Ridges and troughs in spread of adult learning;FE Focus

13th March 1998 at 00:00
Enormous differences between the amounts spent by local authorities on adult education are revealed by an Audit Commission report published this week.

But there appears to be no correlation between local education authority spending on adult education and the ability to read and do simple maths, when the commission's figures are comapred with the survey (see left) undertaken by the Basic Skills Agency.

More than a dozen authorities spend less than a pound per head of adult population on adult education, according to the report. Gateshead for example lays out only 20p per person, followed closely by Rochdale at 22p, Trafford at 25p, Walsall at 27p and Enfield at 29p.

The big spenders are the 12 authorities who spend in double figures, pounds that is - not including the City of London which inevitably is in its own league. Sutton spends pound;21.04 per head, and then come Westminster at pound;18.19, Bolton at pound;14.94, and Coventry at pound;14.53. The average for London was pound;10.42 and for England pound;5.56.

In Tower Hamlets, according to the BSA report, 24.4 per cent of adults had highest levels of poor literacy. The Audit Commission quote a spend-per-person on adult education of pound;10.35. Knowsley, with another high level of poor literacy, at 22.3 per cent, spends pound;2.05 per head on adult education.

Graham Lane, of the Local Government Association, said he was not surprised by the differing Audit Commission figures. "Clearly the cuts in local government over the past 15 to 16 years have particularly hit non-statutory part, the youth service, adult education and student awards. What we want from lifelong learning is that all this will be addressed.

"In the inner-London authorities there was a huge amount of adult education, and though that has declined, it was a big bedrock, and some survived, even in places like Westminster.

"These decisions on spending may be finance-led or policy-led. Some have given it a priority, others not. Some authorities will subsidise adult education, others charge the market rate. In Surrey the largest numbers will be doing dog appreciation, in other places it is literacy and numeracy. Provision is patchy and this report does give us accurate statistics which we can base future policies on."

The Association of Colleges said the differences may be rooted in the variable education, economic or social needs of areas.

Nadine Cartner, curriculum and quality adviser, said: "Education authorities would argue that resources have been shrinking and they are under great pressure to spread thinly. It comes down to what their priorities are and what choices they make."

Ngaio Crequer

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