Add your voice to the big debate on older learners
over-50s without a full-time job are being offered pound;50 learning vouchers in a scheme that adult education campaigners say the Government should adopt as a national programme.
The pound;75,000 initiative, launched by Bury council, is targeted at excluded groups, who the authority says were hardest hit by pound;300 million national cuts in non-vocational adult education two years ago.
Adult participation in the North West has declined by around a sixth since the shift in government policy. This confirms predictions from Niace, the national organisation for adult learners, that the total number of adults in education in England would drop by one million over two years following the cuts.
An equality impact assessment of government and local authority policies, conducted last year by Bury council, showed that some of the hardest-to-reach and poorest adults were losing out. Often trapped in part-time menial work, home-based jobs or caring for relatives, they failed to qualify for financial help to get on courses that would build their confidence.
Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, said: "This was predictable. While the Government was right to emphasise employability, there was too little money for other essentials.
"Even if what Bury is doing is only a toe in the water, it's the kind of enlightened, creative response local government can show.
"The trick will be to make the budget big enough to avoid disappointing too many people again."
Niace is organising a series of conferences on adult education for November 8 and 29, and January 17, supported by FE Focus. "FE in the 21st Century: What Works for Adults" will look at the past, present and future of adult education.
Many courses under the Bury scheme include ones that were proven to help people get back on the learning ladder learning for leisure, gardening and creative arts.
A Bury council representative said: "Adult learning is popular with many older people, but cuts in funding have made courses increasingly expensive, rendering them unavailable to many."
New courses were made available through an initiative called Age of Opportunities. The first 100 learning vouchers were snapped-up in a trial scheme run last term on a first-come-first-served basis.
The council representative said that the aim was to promote well-being and independence in older people. It builds on the national Dignity in Care and respect agendas and involves organisations across the borough, from public services and private companies to the voluntary sector.
On vocational skills, the Government has announced a pound;35 million fund to help 30,000 people gain new skills with pound;30-a-week grants.
The Adult Learning Grants, available for those in full or part-time jobs, were tested in selected areas, but will now go national.
* FE Focus is keen to provide a platform for the full range of opinions on the adult education debate. Readers who wish to contribute letters for publication, or who simply want to pass on their views, should email firstname.lastname@example.org