Good news week
In the last few years a number of trends have brought home to us how fundamental adult learning is for personal development (and therefore social inclusion) and for the economic health of the country. On average people are living longer and expect to retire later. Jobs for life are increasingly rare and employability is the key. These factors mean that as a nation we need to be undertaking learning throughout our lives. This is important for us as individuals, important for us as employers and important for the country as a whole.
This also means that when it comes to funding and delivering adult learning, we have to balance the needs, wants and aspirations of individuals with the needs, wants and aspirations of employers.
Many people describe this balancing act as a "tension". It presents many challenges, but one does not necessarily have to occur at the expense of the other. Now, more than at any stage in the past, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is ensuring that both learner and employer demands can be and, indeed, are being met.
Take the expanded employer training pilots, for example. One of the first things people passing through the programme receive is an information and advice session which helps identify their skills gaps. So, a tailored service meeting the needs of individual learners is at the core of a scheme which is also meeting the needs of employers, by providing training that they want, delivered at a time and in a place that suits both the employer and employee.
The success of these pilots clearly shows that there does not have to be a tension between meeting the needs of both employers and individuals. In fact, learning can genuinely work for both.
At the LSC we have the expertise of the adult learning committee, a group led by Frances O'Grady of the TUC, advising us and ensuring that we have the needs of adult learners right at the heart of our organisation. For example, they are helping us to get the "framework for achievement" up and running in 2006. This will let learners have even their small steps recognised, while enabling those achievements to build up to qualifications that can be measured in bite-size chunks that employers can recognise.
Adult learning has a vital role to play in developing individuals and supporting communities and families. The advantage of this kind of learning is that it is often delivered in an informal environment, is very accessible and often without the pressure of achieving a qualification; and it attracts people into learning who perhaps would not otherwise even go near a classroom.
Even the smallest personal achievements can transform lives - both in terms of added confidence and the desire to learn again. We are committed to safeguarding adult learning and will continue to support this important first rung of the learning ladder.
Of course, resources are finite and we have to be absolutely clear about where our priorities lie; for us that means funding basic skills and free tuition for all adults who want to work towards Level 2 (`top GCSE-equivalent). But we are committed to maintaining a budget for adult learning that does not lead to a qualification and to placing new levels of protection around it. This is being done as part of the LSC's agenda-for-change reform programme. We are calling this "personal and community development learning" to reflect its intrinsic value for the individual and communities it serves.
It also means making those funds work harder for learners. Why shouldn't those who can afford to pay for learning do so, allowing us to focus resources on those who can't afford to pay and as a result, widen participation in adult learning? It will allow us better to target financial support towards those who have benefited least from education and who are less fortunate.
So this Adult Learners' Week, let's celebrate the difference to lives that learning can make; and the benefits to individuals, employers, communities and the economy. Let's whet the appetite of thousands of people for learning; and at the LSC we are ready to do all we can to encourage this learning for the rest of their lives! Because it's good news for individuals; good news for employers; and good news for the country too!
Chris Banks CBE is chairman of the Learning and Skills Council