The number of people receiving adult skills training continues to decline in areas that need it most, making the key goal of the government’s level-up program even more out of reach.
The government aims to have 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality vocational training in England every year by 2030, and another 80,000 people taking courses in parts of the country where there are few highly qualified people, according to the Upgrading White Paper. published in February.
However, Department of Education data shows that training in these areas has declined since Boris Johnson’s Conservative government took office.
Only the five areas with the lowest qualifications (which the government determines as part of the country with the lowest proportion of people with level 3 qualifications in 2019) the number of people who completed vocational training has increased over the last year of data.
In Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Rochdale, more adults graduated in 2020/21 than in 2019/20. In all other lower-skilled areas, levels fell, with Leicester and Blackburn and Darwen down by more than a fifth.
The picture is even worse in the last two years (between 2018/19 and 2020/21). During this time period, which includes the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, none of the lowest-skilled areas of the country saw an increase in skill levels.
Adult education and learning has plummeted over the last ten years of Conservative government. Some 1.9 million adults took the course in 2012/13, but that figure more than halved to 860,000 last year.
Chris Morgan is Director of Employment and Skills for the adult education charity Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). He said spotlight that while the government’s recent focus on skills development is welcome, the long-term decline in adult education and learning has been primarily a funding issue.
“There’s less collateral, fewer suppliers, and that’s because there’s less funding,” he said. “Funding has not only been reduced since 2010, I think by a quarter, but the funding rates do not change every year, which means that it is distributed more thinly. With funding from 16 to 19 years old, it is regularly reviewed and funding is increased, whereas with adult education, it is funded on an activity basis.”
In much of the country — not just the lowest-skilled areas — the number of adults who have completed vocational training has declined over the past couple of years, which the government says is a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the areas that the government says are most in need of additional training have generally seen a larger decline in the number of people completing courses, and preliminary data for the first half of the 2021/22 academic year shows that these areas with low qualifications did not amount to any significant land.
Morgan said the pandemic has disproportionately affected the most disadvantaged adult learners: “We see that it has hit the most disadvantaged the hardest, because those are the same people who probably don’t have online learning equipment. . For those who study online, it’s not just hardware, it’s a specification of hardware that even needs to be running, things like a regular stable internet connection, not to mention the actual skill set for online learning and computer login. So we’ve seen how across the country, our most disadvantaged communities have really had a multiplier effect on them because of the pandemic.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said: “We have an ambitious upscaling mission to increase the number of people successfully trained in high-quality skills by 200,000, with another 80,000 people taking courses in low-skill areas. Our investments, including £1.6bn through the National Skills Fund over the next three years, are already showing results. The number of people starting an apprenticeship across England this year has returned to pre-pandemic levels and thousands are taking advantage of the opportunity to upgrade or retrain for free in one of our continuing education courses.”