Concerning falls in FE and skills participation and achievement

28 June 2013

The importance of investment in the education of adults has been highlighted by the latest figures on participation and achievement in FE and skills.

While these figures show that participation in adult learning has not continued to decline, NIACE is concerned about the falls in achievement rates, particularly at level 3, and the big declines in those taking part in ESOL and family learning courses.

The key figures show that:

  • in 2011/12 the number of adults participating and achieving across government funded FE are similar to the previous year (adults participating in learning 3,149,700; learners achieving a qualification 2,258,500);
  • apprenticeship starts continue to increase (+13.9%), particularly at advanced and higher levels. However, while the number of starts among those aged 19+ has increased by 20%, 16-18-year olds starts are down by 1.4% at level 2, adult participation has increased by 3.7%, while achievement rates have fallen by 1.7%;
  • at level 3, participation is stable, however there is a worrying decline of 11.9% in achievement;overall, adult participation on skills for life courses has increased by 12.6%, with an increase of 22.5% in participation in both English and Maths courses;
  • however, participation in provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) has declined by 14.8% since 2010/11, with a decrease of 10% in achievement; and
  • participation across community learning courses has decreased by 2.3%, reflecting a 19.8% increase in Neighbourhood Learning in Deprived Communities courses, combined with a 2.9% decrease in Personal and Community Development Learning, a 10.8% decrease in Family English, Maths and Language Courses and a 3.8% decrease in Wider Family Learning Provision.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, Head of Learning for Work at NIACE, said,

“We are pleased to see that the declining levels of participation in adult learning, that we have seen in recent years, were not continued in 2011-12, and that levels of participation in publicly funded provision have mostly been maintained.

“Howeve,r there are a number of areas of concern. In particular the significant falls in achievement and in the number of people taking part in Family Learning and ESOL courses.  Following the announcement in this week’s Spending Review of a mandated requirement for ESOL classes for benefit claimants with ‘poorly spoken English’, clear investment strategies are needed to improve levels of both participation and achievement.

“Now is a crucial time for the economy and learning for adults, of all ages, has never been more important.  The right public investment will help deliver a strong economy through improved skills, higher productivity, increased social mobility and better health and wellbeing.”

Carol Taylor, Director of Development and Research at NIACE, added,

“It is disappointing to see the fall in numbers in family learning, especially at a time of such great difficulty for families all across the UK. Research shows that learning as a family builds robust individuals and cohesive communities, and enables children to develop skills for life, work and community.

“The NIACE Inquiry into Family Learning, which will report in October, will make absolutely clear the value to the economy of investing in family learning, backed up by evidence to show the impact on the skills, confidence and capability on both adults and children.”