Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Adult Learning Proves a Privileged Pastime

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Adult Learning Proves a Privileged Pastime

Article excerpt

Niace survey finds that jobless are being squeezed out of education

The number of adults taking part in learning has risen for the first time in five years, according to a report published today.

The annual Adult Participation in Learning Survey, carried out by adult education body Niace, reveals that 41 per cent of adults have taken part in some form of learning in the past three years, up from 38 per cent in 2014.

The increase seems to have been driven by a rise in participation among the top two socio-economic classes - 54 per cent of ABs and 52 per cent of C1s said they had taken part in learning in the past three years, compared with 47 per cent and 48 per cent in last year's survey, respectively.

However, Niace's figures show that fewer unemployed people are taking part in learning.

Some 5,000 respondents were questioned for the survey, which is released on the eve of Adult Learners' Week. Its findings come as fears grow about the future of adult provision.

Last week, chancellor George Osborne announced that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) would have to make cuts of £450 million in 2015-16. A spokeswoman for the department said that although apprenticeships would be protected as a "priority" area, it would be working with the Skills Funding Agency to decide where savings could be made.

'Radical' changes

Niace's survey suggests that growing numbers of out-of-work people are being squeezed out of education. Last year, 32 per cent of unemployed adults said they had not taken part in learning since leaving full-time education. This year, that has increased to 41 per cent.

David Hughes, Niace's chief executive, welcomed the "modest" overall increase in participation, which he said showed a growing confidence by employers to invest in their workforces. However, he added that radical changes were needed for the trend to continue.

"If we want a much more productive nation, we don't have the skills and employment system to achieve that," he said. "We have failed to overcome the inequalities in access to learning over the past 20 years. We now have people who have left school at 16 who are incredibly unlikely to engage in learning.

"If we are to have a skilled workforce and compete internationally, we need to do something about it. A demand-led system will continue to deliver for those who realise the benefit of learning at the expense of those who need support.

"I suspect it will stay like that unless we do something radically different."

More support needed

Mr Hughes said that although adults in the top socio-economic groups benefited from increased employer investment in learning and could also afford to invest in it themselves, unemployed people needed more support. …

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