A tribute to NIACE

NIACE, the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education is merging with the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion and its name will disappear after 94 years at the forefront of promoting adult learning. The Who’s Lobbying website describes NIACE as, “the main advocacy body for adult learning in England and Wales and probably the largest body devoted to adult education in the world.” Its achievements as an independent organisation deserve the utmost respect and many adult educators will regret the loss of its identity while wishing the newly merged organisation every success.

NIACE has been a source of practical and coordinated support, encouragement, inspiration and effective campaigning for adult education – and more specifically, adult learners – over the years. I have never been employed directly by the organisation, but I have worked alongside it throughout my career. I have felt a strong affiliation and found common cause with its dedicated staff and supporters who have shown deep professional and practical understanding of the sector, backed up by thorough research and active networks.

Among their many achievements, NIACE deserves credit for:

  • Adult Learners’ Week awards and events, which have grown to become international celebrations
  • Extensive, respected and influential research on adult education
  • Securing and managing funding for major projects including adult and community learning, literacy, numeracy, technology, equality, mental health, family learning and innovative practice.
  • Lobbying effectively on behalf of the sector and especially for under-represented groups
  • Publications, including influential reports and the well-regarded Adults Learning journal
  • Support for third sector organisations.
  • High quality conferences, seminars and events

On the subject of the merged organisation’s name, FE Week reports NIACE’s Chief Executive, David Hughes, as saying that, “(the name) his team had decided on was the Learning and Work Institute, although it still has to be approved by members.” He will lead the new organisation and explained that:

“We spent the summer consulting with members and stakeholders over what direction the organisation should now be taking and want to stress that we won’t lose touch with the historic work of Niace in supporting adult education for everybody throughout their lives and for campaigning for the wider benefits of lifelong learning.

“We just feel that the new name will better reflect the range of work we do now.”

Adult education is facing a crisis, receiving only 6% of the government’s total spending on education and facing further cuts to learning opportunities and staffing. The petition to save adult education is indicative of concerns affecting the sector.

Adult learning needs a coordinated voice more than ever. NIACE has had a pivotal role in such campaigning over many years so David Hughes’ continued commitment to the ‘historic work’ is important.

Thank you to all at NIACE, past and present, for your immense contributions since 1921 and very best wishes to the newly merged organisation. Adults with increasingly limited chances to learn need all the support that they can get.

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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?

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?