The adult community education sector has been looking forward to the publication of the Augar review and it didn’t disappoint. It is now hoped that the other lifelong learning commissions that are to report this summer will build on the thoughts and ideas advocated in this report, such as the concept of a lifetime education allowance, so that for once and for all we can build a consensus about adult education and get on and deliver it.
It felt important that the report covered all people and all levels of learning and it was reassuring to see the report endorses the entitlements for adult basic skills and then goes further via the recommendations to build a funded ladder of qualifications at level 2 and 3. One of the most important aspects of the report is that it explains the importance of level 2 and the value that brings to the individual and the employer. I now really hope this evidence closes the arguments around the value of level 2s and why they are needed. We need to move forward so that we can readdress the decisions taken in the recent past and start to rebuild a level 2 base in apprenticeships and T levels. The report recognises that more work needs to be done at pre-entry and level 1 and we hope that will be picked up by the Department for Education.
Set of recommendations
Last autumn, HOLEX detailed a series of “asks” of government and provided evidence to the review panel requesting the government to correct an unbalanced post-18 funding system. Philip Augar, his panel and his team have crafted a robustly evidenced set of recommendations that go a long way to resolving the disparities of the past and correct that imbalance.
However, although adult community education providers are the FE sector best when viewed through Ofsted judgements, are financially sound, do not require government financial support intervention, have a track record of supporting those learners furthest away from the workforce and are most at risk of exclusion from society, they have been held back from expanding because of a lack of growth resource. Less than 1 per cent of the post-18 education and skills budget is spent on adult community education, even though there are 17 million adults without a level 2 qualification and 1 in 5 adults struggle with maths and literacy. So, although these recommendations are comprehensive, they do not suggest a mechanism for provider growth.
The other slight negative is that, although the opening statement says “[addressing disparity in post-18 education] is a matter of fairness and equity and is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals and the country at large”, the review seems to have confined its scope and has not embraced the wider government agenda of improving community integration, social cohesion and wellbeing through adult education. In not commenting on how post-18 education supports these other agendas, policies and action plans, the report seems isolated from the wider societal issues government is tackling and funding through other departments and budgets.
Post-18 education needs to be set in a broader narrative that brings together the adult education goals of other government departments. There needs to be developed a single, government-wide, lifelong education strategy that uses those underpinning arguments to persuade the Treasury that through the Spending Review they need to grow the overall funding envelope. Then hope the Department for Education takes up the baton and directs any new funds to adult learners who most need support.
Sue Pember is the director of policy at adult learning body HOLEX