Margaret Greenwood MP has led a debate in parliament on the subject of the spending of the Department for Education on adult education, post-16 education, further education and colleges.
In her speech, she highlighted funding cuts for the adult education sector since 2010 and cited a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which found that even though total spending on adult skills is set to increase by 22% between 2019–20 and 2024–25, that reverses only a fraction of past cuts.
Total skills spending in 2024–25 will still be 22% below 2009–10 levels. Spending on classroom-based adult education has fallen especially sharply and will still be 40% below 2009–10 levels even with the additional funding.
Margaret Greenwood MP, who is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Adult Education, said that the impact of those cuts is devastating to the sector, adding that stakeholders had spoken about the “existential decline” of the adult education sector because of reductions in funding, status and public awareness of provision.
Two further things that the Wirral West MP called for in her speech were investment in the provision of information and guidance for adults when it comes to learning, and investment in tackling the crisis in adult literacy.
According to the National Literacy Trust, 7.1 million adults in England – 16.4% of the adult population – are functionally illiterate, meaning that they may be able to understand short, straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently and obtain information from everyday sources, but that reading information from unfamiliar sources or on unfamiliar topics could cause some problems.
Margaret Greenwood said that there is an “urgent need” for the government to bring forward a programme to help adults to boost their literacy skills.
She also referenced the current workforce crisis in further education after the Association of Colleges pointed out recently that the average college lecturer is paid £8,000 a year less than average school pay and the sector faces particular challenges in competing for staff with both schools and the industries it serves.
Speaking after the debate, Margaret Greenwood MP said:
“Adult education makes a vitally important contribution to the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of the UK.
“It offers people opportunities for personal development, enriches lives and boosts mental health and wellbeing. It can help people to gain the skills they need to get into work, and to progress their careers once they are in work.
“It is important too for parents so that they can read to their children and encourage reading for pleasure. This is something that is denied to many parents because of their own difficulties with reading.
“From my experience working as an adult education tutor, I know the power of adult education in community settings to improve people’s confidence, help them gain employment or move on to higher education. In short, it has the power to transform lives.
“In ignoring the scale of the crisis in adult literacy, the government is potentially wasting the talents of more than 16% of the adult population. That makes absolutely no sense either for the individuals concerned or for the economy.
“It is vital that government funding of adult education and skills matches the obvious need for it.
“The government must also engage with colleges and other bodies working within further education, hear their concerns and make sure that they are given the support that they need.”
Any adults in Wirral who are interested in finding out about learning opportunities can visit Wirral Council’s website via this link: https://tinyurl.com/mz6eph39
There is also information available via the Wirral Metropolitan College website: https://tinyurl.com/mryhwndh