Dr Sue Pember’s vast senior civil service experience has been serving Holex and its adult and community learning provider members for around a month now. She outlines her hopes and fears for the sector.
Adult education is an area to which I am personally committed and believe that for many participants it is their lifeline to society and a better life.
Many adult education services work in partnership and manage complex relationships with other services, such as probation, Job Centre Plus, social care, colleges and universities. They do this because they want the best overall package of support for their students; state funding coupled with robust fee polices allows them to work with these other services in a way that is both value for money and effective.
Going forward, my greatest concerns are that (during the frenzy of the next spending review) decisions will be made without understanding the consequences. We have seen this in the last few months.
My greatest concerns are that (during the frenzy of the next spending review) decisions will be made without understanding the consequences
Government’s desire to increase funding in certain policy areas has led to several decisions being made which taken separately seemed fine, but together, the impact on many providers was to take 24 per cent from the adult budget on top of the more visible 2010 spending review cuts.
The next set of decisions around adult education must be transparent and fully debated, and must not be the unintended consequences of other policy decisions.
It is now recognised by many economists that for our country to meet its full potential it needs to improve productivity. Therefore, going forward, there is an argument for increased investment in adult skills.
Second chance education is about putting right what went wrong in schools; it is about acquiring the skills the nation needs, it is about confidence and personal well-being, which in turn leads to more fulfilled employees and citizens who are less reliant on state support and leads to the bonus of improved productivity and a more competitive and successful economy.
Adult education services — whether delivered through local authorities or colleges — are at a cliff edge and there is a risk that the unintended consequences of other policy decisions could decimate the service, leaving a large hole in the fabric of our society with no means of filling it.
Without these services many people will feel isolated, there will be no easy means of quickly reallocating resource into areas of need such as where there has been large scale redundancy and the need to support people back into work, or providing part of the solution when there have been civil unrest and breakdowns in society.
My role on behalf of Holex members will be to act as an advocate, generate summaries and analysis of current government initiatives and share this information with the network. This will include responses to formal consultations, regular updates, and alerting members to changes in funding and data.
Sharing good practice and looking at how best we can contribute to localism and the devolution agenda will be a key work stream. For example, should adult and community learning providers be in or out of the new area reviews?
This fast changing policy and funding landscape will be the background for my future work with Holex members — a big challenge but I cannot think of a better group of people to be working with.