Adult education providers need more clarity on whether a course will remain funded, writes Delrose Earle
Having navigated the hurdles necessary for curriculum planning, I have concerns about the long time it takes for announcements to be made about what courses are funded under the adult education budget (AEB).
The pandemic has disproportionately affected lower income individuals and families. The skills gap we recognise and that is acknowledged by all has been exacerbated following Brexit and through the pandemic experience.
The acceleration of the entitlement and essential digital skills standard, alongside the implementation of level 3 national skills fund courses, are welcome, and will help to close the skills gap for some.
London has benefitted from the devolved AEB with a more targeted approach to industry needs and education provision. The Mayor’s Skills for Londoners’ three key priorities are an excellent vision but it has not managed to keep up with the fast-changing landscape.
The reduction of courses funded through the AEB affects those most disadvantaged who are more likely to attend the defunded courses.
The late changes to funding impact the confidence of organisations scheduling these courses.
It also undermines the confidence of prospective learners who often have been outside of education for a long time and for whom making the decision to return to education is long thought through and takes some reorganisation of their day-to-day lives and lots of courage.
The reduction in the number of courses funded at level 1 and 2 particularly within the creative industries is of concern.
These are courses that have attracted a range of learners, including those with additional learning needs.
They give learners opportunities to return to education with a gentle re-introduction to academic learning, development of transferable skills, reducing isolation and building confidence to move into further study or work.
These courses are building blocks to further and higher education as well as a platform for achievers to engage in better-paid employment.
The value of such courses appears to be getting lost.
At the same time, courses offered within the national skills fund (NSF) require guided learning hours that exceed the weekly hours allowed for learners in receipt of most welfare benefits.
If learners want to study on these courses and need to continue receiving benefits, their course of study will run beyond one academic year.
The obvious consequences will be high drop-out rates. And where learners are able to complete their course of study, it will take longer for them to re-enter the workforce.
When the NSF was introduced, an undertaking was given that “we will keep the qualifications list and sector-subject areas in scope under review to ensure this offer responds to changing labour market needs”.
It is hoped that this review is under way both for the NSF and AEB.
So having gone through a most unusual and volatile year in education, it has been gratifying to have been a part of the team of educators who have worked throughout to keep learners engaged and supporting them to achieve in their chosen areas of study.
But providers, particularly those working with adult learners, have to plan curriculums months in advance.
Late funding decisions result in disruption to learners
Late funding decisions alongside the reducing of funded courses on offer results in disruption to learners and consequently will have a negative long-term impact.
There should be more options to attract adults back to education, from where they can take the knowledge they have acquired to refine their options for progression.
At a time when Londoners in particular have experienced a 44 per cent rise in people claiming welfare benefits (according to Trust for London’s Poverty Profile), now is the time to rethink the offer.