Adult learning: we must get the arguments across! | WEA West Midlands Region

Peter Caldwell, Regional Director WEAAdult learning: we must get the arguments across!

Blog by Pete Caldwell, Regional Director WEA  (Posted 17/09/2010)

There are less than five weeks now to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) announcement and there are strong messages that the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) ministers are having a tough time defending skills and lifelong learning. John Hayes, Minister of State, is well known for his powerful commitment to lifelong learning as is Vince Cable, Secretary of State but Treasury pressure on BIS is strong and adult learning in particular could be seen as a soft target.

Many will recall how David Blunkett’s humane vision in the Learning Age was gradually extinguished with the Treasury’s almost exclusive focus on improving labour supply. And that was at a time of growth in public expenditure.

Adult learning is central to any vision of a Big Society. It brings people together in a constructive local context and nurtures community engagement and social action. My discussions recently with other voluntary and community organisations all point to energy and morale being sapped by uncertainty and cuts. Cuts to adult learning would be a further significant blow.

A further twist is the likely impact of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) cuts. DCLG currently support a range of educational and community development activities for example through the Empowerment Fund, Tackling Racial Inequalities Fund and Take Part. Important civic education has sprung from these, for instance the WEA’s Learning for Community Involvement (LfCI) project. The recently published LfCI report documents really valuable outcomes that are being achieved. Yet all this activity must be extremely vulnerable after March 2011 despite its contemporary relevance.

A White Paper on Public Health is due in the Autumn and it will no doubt stress the importance of preventative action to reduce demands on acute services in areas such as diabetes and stroke. Community based adult education contributes hugely to this agenda yet is largely invisible in the policy community. Again the WEA has accumulated piles of evidence that demonstrate effective health improvements and lifestyle changes made by participants.

Leaders of other areas affected by public spending cuts, such as the armed forces, police and universities are actively ‘shroud waving’ and highlighting potential damage. We must highlight the importance of adult community learning. It is an inexpensive but popular activity already experiencing cuts and reductions. It is not a ‘soft area’ but makes a tangible, and evidenced, contribution to improving people’s lives in important areas. Make sure that MPs and ministers, especially those involved in areas like health, Big Society, families and digital inclusion, are fully aware of this.

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