Labour concerned by "catastrophic fall" in number of adult learners
A drop in the number of adult learners has prompted the Labour Party to call for a lifelong National Education Service.
Shadow education minister Gordon Marsden believes that cuts introduced by the Conservative government have dissuaded adults from choosing to study later on in life, leaving millions of adults lacking basic skills but unable to enhance their prospects through limited access to education and training.
Marsden said that lifelong learning will promote "social justice and personal empowerment" and deliver the influx of new skills that the country's workforce "desperately needs".
Labour pledged a National Education Service as part of its 2017 manifesto, which would be open to all ages and backgrounds and fundamentally be free of charge "at the point of use”.
The party’s Lifelong Learning Commission has also recommended that a learner-centred system may help arrest the slide in the number of adult learners and reverse the trend.
“Lifelong learning should ensure that all individuals can access the high-quality education and training they need throughout their lives, to improve their lives and their life chances”, the commission’s interim report reads.
According to figures recorded by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2018, funding for adult learning and apprenticeships is down by 45 per cent over the last ten years.
The government insists that further education and skills are prioritised and that adults already have many options available to them.
In spite of this, the number of individual adult learners has fallen and does not yet look like reversing.
Government research has shown previously that participation in formal learning declines with age and that the costs associated see large portions of wealthier and more highly skilled individuals taking up places.
Participation in government-funded further education for adults was down by 3.5 per cent in the first two quarters of 2018 to 2019 compared with 2017 to 2018.
The Department for Education is now trialling a National Retraining Scheme aimed at helping adults at risk of becoming redundant.
Research conducted during the scheme has identified costs and a lack of education in earlier life as factors which put adults off signing up for retraining programmes.
With costs of retraining for the individual a clear issue, a government review of post-18 education conducted earlier in 2019 recommended the introduction of a lifelong learning loan allowance to combat the problem.