Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

In My View

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

In My View

Article excerpt

Byline: By Nigel Todd

September is a big moment in education.

Children go to back to school, universities and colleges grind into motion, politicians move on from variously rubbishing A-level results or defending an exam system long overdue for reform, and the adults look for evening courses in everything from computers and floral art to pottery and languages.

Or, a great many adults look for ways of expanding their skills and horizons in the autumn but, sadly, here in the North-East, a larger number do not.

Nationally, 42% of adults take part in adult learning, but in the North East we're lucky to hit 34%, almost the lowest regional participation rate in the country.

Well, so what? People are busy, they have lots of other interests, and slumping in front of the TV or bingeing on retail therapy may be just as valid as joining a course. Interestingly, though, when people do take part in adult learning they are more likely to want to do more of it than those who have done nothing since leaving school. This suggests a case for a stronger selling job to persuade the non-joiners that they may be missing out on a good thing. But even more interestingly, the non-joiners are twice as likely to be rooted among those in unskilled jobs and on limited incomes than those who populate the upper and middle classes. Yes, in 21st Century Britain, the social class divide is alive and dreary as ever in restricting people's life choices.

The Government, to be fair, has tried to do something about opening up adult education to more people. Unfortunately, a good start is now endangered by a sharp diminishing of ambitions.

This year, adult education opportunities are being squeezed. Some 200,000 places for adult learners will be lost through funding cuts at colleges and in local authorities across the country, with a similar number due to disappear next year. The coincidental scaling down and narrowing of the European Social Fund, a significant source of funding for adult learning in disadvantaged areas, implies a double whammy for the North-East.

Amazingly, this loss is almost an unintended consequence of the targeting of funding on skills needed for the economy where "employer needs" are now considered primary (it used to be the workers' needs). …

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