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Adult Education

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 8 March 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment he has made of the December 2006 report of the Learning and Skills Council on learner numbers in (a) further education, (b) adult community learning and (c) work-based learning. (123584)

[holding answer 26 February 2007]: Between 1997-98 and 2005-06 we increased investment in FE by 48 per cent. in real terms and between 2005-06 and 2007-08 the overall Learning and Skills Council (LSC) budget will increase further from £9.9 billion to £11.2 billion. However, in order to meet the skills challenges that we face, clearly identified by the Leitch Report “Prosperity for all in the Global Economy – world class skills” (December 2006), it is important that we increasingly focus available funding on our priorities.

The figures published on learner numbers in December 2006 illustrate that funding is being allocated to support our priorities of higher participation and achievement for young people, alongside increasing support for adults to achieve the basic and level 2 skills necessary for employment.

We were therefore pleased to see that we have a record number of young people, 744,000 in 2005/06, participating in further education, an increase of 2.3 per cent. compared to 2004/05.

This does not mean we are prioritising young people over adults. Investment in adult education continues to grow and as a result of this strategy, we have more adults than ever successfully completing longer and higher priority courses such as Skills for Life and full level 2 qualifications. The strategy has allowed us to exceed our interim Skills for Life target, set in 2001, of 1.5 million achievements with more than 1.6 million people having gained basic skills qualifications. The significant growth in full level 2 provision also supports our assessment that we will achieve our one million interim milestone for the 2006 adult level 2 target.

Even though there were still nearly four million publicly funded adult learning places available in 2005/06, the realignment of funding to meet our priorities has resulted in a reduction of publicly funded adult places. The majority of the loss in funded adult learner places was in non-priority learning with much of it being for short, non-accredited provision, which does not offer sufficient opportunities for progression to further learning or the necessary skills for employment.

However, the reduction in publicly funded adult learner places needs to be considered in the wider context of total adult provision where we expect to see over 350,000 learners in the Train to Gain programme in 2007/08. Along with increases in adult apprenticeships, these will partially offset reductions in publicly funded places.

Recent surveys also indicate that colleges are responding positively to the changes in fees where it is reported that most colleges expected growth in full cost activity in 2006/07, following growth for most in 2005/06. These increases in full cost provision could further offset the reduction in publicly funded places and we are encouraging further growth in full costs provision.

Finally, just as the LSC does not fund all available learning, so its report on learner numbers does not offer a full picture. Opportunities are no longer confined mainly to publicly funded or publicly available courses, with ever more learning opportunities through the private sector, the internet and broadcasting. Partly as a result, more adults are learning than ever before. The National Adult Learning survey (NALS) published on 30 November, showed 80 per cent. of adults had participated in some form of learning over the previous three years, an increase from 76 per cent. in 2002.