More on NALS 2010 – firing a shotgun at both feet?

My previous blog looked at the huge decline in participation in adult learning recorded by the National Adult Learning Survey. My quick analysis showed that while overall participation fell by 11% from the level of 80% recorded in 2005, it had fallen faster and further for some groups than others. Essentially, I showed that policy makers had decided to penalise older learners and the least educated, and had also undermined the role of adult learning in promoting social mobility. 

This blog turns to the ways in which different types of learning have been eroded by recent government policies. After the Leitch Review of skills, the Labour Government in 2007 decided to concentrate public funding on vocational skills and on courses leading to a Level 2 qualification. This policy has been continued by the Coalition and has also been adopted by the Nationalist Government in Scotland. 

NALS shows that in practice, this narrow policy goal has failed. Since 2005, participation in courses leading to qualifications has fallen by 7%, and participation in skills-related courses has fallen by 6%. The number learning for professional development has fallen by 10%. They couldn’t even get this right – by attacking the lifelong learning system, in effect, successive governments have managed to erode the vocational training that they claimed to be endorsing and prioritising. 

Future intentions have also been damaged. The proportion who say they are not likely to take future job-related learning has increased by 9% since 2005, while the proportion who are ‘very likely’ to do so fell by 14%. 

Unsurprisingly, cost emerges as a major issue. While the two surveys are not directly comparable, the price paid by most learners in 2010 was considerably higher than in 2005, and the proportion of people who identified price as an obstacle was also much larger. Again, this reflects Labour policies, including the abolition (in England) of Individual Learning Accounts and the attack on those adult and further education courses that did not meet Ministers’ policy priorities. 

Finally, it is interesting to compare the NALS results with Geoff Mason’s study of the Labour Force Survey. Mason reported a growth in participation between 1999 and 2002, followed by a decline from 2003 to 2009; this included a decline in vocational training over the same period. While this is broadly consistent with NALS, Mason’s more detailed analysis was not so easily squared with NALS. In particular, he found that older workers’ participation (50-59) stayed constant, nor did he find above-average falls for the least well qualified. 

These surveys are conducted in different ways, so it is not surprising that they produce different results. It would be good to see an independent researcher taking a closer look at the NALS dataset, to ask a more – and more detailed – questions about the trends between 2005 and 2010. At present, though, it looks to me like a clear story of policy failure.

The NALS report is at: www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/further-education-skills/docs/n/12-p164-national-adult-learner-survey-2010.pdf

Geoff Mason’s study is at: http://www.llakes.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/GM-paper-15-online.pdf

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