City Lit Blog

Government’s ambition for getting people back into jobs won’t work without immediate boost to adult funding

Story added 24th Nov 2020


The latest report from the Association of Colleges - Adult Programme Costs and Rates - reveals that even at the maximum class size, none of the practical courses vital to the nation’s recovery are viable at current funding rates. This is no surprise given how inflation has eroded the rates over 10 years and how many of the courses suitable have high costs for materials. 

Since the extent of the global pandemic started to become apparent, it is very clear that adult education will be crucial to post-Covid economic and societal recovery. The need to retrain, reskill and upskill the high numbers of individuals whose employment has been negatively impacted by Covid-19 is obvious. The way to deliver this opportunity to people across the UK, less so. However, encouragingly, national and local governments are beginning to place action against words. 

Boris Johnson’s announcement at the end of September of a “Lifetime Skills Guarantee” was a clear, positive step in the direction of embedding a culture of lifelong learning. Like so many other further and adult education institutions and providers, City Lit welcomed this commitment. Nevertheless, we know that this announcement follows decades of underfunding in the sector and that, crucially, this announcement and the associated funding may well be too late for the significant number of people already impacted by job losses. The Association of College’s report argues that investment in theNational Skills Fund must be improved,  if it is to best achieve the government’s ambition to get people retrained quickly and to help them avoid falling into poverty. 

A legacy of underfunding

City Lit supports the report’s findings that funding rates for adult skills and education need to be set at the same level as those for 16-19 year-olds if the programme is to be successful in reaching hundreds of thousands of people. Budgets for adult skills programmes were cut by 40% in the first half of the last decade and have been fixed in cash terms since then despite inflation. Together with the introduction of loans to replace grants in 2013-14 for a range of 19+ courses, this has significantly reduced the number of adults learning.

AoC’s Chief Executive, David Hughes said: 
“Today’s findings show that thousands of adults who find themselves out of work and require retraining are at risk of being left behind. Adult education has been neglected in education policy for too long. The government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee extending full funding for a first Level 3 qualification to adults over the age of 23 was a welcome step but our analysis shows that without a funding rate increase, those ambitions will not be achieved. 

“As the report shows, the courses needed to train key workers and productive sectors that will get the country moving again simply cost too much to deliver compared with current rates. A failure to act will leave businesses without skilled workers and people in long-term unemployment and poverty.”

Whilst the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, and National Skills Fund rightly focus on the key role that lifelong learning will have on our economic recovery, focusing on vocational and links to employment; City Lit also urges the government not to lose sight of the important role that education also plays in supporting those who require broader skill development – confidence, communication, critical thinking. All of these are hugely important in enhancing people’s ability to get a job and to progress once they are in one.

Last month, London mayor Sadiq Khan spoke about the crucial part that adult education will have to play in the next phase of Covid. He said: “Together we need to focus on the long-term recovery of this capital and the country where many of London’s great institutions will have a key part to play in promoting mental health, wellbeing and community. Our institutions of adult learning [IALs], like City Lit, have a unique contribution to make, with so many programmes and courses.” 

However, if the level of support provided by the Lifetime Skills Guarantee is overly narrow, there is a danger of excluding vast swathes of the exact communities we are talking about and who need education support. 

Long-term investment in lifelong learning 

The link between lifelong learning, gainful employment and positive mental health is long-established. By supporting those who need to reskill to access employment, who have high levels of anxiety, depression and other forms of mental health challenges and by offering a safe and stimulating environment, we are able to play a significant role in not only economic recovery but also societal recovery. The investment needs to be seen as a long-term one, balanced by not spending in the future on patching up the problems, which are being caused by the situation as it stands right now.

We are on the verge of an unemployment crisis in the UK, with unemployment at its highest rate in three years and redundancy rates at their highest since 2009. The ecosystems of IALs not only maintain roles within communities but also provide pastoral support as well as meeting the educational needs of their students. 

The vote of confidence from the Prime Minister, Mayor of London and ministers, as well as countless MPs who have commented or taken part in subsequent debates, is very welcome.  However, we now need to start to see the allocation of funds through the National Skills Fund, which can be used across provision that upskills those who need it and is not restricted only to those with fewer formal qualifications. In this way, we can begin to take the first tentative steps in the direction of recovering from the impact of 2020.

Mark Malcomson CBE, CEO and Principal at City Lit