In light of longstanding national lockdown restrictions, the UK government and the Education & Skills Funding Agency [ESFA] have reviewed the Adult Education Budget [AEB] reconciliation for 2020/21 and have set a 90 per cent threshold for the current academic year for education providers to receive their full AEB allocation in 2021/22.
Since the first Covid lockdown in the UK was ordered in March last year, awarding organisation Ascentis has noted a difference in how adult education providers are opting to spend their AEB. The global pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on the priorities of the Adult Education sector, its budget allocation and how that budget is spent, and Ascentis believes that the legacy of Covid will continue to do so.
Lockdown: key learnings
Among its key lessons to take away from the lockdown, Ascentis has noted that in circumstances where Education Providers have given learners the key skills they need, learners themselves have proven themselves to be resilient and adaptable to changing circumstances. Its experts also say that having a demand-led adult education provision that itself is adaptable to changing economic, social and environmental conditions will also be critical to ensure education provision remains most effective.
The lockdown has also demonstrated that education providers should collaborate with local authorities and organisations to ensure that learners are emerging with skills that meet the criteria of employers and any skills gaps in the local area are being bridged. Aside from this, the health crisis has given rise to a new plethora of learning needs and requirements for adult education, including a need for digital skills, independent living, infection control, and mental health and wellbeing.
Ascentis suggests that education providers should consider a blended learning approach in future when compiling their curricula to maximise use of technology. The organisation has also highlighted that education centres want to now deliver qualifications, as part of their AEB, which will support the personal development of learners and help them both to prepare for further education and stand out to prospective employers.
Indeed, since last March, education providers have seen increased demand from furloughed learners wanting to upskill for potential new employment, from adults still in employment wanting to expand their digital skillset and from key workers who feel they need to enhance their aptitude in other areas, including infection control and mental health management.
What will the future of adult education be?
All of this begs the question: what sort of shape could the future of adult education take and what are education providers beginning to plan for in their AEB funding? Ascentis reports that it has already seen greater flexibility and responsiveness in adult education provision and AEB allocation, and that it expects this to persist in future. It also suggests that education providers look at compiling multiple spending plans so that they can be better prepared for any sudden changes in future. These plans should include adaptable qualifications and teaching methods, as well as additional qualifications that can be completed online to keep learners engaged, maintain their achievement rates, and promote their personal development via remote means.
With the economic outlook also undergoing rapid change, Ascentis expects that education providers will continue to develop closer relationships with combined and local authorities, and local enterprise partnerships, to ensure that their education provision is meeting priority targets set in accordance with up-to-date labour market conditions, and forecasts for future changes in the economic and social status of the area.
Ascentis has called upon education providers to factor in the changing motivations and needs of learners, and the altering ways in which they prefer to learn. It estimates that there will be an increase in learners who prefer to do their studying online, and more education centres are now planning to teach digital skills at the beginning of their courses to accommodate this change.
What must education providers now do?
With a cohort of students now emerging who wish to learn in different ways, Ascentis has recommended that education providers put in place a range of different engagement strategies to cater for the different types of learners there will be. Ascentis also believes that education centres are now being presented with an unprecedented opportunity to reach learners who are unable to access classroom-based teaching due to their location or commitments, and that they must be prepared to capitalise on this opportunity and grant access to new audiences.
More than ever before, Ascentis says, the onus is on adult education providers to build greater resilience in adult learners by focusing on their eventual employability, their digital skillset, mental health management, healthy living and minimising risk, to give them the best chance of success in a changing world.