Adult education: less focus on work-based skills needed

Instead of focusing on work-based skills in adult education, the government needs to invest in creating a love of learning, say experts
5th November 2020, 5:43pm

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Adult education: less focus on work-based skills needed

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/adult-education-less-focus-work-based-skills-needed
Spending Review: Adult Education Funding Boost Needed

The focus on workplace skills in adult education is a detriment to creating a joy of lifelong learning, experts have said.

Speaking at the WEA's online debate on lifelong learning - part of the first-ever Lifelong Learning Week - public policy analyst and author Tony Breslin said that "an education to employment contract had pervaded education thinking for so long" and that the focus needed to be on creating a love of learning in everyone.

He said: "[Focusing on employability skills] leads us to false instrumentalism. The most important thing if you want employability engagement and social inclusion is to get people involved in learning. 

"The idea that you only put them up to a certain kind of vocational course because the country needs people who can do X and therefore we've got one of those courses this week, is so wrongheaded. We need to get them into any kind of learning that works for them and get them onto the vocational stuff after they've got confidence with establishing themselves as a learner."

Mr Breslin said that sewing classes and flower arranging were "far more successful" at building people's employability than encouraging them to do technical courses in a market skills gap. 


Need to know: Boris Johnson to announce 'Lifetime Skills Guarantee'

More: FE White Paper to simplify adult education funding

Simon Parkinson: the man fighting for adult education


In September, prime minister Boris Johnson announced a "Lifetime Skills Guarantee", which will give adults the chance to take free further education courses.

Earlier this year, Simon Parkinson, chief executive of the WEA, told Tes that there needed to be a range of alternative routes to learning to adults beyond apprenticeships and T levels. 

At the time, he said: "The focus is - understandably, to a point - on schools and then general FE, but that's missing the bigger picture. There's going to be a significantly larger group of adults with low or no formal qualifications that actually need a different journey back towards the world of work, and a much more localised and personalised level of support."

Speaking today, Mr Parkinson said that the "narrow definition of skills" wasn't helping employers recruit the type of workforce they need. 

He said: "I'm ambitious about how we can do both, how we can actually influence employers and win the argument that a very narrow definition of skills isn't actually helping them recruit the type of workforce they need, but not at the expense of our vocational learning as well. If we carry on setting them up as somehow in opposition to each other, we will struggle."

'Losing the joy of education'

Katie Shaw, a campaigns, policy and research consultant, said that for millennials, education had become synonymous with employability. 

She said: "The production line version of education that we've come out of and people go to university not to kind of explore things and be critical but because at 21, you want to come out and enter the job market.

"While that's important, we run the risk of losing the joy of education for people that have very recently gone through our education system and that's going to really hinder people returning to education later in life." 

Helen Hammond, principal of the Working Men's College, argued that practicality was needed in adult education and that people needed to get jobs to live and develop. 

She said: "Working with my learners, it's about everything that is included in going to work. A lot of adults haven't been in the workforce, there's a whole piece of work that we do that wraps around the formal qualification."

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