Martin Whittaker reports on moves to encourage a return to education by adults - and meets two who made the journey
Opportunities for adults wishing to return to education depend very much on where they live, says Alan Tuckett, director of NIACE, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.
Mr Tuckett is also vice-chair of the Fryer committee, set up to produce an action plan on reforming adult education. The committee met last week and meets again later this month to help draft plans for a White Paper on lifelong learning which is due out early in November.
The committee is deeply worried by the regional variations in adult learning provision. "It's been left too much to local discretion," he said.
"The law is clear. All local authorities have a legal duty to secure adequate provision of facilities for adult education. However, local politicians believe on the whole that it's discretionary."
He highlighted Richmond and Gloucestershire as examples of good providers of adult education.
But he added: "You look at Gloucestershire against Hereford and Worcester. They're not that different as areas, but you look at the participation rate.
"In Hereford and Worcester for whatever reason, there has not been a history of investing in community-based adult learning - and this is the same part of England. What distinguishes Gloucestershire is that people take it seriously. "
He is calling for the Government to lay down minimum requirements for provision of lifelong learning nationally.
"What we want is a society where it should not matter where you live when you want a chance to learn. It is not an unreasonable demand."
Employment minister Andrew Smith said at the annual Trades Union Congress in Brighton this week that there would not be enough cash to see everything on the Government's lifelong learning agenda implemented in one go.
He urged the committee to take a careful look at the affordable priorities, when he addressed a fringe meeting organised by the Northern College, Ruskin College and the NIACE.
The final recommendations of the working group is likely to take the form of a letter to Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett, which will be published to coincide with the November White Paper.