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Billions pledged to adult learners

Minister sets colleges new targets to earn extra cash. Ian Nash reports

A huge expansion of adult education is at the heart of the Government's new post-16 strategy, spelled out by the Education Secretary Charles Clarke this week.

Following the record pound;1.2 billion for colleges announced last month, Mr Clarke this week confirmed similar increases for other sectors funded by the Learning and Skills Council. The council's grant goes up by more than 5 per cent after inflation to pound;8.1bn next year and a further 13 per cent by 2005.

But for the first time in five years, adult learning will be given the largest percentage increases as ministers have pledged to cut the number of adults in the low-skill poverty trap by at least one million in three years.

Mr Clarke outlined tough demands in return for the money when he addressed the LSC's annual convention of its 47 local chairs and chief executives in London. Record investment must bring about radical and sustained improvements, and significantly drive up the country's overall skill levels, he said.

"We simply cannot afford to continue with a system that does not provide people with the skills or qualifications they need to carry out their jobs and their lives effectively. This money is allocated on a something for something basis."

When he unveiled the first of the big packages at last month's Association of Colleges' conference, Mr Clarke warned he would get tough with the one in 10 colleges which are failing. Similarly this week, he issued a warning that the poorly-performing local learning and skills councils had to be tackled.

Increased emphasis by government on the adult skills agenda is reflected in big budget increases for post-19 learning. While a letter from Mr Clarke spelling out the conditions of grant does not go into detail, adult learning is expected to get a percentage increase twice that of youth programmes.

Several factors have allowed for a shift of emphasis from youth to adults. The costs of Curriculum 2000 have passed through, other factors such as the national implementation of Education Maintenance Allowances will help tackle youth recruitment and there is a lower 16 to 18 participation target.

Three new adult recruitment targets must be met. A new qualification target aims to have 1m fewer adults without a level 2 (a GCSE equivalent) qualification by 2006.

The Government has doubled the number of adults it expects to have basic skills by 2007 from 750,000 to 1.5m. A further target is for 90 per cent of 22-year-olds to have participated in full-time education and training by 2010.

"A vibrant economy needs thriving businesses, and they in turn need a skilled and flexible workforce, supported by a high quality and responsive further education and training system," Mr Clarke said.

More flexible funding rules being planned for colleges will be extended to all training providers, he said. Decisions on funding would be linked to new three-year delivery plans developed by colleges and training providers. For the first time the LSC will also be able to carry over unspent funds from one year to the next.

But Mr Clarke also expects "far greater devolution" away from LSC control. "That means giving local people responsibility for deciding what provision is needed in each locality," he said.

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