Total spending on adult education and apprenticeships will be 25 per cent lower in 2024/2025 compared with 2010/2011 according to new analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Researchers found that total spending on adult education and apprenticeships fell by 38 per cent in real-terms between 2010–11 and 2020–21. Looking at classroom based learning on its own, the IFS found that spending has plummeted by 50 per cent over ten years.
While the 2021 spending review provided an additional £900 million for adult education by 2024–25, total spending on adult education and apprenticeships will still be 25 per cent lower in 2024/25 compared to 2010/11.
Sector leaders were quick to criticise the government’s spending review promises on adult education at the time.
The IFS has said today this will make it harder to achieve the government’s high ambitions to improve technical education and adult skills in order to level up poorer areas of the country.
“As part of efforts to level up poorer areas of the country, the government has announced an additional £900m in extra spending on adult education by 2024-25,” said Imran Tahir, IFS Research Economist and author.
“However, due to significant cuts over the past decade, government spending will still be 25% lower in 2024–25 than 2010–11.”
Tahir explained that taken together, the government’s adult education reform plans will provide extra help to those who left schools with good GCSEs or equivalent qualifications.
“Yet the main plans set out for helping adults with few qualifications – skills bootcamps and the new “Multiply” programme – are relatively untested and are unlikely to lead to formal qualifications.
“Providing effective support and training for this group is a significant challenge that will be key to levelling-up poorer areas of the country,” he added.
Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute said that the research echoed their findings that the “welcome increases” in funding would still leave budgets far short of 2010 levels.
“With employers investing just half the EU average per employee on training, it’s clear we need to up our game.
“Critically that means learning at all levels, with our research showing a 63% fall in adults improving their literacy and numeracy. This is a slow motion disaster, limiting people’s life chances and business access to skills. It’s a short-term saving with a long-term cost,” he said.
Learner numbers have dropped just as drastically as funding.
The IFS says there’s been a 50 per cent fall in adults taking qualifications at Level 2 and below, and a 33 per cent fall in the number of adults taking Level 3 qualifications.
Researchers noted that such falls will partly reflect cuts in public funding for such courses and the introduction of advanced learning loans under the coalition government.
Toby Perkins MP, Labour’s shadow minister for Further Education and Skills, said the government’s “neglect of further education is plain to see” in shrinking opportunities and falling numbers of adults taking part in training and reskilling.
“Together with the lowest level of workplace learning in over a generation, it is clear that the Conservatives do not have a plan to tackle skills shortages across our economy” he added.
Apprenticeships growth focused at advanced and higher levels
The IFS also found that apprenticeships were more focused at advanced and higher levels.
After 2010, the number of adult apprenticeship starts initially increased to about 350-400,000 per year.
However, researchers found that apprenticeship starts have dropped off to about 250,000 per year since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017.
“At the same time, there has been [a] shift in the type of apprenticeships taken by adults. In 2020, fewer than 50,000 adults began the lowest level of apprenticeships (intermediate apprenticeships) compared to 200,000 a decade earlier,” the IFS said in a statement.
“The number of higher apprenticeships (which include degree apprenticeships) has rocketed from a few hundred starts in 2010 to almost 100,000 starts in 2020”.
The research found that whilst increasing numbers of higher and advanced apprenticeships is welcome, the number of apprenticeship opportunities at lower levels has been drying up.
“Both the economic downturn and the changing nature of the labour market are likely to increase demand for adult education and apprenticeships,” said Josh Hillman, education director at the Nuffield Foundation.
“To ensure that adults from a wide range of backgrounds from across the UK are able to gain the skills required by employers, it is essential that the further education system is adequately funded.”
The DfE told FE Week: “We are targeting support where it is needed most, investing in high quality training that is delivering the skilled workforce employers need to grow, while plugging skills gaps in our economy and helping more people into jobs.
“This includes making £2.7 billion available by 2025 to support business of all sizes to create more apprenticeships, in addition to investing over £260 million in the last year to expand popular adult training schemes, such as Skills Bootcamps and Free Courses for Jobs.
“This approach is working. It is great to see the number of people starting apprenticeships across England so far this year bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels, and thousands of people have already taken advantage of the opportunity to upskill or retrain for free through one of our adult skills courses.”