Commercial adult learning: the mobile gin school

Gin Lane by William Hogarth (1750-51)

Adult learning in Britain has recently been the focus of much public policy, but publicly-funded adult learning has seen better days. This paradox continues to frustrate and annoy me, but at the same time I am fascinated by some of the quirky learning activities that are springing up on a commercial basis.

This morning’s Yorkshire Post reported on a plan to launch a mobile gin school. It turns out that gin schools are fairly numerous and have been going for some time. Who knew? The Nairns’ won’t be the UK’s first mobile gin school – that honour belongs to ‘Still on the Move’ in Devon – but it will be the first in Yorkshire.

Rather than learners driving to a distillery to develop their gin-making skills, Jamie and Charlotte Nairn plan to drive their still around East Yorkshire and teach people how to produce their own gin, whether in their on homes or as part of an organised group event such as a wedding.

The Nairns’ courses will include hands-on activities, and culminate in the learners producing their own 70 cl bottle. According to the Post, the classes will last two and a half hours, with 45 minutes for the actual distilling process. If you’re happy with your product, the Nairns will use your recipe to produce more.

I’m guessing that this won’t be cheap. The Devon Gin School advertises gift vouchers at £75 (£85 for weekends), entitling two people to attend a class at one of its shops; the price includes one bottle of the participant’s gin. The Edinburgh-based gin school Sip Antics charges £105 for two, including cocktails while your gin distills.

I don’t know whether a mobile still will be more or less costly than these shop- or bar-based courses. The Post report certainly makes it all sound very simple. The Nairns think the practical challenges are manageable, and apparently the Revenue is satisfied that it can put arrangements in place to collect duty.

I don’t think I’ll be calling on the Nairns myself as I don’t really enjoy spirits. But this venture has echoes of 1970s experiments in taking provision to remote learners by means of travelling vans, and it is a good example of a type of adult learning that can’t be delivered digitally (cue jokes about blended learning).

Finally, I find the idea of a mobile gin school an interesting example of how fashion and consumerism can combine with adult learning. Other types of commercial adult learning to strike me recently include cupcakes, graffiti, and mountain skills. It looks as though this sector is quite good at spotting niche markets.

Lifelong Learning and the new German Coalition

The party leaders announce their coalition agreement (hint: the Greens aren’t wearing ties)

Germans are used to coalition governments, but this one is different. It’s not uncommon to have three parties sharing power at state level, but at federal level it is new. And the three parties have quite divergent underlying ideologies, with the Free Democrats (FDP, often known colloquially as Die Liberalen) believing fundamentally in strong individual freedom and a limited role for the state while the Social Democrats favour greater intervention and regulation and the Greens have their roots in civic movements and environmental action.

This makes for interesting times. Much media attention outside Germany has focused on possible tensions over the economy, where the FDP will try to promote fiscal conservatism; and foreign policy, where the Greens and FDP are likely to take a strong line on human rights. Further, while all three parties are broadly pro-European, the FDP is hostile to tendencies towards a Euro-super-state, and the SPD is more inclined to share Macron’s vision of a grand project of Europeanisation.

Relatively little light has been shone so far on the coalition’s plans for education. This might not be a surprise; after all, education is constitutionally a matter for each state to determine, so why would the federal government build into its plans something it has limited responsibility for? A quick look at the formal coalition agreement shows that, on the contrary, education – and particularly lifelong learning – is very much part of the new agenda.

A simple word search tells us a lot about the new government’s priorities in lifelong learning. There is no mention of lebenslanges Lernen.The word Erwachsenenbildung, or adult education, only appears once, but as it is a section heading it isn’t exactly marginal. Rather impressively, though, the word Weiterbildung (further education or continuing education) appears 37 times. So on this simple measure there is plenty of interest in both general adult education and in particularly in the more work-related forms of adult learning.

First, let’s look at the section on Erwachsenenbildung. it comprises four paragraphs which start by proposing investment in digital infrastructure for public adult education centres and support for adult literacy, moves on to the simplification and acceleration of recognition for prior learning, includes the strengthening of political education, and promises to promote education for sustainable development at all levels of education. Most of this is uncontroversial, and is in line with the coalition parties’ shared belief that Germany under Merkel has been a slow adopter of digitisation. The emphasis on sustainable development and citizenship education is likely to reflect pressure from the Greens.

Bettina Stark-Watzinger, the new Federal Minister of Education and Research

The idea of continuing education is threaded throughout the coalition agreement, usually in connection with economic modernisation. It first appears on page 5 in connection with targeted investment in upskilling to support modernisation and growth, and is repeatedly used in association with digitisation. The coalition agreement also promises further development of the National Strategy for Continuing Education, with specific reference to mid-career retraining, and It contains sector-related proposals for continuing education in health and social care and early years education, as well as investment in digital competences for teachers, and in knowledge transfer training for researchers. There is even a reference to upskilling tax officers to investigate work in the black economy and financial crime.

As well as the various specific mentions, the agreement devotes a section to Weiterbildung, the opening paragraph of which begins: ‘In times of digital and demographic change, a targeted National Strategy for Continuing Education is an important precondition for reaching our economic and social goals’.

Specifically, this section promises a review of training assistance schemes with a view to to extending statutory financial support for those upgrading work-related qualifications and introduce ‘life chances’ savings accounts that promote participation by the low-skilled; it promises a stronger role for the Labour Agency in ensuring upskilling and providing guidance as well as supporting enterprises in coping with structural change; and it proposes further development of the national online continuing education platform, along with financial incentives for unemployed adults to upskill.

Then there are also a few proposals relating to the initial vocational education system. This interested me, as the Social Democrats tend to be fairly satisfied with the dual system of apprenticeship, while the Free Democrats think it rather rigidly tied into a dated social partnership model and the Greens tend to worry about equity and access. The Free Democrats’ influence is probably visible in the general commitment to simplify the system, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, and promote digitisation of its administration, as well as increase permeability between academic and vocational education. Green Party influence can be seen in proposals to improve access to Master Apprentice training, as well as provide support for people with migrant backgrounds and women to enter skilled trades.

How much of this will be translated into specific policy interventions remains to be seen Rarely in anything in Germany simple and straightforward, and in the case of education – including adult education – much legal power lies with the states rather than the federal government. In the case of vocational education, the social partners – employers’ associations, trade unions, chamber of commerce – also have significant say in what happens. And then there’s the fact that the federal minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, an economist who spent several years in the City of London, is a member of the smallest party in the coalition, the FDP.

I’m no specialist on German politics, so I’d be wise to avoid firm predictions. What does seem clear is that while there is a very marked emphasis on lifelong learning as a vehicle for economic modernisation in general and digitisation in particular, the agreement also contains clear commitments to support for public adult education institutions with their broad remit, as well as specific commitments to adult basic education, citizenship education, and education for sustainable development. So the next few years should be full of lessons to those in other countries with an interest in adult learning.

Global Britain in UNESCO: will the UK respond to the next Global Report on Adult Learning and education?

In 2022, UNESCO will publish its fifth global report on adult learning and education. Based on responses from UNESCO member states, the report will monitor the development of adult learning and education (ALE) across the world; it will also include a focus on the role of ALE in supporting active and global citizenship. But will the UK take part?

Sadly, the signs aren’t encouraging. The UK went unrepresented at the European regional consultation that is responsible for preparing the next monitoring conference, and the UK failed to respond to UNESCO’s fourth global monitoring report on ALE, GRALE 4.

Fortytwo countries from UNESCO’s European region responded to GRALE 4, published in 2019. The UK found itself among a mere six non-respondents, who included Monaco, San Merino, Israel (whose relationship to UNESCO is fraught), and the Ukraine, who were at war at the time. The UK shares with Monaco the distinction of failing to respond either to GRALE 4 or GRALE 3.

Given that 159 UNESCO member states did manage to respond, up from 139 who responded in 2015, this is disappointing. It sits ill with the government’s claim to be outward-looking and global in its perspective. It also reflects badly on the UK’s national UNESCO Commission, who failed to act and help the government avoid this embarrassment. The UK’s UNESCO Commission also has responsibility for the country’s involvement in the region’s preparatory conferences in the lead up to the 2022 International Conference that will discuss performance and ambitions in member states’ policies for ALE.

For me, this sorry state of neglect poses three questions. First, it made me ask why the UK government doesn’t see GRALE as an obviously useful tool in assessing its own ambitions and achievements in adult skills. Bear in mind that the UK government has placed skills at the centre of its industrial strategy, the Prime Minister has repeatedly argued for skills and education in ‘levelling up’ the regions and nations of the UK, and all for nations claim that futher education is significant politically. 

Second,it is time for a closer look at the UK’s National Commission for UNESCO. It probably comes as  no surprise to learn that its Board includes no one with a backgound in or public interest in ALE, but this is nonetheless the body which ensures the UK’s representation at key UNESCO gatherings, and which advises the UK and devolved governments on UNESCO-related issues. Is it simply ignoring correspondence on ALE, or is offering advice on ALE issues that the UK government ignores?

Third, it made me wonder whether it isn’t time for the UK to ask UNESCO to treat it as a federation of four states. Education policy in the UK is a devolved matter. Other countries seem to handle devolution without difficulty; if the Faroe Islands Government submitted its own response to GRALE 4 without any objection from Denmark, why not the UK?


Crime fiction: the writer as adult educator

In a rare sortie into the outside world this summer, we spent half a day in August visiting the Farne Islands. A group of 15-20 rocky islands in the North Sea (the precise number depends on the tide), they are managed by the National Trust, and are rightly famous for their wildlife and for their association with Grace Darling. They also featured in Series 7, Episode 1 of Vera.

The Vera novels, written by Ann Cleeves, are fine British police procedural novels. Cleeves’ central character is Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is a dishevelled, badly dressed, irrascible, overweight, stubborn, compassionate yet solitary-minded woman who is also an inspired investigator. Her character and appearance were softened for television, where she is played by the superb Brenda Blethyn. I enjoy both series, different though they are, not least for their Northumberland setting, but I’ve not spotted any obvious ties with the wonderful world of adult learning.

The author, though, is making her mark in the field. More precisely, she is contributing to literacy work through the Reading for Wellbeing project that she is funding. Through the projecct, community reading workers have undertaken training and are working with local health centres and others in disadvantaged north-eastern communities “support, empower and motivate individuals to take proactive steps to improve their health and wellbeing by providing practical help though access to books and spaces/places for reading, and emotional support through improved confidence in reading and relationship building”.

Cleeves describes the initiative as rooted in her own experience, in several ways. First is her own engagement with reading as a source of comfort while supporting her husband through profound mental health challenges. Second was her career as a librarian in Kirklees, where the local library service pioneered a social prescribing programme for patients with depression or chronic pain. Cleeves later went on to help set up reading groups for groups as diverse as prisoners, men in pubs, and bus drivers.

Cleeves is fnot the only successful crime writer with a track record of supporting adult learners. Among others, Martyn Waites, who worked with teenage ex-offenders before publishing crime fiction set in Newcastle, has held two writing residencies in prisons as well as delivering drama and creative writing workshops to socially excluded adults and teenagers in South London and Essex. And several crime authors have taught creative writing at one stage or another in their careers.

Returning to Ann Cleeves’ project, I’m afraid it’s all too easy to dismiss such initiatives such as too small to make a difference, or to say that the state should fund them rather than relying on individual charity. The reality is that all four governments in Britain don’t fund much family learning (the Kirklees programme stopped when its funding came to an end), and we have so far not managed to persuade governments that adult learning has to become a higher priority if we are to achieve a more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable society.

And we should remember our history. Adult education movements in many countries started life as voluntary initiatives long before the state became involved; in the UK we need only think of the literary and philosophical societies, the Adult School movement, or workers’ education to see the power of voluntarism in beating a path towards a wider recognition of the need for adult learning and education. Reading for Wellbeing is being evaluated, so let’s see what it can contribute – I certainly wish it well.

Adult education and municipal enterprise: Learning from the 80s

Reading Helen Jackson’s political memoir has been both a joy and an inspiration. It is essentially the story of her political life before becoming an MP, when she rose from activist to senior councillor at a time when local government was an exciting space for experiment and innovation as well as an important source of much-needed public services. Until, that is, the Thatcher government decided that local government needed its wings clipped.

Sheffield, where Helen taught, worked, and raised a family, stood at the centre of several significant developments. Before the mass unemployent of the early 1980s, the City Council was one of a number of radical local authorities that sought to protect and expand public services such as housing and education, and led a number of radical new policies such as South Yorkshire’s much-loved policy of freezing bus fares (I have happy memories of taking my daughter into town at the princely sum of 12p each way).

As unemployment hit hard at the region’s traditional (male) industries in the early 80s, the Council shifted to using its position as an employer and purchaser to promote local employment, promote equality of access to work, and to improve the quality of jobs on offer, while woeking in partnership with an initially reluctant business community to support enterprise and attract new jos. And it was striking how strong a role adult education played in this process.

Helen is well-placed to comment on these developments. As an increasingly vocal champion of women’s rights and advocate of racial justice, and as an influential elected office-holder responsible for the large direct works department, as well as being an educator herself, she is able to give an authoritative account of the part played by adult education in Sheffield’s municipal socialism.

Three of these initiatives are particularly worth mentioning. First is the opening of Northern College, the first residential adult college in the north of England, which stood out for its commitment to a broad conception of social justice which linked class, gender and ethnicity to its educational work, and continues to do important work with adults to this day. Keith Jackson, the College’s first deputy principal, was then Helen’s husband.

While the College partly emerged from the strong tradition of trade union education and industrial day release schemes in South Yorkshire, Helen also points to other important influences in the Workers’ Educational Association and some of the innovative community development work launched by the Home Office in 1969. She notes that the College was an early adopter of free childcare for students, initially funded by an outside grant and later absorbed into the ongoing budget.

Second, Helen describes the pioneering work of the women who challenged gender stereotyping in traditionally male manual crafts. It’s easy now to forget how innovative – and controversial – it was for women to train as garage mechanics or builders, and then work successfully in their new trades. Women from this group went on to train others through further education and through new training programmes for women, as well as helping influence the Council to adopt gender monitoring in its own employment practices.

The third pioneering initiative was the Take Ten scheme of paid educational leave for the Council’s manual workers. As the name implied, Council workers could take a day a week off to attend a tailored course for ten weeks; against expectations, some 270 attended in the first year alone, with priority going to the low-paid and those with no previous qualifications.

There were others. For example, the Council established a Community Work Apprenticeship Scheme, recruiting people from disadvantaged backgrounds to train as community workers rather than relying on the largely white middle class graduates who would otherwise have taken these roles. There’s also the informal learning that informed Helen’s gender politics, among other areas. But that’s probably enough to give a flavour of the book’s account of adult eduction’s contribution to municipal enterprise in the conditions of the 1980s.

It’s striking to work out how much of this thinking and experience was carried over into the early Blair years after 1997, when Helen became Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Particularly while David Blunkett was Secretary of State for Education, the early Blair government supported and promoted lifelong learning as a vehicle for employability and social justice, in ways that have still to be systematically evaluated; but it is also striking that the Labour governments subsequently back-pedalled on much of this work.

What conclusions do I draw from this? First, the book provides a coherent account of adult learning’s role in promoting social change and civic engagement as well as economic regeneration. Second, it shows how local government can serve as a test-bed for broader strategies – something worth remembering given the devolution of adult education budgets to the English regions.

Third, and most important, it made me wonder why the 1997-99 innovations were so easily overturned. On Helen Jackson’s account, the Sheffield adult education measures were popular as well as effective, so that opposition was eventually overcome. But that wasn’t the experience at national level.

With the benefit of hindsight, I’m not convinced that after 1997 we – the adult learning community – did enough to generate enthusiasm and build support for the new policies. Consequently the Treasury found it easy to persuade later ministers that adult education was all cost and no benefit, and could cheerfully be dismissed as a luxury rather than a national necessity.

Batley and Spen: An adult educator enters Parliament

Kim Leadbeater speaking at the launch of the Government’s loneliness strategy in 2018 (Tracey Crouch, the Minister, is on the right)

The Batley and Spen by-election was marked by heightened religious and political tensions during the campaign, followed by a result that upset the bookmakers’ expectations and overturned the predictions of many political commentators. And it returned a candidate who is best-known outside the constituency for being the sister of a murdered former MP, but locally is probably best known as an adult educator.

Kim Leadbeater started her working life in sales before becoming a mature student at Leeds Beckett University. She took a first class Bachelor’s degree in health and fitness, followed by a PGCE in further education at Huddersfield University, which she achieved while lecturing part-time at Bradford College in physical activity, health and well-being, as well as working for herself as a personal trainer and well-being consultant.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Leadbeater left the College after ten years in 2016, but continued her private teaching until her selection in May. She has also been active in a number of voluntary roles, most notably as an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation, set up to honour her sister’s memory by working for community cohesion and social justice (this is the capacity in which Tracey Crouch invited Leadbeater to help launch the government’s loneliness strategy).

In a House of Commons full of people whose careers were either in student unions, policy think tanks or piublic relations, Batley and Spen’s new MP brings many years of experience in adult education as well as a track record of advocacy for equity and inclusion. She’ll have a lot competing demands on her time and energy, but I’m very much hoping she still finds space to argue the case for adult learners.

Adult Education under Pandemic Conditions: Challenges & Perspectives

Across the world, the pandemic has transformed adult education. After over a year, some governments are looking at a falling number of infections, and starting to relax restrictions; elsewhere, the situation is deteriorating. It seems as good time as any to take stock of the pandemic’s impact and the sector’s response, and this Call for Papers is therefore highly timely:

The Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all aspects of life, including lifelong learning and adult education. It has had a profound impact on the formats, demand, and opportunities for adult education. Most notably, there has been an increase in digital formats and online learning, whereas many forms of in-person instruction were postponed, canceled, or reduced in scope. On the supply side, the pandemic has shaped the conditions under which providers can operate and offer instruction. Regarding participants, demand for adult education has increased in some areas because changes in working and living conditions triggered by the pandemic require new skills and decreased in others due to fear of infection.

As all great disruptions, the pandemic also offers potential for creative innovation and long-term change. Now that the pandemic is in its second year, it is possible to both review the impact the pandemic has had so far as well as take a first outlook at prospective ways in which the past year will transform adult education in the future.

The editors invite submissions that discuss the impact the pandemic has had on adult education, broadly defined. Topics might include but are not limited to changes in instruction and participation, the impact the pandemic has had on educators, learners and institutions, increased digitalization and associated challenges, social inequality and vulnerable groups, and changing demand and supply for specific subfields or subgroups.

The Call is from the leading German journal for adult & further education research, the Zeitschrift für Weiterbildungsforschung. The journal is refereed, publishes open access contributions in English and German, and is issued by the prestigious Deutsches Institut für Erwachsenenbildung. The CfP will soon appear on the journal’s website, but in the meantime you can send queries to Dr. Kerstin Hoenig of the DIE at:

“He didn’t believe in adult education” – Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein

Saul Bellow was well into his 80s when he published Ravelstein, a portrait of a brilliant, opinionated, knowledgeable and influential philosopher – generally thought to have been modelled on Bellow’s friend, the classicist, philosopher, and conservative cultural critic Allan Bloom.

I took an instant and deep dislike to the novel’s central character, not so much for his opinions as for what I saw as his bumptious, show-off, intolerant, judgemental, controlling personality. I also recognise the book’s achievement as a complex exploration of love, friendship, learning, consumption and Jewishness, but I didn’t much enjoy it.

Bellow portrays Ravelstein’s character through the eyes of the narrator, an old friend of the philosopher. The narrator is not a philosopher, and he reflects on his lack of understanding as Ravelstein lies in the final stages of his illness: “I was too old to be a pupil, and Ravelstein didn’t believe in adult education. It was far too late for me to Platonize”.

Make of that what you will. Maybe Bellow is alluding to one of Allan Bloom’s deeply held prejudices, in this case against adult learners. Or perhaps Bellow was simply inserting another example of his hero’s fixed opinions, in a further development – if you can call it that – of the Ravelstein character.

Bob Fryer, 1944-2020: Adult educator, scholar, advocate and baby-sitter

Bob Fryer is probably most widely known for chairing an influential advisory committee that helped shape New Labour’s policies for lifelong learning. But many people will also have encountered him as a teacher, researcher, advocate, and leader across fields such as industrial relations, employment, and social policy as well as adult learning. His influence in all these areas was far-reaching.

Bob also made an intensely practical contribution. I first met him in the mid-70s, when I was working on my PhD at Warwick University, where Bob was chair of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Our families belonged to the same baby-sitting circle in the Coventry suburb of Earlsdon, so I or my partner occasionally baby-sat his kids and he and his partner Ann baby-sat ours. I also saw him at research seminars in the Sociology Department where he was then a senior lecturer.

I left Warwick in 1978 to start teaching at a new adult college in Barnsley, so the next I heard of Bob was a phone call from him asking a few sharp questions about the college. I didn’t know that he was thinking of applying to become the college’s principal until he was short-listed. Bob led Northern College for fifteen years, at a time when financial and political pressures could easily have ended its life.

I left the college in 1985 to return to Warwick, so I didn’t see Bob’s long term impact at first hand. In the short term, he acted to strengthen the college’s somewhat under-staffed and chaotic administration, bring in Mo Mowlam as a senior administrator (though Mo could be something of an occasional presence, given her other interests); he brought in new groups of learners through his connections with trade unions; he built his own relations with the South Yorkshire councils and the miners’ union (his predecessor, Michael Barratt Brown, had his own ties with these groups, who were vital for the college’s health); he worked hard at wider political connections; he built a close working relationship with Sheffield Hallam University; and he enjoyed teaching the lively students we worked with.

It was an exciting time, and I thought long and hard before making the move to Warwick. One of the attractions of moving was the opportunity to help develop a new department – which itself had been created following a report from a Senate working group that Bob had led, and Bob was generous in advice in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, he was taking the college forward, and also starting to think through some of his ideas for rebuilding adult learning. He knew David Blunkett, who had been one of the college’s governors and as leader of Sheffield City Council was adopting the ideas of policy thinkers like Martin Yarnit, including the pioneering Take Ten scheme of paid educational leave for municipal workers.

So it was no surprise that Bob was involved in New Labour’s policy development around adult learning. Like Blunkett, he had nothing much against Blair’s embrace of education as “our best economic policy”, but what excited him – and Blunkett – was education as a crucible of active citizenship and social justice. He also brought a sardonic wit to his interventions. When some on the left disparaged his focus on getting working class peoiple into university, Bob replied that he noticed that the higher someone’s own qualifications, the more likely they were to proclaim the irrelevance of qualifications for other people.

Bob was an Oxford boy in his origins, but his family background lay in the city’s manufacturing community rather than the university, and he always seemed to treat his roots as a touchstone for his educational thinking. That thinking was probably expressed most eloquently in David Blunkett’s visionary foreword to The Learning Age, which set out the new government’s proposals for lifelong learning. I always assumed (wrongly, though that’s another story) that Bob drafted the foreword, while Blunkett then fine-tuned it.

Turning that vision into policy was another matter. On being appointed secretary of state for education, Blunkett created a number of advisory committees, one of which Bob chaired. The National Advisory Group on Lifelong Learning published its first report in 1997, and Blunkett moved rapidly to move on the main recommendations. Well, on what he saw as the main recommendations: the report devoted by far its longest chapter to recommendations, followed by a chapter on how to manage the process of change.

As a member of the Fryer committee, my impression was that the main lines of actual policy development had been thought out in the years before New Labour came to power in 1997. That wasn’t in itself a bad thing, as the earlier work strengthened Blunkett’s hand when it came to implementing the policies. I can only imagine the horror of senior civil servants – especially at the Treasury – when told to introduce Individual Learning Accounts, the Union Learning Fund, and the University for Industry.

Bob conrinued to play a central role in this period, not only chairing the committee as it produced its second report, but also accepting virtually any invitation to speak about lifelong learning. Indefatigable, he travelled these islands and beyond to generate a wider momentum behind the first report, taking several speaker engagements a week to share his vision of an active and inclusive learning culture that was supported by institutions and funding arrangements that placed learners at their centre.

Most people have long since forgotten the Fryer Committee’s second report, which appeared in 1999. Unlike the first, barely none of true second report had any impact, either on policy or on public debate over lifelong learning. Its title – Creating learning cultures: next steps in achieving the learning age – was promising, but in retrospect it lacked focus, and was missing in analytical precision. We’d learned one lesson from experience: this time we narrowed our recommendations down to eight key and twenty-three supplementary proposals. This was still far too many, of course.

More importantly, Blunkett’s focus had shifted, and he was paying far more attention to the politically-popular – and contentious – area of schools policy. Bob had also moved on, and was running New College at Southampton University, taking an able deputy with him and enjoying a secondment to the University for Industry where he worked with colleagues from the public sector union Unison on proposals for what became the National Health Service University.

Bob’s appointment as the NHSU’s first chief executive was announced in late 2001, and the University opened two years later. For whatever reason – my understanding is that senior civil servants took the first opportunity to kill off something they’d never wanted, Labour politicians were less than supportive, and the workforce formed a perception that Bob had staffed the new body with chums with no health service experience – NHSU was abruptly closed in 2005, and Bob found himself in the role of the NHS’s director for widening participation in learning. Its legacy was minimal, partly because almost all those involved directly in NHSU left the NHS fairly quickly.

Bob continued a wider contribution through other organisations and campaigns, largely in the voluntary sector. He remained a strong supporter of inclusive learning, and he was generous in supporting other woking in the area. In recent years his health deteriorated; the last time I saw him was at a seminar in 2019 to celebrate his work. He was physically frail but mentally lively, still championing the values that he had promoted an a scholar, advocate, practitioner, and activist. It visibly moved him to see so many old friends, colleagues, former students and allies turning out to share memories and expore his old preoccupations and passions.

Now he has left us. My personal memories are of a congenial companion, a generous and supportive colleague, a world-class raconteur, a hard-working colleague, a loving family man, and a committed activist who – though I think unintentionally – made me look closely at work and its transformations, and challenged some of my more orthodox thinking on class and inequalities. As a scholar he was knowledgeable and thoughtful, but for some reason everything he wrote simply got longer and longer; he seems to have needed a selfless co-author or a firm editor to help him get finished.

His most substantial contributions seem to me to have been institutional – just keeping Northern College alive would have been no mean feat, but growing it and protecting its distinctiveness was a real achievement; and political, in the work he put into the early years of New Labour’s first government not just in shaping specific policies, but also in generating support and enthusiasm for those policies. That’s a pretty good memorial, and I think he’d have been proud and happy if that was how we remember him.

Lexicometric methods in the study of lifelong learning

I was recently asked to provide a foreword to a new study of the troubled relationship between lifelong learning research and European education policy. The author, Lisa Breyer, was formerly a colleague at the University of Cologne, and is now a head of department at the Volkshochschule Rhein-Erft. While her book is in German, she has published lexicometric analyses in English on approaches to social justice in adult education and on comparisons of national adult education policies.

Given the widespread use of ‘critical discourse analysis’ in Anglophone research in our field, I was delighted to read and recommend a rather different and – as I see it – more grounded method of analysing the languages of lifelong learning policy. If you want to read more of Lisa’s own work in English then take a look at the two papers I mentioned above. What follows here is an expanded and slightly reworked English language version of my foreword.

Adult education research has to position itself in a field rich with tensions, which is influenced by scholarly theory, educational policy, and practical pedagogic demands. Unlike most academic disciplines, the study of adult education developed out of the field of practice, and was also shaped by policy measures. At the same time, policy actors increasingly support their decisions with reference to research findings and recommendations, all in the name of evidence-based policy. Relatively few studies so far have been concerned with the relationship between and form of the communication process between research and policy.

In our field at least, this book presents a new approach to policy research. Lisa Breyer has gone beyond standard approaches, contributing both to our understanding of policy influence and to our methodological repertoire, as well as provoking reflection on the much-debated relationship between policy and research, by subjecting a corpus of 288 texts from adult education research and education policy covering a 20-year period to lexicometric analysis. Her findings force us to think again about the relations between policy and research.

While much discourse analysis tends to be based on the researcher’s reading of a relatively small number of texts, Dr Breyer uses lexicometric techniques to examine and compare the ways in which the core concepts of „Lebenslanges Lernen“ (lifelong learning) und „Kompetenz“ (skill) feature in systematically selected papers from the European Commission as well as in journal articles by adult education researchers. Her analysis of the findings sheds light on relations between research and policy in adult education, as well as on the differing ways in which researchers and policy-makers understand, use, and contextualise the basic concepts in the field. Indeed, even where there is a shared use of terms like lebenslanges Lernen and Kompetenz, Breyer’s findings show that the very notion of a field of adult education is often understood very differently by policy actors and researchers.

Although some of these patterns will seem familiar to readers, as in the divergence between the economic and employment focus of policy as against the emancipatory and critical values of researchers, the book provides a rich variety of evidence and  a refined analysis of the complexities and nuances that can be found. She also examines the attention that each party pays to the other: while researchers refer explicitly to the European level of policy, policy-makers implicitly privilege comparative survey data as their main source of research evidence while turning to researchers as a source of evidence-based policy. This evolving relationship, Breyer contends, means that it is necessary to redefine the relationship between research and policy.

These reflections complement other research and publications of the DIE, particularly in respect to system and policy. However, the book also serves as a case study in a relatively new method. Breyer has adapted her lexicometric approach to the discipline of adult education research and applied it to a corpus of 288 texts, and concludes that the method allows us to identify patterns and relationships that cannot be shown by analysing a handful of texts. This seems to me to have wider methodological ramifications for comparative educational research in general, as well as for adult education research in particular. I am not aware of any other lexicometric study in adult education of such scale and ambition; and personally I am convinced that she has abundantly demonstrated the potential of this approach, and thus makes an important contribution to our methodological debates.