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Concern over substantial drop in adult learner numbers

The number of adults taking part in publicly-funded learning in England has dropped by almost 200,000 compared to last year, according to new statistics.

Provisional figures from the government and Skills Funding Agency show that 1,475,600 people over the age of 19 took part in government-funded further education in the first quarter of the 2013/14 academic year, compared to 1,674,800 in 2012/13.

Perhaps most concerning is that there were 63,000 fewer adults on maths courses, a 14 per cent drop, and 51,000 fewer on English courses, an 11 per cent drop.

There was also a 42 per cent drop in the number of adults taking part in English for speakers of other languages (Esol) courses.

David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body Niace said the results were “hardly surprising” given government funding cuts.

“This is the sort of information we’ll be feeding into the political parties in the run up to the 2015 general election,” he said.

“We need to know how the political parties plan to address these challenges and how learning and skills will be supported as an intrinsic part of the recovery. We have seen from the UKCES Employer Skills Survey that there are serious shortages already. Those skills shortages are likely to worsen as the economy grows.

“We are particularly concerned about the falls in the number of people on English, maths and Esol courses. This means that those who have the most to gain are the ones who are missing out on learning the fundamental skills of literacy, numeracy and language.”

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