The morning sessions for the first workshops of the EPALE UK and Learning & Work Institute joint Upskilling Pathways: implications for the adult learning workforce conference included four policy-focused workshops. I was lucky to attend Naomi Clayton (L&WI) and Lubomira Chirmiciu’s (Greater London Authority) workshop on the devolution of the Adult Education Budget (AEB) to the city-regions in England.
Naomi Clayton opened the workshop, which explored the different approaches that regions are taking to utilise the funding allocated to them. She was able to tell delegates that half of the full figure of funding had been devolved to seven different authorities. These are:
- Greater London
- Greater Manchester
- Cambridgeshire & Peterborough
- Liverpool City Region
- Tees Valley
- West Midlands
- West of England
The North of Tyne and Sheffield City Region is also due to receive devolved funding in 2020-2021, although this timeframe is a case of readiness.
It is common knowledge among the adult education sector, and beyond, that adult education is poorly funded and funding has been drastically cut in recent years – since 2010 the budget has been reduced by 45%. There is no surprise that this coincides with a huge fall in the number of adults opting to take part in learning and build their skills. It is hoped that devolution will allow regions to orientate funding, shape provision and meet both local and wider economical needs.
Naomi suggested that regions may now be able to align the AEB with other funding streams, although she noted that finding alternative local funding sources can be challenging. She also commented on the likelihood that regions would have to make hard choices in terms of what to fund – AEB funding will not be enough to cover all of the potential learning opportunities that adult education can offer.
Different approaches in different regions
Different regions have taken different approaches to allocating funding in order to meet the unique needs of their individual communities. Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Greater London are excellent examples of a difference in approach but a shared commitment to successful provision:
- Greater Manchester: extending access for adults earning less than the national minimum wage; funding for units linked to priority sectors; reducing unemployment
- West Midlands: targeting those in education and training; targeting the unemployed and those whose skills don’t match labour market needs
- Greater London: committed to social metrics, unlike the others which are focused on outputs and qualification measures
The outlook in Greater London
Lubomira then gave delegates more information about the changes taking place in London. In the year 2019-2020, the region was allocated £306m of the AEB. Approximately £6.4m has been allocated to the Skills for Londoners Innovation Fund, which is designed to assist the grant provider base in delivering activity that meets the Mayor’s priorities for education and skills in the capital. There is a focus on innovation either in methodology or how impact and outcomes will be delivered.
A slide containing a pie chart helped us to understand where the funding had been allocated to in London, with education receiving 17%; in paid employment receiving 20%; and not in paid employment or education receiving 20% as well.
Lubomira also shared with us the disappointing fact that disabled Londoners are less likely to be in adult education than the general population. It is also true that women are more likely to take part in adult learning activities than men. These are areas that may need to be explored further and addressed in order to achieve a better balance across different groups.
The workshop was a great start to the conference, providing delegates with data-rich information that got us all thinking about how funding can best be used to support the adult learning workforce. Funding is, after all, the backbone of adult education financing and the way that funding is allocated and how effective allocation may or may not be will affect local areas, the nation at large and the economy – in effect, it affects us all.
Do you think that the devolved AEB will help to address the needs of the adult learning workforce, or do you think it will present more challenges than benefits? Let us know in the comments box below!
This blog post was written by Emma Zielinski, Content Manager for EPALE UK.
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