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What can adult education learn from all these political promises?

Story added 19th May 2017

What’s the line – you wait for a bus long enough and 3 come along at once!? Well, that’s how it feels with manifestos this week, with all 3 main political parties releasing their long awaited pledges and commitments ahead of the General Election. So, we know what to expect (unless there is a seismic shift in the opinion polls!). 

These manifestos, as you would expect, are wide ranging and will, I’m sure, divide debate. Whilst these documents can appear impenetrable in size and length, as well as overwhelming in the number of commitments they make, they play a significant part in the campaigning effort towards 8th June. The initial reaction has been of little surprise, other than suggestions that Labour’s support has reached its highest level in the campaign. However, public opinion is always difficult to judge and although only a matter of weeks away, that is a long time in politics.

- The Conservatives remain the ‘bookie’s favourite’ and have offered a plan for a “stronger Britain and a prosperous future”. The main headlines from the ‘Forward Together’ manifesto, apart from the Brexit-negotiation commitments, concentrated on the party’s plans for adult social care and keeping the target for net migration. 

- In Labour’s “programme of hope”, their case for government is based around themes of austerity holding back growth; the better off should pay more tax; and more regulation or “re-nationalisation”.

- And the Lib Dems have inevitably put a second EU referendum at the heart of their manifesto, saying it would "give the final say to the British people", clearly hoping that June’s election will allow them to regain some political positioning after they lost almost 50 seats in the 2015 election. 

Education features high on all political parties agendas with considerable commitments being made: a “unified” National Education Services (NES) for England, from Labour; investment of nearly £7bn extra from the Liberal Democrats in children’s education; and in a move to ease heavy resistance to the previous Government’s plans to introduce a new schools funding formula, the Conservatives have pledged an extra £4bn for schools in England by 2020.

What is really pleasing though, is that each party has offered detailed thought and potentially positive news for the FE and adult education sector – underlining the fact that parliamentarians and policy makers are paying real attention to the need for lifelong learning and adult skills – recognising the fact that people are living longer, adapting and changing their career paths throughout their lives, and therefore a longer term option for education and skill development is required.  

Measures set out in these manifestos, which may well help us all adapt to the changing environment around us through dedicated, lifelong learning, include: the Conservatives' pledge to ‘introduce a right to lifelong learning in digital skills’  and ‘establish new institutes of technology in every major city in England’; Labour's commitment to ‘introduce free lifelong education in Further Education (FE) colleges’; and the Liberal Democrats aim to ‘develop centres of excellence through national colleges’ and ‘create individual accounts for funding mature adult and part-time learning and training’.

So, a huge amount to be positive about.

Build believes that everyone has a right to learn and improve themselves – and these commitments go some way to recognise that. However, whilst we expect any future Government to move ahead with plans to review post-16 education by devolving responsibility for the sector locally, we remain intent on ensuring the future Government helps strengthens adult education.

Although there is positive elements of each of the manifestos, we are still keen for future Governments to put adult education on a sustainable position; establish a national (and London) strategy for Adult Education, distinct from Further Education; ultimately recognising the impact it has on the broader social outcomes that Government continue to talk about 

They should think about how our work helps combat loneliness (especially for the older population); offer a sense of purpose and personal fulfilment (for those where education has failed them previously); improve confidence (to enable individuals to consider appropriate life and career choices); and overcome mental difficulties.  

As the political debate continues over the coming weeks and we all gear up for 8th June, we hope that adult education continues to feature in all future policy thinking. Commitments are important to hear now, but then taking action that doesn’t break them is even more so. 

Phil Chamberlain, Director of External Engagement

Phil Chamberlain, Director of External Engagement, Build

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