Skip to main content

Power battle risks punishing those most in need

Mike Newman's writing first inspired me 30 years ago. His latest book, Teaching Defiance, begins from the understanding that in all kinds of contexts decisions made or imposed result from the exercise of power.

That power is not equally shared and you can teach people the tools to better defend their interests and to assert their needs.

What follows is a brilliant combination of practical workshop exercises and a relaxed account of the pedagogical and philosophical underpinnings of the methodology. I think it should be essential reading for adult educators.

Different forms of power - deriving from formal authority, fiscal clout, media influence, co-operative action, or innovative social forms - are brought to bear on conflicts of interest.

Analysing them helps to see who are the winners, and who are the losers, in order to better plan what to do about it. This is adult education for democracy - work just as vital to the health and well-being of the country as the skills strategy, but work that has shrivelled in university extra mural departments, colleges and local authorities alike.

One area where this kind of strategic thinking is essential is in policy for adults learning English as their second or subsequent language. That was the reason Niace commissioned its committee of inquiry into English for speakers of other languages (Esol).

I was encouraged that minister Bill Rammell wrote accepting well over two-thirds of the 39 recommendations made by the inquiry, and for his personal engagement with the issue.

Many will improve things for those learners who make it through the door and get a class.

One very welcome development is the recognition that employers need to do more in one area at least. The Learning and Skills Council's annual statement of priorities promises to make sure that employers pay for their workers to learn English.

However, there were two areas of disagreement. The Government will cut all courses for asylum seekers, while we argued that where the Home Office failed to process a decision within eight weeks, it should pay for Esol until a decision is made.

It is not that anyone questions Home Office aspirations to process claims quickly, just that for some people judgment can be delayed for months and years.

The second disagreement was over fees. Niace argued that adults who can afford to should pay, but that everyone needed an entitlement to free provision up to level one. The Government has decided to charge fees for all Esol learners not on benefits or income support. It is a difference that will have an impact on low waged workers, with the weakest language skills, whose lack of the language will inhibit them from accessing the evidence which they would need to claim exemption.

In our view while making a welcome commitment to prioritising those most in need, the Government's decision risks further punishing the poor.

Alan Tuckett is chief executive of Niace, the adult education body

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you