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Adults must not lose out again

The proposals announced this week to replace the Learning and Skills Council with new bodies for young people and adults after 2010 risk the further erosion of the Government's commitment to lifelong learning in England and threaten to marginalise the interests of adults as learners outside higher education.

Since the incorporation of colleges, every change to the institutional infrastructure has initially resulted in damage to provision for adult part-time students.

The experience of Niace is that any measures that set the needs of one group of learners against another generally results in adults losing out.

Further education colleges are used overwhelmingly by adults but are driven by the needs of younger full-time students preparing for entry to the labour market.

In spite of this, they have been outstandingly effective in widening participation and achievement for all. Niace is concerned that the new arrangements may inhibit colleges from continuing to meet the needs of learners from all sections of society. For the Government's proposals to succeed, Whitehall departments, local government and new funding bodies and agencies will need to display greater levels of flexibility than has occurred in the past.

The absence of a planning role for the proposed Skills Funding Agency will lead to more confusion.

A demand-led funding system needs to respect the full range of adult demand, not simply that prioritised by government's public service agreements.

While local authorities are not the most appropriate bodies to lead on the entire skills agenda, they do however understand the needs of the communities they serve.

To better safeguard adult learners' interests, Niace proposes that government should give local authorities a statutory duty to advise and comment on the plans of the Skills Funding Agency with regard to the sufficiency of local arrangements for the education and training of adults - within their areas - in the welfare of communities.

Alan Tuckett, Director, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, Leicester.

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