Devolution is working for London’s adult learners. We need more

Colleges Week is a great time to celebrate the sector's success in London, powered by devolved funding and control

Colleges Week is a great time to celebrate the sector's success in London, powered by devolved funding and control

29 Feb 2024, 17:00

Londoners now often undertake lifelong learning as they take their first steps into work, reskill for a career change or pursue a personal interest. Local colleges are the driving force, supporting thousands of Londoners every day to develop new skills. That is why I’m proud to support Colleges Week, which celebrates the life-changing impact of further education and the important role of colleges in unlocking adult education opportunities.

London’s skills system is the highest performing in the country. Since taking control of London’s Adult Education Budget (AEB) in 2019, the Mayor has worked closely with London’s skills providers and colleges to s help over a million learners to participate in his skills programmes. Enrolments have increased by twenty percent, compared to just eight per cent for non-devolved areas administered by central government. This wouldn’t have happened without the strong partnership between our excellent colleges and City Hall, made possible by devolution.

It’s been a pleasure to see first-hand the transformative impact of adult learning on Londoners, reflected by winners of the annual Mayor’s Adult Learning Awards. At New City College Ilford, Nabeel Ahmed, last year’s winner of the Inspirational Adult Learner of the Year award, overcame significant barriers to become more independent and build the confidence he needed to explore new opportunities. Our 2022 winner Shirley Joseph, who took a leap into a career change after being made redundant to reskill in track engineering at Newham College has now built a brilliant career at Network Rail.

I’m pleased to see how working in partnership with colleges has allowed us to tailor London’s adult learning offer to local contexts and make a real impact on the lives of Londoners. The pioneering London Learner Survey which tracks how the AEB has helped Londoners showed how training is improving access to work and further learning, boosting earnings and led to improved wellbeing and confidence. Over 100,000 Londoners reported positive economic outcomes with those in work on average 10 per cent better off financially once they had completed a course, helping them with the rising cost of living.

Any incoming government must give cities and regions the control they need to meet demand for lifelong learning

Adult learning opportunities need to reach all Londoners and the Mayor has taken steps to improve the accessibility of our skills system, removing barriers that prevent Londoners from gaining the training they need. Removing some of the residency requirements on accessing training has meant that more migrant Londoners can get onto courses, upskill and contribute to our economy.

Since opening up funding to Londoners in low paid work, we’ve helped over 90,000 Londoners previously locked out of training to get the skills they need. We’ve also invested in important community outreach activity to signpost Londoners who are less likely to engage with adult learning into skills training, through our community’s grant programme where we fund grassroots organisations to connect local people to learning. Thanks to these changes, and the hard work of colleges across the city, London’s skills system is now the most accessible in the country.  

However, we need to go further. Power and funding must be devolved regionally to make meaningful change and build on the success of London’s Adult Education Budget. Participation in training is growing but we are reaching the limits of what is possible within current funding levels, which have remained stagnant since 2019.

After a decade of low economic growth and high inequality, more investment in skills is crucial for boosting productivity, incomes and prosperity in London and across the country. London and regions across England have shown the success that is possible with greater control over local skills funds.  Any incoming government must look seriously at increasing our investment in skills, increase funding and give cities and regions the control they need to meet the demand for lifelong learning. 

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