City Lit Blog

A political start to the year: "A gem in the fabric of London"

Story added 16th Jan 2017

 

It’s not often that you start a job and within nine days the first political discussion over the course of a Parliament takes place on the policy area you are hoping will be debated.

Well, I joined City Lit as their Executive Director for External Engagement on 3 January, with a remit of thinking through and developing our overall external relations activity – which includes how we work with, and alongside, parliamentarians across all political parties – to perhaps attempt to shift attitudes in the importance of Adult Education. Although I appreciate those who work in this sector, or participate in the many life-changing course opportunities, won’t need their attitude changed! 

So, it is good to know that there isn't a complete clean slate. As one of the first e-mails of the New Year was received from David Lammy MP alerting us to the fact that he had called an adjournment debate on the importance of night schools and adult education, which took place on Friday 13 January. Equally, to then hear both David and the Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, Robert Halfon MP, speak so openly and passionately about the importance of adult education is heartening to say the least.

In his opening remarks on Friday, David Lammy painted a clear picture of the sector, and impressed with his understanding of the issues – fuelled by the story of his mother, whose life chances were so clearly enhanced by adult education. He spoke with real conviction about the ‘social products’ of adult education as well as the clear impact it has on individual’s lives; but was also clear to question the importance that is placed on it by successive Governments and policy makers, challenging his fellow MPs – although the chamber was noticeably empty – to debate the issue and raise more questions.  

This challenge is something that we at City Lit, alongside students, tutors and the rest of the sector, should look to rise to and ensure that politicians across London, and the rest of the country, are aware of the importance of adult education. David had already rehearsed some of this in his excellent Evening Standard piece the day before, showing the way in raising these issues, as well as affording City Lit a few profile mentions – we were particularly pleased to receive his claim of a ‘gem in the fabric of London’ in the debate itself!  

However, quite rightly, concerns were also indicated, specifically around the decline in funding for lifelong learning; the perceived impact of ‘Brexit’ on our sector; the number of community learning institutions closing their doors; and a lack of overarching strategy or coherent investment plan. This enabled him to make direct asks of the Minister, not least drawing on the implications of a potential further debt burden that may turn many lower paid people away rather than encouraging them back into learning, which arguably in the long term is a threat to the British economy. 

In response, the Minister offered a supportive tone, a desire to understand the sector and issues more, and a commitment to ‘lay out his plans in due course’.  For us, if we are to ensure that a shift in attitude happens, then we need to use this debate as the impetus for more.  And look to continue to work with the Government and all politicians to enable them to fully understand the sector; not confuse adult education with further education; and demand that real consideration is given to appropriate funding – to support participation and achievement.  

Whilst this political exchange and associated coverage is great to hear, with little participation in the debate by MPs and a lack of time given, means that there is still some way to go to improve the insight and priority being given to this policy area. 

Coupled with the recognition of adult education in the New Year’s Honours, with a CBE for City Lit Principal Mark Malcomson, I see this as an opportunity, as I hope others will, as now is the time to influence policy makers across the political spectrum, including Whitehall, the London Mayor and local authorities.  No easy task, but I'm looking forward to what my next 9 days (and beyond) will bring…

Phil Chamberlain, Executive Director External Engagement

Phil Chamberlain LR