Education and Skills Committee

12 September 2006


A report by the Education & Skills Committee has found that significant numbers of adult learning courses are being scrapped from college programmes.

The Committee concludes that the Government's continuing focus on 'skills and employability' means that colleges no longer regard certain adult learning courses as a priority.

MPs believe this unacceptable decline is not just in 'leisure courses for the middle classes' but that it affects 'types of learning which actually contributes to key government priorities - often taking place in communities where there is a great need'.

The report concludes: 'Fundamentally, we argue, the dividing line between what is of value - to individuals and to the economy - and what is less so, is nowhere near as clear as is currently implied in government rhetoric.'

MPs believe that courses, once lost, are difficult to replace and the hard-won confidence of some returning learners, difficult to sustain.

The Committee calls for the Government to spell out what 'skills and employability' actually means for individual providers - for example, whether it refers to developing technical skills or whether it extends to helping people develop the personal qualities and generic 'soft skills' necessary for working life.

MPs believe the present planning and funding mechanisms for skills training 'appear incoherent, over complex, burdensome, and often act as a barrier to further education's development rather than a support to it'.

They conclude that although some reorganisation is in train, 'we do not have full confidence that the intended outcome - a simplified and proportionate overarching structure for further education - will be achieved.'

The Committee intends to examine this subject in more depth and urges the Government to do likewise, calling for an urgent review of the current higher educational framework.

Commenting, Committee Chairman, Barry Sheerman said:

"The Government's mantra of 'more plumbing, less Pilates' grossly over-simplifies the wide benefits that can be gained from further education - not just for students but for the wider community as well. Many courses available to adult learners are helpful to their careers and should be recognised as such. Whilst I welcome the Government's recent statements on the importance of further education, the Department still has to improve its planning and funding framework, and to spell out to colleges the practical implications of its policies."