'Exam results needn't determine life chances'

Further education offers routes to achieve your goals, regardless of how you do in GCSE and A level, says Stephen Evans

Stephen Evans

Whatever your GCSE or A level results, options are available

Exam results season is almost upon us. Our newspapers and TV screens will soon be filled with pictures of happy young people celebrating their results. Quite right, too. They’ve worked really hard for them.

It’s also important that we stress that there are multiple routes to achieve your goals, whatever your exam results. This was exemplified in the Twitter hashtag #NoWrongPath – your exam results, as a young person, are important, but they needn’t determine your chances in life.

That’s one of the reasons why learning throughout life is really important. It’s a key part of why the Learning and Work Institute exists. We need to give people second, third and fourth chances. And in a world of uncertainty, we need to offer different paths and the chance to change. Bottom line: learning gives you choices.

Learning gives you choices

The forthcoming spending review will be crucial. Funding cuts mean that there are in excess of 1 million fewer adults taking part in publicly-funded learning than at the start of the decade. We need greater investment to reverse that decline.

Reports that the Treasury has asked departments without protected budgets, such as the Department for Education, to come up with scenarios for further cutting budgets could, therefore, be troubling. In practice, as a former Treasury official myself, I know that this is standard practice for spending reviews.

However, there’s no doubt that it will be a tough spending round. Everywhere you look there are spending pressures, from defence to the NHS and social care, and not enough money to cover them. Within the Department for Education itself, there will be competing pressure for funding from schools and universities. And within further education, we need to make sure that investment in technical education and apprenticeships doesn’t come at the expense of other forms of learning for adults.

Celebrating adult education

In short, there’s a lot to do and some real risks. However, I believe the opportunity is still there to make the case for increased investment in learning for adults. There’s a clear economic and social case. One that we can all make together.

But first I want to return to the images we’ll soon see of young people getting their GCSE and A-level results. Because we need to celebrate their achievements, but also the achievements of the millions of adults up and down the country who’ve taken part in learning and seen how it can help them transform their lives.

Learning makes a difference

For the past 26 years, the Learning and Work Institute has run the Festival of Learning – celebrating the best in adult learning through annual awards and inspiring more adults to learn through more than 800 free “have a go” events across England each June. The award winners are inspiring. From older people learning to improve their wellbeing, to learning that helps to build communities and support social enterprises, through to learning for career changes or progression. And lots more besides.

The Festival of Learning is always a highlight of our year, and the meeting of the selection panel to choose the winners is one of the toughest days because there are so many amazing nominations to choose from.

You can see videos of our amazing 2018 award winners on our Festival of Learning website. They always make for an inspiring view and are a reminder of why we all do what we do. And you can nominate your own amazing learners for next year’s awards from the autumn.

So yes, let’s marshal our facts and figures to make the case for investment in learning. But let’s also celebrate the amazing adults whose stories show the difference that learning makes throughout people’s lives. They deserve the same prominence as young people getting their exam results.

Stephen Evans is chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute

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