LEAFEA highlights impact of further cuts in adult education in forthcoming spending review

Posted on: 19 October 2015

OppHub low resLEAFEA (Local Education Authorities Forum for the Education of Adults) represents a network of 250-plus adult and community learning provider members and is a sector membership body for Local Authority Community Learning (ACL) services with local network membership groups in most areas of the country. There are more than 150 providers with membership of the organisation.

All members share a joint mission to provide skills and learning that gives adults a second chance, supports their employment prospects and well-being, which in turn improves productivity and creates the circumstances for economic success. They have the capacity to touch very disadvantaged people, are cost effective and entrepreneurial, and use their state funding to lever in alternative forms of funding. They are also innovative and adaptive and have responded well to successive governments’ directions and have embraced the reform of Community Learning and led on the work that demonstrates the added value that the services provide including the levering in of “Pound Plus”* additional funding and extensive local partnership working.

All provide a unique service and many have strong local reputations as leaders in their field. They have been at the forefront of working with partners on difficult issues, such as securing employment for the long-term unemployed, troubled families, family learning, refugees and improving mental health through education.

LEAFEA members are keen to contribute to the 2015 Spending Review because the unintended consequences of policy decisions have resulted in our services taking the lion’s share of 2010 and June 2015 skills austerity cuts. We are concerned that any further reduction in state funding will force services to close and we want to make sure that the impact of such reductions is fully understood and debated. Local Authority Adult Learning has also been squeezed by cuts to the Authority budgets in many cases. We appreciate the need to reduce funding and the following response offers both recommendations on how do that, plus innovative solutions for solving the adult skills workforce issues.

Workforce Issue and Solutions

Strategic, long-term investment in adult education and skills is needed to meet existing policy commitments and improve the basic skills of the nation. As a nation we have three major workforce problems. On the one hand we have one of the most qualified workforces but, on the other, much of the workforce is underdeveloped and has a low skill base that leads to low productivity. We have a working population that does not have the skills for the jobs of the future and will need to be retrained and we have a large increase of those in retirement who may become a burden on the health service if there is no infrastructure for social interaction and mental stimulation.

Adult education and learning new skills can help solve these issues.

Key recommendations

We are calling on the Government to take action in the forthcoming Spending Review by:

  1. Improving productivity by increasing investment in priority areas such as basic skills and securing the work of ACL providers to engage those farthest from the workforce to bring them back in to employment.
  2. Prioritising basic skills education and ensuring employers take their share of the responsibility for training their employees who they have recruited with low skills.
  3. Meeting the Government’s stated aims on integration including responding to the present refugee crisis by recognising the need, formalising plans and securing funding for English language provision.
  4. Supporting older learners by recognising the link between education and well-being and agreeing to develop a strategy which brings together community groups with ACL providers to ensure there are opportunities for the older learner.
  5. Continuing to offer support for the development and quality of the Adult Education workforce through the Education and Training Foundation.

To ensure the Government’s commitment to productivity and well-being can be delivered, it is vital that new investment is found during the forthcoming Spending Review.

Going forward, our greatest concern is that decisions may be made without understanding the consequences. ‎We have seen this in the last few months. The Government’s desire to increase funding in certain policy areas has led to several decisions being made which, taken separately seemed fine, but together the impact on many providers was to take 24% from the adult budget on top of the more visible 2010 spending review cuts. Adult education services have been adversely impacted on by BIS cuts and it is obvious that the impact of such cuts has not been debated or measured. In particular, cutting ESOL provision at a time when integration is so important to the country’s safety is undermining local Prevent strategies.

The next set of decisions around adult education must be transparent and fully debated, and must not be the unintended consequences of other policy decisions.

Second chance education is about putting right what went wrong in schools; it is about acquiring the skills the nation needs, it is about confidence and personal well-being, which in turn leads to more fulfilled employees and citizens who are less reliant on state support and leads to the bonus of improved productivity and a more competitive and successful economy.

It is recognised by many economists that for our country to meet its full potential it must improve productivity. Therefore, going forward, there is an argument for increased investment in adult skills.

Impact of another cut in funding

The austerity measures and the unintended consequences of other skills decisions have now left Adult Community Learning Services in a very difficult position. They are good at earning income on top of state funding but to do this they need base funding from the adult skills and/or the community learning budgets to help them secure other funding, whether it be fees from the individual, ESF, or Big Lottery Funds.

A further cut would remove that ability and force many authorities to completely close their adult education and skills programmes. This would be a loss of a well-loved service that has taken in many instances over 100 years to create. It also removes the capability of many Local Authorities to respond to the social and employment issues they are now finding themselves with. It is the adult education service that glues together the other services such as probation, troubled families and health to solve particular localised problems.

A further reduction in funding would be a retrograde step and for many disadvantaged learners there is no local alternative provision that is accessible.

It would leave the government and local authorities unable to respond to the workforce and social inclusion agendas and undermine the Prevent strategy.

*Pound Plus Survey 2013-14 RCU November 2013