Welsh Government Adult Learning Policy

This week the Welsh Government published their new adult learning policy.  Broadly speaking it represents a step in the right direction and recognition that adult and community learning has an important part to play in employability, well-being, building a bilingual Wales, supporting families, promoting integration, and helping people of all ages to live more independent, fulfilling lives.

It also represents a commitment from ministers and officials to rebalancing policy towards more than just skills acquisition, although this remains central.  It highlights the importance of learning for older people, the role ACL can play in starting the learning journey, and the value it has in helping those furthest from the labour market.  It is less utilitarian, more holistic and a better starting point for planning provision.

There is a lot to welcome and the policy reflects a lot of what Learning and Work Institute Cymru has been saying for some time.  That doesn’t mean to say it goes far enough in some areas and the overall funding position means the sector could be asked to do more with less – and only then after demand for Essential Skills has been met.

It does though offer the chance of widening the curriculum and addressing the findings of the Welsh Government commissioned Arad Report.  It is impossible to overstate the importance of local partnerships in making this work on the ground.  We know the ones that work best are those that are wide-reaching, have high-levels of engagement and commitment, and plan provision together with a focus on quality, progression and avoiding duplication.

The policy is a challenge to other public services.  The focus on older people and those furthest from the labour market will work better if there is real engagement from social care services, local NHS providers, public health, and housing associations.  By pooling resources and planning together we can give citizens (not the single agency descriptors of learners, tenants, clients or patients) the services and opportunities they want and need.

One area where there is real scope for positive change is the commitment to working with schools to use the Pupil Development Grant to better engage parents, carers, and families in learning.  There is already some incredible best practice in our schools, not least the Inspire Award winning Treorchy Primary School.  For plenty of parents their own school experience wasn’t positive but almost universally they want don’t want that to stop them supporting their own children. Good schools have been able to harness this to improve outcomes for children, but also to start adults on their own learning journey – including on to higher education.  The challenge now is for providers and schools to step up and grab the chance this gives.

I know this might seem an overly positive outlook.  But on balance there is lots in here that is good and that we can (and should) look to work with in a creative way.  Fundamentally we still need to make the case for more funding and to ensure that there is good, wide-ranging provision in all communities.  This is a better place to start from and it is up to the sector to translate this into good opportunities in communities – and to show why adult and community learning is a worthwhile investment for government.