Build Back Bolder campaign launch: senior figures call for a new approach

Adult education must be pushed up the political agenda so it cannot be ignored, the former House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said last night at the launch event of the Centenary Commission’s Build Back Bolder campaign.

Chairing a webinar with the Commission’s chair Dame Helen Ghosh, former Secretary of State for Education David Blunkett, Oxford historian Professor Selina Todd and Helen Chicot, who spearheaded innovative approaches to lifelong learning in Rochdale, Mr Bercow said the panel had displayed a shared sense of passion on the issue.

“Whatever your politics I get a sense that there is a very proper impatience to better; a  mission to ensure a kind of crystallization of ideas about where we go next,” he said.

“I think we all feel very strongly about it.  I always think that you have to catapult a thing from the back of a decision-makers mind to the front of her or his mind and keep it there, “ he said.

Dame Helen Ghosh said there was great resonance between today’s issues and those facing the original Commission on Adult Education in 1919.

“ The 1919 report was a wonderful thing: It had in it the words we used for our title:  that adult education was a ‘permanent national necessity and an essential aspect of citizenship -universal and lifelong. Both the Brexit debate and now the pandemic have shown we live in a society sadly full of inequalities, and people who have been left behind. So every citizen needs to be engaged,” she said.

Taking control of lives

Lord Blunkett said that for many people lifelong learning was not a second chance, but a first chance: “Being able to take control of their own lives when technological change has overcome them, the ability to cope with rapid social and cultural change, makes adult learning absolutely crucial.

“ I’m afraid adult learning has taken a hell of a hit – between 2001 and 2011, 14 million people took up life skills or basic skills, often just learning to read and to write and to add up: the literacy part of that was the most successful. It dropped by a half from 2016 to last year with the pandemic,” he said. “We’ve never needed as we need it today the ability of people to be able to adapt to new circumstances to find that they have talent; the ability of people to be able to see that they have new opportunities as old ones disappear,” he said.

Professor Todd said that on International Women’s Day the need to make women’s education a priority should be a focus.

“In the early 1960s the Robbins report pointed out that in an advanced society we should want everyone to have an advanced education,” she said. “That’s never been truer than today: to get through this crisis, to get through the climate emergency, to work out how we negotiate with automation, we need new solutions and new people at the top,” she said.

Learning to trust

Helen Chicot said Rochdale’s experience in the last year had been instructive:

“We’ve had more time in lockdown than anywhere else, and the relationship between communities and institutions has changed for the better,” she said.  “Complete clarity of purpose in our communities has meant that we’ve learned to trust each other. Learning is such an important part of cohesion and reducing inequality, and clearly that’s a complex issue.

“Trust – being able to go to a class, to a safe space where we can become confident in what we know and share that with others – that’s why learning is important now for adults. if we’re lucky we can be confident  that we can start to take those steps, and we know who we can ask for help. if we’re really lucky someone helps us to take action to find out how to do those things – because as things currently stand it’s only if we’re lucky that we can learn,” she said.

You can watch the webinar here. The webinar was supported by the University of Nottingham Policy Engagement Fund. A second webinar will take place on Wednesday March 10 – for more details click here:

Watch John Bercow’s first webinar with David Blunkett, Helen Chicot, Helen Ghosh & Selina Todd

On International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021, former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow chaired a fascinating discussion on Why do we need adult education now? with Lord (David) Blunkett, former Secretary of State for Education & Home Secretary, Helen Chicot, Place Integration Lead at Rochdale Borough Council, Dame Helen Ghosh, Chair of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education and Master of Balliol College, Oxford, and Professor Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University and author of Snakes and Ladders: The great British social mobility myth. You can watch and listen to a recording here.

Centenary Commission chair quoted in Mail Online

In the Mail Online, Dame Helen Ghosh comments on what she calls ‘worrying figures’ which show ‘the extent of education inequalities in our country’. ‘As we emerge from the pandemic,’ she urged government ‘to rebuild lifelong learning as a key part of their commitment to levelling up’.

Read ‘One fifth of adults in the country’s ‘education blackspots’ have NO academic qualifications, figures reveal’ (8 March 2021) here.

Letter to The Daily Telegraph on Adult Education & Lifelong Learning

On 8 March 2021 The Daily Telegraph publishes a letter from leading figures in public life, culture and education on the importance of adult and lifelong learning. Signatories include former cabinet ministers and ministers of education, university vice chancellors, leaders of adult and further education, heads of Oxford and Cambridge colleges, most university professors who research adult learning, and leading trade unionists. For reasons of space The Daily Telegraph could not print all the 137 signatories; they are listed below.

As schools and colleges return, we must not neglect the millions of adults whose lives have been upended by the pandemic.
The government’s ‘skills revolution’ is valuable, but only a start.
We need skills for life, not just ‘skills for jobs’.
Broad and flexible adult education builds community, strengthens mental health, and helps people lead fulfilling lives.
Nine million adults in England still struggle even with the essential skills of reading, writing, and computing.
We urgently call for: a properly funded national strategy led by a dedicated lifelong learning minister; a community learning centre in every town; money for individuals and groups to shape their own learning; new regional partnerships between local and regional authorities, voluntary groups, universities and FE colleges; restoration of the Union Learning Fund; and requiring universities to provide adult education in their communities.
Post-pandemic investment in wider adult education will pay real dividends. No-one must be left behind.

Dame Helen Ghosh, Chair of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education; Master of Balliol College, Oxford
Sir Alan Tuckett, Vice-Chair of the Centenary Commission; former Chief Executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education

Other signatories are:

Former Members of the Cabinet and Education ministers:
Lord (David) Blunkett, former Secretary of State for Education & Employment
Lord Boswell of Aynho, former Conservative MP and Education Minister;
Baroness (Virginia) Bottomley, Chancellor University of Hull; former Secretary of State for Health and for National Heritage;
Sir Vince Cable, former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills;
Lord (Jim) Knight of Weymouth, former Minister of State for Education and Skills;
Baroness (Estelle) Morris, former Secretary of State for Education;
Lord (Chris) Smith, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge and former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport;
Baroness (Ann) Taylor, former Leader of the House of Commons and Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Other leading politicians:
Lord (Neil) Kinnock, former WEA Tutor/Organiser, Leader of the Opposition and European Commissioner
John Bercow, former Speaker of the House of Commons
Daisy Cooper, MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Education
Baroness (Sue) Garden of Frognal, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Further & Higher Education, House of Lords
Margaret Greenwood, MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Education
Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central
Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, member of House of Commons Education Select Committee
Baroness (Julie) Smith of Newnham, Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge
Lord (Mike) Storey, Liberal Democrat House of Lords spokesperson on Education
Gordon Marsden, former Shadow Minister for Higher & Further Education and Skills

Former leading civil servants:
Lord (Bob) Kerslake, former Head of the Home Civil Service
Dame Helen Ghosh, former Permanent Secretary at the Home Office

Mayors and officials of regional Combined Authorities:
Dan Jarvis, MP, Mayor of Sheffield City Region;
Jamie Driscoll, Mayor, North of Tyne Combined Authority;
Julie Nugent, Director of Productivity and Skills, West Midlands Combined Authority.

Vice Chancellors and former vice chancellors:
Professor Tim Blackman, Vice-Chancellor, The Open University
Professor Professor Jackie Dunne, Vice-Chancellor, Newman University, Birmingham
Professor David Latchman, Vice Chancellor, Birkbeck University of London
Professor Geoff Layer, Vice-Chancellor, University of Wolverhampton
Rev. Canon Professor Peter Neil, Vice-Chancellor, Bishop Grossteste University, Lincoln
Professor Sir Rick Trainor, Rector, Exeter College, Oxford; former President of King’s College London and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich
Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield Hallam University
Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, Vice-Chancellor & Principal, Canterbury Christ Church University;
Sir Peter Scott, former Vice-Chancellor, Kingston University and Editor, The Times Higher Education Supplement
Sir Anthony Seldon, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Buckingham
Mary Stuart, Vice-Chancellor, University of Lincoln

Heads and former heads of Oxford and Cambridge colleges:
Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, Oxford and Chair of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education
Will Hutton, journalist; former Principal, Hertford College, Oxford
Baroness (Helena) Kennedy, QC, author of seminal report on Further Education, Learning Works, former Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford
Professor Jonathan Michie, President of Kellogg College, Oxford and Chair, Universities Association for Lifelong Learning
Dr Alice Prochaska, former Principal, Somerville College Oxford
Professor Sir Rick Trainor, Rector, Exeter College, Oxford
Baroness (Jan) Royall, PC, Principal of Somerville College, Oxford
Lord (Chris) Smith, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge and former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Other Higher Education leaders:
Baroness (Joan) Bakewell, DBE, President, Birkbeck University of London
Mary Curnock Cook, CBE, former Chief Executive of UCAS
Tim Melville-Ross, CBE, former Chair, Higher Education Funding Council for England
Paul Manners, Director, National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement
Professor Graeme Atherton, Director, National Education Opportunities Network (NEON)

Leaders of Adult and Further Education:  
David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges
Simon Parkinson, CEO and General Secretary, WEA
Dr Susan Pember, CBE, Director of Policy, Holex, the professional body for Adult Community Education and Learning
Dame Ruth Silver, President, Further Education Trust for Leadership, former Principal of Lewisham College
Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning & Work Institute
Liz Bromley, Chief Executive, NCG, one of UK’s largest FE college groups
Kirstie Donnelly, MBE, Chief Executive, City & Guilds Group
Mark Malcomson, CBE, Principal and Chief Executive, The City Lit, London Yultan Mellor, Principal, Northern College of Adult Education, Barnsley
Mel Lenehan, Principal, Fircroft College of Adult Education, Birmingham
Ros Morpeth, OBE, Chief Executive, National Extension College
Dr Cilla Ross, Principal, Co-operative College
Andrew Cropley, Principal and Chief Executive, Vision West Nottinghamshire College
Helen Hammond, Principal, Working Men’s College, London
Paul di Felice, Principal, Ruskin College, Oxford
Gabrielle Flint, Principal, Richmond & Hillcroft Adult & Community College
Dr Andrew Gower, Principal & Chief Executive, Morley College, London
Dr Rob Hindle, Senior Area Education Manager, Yorkshire and Humberside Region WEA
Suzanna Jackson, Warden, Mary Ward Settlement, London
Dame Moira Gibb, Chair of Governors, The City Lit.
Jol Miskin, adult educator; former Regional Education Manager, WEA
Ruth Spellman, OBE, former General Secretary, WEA
Nigel Todd, Chair of Trustees, The Co-operative College
Professor Sir Alan Tuckett, Vice-Chair of the Centenary Commission, former CEO of NIACE
Matt Waddup, Co-founder, Right2Learn campaign
Jill Westerman, CBE, Vice Chair, Further Education Trust for Leadership, former Principal of Northern College, Governor of the City Lit.

Public figures and opinion leaders:
Baroness (Joan) Bakewell, DBE, President, Birkbeck University of London
Helen Barnard, Director, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Dr Sharon Clancy, Chair, Raymond Williams Foundation
Rod Clark, Chief Executive, Prisoners’ Education Trust
Sir Jon Coles, Group Chief Executive,United Learning Trust
Uzo Iwobi, OBE, Chief Executive, Race Council Cymru
Judith Judd, Former Editor, The Times Educational Supplement
Grayson Perry, CBE, RA, artist
His Honour John Samuels, QC, President, Prisoners’ Education Trust
Philippa Perry, psychotherapist and author
Professor Anna Vignoles, CBE, FBA, Director, Leverhulme Trust (in a personal capacity).

Trade Union leaders:
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, Trades Union Congress
Lord (John) Monks, former General Secretary, Trades Union Congress
Roz Foyer, General Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress
Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union
Dr Jo Grady, General Secretary, University and College Union
Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, General Federation of Trade Unions
Dave Ward, General Secretary, Communication Workers’ Union
Sarah Woolley, General Secretary, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union
Kate Dearden, Head of Research, Policy & External Relations, Community the Union
Kate Hudson, Head of Equality, Education & Development, Communication Workers Union
Deborah Lawson, Assistant General Secretary, Community union
Roger McKenzie, Assistant General Secretary, Unison
Jim Mowatt, Director of Education, Unite the union
Tom Wilson, former Director of Unionlearn

Leading academics and researchers on adult learning:
Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Professor of Vocational & Higher Education, University of Birmingham
David Barton, Emeritus Professor of Language and Literacy, Lancaster University
Greg Brooks, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Sheffield
Ellen Boeren, Professor of Adult Education, University of Glasgow
Lalage Bown, OBE, Emeritus Professor of Adult Education, University of Glasgow
John Bynner, Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences in Education, UCL
Claire Callender, OBE, Professor of Higher Education, Birkbeck & UCL
Frank Coffield, Emeritus Professor of Education, UCL
Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy, University of Cambridge
Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, University of Oxford; Vicky Duckworth, Professor of Education, Edge Hill University; Karen Evans, Emeritus Professor of Education, UCL
John Field, Professor Emeritus of Lifelong Learning, University of Stirling
Alan Felstead, Research Professor, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
Alison Fuller, Professor of Vocational Education and Work, UCL
Andy Green, Professor of Comparative Social Science, UCL
Francis Green, Professor of Work and Education Economics, UCL
Mary Hamilton, Professor Emerita of Adult Learning and Literacy, Lancaster University
John Holford, Robert Peers Professor of Adult Education, University of Nottingham
David James, Professor of Sociology of Education, University of Cardiff
Hugh Lauder, Professor of Education and Political Economy, University of Bath
Professor Ewart Keep, Emeritus Professor of Education, Training and Skills, University of Oxford
Lorna Unwin, OBE, Professor Emerita of Vocational Education, UCL
Dr Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal for Online Learning, University of Edinburgh
Simon McGrath, UNESCO Professor of International Education & Development, University of Nottingham
Michael Osborne, Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning, University of Glasgow
Gemma Moss, Professor of Literacy, UCL
Diane Reay, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Cambridge
Sheila Riddell, Professor of Inclusion and Diversity, University of Edinburgh
Susan Robertson, Professor of Education, University of Cambridge
Professor Tom Schuller, formerly Head of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, OECD and Director, National Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning (2008-2010)
Rob Smith, Professor of Education, Birmingham City University
Linden West, Professor of Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Tom Sperlinger, Professor of Literature and Academic Lead for Engagement for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, University of Bristol
Howard Stevenson, Professor of Education, University of Nottingham
Richard Taylor, former Professor and Director of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning at Cambridge and Leeds Universities
Lyn Tett, Professor Emerita of Community Education, University of Huddersfield
Professor Maria Slowey, Director, Higher Education Research Centre, Dublin City University
Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford
Professor Sue Webb, former Director of Lifelong Learning, University of Sheffield
Volker Wedekind, Professor of Vocational Education, University of Nottingham
Miriam Zukas, Professor Emerita and former Executive Dean, Birkbeck, University of London

Paulo Freire & the Scottish independence debate

“The people of Scotland do not need independence. What they do need is full self-government. Responsible autonomy and interdependence. We are capable of self-determination, working together in collaboration with others.”

Distinguished Scottish adult educator and poet Colin Kirkwood uses Paulo Freire’s ideas to reflect on the current state of the Scottish independence debate in Bella Caledonia. Read Colin’s full article here.

John Bercow to chair two great debates on lifelong learning and adult education

Former House of Commons Speaker John Bercow will chair two important Centenary Commission online debates on the theme of Building back bolder: learning for life in post-pandemic Britain. You are warmly invited to join.

On Monday 8th March, 6-7 p.m., the question will be Why does adult education matter now? John Bercow will discuss this question with:

  • Lord (David) Blunkett, former Secretary of State for Education and Home Secretary
  • Helen Chicot, Place Integration Lead at Rochdale Borough Council
  • Dame Helen Ghosh, Chair of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education and Master of Balliol College, Oxford
  • Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University and author of Snakes and Ladders: The great British social mobility myth

Further details and how to register are here.

On Wednesday 10th March, 6-7 p.m., the question will be: Has the Government got it wrong on adult education? John Bercow will be in discussion with:

  • Lord (Karan) Bilimoria, President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
  • Robert Halfon, MP, Chair of the House of Commons Education Committee
  • Sir Alan Tuckett, Vice Chair of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education and former Chief Executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
  • Baroness (Alison) Wolf, Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management, King’s College, London and advisor to the Prime Minister on Further Education policy.

Further details and how to register are here.

Sound Vindications of Adult Education

Four recent sound broadcasts discuss the importance of adult education.

Centenary Commissioners Sir Alan Tuckett and Melissa Benn talk about what it does for people today, and what is needed to make it better, in a lively discussion with Union Learning Rep Sue Mann on Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s Reasons to be Cheerful podcast (15 Feb). You can listen to this on Acast or Spotify or Apple.

Our Sir Alan is doing it again on Ayesha Hazarika’s Times Radio programme (20 Feb). You can listen to it here – you have to scroll through to the last twenty minutes (2:41:40) to catch the discussion between Ayesha, Alan, the TUC’s Kevin Rowan, and University of East London mature student Danielle Hambrook.

In two other recent programmes, Oxford Professor Selina Todd discusses with others adult education’s part in shaping modern Britain, and its relationship with class, social mobility and empire.

Radio 4’s Start the Week (8 Feb.) is a wide-ranging exploration of Empire and class, shaping Britain with Sathnam Sanghera and Anthony Anaxagorou.

In a Free Thinking discussion on Radio 3 (4 Feb), she explores Class and social mobility with David Goodhart, author of Head, Hand, Heart, socio-linguist Sadie Ryan, and data scientist Timandra Harkness.

What Selina Todd says is explored richly in her new book, Snakes and Ladders: The great British social mobility myth.

Levelling Up Adult Community Education

The House of Commons Education Select Committee recently called for better data on adult community learning. Dr Sue Pember, Centenary Commissioner and Policy Director for HOLEX (the professional body for adult education services, centres and institutions), has responded with an important report, Levelling Up Adult Community Education: What does the data tell us?

The report pinpoints the 10,000 places in England from which adult education is delivered, shows where little adult education is offered, reports on where there is a ‘delivery imbalance’, demonstrates that public money goes to learners from the most deprived areas, details the initial impact of Covid-19 on adult education learners, and shows that we need a new annual injection of £5.2 billion to fund a basic and intermediate skills levelling-up plan.

UK ministers accused of ‘settling scores’ by axing union adult learning fund

In an important article in The Guardian, Centenary Commissioner Melissa Benn (in conversation above with vice chair, Sir Alan Tuckett) shows how valuable the Union Learning Fund has been for mature students – especially from disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite this, and despite opposition from across the political spectrum, government ministers seem determined to end it. Read Melissa’s powerful article here.

‘Skills for Jobs’: What about skills for life?

Centenary Commission on Adult Education responds to government’s Skills for Jobs white paper

The Government’s Skills White Paper focuses too narrowly on the needs of employers and fails to address even more pressing needs across the whole of society, the Centenary Commission on Adult Education says today.

Dame Helen Ghosh, Chair of the commission and Master of Balliol College, Oxford, says:

“Build back better” is the government’s mantra – and who disagrees? But to build back better we need education throughout life which enriches people not only by getting them a job, but by helping them build and shape better communities.

Professor John Holford, Joint Secretary to the commission, says the White Paper is a missed opportunity to focus on deeper needs exacerbated by Covid-19:

As we grapple with the COVID crisis, we have learned how important emotional and psychological resilience are. Research shows adult education is great for mental health and community cohesion. What has the white paper to say on this? Nothing.

In his foreword to the White Paper the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, says his proposals are “about fulfilment and enrichment on a personal level.”

Yet the White Paper contains no mention of the deeper psychological and social learning needs which have been thrown into relief by Covid-19, and the creative ways in which adult learning can respond to them.

The pandemic has left the economy reeling, with unemployment and poverty ramping up,” Professor Holford says. “Even before Covid, the future of many people’s working lives looked bleak, with skilled jobs threatened by the rise of robots and artificial intelligence. More and more people are stuck in “gig economy” jobs, which give little opportunity for learning new skills. The White Paper says nothing – and does nothing – about the changing nature of the labour market or the rise of the gig economy.

The document contains no mention of the potential mental health and psychological benefits of lifelong learning and no mention of creativity. It does not cover the wider needs of communities struggling to counteract loneliness and isolation. And while it mentions employers and their needs 243 times it mentions employees just twice – both times in relation to providing a ‘pipeline’ of ‘job-ready’ employees.

Sir Alan Tuckett, the commission’s Vice-Chair, says:

There is no place in the current vision for the wider educational role of the further education sector.  Schools and universities celebrate learning with vocational applications, but they also teach philosophy, ethics, art and music – the tools needed for active citizens.  Only FE is denied this breadth.  And so yet again, and despite the welter of advice government has received, adult community education is left to wither.

Read more of John Holford’s thoughts on the white paper here, and more of Alan Tuckett’s here.