Spending Review: Adult education courses not viable

None of the practical courses vital to the nation’s recovery is viable at current funding rates - even with larger class sizes, warns AoC

Kate Parker

Spending review: Adult education funding boost needed

The National Skills Fund is at risk of failing unless adult education funding is given a boost, the Association of Colleges has said. 

A new report, entitled Adult Programme Costs and Rates and published by the AoC today, found that even at the maximum class size, none of the practical courses vital to the nation’s recovery, such as electrical, plumbing and counselling, is viable at current funding rates. 

Ahead of the chancellor's Spending Review this week, the AoC is calling on the government to increase the funding rate for adult skills and education to the same level as those for 16- to 19-year-olds. 

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'Adult education has been neglected too long' 

Chief executive David Hughes said that thousands of adults are at risk of being left behind. 

He said: “Today’s findings show that thousands of adults who find themselves out of work and require retraining are at risk of being left behind. Adult education has been neglected in education policy for too long. 

“The government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee extending full funding for a first level 3 qualification to adults over the age of 23 was a welcome step but our analysis shows that without a funding rate increase, those ambitions will not be achieved. 

“As the report shows, the courses needed to train key workers and productive sectors that will get the country moving again simply cost too much to deliver compared with current rates. A failure to act will leave businesses without skilled workers and people in long-term unemployment and poverty.”

However, speaking at Education Questions in the House of Commons yesterday, skills and apprenticeships minister Gillian Keegan said: “There are still too many parts of the UK that have been left behind and this government is committed to bridging the gap in every region and levelling up opportunity in every corner of our country. 

“That is why we are investing £2.5 billion in the National Skills Fund to turbocharge our economic recovery, and we're introducing a Lifetime Skills Guarantee so that no one is left behind, no matter their age or their stage of learning.” 

Adult participation in education

Budgets for adult skills programmes were cut by 40 per cent in the first half of the past decade and have been fixed in cash terms since then despite inflation. And research published by the Learning and Work Institute in 2019 found that the number of adults taking part in learning and training had fallen to a record low, with just one in three (35 per cent) of adults having taken part in learning in the past three years, down from 37 per cent in 2017. 

The AoC is calling for this week's Spending Review to make the following reforms to adult education: 

  • Immediately implement 16-19 rate equity for the Single Activity Matrix (SAM) not including SAM exceptions such as for functional skills. 

  • Implement the High Value Courses Premium as per the 16-19 methodology.

  • Review the SAM rate card so it matches the 16-19 methodology.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are making sure our FE sector has the funding and support it needs to give all learners the skills they need to succeed.

 “Through our ambitious new £2.5 billion National Skills Fund, we will make sure more adults can retrain and upskill so we can unlock even more potential and level up opportunities across the country.

 “We are engaging closely with the FE sector and wider industry as we continue to develop our plans for the National Skills Fund and will launch a public consultation in due course.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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