Around 100 jobs are at risk at one of England’s largest charitable adult education providers after a mayoral combined authority chose to defund it.

The WEA, formerly the Workers’ Educational Association which was founded over a 100 years ago, says it will see a cut of £1.7 million after the South Yorkshire Combined Authority rejected its bid for an adult education budget (AEB) contract.

The authority, known as the Sheffied City Region until this year, will take responsibility for more than £36 million of devolved AEB from August 1, 2021 and recently tendered for training providers to deliver the funding on its behalf.

Despite almost 2,500 adults being taught by the WEA in south Yorkshire in 2019/20, including people with learning disabilities, women fleeing domestic violence and refugees and asylum seekers, the authority chose to deny the charitable provider an AEB allocation.

It also chose not to recognise WEA as eligible for grant funding even though other combined authority’s have.

A spokesperson for the provider said it employs nearly 100 south Yorkshire residents, from education specialists to tutors and support workers, whose jobs are now under threat.


‘The MCA needs to act now’

Simon Parkinson, chief executive of WEA, said he has personally tried to plead with South Yorkshire Combined Authority’s mayor Dan Jarvis MP to “ensure this avoidable scenario did not occur”, but he has had “no direct response and his office seem to be determined to delay any contact”.

This is “despite the fact that they are duty bound to consult with us as a grant funded provider under the terms of their devolution deal”.

Parkinson added: “Community learning is a lifeline for local people and a line of defence against poverty and inequality. Instead of this lifeline being supported, it is now being put at risk by the MCA failing to address their routine funding needs.

“The pandemic has tipped the balance for too many communities in Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley and the MCA needs to act now to resolve this funding issue so we can continue to provide these essential services for those in jeopardy.”

adult education
Simon Parkinson

Six combined authorities signed devolution deals alongside London to take control of AEB spending in their regions from 2019/20. North of Tyne followed a year later and next month will see two more – South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire – combined authorities have their AEB devolved.

The WEA warned back in the 2018 that it would be heavily impacted by devolution, and estimated it could see an estimated £7 million drop in funding as a result.

Ofsted rates the provider as ‘good’ and it delivers over 6,600 part-time courses for more than 39,000 people each year in England and Scotland.

The WEA hit out at the South Yorkshire Combined Authority for snubbing it in favour of commissioning a range of providers which “include for-profit companies and some with poor quality ratings or little prior experience”.


‘We ran a fully open and transparent procurement process’

A spokesperson for the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority said: “As part of our newly devolved powers over adult education funding, we ran a fully open and transparent procurement process to identify the most suitable education providers against a range of criteria.  

“It was a competitive process, and all providers were judged against a fixed set of criteria which were set out beforehand and fairly applied. Unfortunately, for this round of contracts, the WEA was not successful.”

She added: “We understand that the results will be disappointing to WEA, and will cause disruption to their staff. But we have an obligation to follow the process impartially, and that’s just what we’ve done. Further opportunities are likely for providers to get involved in the delivery of AEB provision in South Yorkshire.

“We’ve appointed an able group of providers to deliver adult education in South Yorkshire, and local residents will be able to access services that are better tailored than ever to their needs.”


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  1. Ronald Marks

    An extraordinarily short-sighted and counter-intuitive decision by the authority, rejecting the bid of a long-established, high quality, regularly inspected adult education provider hitherto partly funded by the ESFA. Perhaps we should be given a list of the successful bidders, details of what they are offering and their records.

    • The Authority is legally bound to follow a tender process and tender documents and scoring method will have been available to all. If WEA feel they have a legal argument that that process was flawed, then they have the right to pursue it.

      On the wider issue of devolution, it generates more red tape, leading to more administrative spend and less delivery and participation. If you relax oversight from the centre to cut the red tape, you open the door to divergence standards and quality.

      • Stan Wright

        Devolution has been a disaster for FE providers, more red tape than even the ESFA were able to invent, more public money diverted to pay large salaries to local funding agency staff who don’t understand the sector and don’t understand colleges!

  2. Just to add

    I wonder how many fantastic, trainers, coaches and teacher have lost their roles due the the AEB procurement process, perhaps they can attend a SWAP to get back into work with those lucky enough to have secured a contract.

  3. Marc Sherland

    The WEA has a fantastic track record of excellent adult education service for people of all backgrounds and aptitudes. What is more relevant people often start a lifelong learning experience with the WEA, which helps fit them better for life experiences. Perhaps the track record of the ‘other providers’ should be made available for public examination especially in relation to their ESFA rating.

  4. The list of successful providers is at best head scratching! How is it that WEA etc with long standing results and outcomes are overlooked and contracts awarded to those with no history in the region? RE the comment earlier re staff losing jobs, I know of 3 providers in SCR who are now sadly in a redundancy situation. Very very sad!

  5. Dave Spart

    Funding devolution represents the Balkanisation of the learning landscape and is an unfolding disaster in multiple respects. As others have observed, it has created huge inefficiencies with duplicated systems administered by people who may have limited understanding of the sector and a need to justify their own existence by making burdensome demands on providers; whilst the SFA/ESFA didn’t inherit the LSC’s planning remit, they did at least seem to recognise the need for providers to have a degree of stability. The supposed justification for the changes – devolution of decision-making to a more local level – is actually resulting in the opposite: because of their more interventionist approach, CAs are making and imposing decisions at a regional level that in many cases do not fit the needs of the more local communities served by providers.

    Added to that are ridiculous anomalies resulting from different funding bodies: my own provider sits on the doorstep of a CA area, but they have declined to fund us to work with their residents. This means we either have to turn away learners because they have the wrong postcode, or accept them on an unfunded basis: we can work with learners from the other end of the country, but not the other side of the motorway.