Series Three of the Let’s Go Further podcast put adult education under the spotlight, asking whether it is as relevant today as it was more than 100 years ago when it was first established.


The series recently concluded with a final episode featuring The Rt Hon. the Baroness Morgan of Cotes and Jason Richards, recipient of the Festival of Learning New Directions Award in 2023.


This series featured prominent figures from across the education sector and covered themes such as the skills gap, adult education funding, and community learning.


Read on for the key takeaways from the series.


We need to listen to a wider range of voices


Episode Six was an opportunity to hear from an adult learner, as Jason shared his own experience of education and its impact on his life. This followed Episode Five in which Emma Beal, Principal and Chief Executive of Northern College, said, “it’s about letting students tell their own stories…I think it’s much more powerful than any amount of document writing we can do.”


Jason argued that the government and employers should focus on “the big picture, giving people a chance to earn a living, giving them a chance to get back into work, giving them a chance to build a life.”


For Jason, the support of Newground Together, who found him a facilities management course that led to employment as a caretaker, was transformational:

I’d lost what I was. I’m a man that should be working. I should be doing something with my life. That course… gave me back my pride. That gave me back who I was.


Other guests in this series argued the education sector needs to be given more of a say in policymaking. In Episode Four, Shane Chowen, Editor of FE Week, said:


“We’ve got a system at the moment which the government itself describes as unapologetically employer led, so immediately that eliminates the agency of colleges, training providers…and also immediately eliminates the agency of individual learners.”


While in Episode Two, Dr Fiona Aldridge, Head of Insight – Economic Delivery, Skills and Communities at West Midlands Combined Authority, said:

There is an amazing further education skills and adult learning sector…so don’t go away and come up with policy ideas and launch them at us, but really work with us to say, ‘how can we make this work?’

A national strategy is needed


Dr Aldridge also said, “we do miss a national strategy and a long-term well-resourced vision…there is far too much chop and change in the system.”


The desire for a national strategy for adult education was a recurring theme throughout the series. Dr Sue Pember CBE, Policy Director for HOLEX, called for this in Episode Three:

What we have is a plea for some system stability, at least a three-year window of funding, so we know where we are, and a lifelong learning strategy that brings all of the bits of government funding together.


Similarly, Baroness Morgan spoke about the need for a “nationwide, systemwide strategy” for adult careers education, following the success of this approach for young people’s careers education.


The benefits of education go far beyond skills for jobs


Another major theme of this series was how adult education does much more than fill skills gaps. In Episode One, John Holford, Robert Peers Professor of Adult Education Emeritus at the University of Nottingham and Joint Secretary to the Centenary Commission on Adult Education, said policymakers “seem to be driven by this view that the only thing that really matters in adult learning is that the economy should become more efficient.”


Professor Holford argued that adult education is essential for community cohesion and the workings of democracy, saying:

[Adult education] is not only about individual's also about communities working together, strengthening themselves, discussing problems, dealing with internal debates and disputes and so on.


Furthermore, Emma Beal said that adult education has benefits for both hard skills and personal development: “It does not need to be a separate entity; the development of skills and the development of things like resilience go hand in hand.”


In Episode Three, Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the WEA, spoke about the wider community and social benefits of adult education, such as “combatting isolation and loneliness, improving mental health and wellbeing.” Similarly, in Episode Five, The Rt Hon. the Lord Blunkett said that adult education benefits “our intelligence…our health…our community dynamism…our wellbeing.”


In Episode Four, Janet Smith, Chief Executive and Principal of Nottingham College, made the point that we should not see the benefits of education as transactional, but as more long term: “Adult education plants seeds, and you never know exactly what is going to bloom or where.”


This sector deserves more recognition


Janet said that further education should get “its proper time in the sun, because we have an invisibility issue next to other parts of the sector.” Shane Chowen echoed this, saying “we absolutely should have more people from the FE and the adult education world making decisions and holding the government to account”.


In Episode 3, Sue Pember CBE said, “this is a really good value for money sector. It offers good quality, it does what local residents want, and those local residents are voters.” She also recalled that Robert Halfon MP, Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, once called adult community education “the jewel in the education crown.”


Ahead of next year’s general election then, Let’s Go Further has provided a timely reminder of the importance of adult education, the positive impact it makes, and the need for improvements to our current system.


Stay tuned for Series Four


We hope this series has got you thinking about adult education, its purpose, and its potential to change lives.


If you have a question or comment about anything you’ve heard in this series, please join the conversation on social media. You can follow us on X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn and Facebook.


Let’s Go Further will return for Series Four in spring 2024. In the meantime, you can listen to all past episodes on our website, YouTube, or wherever else you receive your podcasts.


The Let’s Go Further podcast is produced by the Skills and Education Group in collaboration with Research Podcasts and is available wherever you receive your podcasts, including YouTube. You can follow the Skills and Education Group on LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter) and subscribe to our email newsletters.


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