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Adult education: More action, not words

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21st Jun 2010
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David Grailey calls for more progress and clarity in the financially threatened sector of adult education.

With just a day to go before the coalition government's Emergency Budget is announced businesses, colleges and training providers are experiencing an all-too-familiar feeling of apprehension over the disruption that lies ahead.

People should be aware of the dangers of allowing the development of a skill-stunted society through the consequent slashing of training budgets and restriction of people's professional and personal development.

In his first speech as business secretary, Vince Cable recently brought some much-needed optimism to the adult education sector after highlighting his personal attachment to it, due to the role it played in saving his mother's mind after a mental breakdown. He highlighted the need to make lifelong learning a priority and recognised that a safeguarded budget was essential for a strong, vibrant economy.

However, following previously confirmed 'efficiency savings' of £200m across further education (FE), there needs to be more progress and clarity in this financially threatened sector to enable training providers and training managers in businesses to work to more defined targets and help deliver the best possible training to its staff in the current stringent circumstances.

More action, less words

Cable's optimism and personal attachment to the adult learning sector is encouraging after what has been, and still is, a very turbulent time for all parties involved. He clearly has a very emotional and personal link to this sector, and an increased emphasis and safeguarded budget for lifelong learning would be very welcome.

Learning is a lifelong process and brings with it so many social benefits that provide the foundations upon which to rebuild a stable economy and develop sustainable communities.

"The educational agenda seems to almost exclusively protect schools and young people, but we cannot forget or ignore the needs of the more mature learner."

While the FE sector welcomes the positive steps for safeguarding 14 to 19 year old education, it would be a mistake to ignore the need for continuing adult training provision when so many people, communities and businesses can benefit from courses made available. The educational agenda seems to almost exclusively protect schools and young people, but we cannot forget or ignore the needs of the more mature learner.

Whether it's to progress their career, have a fresh start, seek a new challenge, help people fight mental illness or disabilities, lifelong learning can bring a whole new meaning to life. Therefore the government should be urged not be too hasty with cuts in this area.

Working with scarce resources

Savings clearly have to be made in all areas of society and however hard the adult education sector is hit, never has it been more important for training managers to use what little resources they have wisely.

Internal training programmes are becoming ever more popular in business to ensure that employees are sharing knowledge and best practice. Not only is this cost effective, but it can also be a fantastic means of tailoring training to a specific business function or department. Training for staff, whether internal or external, is an important part of building team morale, boosting people's careers, which in turn benefits businesses by developing dynamic teams and retaining their best talent.

"Training for staff, whether internal or external, is an important part of building team morale, boosting people's careers, which in turn benefits businesses by developing dynamic teams and retaining their best talent."

NCFE has concentrated its research on identifying those qualifications that will still be supported by the adult responsive learning (ALR) funding stream, and also on identifying alternative streams of funding to help fill the gaps in a bid to pre-empt the cuts. It has identified real, tangible solutions to what has instantly become such a widespread problem and cause for concern.

NCFE will continue to monitor the situation and our business development teams have been re-briefed on funding priorities so they can provide the most current advice to our customers. It is important for the sector to remain accessible to all those who want to learn by offering qualifications in a variety of subjects to help broaden people's knowledge, expand their horizons and ultimately aid the economy into a long awaited recovery.

The prime minister has expressed the need to engage with the public ahead of the Emergency Budget later this month and is seeking the opinions and ideas of the people that will be most affected.

The further education and training sector as a whole needs more than ministers paying yet more lip service to its current difficulties. What we need is clarity and a defined way forward so that the FE sector and those responsible for training can ensure the best for its learners and institutions and help facilitate the process of getting the economy back on track.

David Grailey is the CEO of NCFE - an awarding body developing and offering over 400 vocational and academic qualifications in a range of subjects. David has over 20 years' experience in the education and skills sector, primarily with awarding organisations. He joined NCFE in January 2007, having spent the previous seven years as CEO of the Food & Drink Qualifications awarding organisation.

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