Television soaps could carry trailers for training
A new Broadcasting Charter that would require all public and private television and radio channels to devote time to adult education is one of the main demands to emerge from a TES pre-election survey.
Opportunities for education and training should not be hived off into a single channel but should pervade the networks and be backed by an advice, guidance and support service that everyone can afford, the campaigners say.
People in adult education are angry that the turf wars between Labour and the Conservatives over the support each would give for the Internet, cable television and other information technology services focused on schools and colleges but largely "ignored" local authority and other adult education centres.
It confirmed their worst fears that adult education had taken over from FE as the Cinderella service just when it was needed most for the economic and social benefit of the whole country.
The Government has promised a "Learning Line" - a telephone helpline based on the successful service run during adult learners weeks - to encourage adults wishing to return to learn to pick up the phone.
But most organisations in adult education say it will not succeed without considerable government-funded promotion and a commitment from every channel to produce programmes for students in the college, home and the workplace.
The new Broadcasting Charter is one of eight main demands revealed in a detailed survey by The TES (see box below) of the pledges adult education groups are asking of all political parties before May 1.
Abolition of the 16-hour rule - that limits the time the unemloyed can study without losing benefits - was called for unanimously. It was the single biggest issue cited in the survey as alienating people from the Tories. But respondents were almost as sceptical of Labour pledges to scrap the rule.
Other issues at the top of the agendas were the demand for equal financial help to adults returning to education or training, regardless of the level of study or whether they intended to be full-time or part-time students.
A new education and training deal for the unemployed should be matched by a "skills development" guarantee for all in work, to prevent them being trapped in a spiral of low pay and redundancy. Many respondents called for "a centre of excellence for adult education in every town".
Few of those interviewed believed adult education would be a significant vote-winner or vote-loser. But deeply cynical views nevertheless paint a bleak picture of Tory election prospects.
For example, no one believed that John Major's pledge at the Tories' spring conference in Bath last weekend to support the "have-nots" would benefit those seeking education or training.
The TES survey covered five local education authorities, 10 adult education colleges, voluntary sector groups and pressure groups such as the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education in England and Wales.
The issues raised reflect exactly those emerging from the 1996 European Year of Lifelong Learning and continuing education priorities that both the CBI and TUC expect of government.
Managers and lecturers interviewed for the survey called for new pathways for learning designed to suit adults, unlike existing courses most of which, they argued, were based on the needs of school-leavers and young trainees. One college principal said: "I see late middle-aged people dropping out in despair because courses are ill-fitting."
Graham Jones, principal of Denman, the Women's Institute College, said: "We need a system of assessment based on the Open College Network credits scheme."
Equally, there was continued concern over the "artificial" split between leisure and vocational courses under existing legislation, which left budgets most vulnerable to cuts. Alan Tuckett, director of NIACE in England, said: "Adult education spending needs greater legal protection."
Ann Risman, principal of Richmond Adult and Community College, said an axe should be taken to bureaucracy "which is diverting resources away from education'.
In Wales, there is concern that what was once seen as a superior adult education service is falling behind the rest of the UK and Europe.
Ken Hopkins, chair of NIACE in Wales, said: "The problem is that three out of ten people in Wales leave school and never take up learning again. This puts them at a disadvantage in a fast-moving world."
A conference is being held in Wales today to highlight adult learning and the need for better partnerships among local authorities, colleges and other providers .
It is being used to launch a 19-point Welsh NIACE "Manifiesto for the Learning" which will be used as a platform to lobby prospective MPs during the general election campaign.
There was also a unanimous call for one government department to develop and fund lifelong learning.
What adult education wants of a new government:
* a new broadcasting charter
* abolition of the 16-hour rule that restricts the weekly study time of the unemployed
* a "skills development" charter for all in work
* equal funding and support for full- and part-time learners
* new pathways to learning for adults
* exploitation of information technology to reach all in home, college and workplace
* independent advice, guidance and support for all
* lifelong learning development under one government department