Local government reorganisation has provided the opportunity to create new partnerships and expand the support network for adult education in Scotland, Nisbet Gallacher, HM senior chief inspector, told a Scottish Office conference in Edinburgh last week. Mr Gallacher predicted a bright, but challenging future for lifelong learning.
"I realise that we are going through a challenging period of change in local authorities and that resources are tight," he told an audience from colleges, the voluntary sector and community education. "While change is unsettling, it does sometimes provide the opportunity to make new partnerships. Let us seize these opportunities.
"If we do not there is a real danger that the excellent progress made so far in adult guidance and community-based adult learning could be dissipated. "
The conference on adult guidance and community-based provision coincided with publication of a new HMI report entitled Supporting Lifelong Learning. Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, said: "Guidance is an aspect of education and training which is essential if potential learners and opportunities are to be brought together."
The Scottish Office currently funds Aegis, the Adult Educational Guidance Initiative in Scotland, and Liaise, Learning Initiatives for Adults in Scottish Education, particularly the long-term unemployed and those from ethnic minorities.
Mr Gallacher compared adult education and guidance to a "well run metro system": well signposted and well mapped out, with a range of destinations and lots of different routes.
Astrid Ritchie, who chairs the Scottish Community Education Council, compared the 66,000 pupils who could potentially take Higher Still with the colleges' cohort of 62,000 students, many over the age of 18. A further 13,000 adults are studying in secondary schools.
But Mrs Ritchie warned that 80 per cent of adults in Scotland continue to have no involvement with education once they leave school. Providing a route into adult education through skilled guidance networks was vital if Scotland was to compete with countries like Singapore, where three-quarters of the workforce have the equivalent of three Highers.
Mrs Ritchie hopes the Scottish Office's proposals will form the basis of a national strategy for adult guidance, building on the work of Aegis over the the past three years. Plans include establishing a national guidance helpline and extended support for local guidance networks