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DIY learning shelves teachers

Plans for a pound;20 million grassroots, volunteer-driven "learning revolution" have been criticised as a "do-it-yourself solution" with no place for teachers.

The white paper launched on Monday is the Government's attempt to restore, through community initiatives, some of the adult education lost during the push for Train to Gain workplace training.

It expects 7,000 pubs, shops, churches, workplaces and other buildings to be open to learners on evenings and weekends for study organised by the community itself.

Local authorities will be expected to co-ordinate the provision. The funding will allow for mentors to help people use new technology for learning, and local learning champions to encourage participation.

But critics of the loss of adult education places have said the initiative is no substitute for trained teachers and lecturers.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The Government's `Learning Revolution' white paper is a Bamp;Q approach to adult learning. It is a do-it-yourself solution which seems to be devoid of teachers. It doesn't restore any of the 1.5 million adult education training places which have been lost over the past two years."

Leisha Fullick, visiting fellow at London University's Institute of Education, said: "There has always been a very strong voluntary tradition in adult learning. But none of these things are going to make up for the mortal blow that the Government has dealt to adult education in colleges in recent years."

However, the principles laid down in the informal learning pledge, a commitment to informal learning for businesses and other organisations which matches the skills pledge for Train to Gain, were an important statement of intent, she said.

The pledge lays out a commitment to engage everyone in lifelong learning and emphasises its social as well as economic benefits.

But Ms Fullick questioned whether self-organisation would work in the deprived areas most in need of adult education.

"Informal learning isn't going to happen just by setting up self-help groups in a library. That won't happen for a lot of people," she said.

Alan Tuckett, chief executive of Niace, the adult education body, said it was still necessary to rebalance the funding of lifelong learning to restore opportunities lost to the expansion of workplace training.

Niace would also be continuing to press for the responsibility on local authorities to be strengthened. They will be set targets for adult learner satisfaction, but Niace believes it is also important to measure the numbers participating.

But Mr Tuckett said the white paper was evidence of the "personal commitment" of John Denham, the Skills Secretary, to providing a future for adult education.

"It is no mean achievement to find new money on this scale at a time when there have never been more pressures on public funding," he said. "Working together, we want to make this the start of a renaissance of learning opportunities for adults in Britain, for the benefit of individuals and communities."

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