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Developments: Preparing for the future changes to the economy

2019-2020 has seen a number of policy developments in adult education in the UK. In England, the government has committed to the creation of a National Skills Fund and a National Retraining Scheme, which will aim to prepare workers for future changes to the economy. This will help to address challenges to the economy, including:  

  • automation and advances in technology that are changing the nature of work
  • an ageing population and extended working lives
  • an entrenched productivity gap relative to other advanced economies and 
  • low social mobility by international standards.

Given the decline in employer investment in training and the number of adults participating in learning, it will be crucial that these programs effectively engage employers and adults.

Autonomy for the regions

In September 2020 the government announced free entitlement to Level 3 full- time courses to match skills gaps and flexible loans for higher level qualifications up to Level 4-5. From August 2020 education budgets in England have been devolved (transferred) from the central government to a number of regions. This gives these areas the power to decide how adult education funding should be invested, and how the outcomes should be measured.  

Local areas are now running pilots to help decide on the changes they may make to their approach to adult education, for example, whether to invest more in basic skills training. The Learning and Work Institute is actively supporting to shape their plans for devolution. The evidence suggests that devolution is an opportunity to ensure that adult education, learning and skills are effectively joined up with other local policy agendas.

Basic skill policy and a Personal Learning Account program launched

In basic skills policy in England, the existing entitlement to fully funded adult literacy and numeracy courses has been supplemented with a basic digital skills entitlement. This aims to address the challenge that around one in five adults lack basic digital skills, yet 90% of all jobs in the next 20 years will require these skills. Providers will also be able to deliver new essential digital skills qualifications. As the entitlement will be funded from the existing Adult Education Budget, providers will have to decide how to deliver these courses within their existing budget.  

In Wales, a Personal Learning Account pilot program was launched with the aim to provide free training for people in work and below the Welsh average to retrain to work in key sectors. In response to COVID-19 the pilot will be expanded to be a national programme from April 2021.

The situation of adult education has stayed the same in the last years. The adult education funding situation has also stayed the same. UK civil society is consulted in policy making to a certain extent. A number of policies in a wide range of areas support European Pillar of Social Rights, however they have not been created specifically in response. L&W is not aware of a consultation process on the EPSR. There are some policies on Upskilling Pathways and the reports from the European Semester partially corresponds to L&W’s experience in the sector. There have been some initiatives on the implementation of the SDGs, such as the new entitlement to basic digital skills learning.