A time for change

28 November 2012

It’s been a really busy week at NIACE and yesterday alone we responded to the Richard Review of Apprenticeships, the publication of the Work Programme Statistics and the Chief Inspector’s annual report for Ofsted. And on Friday we publish The Adult Apprentice, setting out NIACE’s position on apprenticeships and featuring the stories of 10 inspiring adult apprentices nominated for last year’s Adult Learners’ Week awards.

However, one of the most important events for me this week is tomorrow’s joint NIACE / UKCES / Unionlearn forum Time for Change: tackling inequalities in learning and training. It will bring together key stakeholders from the adult learning sector and beyond, to explore how we might tackle the significant inequalities in who does and doesn’t participate in learning and training.

Recent research – from both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and NIACE – has added to the growing body of evidence that taking part in learning can make a significant difference to both the economic and social well-being of individuals, families and communities. Economic prosperity depends upon people becoming more skilled, innovative and productive in their workplace. But this is only part of the picture. Learning as an adult also has a positive impact on physical and mental health, self-confidence and self-worth, life satisfaction and well-being, family relationships and civic participation.

It matters therefore, that our annual Adult Participation in Learning Survey consistently shows that active participation in learning remains a minority activity among adults in the UK, with significant inequalities in who does and who doesn’t take part. Year after year, we see persistent patterns in participation – those who benefit most from their initial education continue to learn as adults and therefore continue to experience these benefits, whilst those who miss out first time round continue to miss out.

It has been 12 years since I first started working on the NIACE annual survey series. Despite significant investment, numerous initiatives and the hard work and dedication of adult learning providers and practitioners, over this period there has been little progress in addressing such inequalities. Furthermore, the data suggests that if things continue as they are, then the situation is likely to remain unchanged.

It’s time to try something new, but what should be done and by whom? This is the question that we are hoping to address at tomorrow’s forum. I anticipate that coming up with answers will be hard work – after all, if it was easy then it would have been solved years ago – but it is a challenge that NIACE believes is important to face head on.

For those of you not attending our event, we still need you to share ideas and join in the discussion. You can follow @NIACEhq on Twitter and join the conversation using#time4change. We have also asked a number of individuals and organisations to write guest blogs, which I hope you will engage with. My hope is that by the end of the event, we will have thought hard and begun to identify what each of us might do, both individually and collectively, to bring about real change in learning opportunities for adults.



Tom Schuller

November 28th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Fiona, I’m looking forward to the event. Two recent relevant items, both about the nature of evidence on the impacct of education.

First, the Economist Intelligence Unit/Pearson published yesterday an important report on educational performance. It’s all about schools, sadly, but the significant and positive feature is ) and it’s very clear and strong on the complexity of measuring the impact of learning. I blogged on it at


Secondly, the Prisoner Education Trust released Brain Cells, a report on prisoners’ views on education. We discussed at the launch event the nature of ‘evidence’ in relation to the benefits of education, with the need for diverse types of evidence , including ‘testimony’ from ex-prisoners. On the inequality angle, prison education obviously links to people who have mostly done badly at school – but also to their children who are very likely to follow them down the same road.