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Further Education: Elderly

Volume 474: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what his policy is on the provision of recreational courses for older people in colleges of further education; what funds have been made available (a) nationally and (b) in Gloucestershire, for providing recreational courses for older people at colleges of further education in each of the last five years for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. (196162)

[holding answer 25 March 2008]: We recognise the many wider benefits of participation in learning and its vital contribution to personal health and wellbeing, community involvement and quality of life as people age. Learning helps older people to fulfil themselves as active citizens and as members of their families and communities. People who keep mentally and physically active not only live longer but live happier and more fulfilled lives and pursuing informal adult learning can play a real part in this. We remain fully committed to ensuring that older learners in every area can benefit from a wide range of informal adult learning opportunities, including learning for its own sake, for personal fulfilment and to sustain an active role in the community, through further education colleges and other learning providers, including the Third Sector. We have also safeguarded funding for learning for personal and community development at £210 million through to 2010/11.

In Gloucestershire, Informal Audit Learning programmes for older people are managed by Gloucestershire county council using funding provided by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). These programmes are funded from the safeguarded Personal and Community Development Learning (PCDL) budget. It is up to local LSCs and their partners to determine the most appropriate balance and mix of provision for their communities, including opportunities for older learners, in the light of local needs and circumstances and national priorities.

Gloucestershire county council contracts with a range of providers, including FE colleges, private providers and voluntary and community groups, to ensure that county-wide provision across the county meets the needs of older learners in a large rural county. The following table shows total funding and participation figures across all providers for learners aged 51 and over engaged in informal adult learning programmes in Gloucestershire for the three years 2004/05 to 2006/07 for which information is readily available, together with the respective national budgets.

2004/05

2005/06

2006/07

Total number of learners

14,924

11,550

10,573

Number of older learners (51+)

7,163

5,811

4,913

Percentage of older learners

48

50

46

Expenditure on older learners 51+ (£)

1,262,400

1,278,200

1,083,700

National budget1 (£ million)

2234

2232

3210

1 PCDL was developed by restructuring Adult and Community Learning (ACL). The two are not directly comparable.

2 Adult and Community Learning.

3 PCDL.

Overall Government investment in the further education sector has increased by 52 per cent. in real terms between 1997 and 2007. Participate funding for adults will increase to around £3.6 billion in 2010-11, an increase of over 17 per cent. compared with 2007-08. We have continued to realign funding towards basic literacy and numeracy, full level 2 and full level 3 qualifications providing skills for employment and further progression in learning away from, for example, very short or low quality courses. This has enabled us to support significant increases in participation for young people and adults in these key programmes, providing them with the education and skills they need to fully participate in an economically successful and socially cohesive society.

We want to develop a new vision for informal adult learning for the 21st century. In January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, launched a wide ranging consultation, “Informal Adult Learning: Shaping the Way Ahead”, which re-affirms our commitment to this kind of learning and its importance in meeting the basic human need for creativity and stimulation—as well as improving health and well-being in our communities. We want to look at the many different ways in which Government and other organisations support adult learners and to understand what learners from all parts of society actually want. We have been greatly encouraged by the tremendous response of our partners, stakeholders and learners in taking this important consultation forward. I would strongly encourage individuals and organisations, both in Gloucestershire and across the country, to take this opportunity to contribute their views and ideas.