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Adult and Community Learning

Volume 516: debated on Thursday 14 October 2010

Adult and community learning make a vital contribution to building a big society founded on social mobility, social justice and social cohesion. We will strive to reinvigorate adult and community learning to make it part of the wider learning continuum and to enable providers to respond to the learning needs of their communities.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Has he managed to see research from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education that demonstrates that 28% of adult learners show an increased involvement in social, community and volunteering activity as a direct result of their learning? Does he agree that that demonstrates the vital role that adult education will have to play in contributing to the big society?

Yes, indeed. As it happens, I have with me the response to the study that he describes. The transformative power of adult learning is well understood by this Government. We know that adult learning changes lives by changing life chances. It gives some of the most disadvantaged people in our community their chance to gain learning. It is frequently progressive to further learning and takes them to the world of work. This Government unequivocally back adult learning.

In our multicultural big society, which is being created, what specific help will there be for those who do not have English as a first language to help them acquire these skills?

It is absolutely right—in the spirit in which I have answered the earlier question—that we should consider the particular needs of communities in the way that the right hon. Gentleman makes clear. Language is critical—it is critical in building the social cohesion that I described. The chances for people in settled communities without a grasp of English to acquire that grasp are essential if they are going to learn and work.

Evidence from the excellent West Suffolk college in my constituency suggests that those who participate in adult learning increase their activity in the third sector. Given the necessary constraint on public spending, would the Minister perhaps give us a clue as to whether he is going to encourage more co-payment of fees?

Any clues offered on that subject would do me no good at all. It would be entirely inappropriate to prejudge the discussions on the comprehensive spending review. May I just say how welcome it is to see my hon. Friend in the Chamber today?