Adult Education in UK

Jim Soulsby

What is meant in the country when you talk about Adult Education?
Adult education can mean attendance at university and further education college, publicly funded provision made by a local authority, with the Workers’ Education Association (WEA), or in community settings. AE can be for leisure, skills, re-training, qualification, and progression. The definition of ‘adult varies from provider to provider. NIACE’s annual participation survey looks at all people age 17 and over. However some Government funded incentive programmes are restricted to people under age 25.
Adult education is also named lifelong learning. Within universities it has also been known as Continuing Education.
Some forms are called Non-vocational education. A Government initiative was around ‘informal learning’ meaning in this instance learning not provided by the state or its agencies.

In NIACE’s Inquiry into the future for Lifelong Learning lifelong learning is described as including:
– people of all ages learning in a variety of contexts
– in educational institutions, at work, at home and through leisure activities.
It focuses mainly on adults returning to organised learning rather than on the initial period of education or on incidental learning. (Schuller T, Watson D., Learning Through Life: Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning NIACE Leicester UK 2009)

What is typical for Adult Education in the country?
Most adult education in England takes place in colleges of further education (FE) or universities providing higher education (HE). Although many FE colleges now offer HE courses. The emphasis in FE is in skills and vocational qualification. Publicly funded non-vocational education has traditionally been led by local authorities working with a ‘safeguarded’ budget.

Legal basis
There is no basis in current law for adult education unlike for education of children. The European Declaration on Human Rights in Protocol 1, Article 2 stipulates the right to education but does not require countries to provide it! This author is not sure if it has been tested in law with respect to the United Kingdom. Protocol 12 which gives rights around the prohibition of discrimination has not been signed by the UK government.

Responsible public bodies / ministries
Adult education in England is currently  the responsibility of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills ( BIS covers a range of policy areas – innovation, science, business sectors and law, economics and statistics, employment matters, trade and export as well as adult, further and higher education. The Department for Education is responsible for education and children’s services but also has responsibility for 16-19 education.

Relevant umbrella associations and national (service) organisations
NIACE – The National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education The aim of NIACE is to promote the study and general advancement of adult continuing education by improving the quality of opportunities available, by increasing the number of adults engaged in formal and informal learning, and by widening access for those communities under-represented in current provision.

Providers of Adult Education
Local authority funded and provided adult education of a non vocational type is provided through a protected fund (adult safeguarded learning) by Government. This £230 million provision has been static for several years but was not cut back in the very recent budget.
Further education colleges and training agencies are mainly engaged in vocational and skills related education.
Employers fund a lot of training.
Universities through their lifelong learning departments (which used to be called Continuing Education or Extra Mural departments) also provide adult education with some Government subsidies.
‘Informal learning’ (Government definition) is provided through libraries galleries and museums as well as by community and voluntary organisations like University of the Third Age, The Women’s Institute, Arts organisations, clubs and societies. The media – mainly through the BBC (and its support for the Open University) and Channel 4 – has also has a significant role to play in supporting and encouraging adult learning.

The UK has several surveys on adult learning participation rates, of which five are
particularly relevant:
–  The Government’s Annual Population Survey (linked to the Labour Force Survey) uses a broad definition of learning but is only for England;
–  The annual NIACE Adult Learning Survey also uses a broad definition and includes the entire UK population;
–  The LSC’s Statistical First Release includes much more detailed information about individual learners, but only on formal courses funded by the LSC itself in England;
–  The Government’s National Adult Learner Survey (NALS) for England and Wales (Scotland has participated since 2005)
–  Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) records all participation in award bearing programmes in UK Higher Education Institutions but does not include the substantial volume of short non-award bearing courses (both for employers and for the general public)

The total FE teaching workforce comprised ca 125,000 individuals, of whom ca 50,000 were full time, and ca 75,000 part-time. This is equivalent to 74,000 full time staff. In addition there were 32,000 “support” staff, who undertake some form of teaching role.
The total HE academic workforce is ca. 160,000 individuals. In addition there were ca. 80,000 “atypical” staff – people who undertake some form of academic role but not under a normal academic contract. By comparison, the total school workforce (at 2005-6) was 429,600 individuals.
Informed observers suggest that Private Training Organisations may also employ around 25,000 staff (including teaching related staff like assessors and advisers), but no national data is collected.

Most teachers in Further Education are experienced in their field, and many have undertaken roles as supervisors, mentors or workplace trainers before embarking on their formal training as teachers. When they begin formal training for national teaching qualifications, most are already employed as full-time or part-time FE teachers. Their initial teacher training (ITT) courses include a mix of taught and practice elements. In 2001, new national regulations were introduced requiring FE teachers to obtain a teaching qualification based on National Standards for teaching and supporting learning. Qualifications based on the National Standards are offered by both higher education institutions (HEI) and national awarding bodies.
In response to a review of teacher training carried out by Inspectors from Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools (HMI) and the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI), in 2003, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) launched a major national consultation on the reform of ITT in FE and the wider LSC sector, after which it announced, major reforms to the system in the 2006 FE White Paper, Further Education: Raising Skills, Improving Life Changes.
To be employed as a teacher in FE in England an individual must now have at least a level 3 qualification (ISCED 3) in the subject (for some academic subjects a University degree is required), as well as a teaching qualification recognised by the Sector Skills Council for FE (Lifelong Learning UK – LLUK).
LLUK is responsible for implementing the 2007 Further Education Workforce Strategy, which aims to support all colleges and learning providers in implementing their own local workforce plans to support the delivery of provision for young people, adults and employers. The new qualifications (and others under development) are a key part of this strategy. The Teachers Qualification Framework which LLUK has developed includes qualifications for various kinds of teaching and non-teaching staff (in Learning Support, e-Learning, Assessment and in Leadership & Management).

There is no national requirement for teaching staff in higher education to hold a teaching qualification, but over the last decade it has become the normal expectation for new staff, encouraged by the Higher Education Academy (HEA), who have been developing in service and initial teacher training for academic staff. The form of training and the requirements to teach are set by individual institutions, who generally train their own staff, through courses approved by HEA. Successful completion of HEA recognised courses leads to “Registered Practitioner” status (effectively a nationally recognised teaching qualification).
There are particular problems about imposing teaching qualifications on the large body of part-time teachers in higher education, and work is in progress in HEA to understand these issues, and develop appropriate responses. The Academy has identified a typology of part-time teachers, with each category having distinct training needs:
–  Part-time teachers carrying out a very limited role e.g. one off inputs to programmes
–  Inexperienced teachers already present in the HEI (often postgraduate students) deployed to offer defined narrow inputs to teaching.
–  Inexperienced teachers as new staff in the HEI deployed to offer defined narrow inputs to teaching (e.g. with particular technical or specialised subject expertise)
–  Experienced part-time teachers who have other commitments which place restrictions on their availability and who wish to undertake a limited set of teaching roles
–  Inexperienced or experienced part-time teachers who aspire to carrying out all forms of teaching activity (but who also may have competing commitments)
–  Fractional teaching staff who have entitlement and access to same opportunities and infrastructure as full-time colleagues

In the Private Training Organisation (PTO) sector, subject qualifications of teaching and teaching related staff range from an apprenticeship to postgraduate qualifications.
Teaching qualifications tend to be within a narrow range – the City and Guilds Stage 1 and 2 qualification or the level 3/4 learning and development (L&D) awards. LLUK is currently overseeing the conversion of the old Training and Development Lead Body (TDLB) units to conform to the new standards for teaching in FE.

Quality system / insurance
Further Education and Higher Education have distinct quality assurance systems and institutions, although the underlying principles are similar in both cases. In Higher Education, quality is overseen by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), created in 1997, and owned and managed by the Universities themselves. In Further Education it is the responsibility of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) – which is also responsible for quality assurance in schools and children’s services).
Most programmes in publicly funded institutions are described in outcome terms and these definitions are used in assessing their quality. In Higher Education, outcomes are defined by institutions as part of a validation process carried out with external assessors when courses are designed. In Further Education, on the other hand, they are generally defined by external Awarding Bodies, in partnership often with employers. Individual learner performance is then assessed through testing and examination against those specifications. Moves are currently in progress to increase the influence of employers over the specification of qualifications through Sector Skills Councils.

Latest developments / main problems in the discussion
–  Focus on skills to the detriment of non qualification bearing education (non-vocational)
–  Government drive to assert value of ‘informal learning’ i.e. learning they don’t pay for.
–  The recent draconian spending review spared the protected Government spend on non vocational adult learning.
–  Universities’ adult education departments have also been decimated because of changes in how they must spend their money, restricting them to subsidising courses for those who have not achieved a higher education qualification.
–  Loss of many skilled teachers from the adult education sector.
–  Impact of new skills strategy

Relevant links 
Euridyce: Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe
CONFINTEA 2009 national report for UK

General country information
brief description of (adult) education in England
brief description of UK Government
brief description of England