While the government launches the national retraining program, an advertising campaign is needed to promote adult education, writes Ann Marie Spry

The UK education system is focused on younger people, with the bulk of funding coming closest to compulsory schooling before 18 years and immediate schooling after 18 years.

We can see this in the media coverage of the coronavirus crisis in education with tons of articles about the GCSE and A-level debacle, college places and young disadvantaged learners.

While these are all important issues, it is wrong that there is little media coverage of how the crisis has affected opportunities for adult learners.

We know that adults who left school at 16 years of age or younger are half as likely to participate in learning as those who stayed in full-time education until at least 21 years.

Adult education is as much a problem of social mobility and disadvantage as it is for any other age group. In addition, the education sector has not been able to prioritize adult education in recent years.

While Downing Street has often said that education and skills are a priority, the lack of investment has left millions in the UK without basic skills and without access to education and training. Five years ago, the Association of Colleges warned that continued cuts in the budget for adult qualifications risks cutting adult education in England by 2020.

Today we are feeling the effects of the 47 percent cut in government spending on adult education without apprenticeships. The number of adult learners continues to decline and adult education has declined by nearly four million since 2010.

In the first two quarters of 2018-19, participation in state-funded adult education fell by 3.5 percent. I think we can all agree that adult education needs to be revitalized. And it will take a lot of political support.

The rollout of the national retraining program, first launched in 2019 and launched this year, will be instrumental in helping adults across the country be on their way to new, more rewarding careers. This system is needed more than ever, given the rise in unemployment in recent months as a result of Covid. At the same time, however, a national campaign to promote adult education needs to be launched.

During the lockdown, Leeds City College saw a decline in the number of new adults wanting to start studying in the summer semester. We are offering more online courses to mitigate this.

In reality, however, few courses are currently fully available online and tend to focus on skills required in “white collar” jobs.

In reality, few courses are fully available online

While the crisis has helped promote distance learning, it remains difficult to provide training for manual trades or a work-related component online.

At the same time, current basic skills training tends to focus more on the qualifications people are acquiring and less on the outcomes, e.g. B. whether they secure jobs, continue their education or increase their income. The government needs to re-examine how the success of adult education programs is measured.

At Leeds City College, we also found that more learners are choosing longer, more comprehensive, and more expensive courses. However, not everyone has the financial capacity to study full-cost courses, and the government needs to develop a strategy that takes this into account.

Incentives are needed to allow adults with a level 2 or 3 qualification to be retrained in certain priority sectors, possibly through a subsidized service.

Finally, a national approach is needed to ensure that adult education is not marginalized. There is not enough publicity or coverage of the benefits of lifelong learning for adults.

Strategic news about the value of adult education in terms of job prospects, retraining, continuing education and mental health is vital. The government must focus on adult learning and lifelong learning – now more than ever.