Adult ed: Fewer adults taking level 2 and 3 courses

Figures indicate fewer adults from deprived backgrounds

Figures indicate fewer adults from deprived backgrounds

25 Jan 2024, 15:05

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Data released this morning by the Department for Education gives us a first look at adult learner participation in FE and skills this academic year. 

Here’s what we learned from the first quarterly statistics (August 2023 – October 2023) of the year:

Level two down again

There were 1,071,900 adult learners recorded last quarter, up 1.5 per cent on the same period last year.

The data, which doesn’t include apprenticeships, shows the number of adults taking courses at below level 2 (excluding essential skills) has increased the most so far this year. There were 140,760 adults taking those courses in quarter one, up 20 per cent on the year before. 

There were five per cent fewer adult taking part in English and maths essential skills courses, 286,450 in quarter one of this year down from 301,180 the year before.

There was also an increase in the number of adults taking funded courses without a level attached. Participation in those non-accredited courses increased by 16 per cent. 

Participation in the government’s flagship maths scheme, Multiply continues to be dominated by non-accredited courses, which explains this rise. Of the 20,100 Multiply learners recorded for quarter one of this year, only 800 took a course between entry-level and level 2.

But the number of adults taking regular courses at levels 2 and 3 declined by 5.4 per cent and 3 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, level 4 and above participation grew by 4 per cent.

This is the fourth year in a row that in-year figures show a decline in the numbers of adults taking level 2 and 3 courses but an increase in level 4+. 

FE colleges remain the destination of choice for adult learners with the gap widening with private training providers. Colleges trained 44,000 more adults in quarter one of 2022/23, but 73,620 more so far in 2023/24. 

Other public sector bodies, like local authorities, had 6 per cent more adults in learning over the period. Schools, sixth-form colleges and special colleges also recruited more adult learners.


Adults from more deprived backgrounds are in decline in further education courses, the numbers indicate. 

In 2018/19, 52 per cent of adults were recorded as coming from the top two (out of five) categories for deprivation. 

By 2023/24, that proportion has reduced four percentage points to 48 per cent. 

Community learning grows again

Community learning participation grew for the third year in a row. There were 130,010 learners on community learning courses, up from 119,180 the year before. 

The Department for Education changed the way it records community learning participation. From August 2023, courses are categorised as one of seven “purpose types”. This is what the breakdown looks like using the latest statistics:

Community learning “purpose”Participation
Developing stronger communities8,870
Equipping parents/carers to support childrens learning26,710
Equipping parents/carers to support children’s learning7,650
Health and well-being24,520
Improving essential skills including English ESOL Maths and Digital32,070
Preparation for employment13,370
Preparation for further learning23,450

London’s CityLit was the largest provider of community learning courses last quarter, with 8,060 learners, followed by the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) (6190) and Kent County Council (5460).

Free courses for jobs

The number of adults that have started a course under the free courses for jobs scheme is up slightly from last year.

New figures show there were 12,170 enrolments so far this year on courses approved by the Department for Education. This time last year there were 10,670 enrolments.

The most popular courses studied under the scheme are in the health, public services and care sector subject area.

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