Report calls for national strategy for adult education and lifelong learning

‘ Lifelong learning helps to ready us for what is to come: from automation to climate change to the four-day working week’

Adult education and lifelong learning should be regarded as a national necessity and universal benefit, a report argues this week.

The report, from the Centenary Commission – which included Co-operative College vice principal Cilla Ross – marks the centenary of a report made in 1919 by the Ministry of Reconstruction.

The Centenary Commission said that adult education is an integral aspect of citizenship and plays a vital role in addressing societal divisions. It calls for a national adult education and lifelong learning strategy to reduce the gap between the most and least educationally active.

Specific measures include appointing a minister with responsibility for adult education and lifelong learning, and the creation of and community learning accounts, alongside individual learning accounts, to fund informal, community-based learning initiatives led by local groups.

Dr Ross said: “My own view – that the challenges we face today are no less stark than those faced 100 years ago – was resolutely shared by an engaged group of commissioners as well as the many groups and individuals we interviewed for the report.

“By establishing a fully funded, adequately resourced lifelong learning provision, we can start to undo the damage that’s been done not only to publicly funded adult education in our towns and cities, but also in the lives of so many individuals and communities who have been affected by de-industrialisation and austerity. Lifelong learning helps to ready us for what is to come: from automation to climate change to the four-day working week.

“Every citizen globally needs to be equipped so that we shape our future at work and away from it – education enables us to do that. It was noted in the 1919 report that ‘The co-operative movement is the one working-class body which continuously and persistently stood for a humane education as an essential element in the social aims of democracy’. We are proud that in its centenary year, the Co-operative College, and the co-operative movement of which it is a part, continues to represent that tradition.”

Dame Helen Ghosh, master of Balliol College, Oxford and chair of the commission, said: “There is a national consensus in favour of adult education and lifelong learning. We need the next government to step up to the challenge, and deliver what is, in the words of the 1919 Report and today’s Report, ‘A Permanent National Necessity’.

“In meetings across the country our commission found a huge appetite for adult education and lifelong learning – we saw evidence of communities being brought together through imaginative educational initiatives; new groups being formed to analyse and discuss the issues of the day, including the climate crisis; and a desire to understand and prepare for the changing world of work, including among those in the ‘gig economy’ for whom provision at present is scant. Our commission’s recommendations would address all these needs.”

The College will mark the release of the report with a dedicated event at its centenary conference on 27 November.