Minister pushes for reallocation of funding to boost community learning programmes. A big expansion in adult education has been promised by the Government in areas of community and neighbourhood education, which have suffered three years of cuts.
John Denham, Secretary of State at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), is looking for ways to reallocate funds to boost spending on classes for adults with English as a second language, schemes to help people back to work and those for adults with learning difficulties and disabilities.
He has also pledged to safeguard existing programmes of personal and community education that do not necessarily lead to qualifications or meet government targets.
The reforms are now seen as essential if the department is to meet the government objective to improve "social justice and social cohesion". The problem facing the Secretary of State is that he would need more than twice the pound;210 million available for this work to fulfil the promises unless cash could be found elsewhere.
But the department's budget is set to rise by only 2.2 per cent following the comprehensive spending review last week, and cash is committed to a huge increase in Train to Gain - which refunds employers for giving staff basic skills training - and targets to double the number of adults gaining level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualifications.
A DIUS source told FE Focus there were concerns in the department over the "disappointingly slow take-up" of Train to Gain money. Ministers also privately acknowledged that previous cuts in non-certificated, non- vocational adult education had led to a fall in recruitment of adults to basic skills courses for employability.
Adult student numbers fell by more than a million in two years after spending cuts in 2004 which reduced government subsidies for virtually all non-vocational, uncertificated and short courses.
Ministers are looking at several ways to reallocate money, including a scaling down of the costly Train to Gain brokerage system and a more flexible approach to the approval courses adults can take under the new foundation learning tier.
The source said that while there was no question of abandoning the skills agenda, there was a need to rethink ways of using the local community to reach underachieving and unemployed adults. "We can't get them on if we can't get them in to learn," he said. "We need new aspirations and opportunities."
The need for a new approach was signalled by the Government last week in a statement from the comprehensive spending review, which said "flexibility will be needed as circumstances change, recognising that targets tell only part of the story".
The new focus on post-19 comes as Niace, the adult learning organisation, prepares a series of three conferences starting in November on the future of adult education, supported by FE Focus.
Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, said: "We still need a system that fits in with the way adults go about getting learning into their lives."
Adults' champion, page 4.