Learning Through Life Thursday, September 24, 2009 - 16:50

Learning Through Life front cover

Learning Through Life calls for a rethink of the way Government, employers and individuals spend an estimated £55 billion every year on lifelong learning. If this investment were to be reshaped radically, the foundations would be laid for a genuinely learning society with entitlements to broad education and training throughout life in the UK.

The present system is heavily front-loaded, favouring the young and already advantaged. This leaves too many people under-equipped to deal with the accelerating health, social, technological and economic changes all adults face as we go through the different stages of our lives.

As life patterns become more complex and less predictable with increased job changes, greater geographical and social mobility and more frequent family changes, adults need ever greater skills and knowledge to remain successful, fulfilled and independent.

Moreover, a rapidly ageing and dependent population will lead to a steep rise in the numbers of people who are socially and economically excluded, unless they can gain greater skills to control and give quality to their own lives. Failure to tackle these issues will waste talent and create an ever greater health and welfare burden on families and the taxpayer.

These are central messages in Learning Through Life, the report of a two-year Independent Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning sponsored by NIACE.

The 290-page report outlines a 10 to 15-year vision of radical reform around the key proposals set out below:

  • Rebalancing sensibly and fairly the £55 billion spent by Government, business and individuals to provide learning for all, for work and leisure.
  • Of this, £3.2 billion to be released for people over 25 - which can be achieved as youth numbers decline - without cutting per capita spending on schools or 18 to 24-year-olds.
  • Entitlements to learn across four stages of life - up to 25 years, 25-50, 50-75 and post-75 - each carrying broad but different priorities for work, leisure and health.
  • No distinction between financial support for full-time and part-time study and with advice and guidance for all who want or need it.
  • Flexible systems of learning when and where people need it - with progression through the accumulation of credit-based qualifications.
  • Opportunities for all citizens to develop their capabilities through digital, health, financial and civic education.
  • A new relationship between central and local government that will be more responsive to local and individual needs.

The Inquiry found the current system too complex and opaque, too skewed to the young and demotivating for too many. Educational inequalities accumulate over the course of people's lives to an unacceptable extent.

The Independent Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (IFLL) has drawn detailed new evidence around the nine major themes below:

  • Prosperity and work
  • Poverty reduction
  • Demography and social structure
  • Well-being and happiness
  • Migration
  • Crime and social exclusion
  • Citizenship
  • Technological change
  • Sustainable development

Director of the Inquiry, Tom Schuller, said:

"Lifelong learning is a major issue of public policy. It goes well beyond formal education, into a wide range of social and economic issues. Our recommendations call on Government, employers and individuals to rethink the way learning is distributed across adults' life-courses. We see the emergence of a new mosaic of time - a new balance between paid and unpaid work, learning and leisure."

Chair of the Inquiry, Sir David Watson, said:

"Our goal is to set an agenda for lifelong learning that will make sense for the next quarter-century. We set out to assist our society in moving past fixing things (often with unintended consequences) to realising the genuine personal, social and economic benefits of lifelong learning."

Alan Tuckett, Chief Executive of NIACE, the Inquiry's sponsor, said:

"NIACE has been delighted to support the Inquiry in its task of reimagining the way adult learning is organised. The report offers an authoritative and coherent strategic framework for lifelong learning in the UK."


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