 41%.
  • The richest 10% of households hold 44% of all wealth. The poorest 50% own just 9.5%.

class

Definitions of social class might have changed over the years, but it is evident that educational experience and achievement is closely linked with people’s likely prosperity and well-being. The Teach First charity’s website explains:

In the UK, the link between low socio-economic background and poor educational attainment is greater than in almost any other developed country.

Educational inequality starts early, before a child even starts school. Figures show a one year gap in ‘school readiness’ between 3-year-olds, and a 15 month gap in vocabulary development between 5-year-olds, in the richest and poorest families.

And the gap doesn’t stop there. It continues and widens throughout school and has an impact throughout a child’s life. At GCSE level, nearly 50% of children claiming free school meals school meals achieve no passes above a D grade.

All of this has a knock-on effect on future earnings – the more you learn, the more you earn. In fact, over the course of a lifetime, a graduate from a Russell Group university will earn on average £371,000 more than someone who left school with fewer than 5 good GCSEs.

Lifelong learning is for everyone, but some have more catching up to do than others and more obstacles in their way. Adult education, including access to part-time learning, has been a proven way to deal with some of this inequality, giving people chances to improve their prospects, whatever their background or previous educational achievement. Family learning can lead parents to more rewarding lives and also break into the cycle of educational disadvantage for their children during their early years of learning,

The benefits of adult learning are well-evidenced but the further and adult education sectors are under seige as consecutive rounds of cuts devastate colleges.

Austerity is blamed.

We had austerity after the second world war, but the response was different. Working-class MPs such as Aneurin Bevan, Manny Shinwell and Bessie Braddock were colourful figures in the post-war Labour government. They championed the rights of working class people and applied their direct experience of life. The welfare state and the NHS were formed during this time of severe economic challenge and the 1944 Education Act introduced free secondary education for all. Several politicians and policy advisors of that era were involved in adult education movements such as the WEA.

So why don’t more of today’s politicians see FE and adult education as priorities? As politics have become more exclusive, is there a widening gulf of understanding between politicians and many of their constituents whose lives and educational experiences are very different from their own? Of course, adult learning has some political support across all political parties. It’s interesting that politicians such as Vince Cable and David Lammy, who have expressed unsolicited support for adult education, cite personal experience of their families benefiting from adult learning.

Working class MPs

A Sutton Trust report, Parliamentary Privilege, from February 2015 assessed the educational background of Parliamentary candidates.

  • Almost a third of new candidates who were set to stand in May’s General Election with a reasonable chance of winning were privately educated.
  • 49% of Conservative candidates and 19% of Labour candidates were privately educated, compared to 7% of the population.
  • 55% of candidates went to Russell Group universities, with 19% attending Oxbridge.

Who is representing people who rely on – or want the chance of fulfillment offered by – further and adult education?

It’s easy to have a pop at politicians and probably unproductive. Being an MP is an unattractive job for many people, with constant, often very personal, public criticism. It must be very disheartening to be a conviction politician in a social media age. We need better channels for constructive dialogue with them, or to use existing channels such as MPs’ surgeries more effectively. Our job is to convince them of the current strategy’s risks and that there is an alternative to cuts. Their job is to understand their constituents’ lives and to work on their behalf to improve them.

The irony of cutting FE courses is that it is likely to halt any fragile progress towards a more classless and equal society. The worst case scenario is that a whole class, already thwarted by their earlier educational and life experiences, will have to stay behind, even though other, more ambitious, approaches have been successful in a previous time of austerity.

Who is speaking up for adult learning?

We are celebrating some fantastic individual and group achievements in inspiring Adult Learners’ Week events and activities across the country. The ALW celebrations show that adult learning is a potent game-changer for many people who wouldn’t otherwise meet their potential. The overall national award winners and their achievements will be announced at a glittering event in London this evening.

You can find out more about Adult Learners’ Week here and by following the #ALW15 and #lovetolearn hashtags on Twitter.

In contrast to the feel-good recognition of achievements, there will be a lobby of Parliament tomorrow as part of the #lovefe campaign to save adult education from proposed 24% cuts to the England lifelong learning budget,

Year after year we show how effective adult learning can be. We present evidence of impact. We share case studies. We rehearse the arguments about needs, skills gaps and international comparisons. We produce academic research. We show social return on investment. We show lives transformed by adult education.

Are we talking to ourselves? Who, other than adult education professionals, is speaking up for the sector?

Talk to ourselve

It’s reported that former Prime Minister Tony Blair once joked that you could hide a declaration of war in a speech about skills and no-one would ever notice it.

An Early Day Motion (866), “Funding for Adult Learning” tabled on 20 October 2010 and sponsored by Frank Dobson, MP presented a strong case. Only 56 pf 650 MPs signed to show their support.

That this House expresses its concern over prospects of severe and disproportionate reductions in funding for adult lifelong learning; notes the public statements in support of the value of adult lifelong learning to individuals, society and the economy made by the Prime Minister and all Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; considers that adult education provides a second chance for many who did not do well at school, as well as providing life-changing opportunities for the needs of some of the most disengaged people in society; further notes the general benefits of a diverse range of adult learning, which include significant positive effects on health, work-life balance, work-related hard and soft skills and social mobility, greater community engagement and encouragement of volunteering; further considers that adult learning makes a wider contribution to a wider skills agenda and to economic regeneration and has many direct economic benefits, such as moving people off benefits into work and reducing the burden on the state in many areas including health, social care and justice; and, while acknowledging the need to rebalance investment between government, employers and individuals and to make some reductions in expenditure, calls on the Government to recognise that any decisions about savings must ensure that opportunities for affordable adult education for the less well-off and disadvantaged are not irretrievably damaged and lost.

While we give richly deserved congratulations to Adult Learners’ Week Award winners, we have a task on our hands to protect and develop much-needed opportunities for adults who should have the same, or better, chances to succeed in the future.

We need a few people with megaphone influence and a lot of people other than adult education professionals to get the messages across. Adult Learners’ Week award winners over many years give plenty of examples that adult learning is effective and the WEA can provide lots of statistics and stories as well.

Who will do for adult learning what Elton John has done for AIDS treatment, Jaimie Oliver for school dinners and Joanna Lumley for Gurkhas?