More support to boost the skills levels country needs

2 December 2013

Participation in publicly-funded adult learning in England was 4.2% higher in the 2012/13 academic year compared to 2011/12 according to official figures. These figures showed that 3,280,600 people over the age of 19 took part in government-funded further education in this period.

Commenting on the Statistical First Release Further Education & Skills: Learner Participation, Outcomes and Level of Highest Qualification Held, NIACE’s Chief Executive, David Hughes, said:

“These figures are good news and represent the first rise in participation since the 2008/09 academic year but there’s still a long way to go.

“A significant part of the increase comes from courses described as ‘below level 2 learning excluding English and Maths’. It appears that this may be due to an increase in referrals of unemployed people from JobcentrePlus for short training courses. If accurate, this would be a welcome sign of increasingly effective liaison between the employment service and education and training providers.

“Another part of the increase results from a rise in the volume of Apprenticeships at level 3 taken up by people aged 24 and above. The challenge for government will be to maintain this increase given the disappointing numbers of people taking out Advanced Learning Loans so far this year.

“While received wisdom is that employer investment in training is directed overwhelmingly towards younger people, it is interesting to note that, of the 7,500 people who participated via Employer Ownership Pilot projects, 5,400 (72%) were aged 25 and over.

“Although the overall figure is encouraging, the drop of more than 3% in participation on English and Maths courses should set alarm bells ringing, given England’s relatively poor literacy and numeracy levels in comparison with our economic competitors.

“In summary, these are encouraging figures, but sadly the signs are that we have an enormous journey to make to achieve the skills levels this country needs. As public spending tightens in the next few years we will find more adults unable to access the learning they need and which employers want to support a better society and a stronger economy.”