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Skills strategy on the right track

The Narrowing Participation report by the adult education body Niace ("Adult learning slump hits Labour heartland hardest", May 8) suggests that participation in adult learning is at its lowest level since this Government gained power, with the poor and manual workers among the hardest hit, despite record government investment.

Our National Adult Learning Survey (Nals) - last conducted in 2005 - showed a substantially higher level of people participating in learning, and an increase in participation among those from lower socio-economic groups. We will undertake another survey as it is important we have an accurate picture. We don't agree with Niace that we should abandon our skills strategy, especially after the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has underlined the importance of investing in skills if we are to become a world-class economy by 2020.

To question our decision to invest in skills - and by doing so to restate the worn-out argument that support for informal learning and support for qualifications-bearing learning are incompatible - is to miss the point.

The other Niace report published this week - Who Should Pay for Lifelong Learning? - bears this out. It shows that the public agrees with the Government that public funding should focus on the courses that help people to learn the basic and vocational skills they need for sustainable employment or further learning. I think it shows that we are making exactly the right use of the funds we have by targeting those who need most help with basic skills and vocational learning, but also offering some help to those who wish to learn for pleasure.

Sion Simon, Further education minister.

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