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£50 million basic skills funding boost leaves sector 'surprised'


FE providers have expressed surprise after it emerged a £50 million funding boost was made available to help working adults improve their basic English and maths skills.

The cash, from the European Social Fund (ESF), is intended to help some of the 7.4 million adults in the workforce who have not yet achieved a level 2 qualification, equivalent to an A*-C at GCSE.

Colleges, training providers and consortia were invited to bid in February and were expecting to hear back from the Skills Funding Agency, which is administering the cash, this week.

However, some bodies were unaware the funding had been made available.

It comes as the adult skills budget, which funds all non-academic education for those 19 and over, faces a cut of a fifth between now and 2015-16.

The extra funding targets those aged 19 or over who work for a minimum of eight hours a week, but the ESF is particularly keen that it reaches women, people with disabilities, those aged 50 or over and ethnic minorities.

Additional funding is also available for employers with fewer than 250 full-time employees to release staff to undertake English and maths qualifications during work time.

However, it comes with the requirement that the money has to be spent by June 2015.

Harvey Young, director of NCC Skills, one of the leading providers of maths and English basic skills, said: ‘The whole thing’s a bit of a mystery. The money arrived out of the blue. Obviously, it’s fantastic to have an injection of funds like this, especially after the cuts to the adult skills budget, but I’m concerned that the money has to be spent within 12 months. What happens to the learners after that?

“The whole point about adult learning and basic skills is that it’s not a quick fix, and this smacks of short-termism. With adult learners it’s all about unlocking potential and raising self-esteem.

“Adults need sustained teaching so that they can progress beyond level 2. It seems crazy that a pot of money like this has to be spent in just a year.”

Adult education body Niace, which was also unaware of the extra cash, said the investment was welcome.

Chief executive David Hughes said: “The scale of the skills challenge we face in the UK is enormous and this funding will definitely help. It will support people to develop their basic skills and hopefully encourage them and give them the confidence to go on to gain higher level skills and promotion to higher paid jobs.

“It goes without saying that this would be positive for employers who need people to carry on learning as work changes, and to improve productivity.”

The Skills Funding Agency has been asked to comment.

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