Adults left out in the cold

10th June 2005 at 01:00
Post-19 cuts could leave 300,000 people without places. Steve Hook reports

Thousands more people than feared could lose out on education as the extent of cuts in adult learning becomes clearer.

Concern is deepening over the future of adult education with a warning from the Learning and Skills Council that the post-19 budget could be cut by up to 10 per cent - equivalent to more than 300,000 adult places.

Courses cut include lessons for adults with disabilities, IT, painting and decorating, music, and evening A-level classes.

David Russell, director of resources at the LSC, which provides the bulk of colleges' funding, has written to principals admitting that the cuts needed have been "higher than anticipated".

The Association of Colleges, which was already anticipating the loss of 200,000 adult places as the result of worse-than-expected funding allocations last month, now fears that this estimate may prove optimistic.

As the letter reached principals' desks this week, there was no comfort from the Department for Education and Skills, which says colleges must face the reality of concentrating on their "priority" areas or increase their income from course fees.

Mr Russell's letter said: "Colleges, external institutions and the LSC need to identify future trends at a much earlier stage. To this end, the LSC and the AoC will carry out a joint review of this planning round to identify lessons for the 2006-07 academic year. The joint review will consider issues of timing, consistency and data."

Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development at the AoC, said: "This figure - of up to a 10 per cent reduction in spending on adults - shows that the AoC was not scaremongering about the 200,000 places going, as some have accused us of doing. The AoC welcomes the additional information provided by the LSC, though we will be following up a number of queries about the figures.

"The cuts in adult learning numbers are unacceptable and we will take up this issue with the DfES and LSC. We will also be supporting colleges in handling the local impact of these cuts."

One principal told FE Focus: "There is a formula and we are not getting what we should get if we follow the formula because our regional LSC has not got the money."

The emphasis on 16-19 has meant sixth-form colleges have come off relatively unscathed, compared with general FE.

Further education minister Bill Rammell said the focus would remain on the Government's priority areas, including basic skills and level 2 (GCSE grade A-C equivalent) qualifications for adults and increasing the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who stay in full-time education.

He added: "I am committed to creating a world-class FE system. We have invested more money in the sector than ever before - an increase of 25 per cent, or pound;1 billion, in the past three years. But with poor adult literacy and numeracy costing the economy as much as pound;10bn a year, one of the worst drop-out rates at 17 internationally, and too many adults without the equivalent of five good GCSEs, we must use this money in the most effective way."

Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges at the lecturers' union Natfhe, said a survey of branches is being carried out to assess the full impact of the cuts, which will lead to job losses across the country.

He said: "There is a real risk that this will affect the infrastructure of colleges for the future if this means job losses.

"We will be writing to the AoC, calling for colleges to issue a moratorium on job losses while the full implications of this are considered. We would like to make joint representations on what is clearly a crisis situation."

Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said he broadly supports the Government's priorities but they should not be at the expense of other adult courses.

He said more money for vocational courses should come from employers who stand to benefit from better vocational training. He added: "This is desperate, narrow utilitarianism."

The call for more investment by employers was echoed this week by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, in a private meeting with the Confederation of British Industry. She said business leaders need to encourage firms to pay more. An adviser to Ms Kelly said: "Employers have to step up to the plate and make a reality out of it."

Mr Russell, of the LSC, stressed that the 10 per cent figure - which equates to 327,000 adults - is the most pessimistic estimate.

He told FE Focus: "To put this in context, we have more than 3 million adults with a budget of just under pound;2bn to support that number. That 10 per cent is a worst-case figure. We hope it will be lower than 300,000.

I think it will be closer to 200,000."

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