Further Education Matters

At the end of last month, the Government outlined their plans for adult further education.

Excluding funding for apprenticeships, the budget for 2015/16 will be cut by 24 per cent. That’s 24 per cent of the funding for adults who want to gain a better education later in life. Further education was deeply scarred as it was, with a third of its budget already severed since the 2010 election.

The teaching of basic skills such as numeracy and literacy is a key aspect of further adult education, and it’s not as if the UK ranks highly on this front and we don’t need to worry. According to the OECD, it’s quite the opposite and the government is fully aware of the problem.

Its own 2014/15 report on Adult Literacy and Numeracy stresses the importance of these skills both to the economy and to the learners themselves, who are healthier, happier and better off as a result of their improved abilities.

At a personal level literacy lies in the development of self-identity; in our social, cultural and emotional life. In my recent study Learning trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners (2013), I explored the learning journeys of adult basic skills learners.  For the male and female learners, returning to education was a means for them to develop their literacy skills and more.

Literacy was very much linked with their subjectivity and how they viewed their self-worth in the public space (for example, work) and private spaces (for example, the home). They wanted to develop their confidence, improve their social and economic positioning and improve their life chances and those of their children. The study confirmed the incredible power of Adult Education to enrich learners’ lives, and importantly offer them choices they never thought possible.

When one of the research participants, Joanne, a single mum with three children, arrived at college, she struggled to read and write. Initially, she sat at the back of the class, lacking confidence and avoiding eye contact. However, after Joanne joined the research group, we began to spend more time together. This allowed us the opportunity to speak in detail about the barriers she had faced and her hopes and aspirations for the future. She described how she had come to college to learn to fill out forms and to become more confident in spelling. However, as Joanne’s confidence increased in both herself and her writing skills, there was a simultaneous shift in aspirations. This was the first time she had planned for the future.

She began to make choices that she previously thought were not for people from her background.

She began to speak about a career rather than a job. After completing a Level 2 course in literacy and numeracy, Joanne progressed onto an access to nursing course, then to university to pass her diploma.

She is now a qualified staff nurse working in the north of England.

Any discussion of basic skills, and its impact in challenging the barriers and inequalities faced by many learners, cannot overlook the vital issue (and what can be a real barrier) of funding.

Basic skills provision needs to continue to be fully funded for all adults, including providing choices of flexible and accessible formal courses together with supporting those with skills at lower levels to engage in informal learning.

Basic skills courses for young and older adults can offer them a crucial second chance of re-engaging with education.

Published by

Vicky Duckworth

Vicky Duckworth

Dr Vicky Duckworth is Senior Lecturer in Further Education and Training at Edge Hill University. Vicky’s research has a strong social justice and theoretical focus and has included widening participation, social justice and teacher education, community empowerment and social identities in education and educational in/equalities.

Her recent research, “Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment among Adult Basic Skills Students,” (2013) challenges neo-liberalism claims of an apparently egalitarian socialfield, offering deep insight into the lives of marginalised communities and the link between learning, literacy and violence.

5 thoughts on “Further Education Matters”

  1. When you think of culture, you think of stories, music, poetry. But before any of these forms of self expression can be created, it usually requires somebody somewhere to pick up a pen. Imagine living in a world where people could not express themselves in writing – imagine the impact this would have on culture. Imagine also not being able to communicate with a loved one who lived overseas, or imagine not being able to write your child a birthday card. Reading and writing are tools that we have that we often take for granted, but to those among us who struggled at school or who had to take time out in order to support themselves and their families through working, or due to illness, being a young carer, due to abuse etc, they can be the building blocks necessary to build themselves a rich new life. As an FE teacher I have experienced first hand the immense empowerment that basic literacy can afford to adults who return to education. This is why since the Chancellor outlined spending cuts to the FE sector it has troubled me greatly; the quality of our basic skills provision for adults in the UK is indicative of the type of society we aspire to live in. By cutting FE budgets the coalition government are hurting generations of people irrevocably – hard working people who aspire to create a better life for themselves and their families. I’m proud to be an advocate of second chances, proud to teach in FE and that is why I support Dr. Duckworth and think it is important to raise awareness of the issues discussed here in her blog. I condemn the coalition for their abandonment of adult learners in their recent budgets through failing to ring fence funding. Adult learners should not, and cannot, be forsaken in this way.

  2. As Dr Vicky Duckworth’s research shows, at a very personal level, adult literacy and numeracy classes are absolutely fundamental, frequently empowering learners to make significant changes to their lives and raise their career aspirations. The planned cuts are extremely alarming and I hope they never come to fruition.

  3. All education cuts that reduce pupils opportunities will be disastrous, not least because cuts send out the message “you aren’t worth it”, which for adult learners in particular can be very debilitating.
    Any cuts in education – money, staff or hours of tuition – need to be fully justified from the pupils perspective with no adverse affects.

  4. The government’s budget cuts to adult education amount to nothing more than educational vandalism. This is an area of education which, as the post indicates, produces sustainable, life enhancing results which compare with any other field of education.

    Adult education however isn’t compulsory so it has moved further and further down the list of education priorities, whoever is in power. A 24% cut for next year is however disastrous, and the coalition should be ashamed.

  5. FE colleges have never been easy to define. The students and the staff don’t fit into a common structure. Most offer a wide menu of different courses, from academic ones, vocational ones, basic skills, apprenticeships, employment and back to work training, professional training, night school for those who ‘need’ a particular qualification such as Accountancy to anyone who happens to want to just learn something new, such as flower arranging. If this had happened to the schools or universities budget there would have been uproar, front page news, debates on panel shows. However yet again in FE many struggle to understand it and very few seem to care. We must continue to speak out against such deep cuts.

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