“Much to welcome” in Statistical First Release

31 January 2013

NIACE feels there’s much to welcome in the Quarterly Statistical First Release, published today, but that it’s important to understand the detail behind the headline findings.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“On first glance there is much to welcome in these latest adult learner figures, particularly the increases in participation in Apprenticeships – for those aged 19 and over – and in literacy and numeracy. Overall the numbers of adults participating in government-funded FE and those gaining qualifications have held up from the previous year. This may be to do with the fact that adult learning often becomes more popular during a recession as people look to retraining as a way to ensure a more secure future.

However, there are some concerns about the fall in those participating in ESOL, community learning – apart from the sizeable increase in Neighbourhood Learning in Deprived Communities, which is encouraging – and family learning.

It is reassuring that the number of people who have already benefited from support for the unemployed (those nearest the workforce) in the first quarter of 2012/13 is so high (161,000). As these are primarily short courses we would expect participation to keep rising.

However encouraging these top line figures are, there is an inherent danger of using the number of adults participating in learning as the sole benchmark. It’s important that we understand the detail behind these headline findings. We need further analysis of the demographic and geographical mix of who is participating in learning, the levels at which they are participating, as well as the outcomes from their learning. It is essential we know how adult learning impacts on and benefits individuals, their families and communities, and the wider economy.

We need to ensure that those adults who have benefited least from their initial education are getting access to the opportunities that they both want and need and that there is high quality provision for all learners.”