Marsden: Action needed to tackle drop in adult learners

Shadow minister highlights need for extra funding, as Labour's Lifelong Learning Commission publishes report

Tes Reporter

Adult education: Is 'learner leave' the key to lifelong learning?

A "catastrophic fall" in the number of adult learners has prompted renewed calls from Labour for a "cradle-to-grave" National Education Service.

Shadow education minister Gordon Marsden said action was needed to combat the declining number of adult learners in the UK, which he says is being caused by funding cuts.

His remarks followed the publication of the interim report of Labour's Lifelong Learning Commission, which says there is support for the idea of a National Education Service offering "free at the point of use" adult education.

Read more: Labour reveals Lifelong Learning Commission panel

Background: 'Why Labour's Lifelong Learning Commission matters'

Opinion: Why lifelong learning is so powerful

The commission was launched in February, with a 14-strong panel of sector experts announced only days later. 

Drop in funding for lifelong learning

Today's interim report says funding for lifelong learning has fallen by nearly half in real terms since 2009-10, and that a National Education Service could help to reverse the decline and make adult learning more accessible.

According to the report: "Labour's plan for a National Education Service offers hope for the revival of accessible, 'cradle-to-grave' learning which is open to all regardless of age, background or circumstance.

"It offers hope for a system of lifelong learning which is not an 'optional extra' but an integral part of a dynamic, cohesive and learner-centred system."

'A bold new plan'

Mr Marsden said: "After nearly a decade of funding cuts, lost support for students, a catastrophic fall in numbers of adult learners and fragmentation imposed by the Conservatives, a bold new plan fit for the 21st century is essential to make lifelong learning accessible to all.

"This commission is cutting across the silos in government policy which has stifled this. This interim report proclaims that lifelong learning is about social justice and personal empowerment, as well as the reskilling, training and industrial strategy that our country and its economy desperately need.

"It is signposting new directions for integrated policy which will address those for the next 10-15 years."

In a joint statement, Dave Ward and former education secretary Estelle Morris, co-chairs of the Lifelong Learning Commission, said: "Labour's plan for a National Education Service offers hope for the revival of accessible, 'cradle-to-grave' learning which is open to all regardless of age, background or circumstance."

'Opportunities have shrunk'

Matt Waddup, head of policy and campaigns at the University and College Union, said: "The importance of lifelong learning for both individuals and our society is huge, yet in recent years opportunities have shrunk rather than expanded. The opportunity to learn throughout life is a fundamental right and should be central to any national education service. This interim report adds to the many recent calls for a proper focus on, and investment in, the sector and places lifelong learning at the forefront of the debate around the need for reform.

"Everyone, regardless of age, background or finances should be able to access the learning they need and it should be a priority for this, or any future, government to develop a vision for an education system which truly works for everyone and we look forward to seeing how the final report puts this vision into reality."

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