MPs warn over adult education course closures

Adult learning courses across the country could be closed because of the government’s focus on “skills and employability”, a group of MPs has warned.

The latest further education report condemned Alan Johnson for his “grossly over-simplified” approach which has led to a number of higher education institutions shutting courses down.

Chairman of the Labour dominated education and skills select committee, Barry Sheerman, slammed the government’s desire to teach “more plumbing, less Pilates”, saying it denied the wide-ranging benefits of education.

The Labour MP for Huddersfield added: “Many courses available to adult learners are helpful to their careers and should be recognised as such.

“Whilst I welcome the government’s recent statements on the importance of further education, the department still has to improve its planning and funding framework, and to spell out to colleges the practical implications of its policies.”

The committee accepted that limited funding meant that “difficult choices” had to be made over spending, but said there had been an “unacceptable decline” in the number of courses on offer.

The MPs demanded the government spell out what it means by “skills and employability”. They stressed: “the dividing line between what is of value – to individuals and to the economy – and what is less so, is nowhere near as clear as is currently implied in government rhetoric.”

The report also urges the government to use the next spending review to close the funding gap between schools and colleges and stressed it was important to improve “the quality of provision”.

Welcoming the report, further education minister Bill Rammell said the government was determined to transform further education “and deliver the world class system we need for our future prosperity”.

He noted that the report supports recommendations in the government’s recent further education white paper, adding: “We want a system that is truly responsive to learners and employers.

The University and College Union (UCU) insisted that while courses might not be directly linked to specific occupations, “soft skills” needed for working life often provided an indirect route into jobs.

Head of further education Barry Lovejoy said the government’s employability drive has resulted in confusion and “a growing crisis in adult education.”

He echoed the report’s claim that course closures are “often the result of hasty decisions based on cash shortages rather than careful planning targeting struggling courses”.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) was frustrated at the report, claiming it should have focused more on closing funding gaps between schools and colleges.

General secretary Mary Bousted said: “It is extremely disappointing that the pay and conditions of staff in FE have still not been addressed.”