Local areas can use Multiply to unlock wider investment

27 May 2022, 6:00

Multiply represents a menu of interventions for local areas to draw on and tailor to the local context, writes Alex Stevenson

Multiply, the government’s new £560 million adult numeracy programme, is a rare new spending boost for adult essential skills.

As mayoral combined authorities and upper-tier local authorities across England write their investment plans, it’s timely to think about how the programme can achieve maximum impact.

Funding for adult learning and skills via the adult education budget has fallen from £2.8 billion in 2011/12 to around £1.5 billion today, a real-terms cut of over 50 per cent. Rising inflation is now set to reduce its real value further.

While Multiply money is certainly welcome, it only represents a fraction of what has been lost in investment and learning opportunities.

And, with the programme envisaged to last just three years, it falls short of the sustained, long-term investment that Learning and Work Institute has argued for.

Multiply presents an important opportunity to raise awareness and boost participation in numeracy learning. Adult participation in numeracy learning has fallen by more than 60 per cent over the past decade.

Meanwhile, our 2021 adult participation in learning survey shows that only two in five adults are aware of the existing entitlement to fully funded English and maths learning up to level 2. 

Adults who left full-time education early, adults with low qualification levels and adults who haven’t participated in learning recently are all less likely to be aware of the current adult numeracy offer.

The local authorities tasked with delivering Multiply face a sizable challenge but evidence and data can support them to target effectively, improving reach and impact.

Over the past eight months, we’ve been running evaluations of innovative, place-based interventions to look at what works at a local level to engage learners in essential skills learning.

Our evidence suggests that tailored messaging will be vital. Learner engagement must shift away from marketing courses towards showing how learning leads to outcomes that are relevant to people’s motivations in life and in work.

Our evidence suggests tailored messaging will be vital

As the Multiply programme isn’t intended to replace or duplicate numeracy provision delivered through the AEB, this is where things get interesting. The Multiply prospectus sets out a ‘menu’ of interventions for local areas to draw on and tailor to the local context.

This includes options for different contexts and cohorts for numeracy learning, such as the workplace, community groups, parents and people recently released from prison.

This is particularly encouraging, given our findings that contextualising learning, and working with trusted community organisations, are vital for engaging adults.

Delivery can offer flexible routes to qualifications, or be offered as non-accredited learning to boost engagement and confidence in everyday maths.

This aligns well with what the evidence tells us is effective practice in adult essential skills provision. 

Reductions in funding rates and moves away from non-accredited learning over recent years mean that much of the outreach work providers do to work flexibly with employers and community groups has been lost.

Meanwhile international practice in adult essential skills often has a very different ratio of accredited to non-accredited learning, and a much greater emphasis on working with employers. So the workplace is seen as a key setting where learners can be engaged and skills developed.

To achieve impact on the wider essential skills picture – including numeracy, but also literacy, digital skills and ESOL, where skills needs are arguably just as acute – the trick will be for local areas to use Multiply investment to unlock wider benefits.

Multiply partnerships forged with wider stakeholders, such as employers, schools, community groups and housing associations, could also boost referrals and participation into other kinds of essential skills learning. This would also ensure that Multiply is accessed by those who would benefit from it most.

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