Ben Russell and Diane Spencer report on advances in Adult Learners' Week
A White Paper on lifelong learning heralding widespread reform of adult education will be laid before Parliament this autumn, Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett said this week.
He announced the setting up of a working group, chaired by Northern College principal Bob Fryer (see below), to advise ministers on the funding and structure of adult and continuing education.
He pledged the Government would review Schedule Two of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, which sets out which types of education will receive state funding. The review will blur the divide between vocational and academic and leisure-based courses.
Mr Blunkett said there was scope for "marginally reshaping the Act to make it more flexible".
The new group puts adult education - often regarded as a Cinderella of the education world - at the heart of the policy-making process.
Top of the working group's agenda will be a project to map Britain's adult education service and to highlight strengths and weaknesses.
Mr Blunkett, speaking at the launch of Adult Learners' Week in London, spoke warmly of the ideal of cradle to grave education. He said: "We must ensure that all our children and young adults have the learning foundation they need for the rest of their lives at work, and as members of their communities.
"This involves working in partnership with teachers, employers, trade unions and others. This will mean a change of attitudes, but we must convince everyone that lifelong learning is a necessity as the new Government takes Britain into a new century.
"Those excluded from such opportunities in the past will be offered a first as well as a second chance through our drive for learning."
Professor Fryer promised to work for adult education with a "missionary zeal". He added that the chance of extra money to fund adult education was small, but insisted that a systematic reorganisation could yield benefits.
He said: "Funding is a very large issue, but it's not the only issue. The first thing is to be absolutely sure that we have mapped what is there; we will want to understand very quickly where there are problems and where there are difficulties.
"Adult education is not just about employability, but it is about citizenship, social cohesion and independent learning."
The sixth Adult Learners' Week also provided a platform for Baroness Blackstone, the education and employment minister to outline plans for the University for Industry and the Individual Learning Accounts promised in Labour's manifesto.
The UFI would engage a range of public and private partners to harness the contribution modern technology could make to the way we learn, she told a conference at London's IBM Centre.
"It will, I believe, revolutionise the way we learn in Britain."
The new venture would open up access to learning through communities or companies, colleges, clubs, libraries or living rooms. It would offer small firms realistic means for developing the most important part of any business - its people.
Individual Learning Accounts will offer everyone the chance to take responsibility for their own learning with the help of pound;150 from the Government's investment of pound;150 million.
Lady Blackstone said it was not yet possible to give details of how the two initiatives would work. The newly-established advisory group is expected to give guidance on the two schemes.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education is embarking on a young adult learners project to research and develop effective approaches to learning and personal development for 16 to 25-year-olds.
Bryan Merton, the co-ordinator, said: "We will be trying to find examples of good practice and provide guidance for providers."
FE Focus, page 29