Fewer learners will limit economic recovery and social mobility

30 January 2014

There has been a substantial fall of almost 200k learners in participation in publicly-funded adult learning in England in the first quarter of the 2013/14 academic year compared to the same period last year, according to provisional data released.

The provisional figures from the Statistical First Release show that 1,475,600 people over 19 took part in government-funded further education in the first quarter of the 2013/14 academic year, compared to 1,674,800 in 2012/13.

More detailed figures include:

  • 63k fewer adults (a 14% drop) are on maths courses and 51k fewer (an 11% decline) adults are on English courses – this is particularly concerning following the results of last year’s OECD Survey of Adult Skills.
  • Participation on ESOL courses has fallen from 82,900 to 48,300, a fall of 42%.
  • Only 2,800 starts on Advanced and Higher Level Apprenticeships for those aged 25 and over – which represents just 12% of the 23,700 starts from the same period last year.
  • Overall Apprenticeships starts by those aged 25 and over have fallen from 52,700 to 22,300 (58%), and for those aged 19 – 24 the total has fallen by 10k (19%) in the same period.
  • The fact that 68% of starts funded through Employer Ownership Pilots are by people over 25 is a reflection that those employers recognise the value of investing in skills across their whole workforce and not just in young labour market entrants.

Responding to these latest figures, David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“It’s hardly surprising that learner numbers have gone down, with the cuts to investment from the Government and today’s Employer Skills Survey from UKCES showing that employers – as a whole – are only investing what they did 4 years ago and therefore not making up for the reductions.

“This is the sort of information we’ll be feeding into the political parties in the run up to the 2015 General Election. We need to know how the political parties plan to address these challenges and how learning and skills will be supported as an intrinsic part of the recovery. We have seen today from the UKCES Employer Skills Survey that there are serious shortages already. Those skills shortages are likely to worsen as the economy grows, ultimately putting the brake on growth, on social mobility and opportunities for people to get on in life.

“We are particularly concerned about the falls in the number of people on English, maths and ESOL courses. This means that those who have the most to gain are the ones who are missing out on learning the fundamental skills of literacy, numeracy and language. They are more vulnerable to losing their jobs and being trapped in a low-skills, no-learning cycle of creeping hopelessness. This could not only have lifetime consequences on their confidence, self esteem and life chances, but also have a major impact on a sustained economic recovery.

“We are pleased that the Government has decided to scrap loans for Advanced and Higher level Apprenticeships, but we are anxious to see what will replace them. We need more clarity on the funding arrangements so that more people over 24 will be able to take advantage of the opportunities these Apprenticeships offer.

“Government, employers, learning providers, learners and their representatives must be given the opportunity to work together to ensure that there are enough people with the right level of skills for a successful economy and an inclusive society. This will benefit individual learners, their families, the places they work and the communities they live in.”