Lifelong learning campaigners have been dealt a blow before their lobby of Parliament next week as revised Government figures show a near 50 per cent drop in adult learners over two years.
Official figures released on December 18 show a decline of 38 per cent in the number of adults studying courses below level 2 (GCSE equivalent), which include entry-level courses taken by those returning to education and many courses taken by pensioners. This represents a fall from 547,200 in 2005-06 to 340,400 in 2007-08.
What has only just come to light from Niace, the adult education body, is that four days later, on December 22, a revised version of the statistical first release (SFR) from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills put the figure for 2007-08 at 284,600, which means numbers fell by 48 per cent between 2005-06 and 2007-08.
The notes-to-editors section of that document said: "It has been necessary to revise the SFR as published on December 18. The revisions made for data relating to 2006-07 and 2007-08 are to correct an inconsistency in the methodology used in breakdowns for the category `Below level 2 (excluding Skills for Life)' . This change leads to a downward revision for this category but does not affect the total learner numbers."
Alan Tuckett, director of Niace said: "One of the challenges mapping the decline in publicly funded opportunities for adult learning comes in getting the numbers clear. The SFR which slipped out on December 18 and had to be put right four days later shows a catastrophic decline in opportunities."
Niace says there are some 1.4 million fewer adult learners today than in 2004, and those with low skills and aged over 60 are among the group taking the biggest hit. Much of the reason for the decline is the switch in funding away from adult education courses to support the Government's skills agenda, especially the Train to Gain initiative.
Next Wednesday's lobby is organised under the banner of the Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning, which includes several organisations including Niace, the University and College Union and the National Union of Students.
To coincide with the lobby, Niace has published "Lost Learners", which is a collection of comments from adult learners who feel they have been marginalised.
WHAT ADULT LEARNING MEANS TO ME
- `If we have no stimulation, we will probably end up in rest homes and a burden on the authorities. Please keep our classes going.'
- `I have learned so much and broadened my interests and views. Educating adults is not a waste.'
- `I want to go on using my brain, now and once I retire.'
- `Adult students are very keen to learn and will not let this government stop them!'
- `Lifelong learning should be seen as a fundamental of a civilised society, keeping people intellectually stimulated, as well as the social networking that it encourages.'