Coronavirus: emergency grant funding needed to support vulnerable adult learners

Council-run adult education providers should be eligible for urgent grant funding in the same way schools and colleges are in order to scale up the number of courses they deliver remotely, the LGA says.

Person typing on a laptop

Adult learning providers support on average 600,000 people every year. Council-run providers are already supporting thousands of adult learners continue their education remotely, but the most vulnerable, many of whom cannot get online, are at risk of missing out through no fault of their own.

The LGA is concerned that the Department for Education has committed to providing emergency funding to colleges and schools who are financially affected by the coronavirus to cover unforeseen costs, but no such support is forthcoming for local authority adult education providers.

Faced with a 50 per cent reduction to adult education budgets over the last decade, councils already faced the prospect of reducing provision or winding down their adult learning centres altogether before the coronavirus crisis.

It said urgent short-term additional funding would free up councils to support the most vulnerable and could be spent on making courses and examinations accessible online, including expanding online content to enable schools to take part, re-train staff, and equip learners with the necessary kit, such as tablets.  

With unemployment expected to rise as a result of the pandemic, supporting hundreds of thousands of learners now to learn new skills and retrain remotely will be an essential part of the country’s economic recovery in the months ahead.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said:

“Council-run adult education providers can transform people’s lives by reducing isolation and loneliness. They also support the most vulnerable, including the long-term unemployed, or those out of work due to furlough, redundancy, ill-health or caring responsibilities to upskill before they join the workforce.

“Adult education is a vital lifeline for learners on lockdown and will be even more important as the Government looks towards its economic recovery.  

“By not giving adult education providers the same level of support as schools and colleges, our most vulnerable are at risk of being left in limbo.

 “The Government needs to urgently ensure that councils receive the financial support they need to continue to deliver courses remotely and our most vulnerable are not isolated from their online learning.

Case studies 

Despite stretched resources, councils are working hard to try and maintain adult learner services. Examples include:

  • Central London Forward, a partnership of 12 London boroughs, is launching ‘Keep London Learning’. This online hub will help Londoners see what remote Adult and Community Learning courses are available in their area to: find employment and retraining opportunities; contribute to their communities and reduce isolation by promoting well-being, fitness and health; support their families; and develop the life skills to support them in the changing economy in the future. The initiative is led by Lewisham Council with support and funding from the Greater London Authority.  
  • Adult education staff at Worcestershire County Council are using their skills to teach amateur clothmakers how to get hands-on in a nationwide effort to make their own personal protective equipment form home. Staff in Adult Learning Lewisham are providing scrubs for NHS staff, mobilising a small army of volunteers to make and deliver dozens of scrubs to local hospitals.
  • Peterborough City Council’s adult education service is developing an online training package for volunteers in the care sector, and its tutors in the culinary arts are using their skills to cook and deliver 200 meals a day to the homeless, adult learners and care leavers.
  • Lancashire Adult Learning (LAL) is supporting Lancashire County Council’s key strategic objectives, including health and wellbeing, digital skills and employability. Adult learners referred to LAL by Jobcentre Plus are being supported on a regular basis remotely. The range of support includes CV writing, online applications and mock telephone interviews. LAL’s Employability Team is also working with major supermarkets and food supply chain employers to scope out employment opportunity for adult learners. LAL also said a significant number of their learners live alone, and the lockdown has had an impact on their mental health. As well as improving their digital skills, telephone support is crucial as many learners do not have access to the internet at home.