Revealed: The impact of adult education on unemployment

Research showing how adult education takes learners off benefits prompts calls for government investment

Kate Parker

Skills: New research shows how adult education can help to tackle unemployment

Around 40 per cent of adult learners stopped claiming benefits within six months of studying, a new report on adult education provision shows.

The report from adult education provider WEA also reveals that almost a quarter of those who were unemployed found work on completion of their course. 

The report, shared exclusively with Tes, says that 71 per cent of students who were unemployed when starting a WEA course in 2019 said the course helped to improve the skills they needed for work.


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More than 50 per cent said the course had increased their motivation to find work in the future and 64 per cent said they had a better understanding of job opportunities suited to their skills, experience and future aspirations.

In 2019-20, the WEA supported around 39,000 adult learners, of whom more than 5,100 took part in the research. 

How adult education can help to tackle unemployment

Simon Parkinson, chief executive of the WEA, said: “With unemployment set to reach 2.6 million this year and the communities we serve most likely to be hardest hit, the WEA plays a critical role in building the skills and confidence of those often the furthest away from employment, or most in need of learning and connection to add value to their lives.

“This report really demonstrates the difference that our teaching provides, raising aspirations, improving chances and providing a lifeline of connection and support.”

Research published by the CBI last year found that nine in 10 adults will need some form of reskilling by 2030, and an estimated £21 million would be needed to boost basic digital skills by 2030. 

And yet the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that spending on adult education was nearly two-thirds lower now in real terms than in 2003-4, and about 50 per cent lower than in 2009-10. 

In December 2020, the Commons Education Select Committee called for a revolution in adult education, recommending a community learning centre in every town as well as individual learning accounts for all adults. 

The levelling up agenda

Earlier this week, the Further Education Trust for Leadership published a report, written by Holex’s director of policy, Sue Pember, on how adult community education can contribute to the government’s "levelling up" agenda. 

The report lists 11 recommendations including the development of a government-wide levelling-up lifelong learning plan and strategies for basic skills including ESOL, health and wellbeing, digital and skills retraining. It also calls for adult education providers to have access to the new Department for Education capital fund, and for an injection of £5.2 billion into the system and a 10-year budget that “breaks the cycle of low skills”. 

Commenting on the report, Dame Ruth Silver, president of FETL, said: “While recent policy interventions, notably the new report from the Education Select Committee on lifelong learning, have acknowledged the contribution of ACE, they also bemoan the paucity of evidence on adult education, its outcomes, reach and impact. 

“Filling this gap, and setting out clearly and persuasively what adult community education does and how it benefits people and communities, is critically important in ensuring providers can make a full contribution to the government’s 'levelling up' agenda, and that this contribution is properly understood. That is what this report aims to do and we hope it will support not only government in realising the potential of adult education but also providers in making sense of the levelling-up agenda.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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