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Editor's comment

Adult Learners' Week is always a cause for celebration. From small beginnings 14 years ago, it has grown to an international affair with events in more than 50 countries. It epitomises the power of adult education to transform lives.

Much credit is due to the great enthusiasm of its creator, Niace director Alan Tuckett. However, as he would agree, the real force for change has been the army of dedicated teachers who ensure it all happens regardless of the cash available. The 16-page Adult Learners special report, free with The TES this week, is a testimony to their success.

But adult learning does more than transform individual lives - it changes the culture. Second-chance success for adults provides role models for younger people. There is considerable evidence that it leads to wider community education and family learning initiatives - breaking the cycle of disaffection that traps generation after generation in patterns of under-achievement.

What so many of these experiences show is that real success comes from homegrown initiatives - often taken in spite of Government policies and targets. Six years ago, The TES worked with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on a six-nation study, Overcoming Exclusion through Adult Learning. An overwhelming conclusion was that the best adult education comes from local initiatives backed by a steady flow of Government cash: whereas throwing big amounts of cash at one-off schemes usually ends in disaster.

No research has since emerged to contradict these findings, and the Government has listened - to some extent. The TESNiace staffing survey, featured on page 3, may make depressing reading as colleges still struggle to find adequately trained staff for adult language and maths courses. But things are gradually improving as managers seek new ways of tackling problems with cash set aside for the purpose.

The problem is with the bigger picture and the dominance of the Government's targets for skills and 16 to 18-year-olds. As our columnist Julian Gravatt points out (p28), the Learning and Skills Council has lacked funds to deal with ever-growing pressure from Government priorities.

Colleges were supposed to have stability, with three-year development programmes and planned funding.

As a result, 200,000 adult education places in colleges are under threat.

It is most ironic that this should all come to a head on the eve of Adult Learners' Week. Perhaps Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, will offer a solution when she addresses the launch gathering in London on Monday.

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