Harlow MP Robert Halfon makes keynote speech at Adult Education event

Education / Thu 23rd Mar 2023 at 11:58am

HARLOW MP and Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon delivered a speech to the Holex Spring Network Event.

Mr Halfon said:

Hello everyone. I’m sorry that I can’t be with you today as planned, as I’m in Parliament for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement Bill.

Please accept my apologies – because I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the brilliant work you do. I talk a lot about the Ladder of Opportunity. It’s a framework to support everyone, but especially disadvantaged people, to gain valuable skills and qualifications to enter good employment. Such progression should be a widely held aspiration. But low attainment and lack of confidence often hold people back from making a start. You are doing the real groundwork, helping those at the very bottom of the ladder take their first steps to build their capabilities.

And this is alongside supporting 1000s more to gain essential skills for life, work and further learning.

All progression is good progression – whether a person aspires to an apprenticeship, better reading ability, or improved mental health and community participation. All of these outcomes hold tremendous value, for society and the individual. You help to bring them about.

For me Adult learning has 5 pillars: Community Learning, Careers, Adult learning for Jobs, the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, and Skills Devolution.

I’ll talk about our offer to those who complete your courses and want to do more. But I will return to the intrinsic social value of your work, and how we’ll protect it in our future plans for adult education.

Community Learning and basic skills

Firstly, I want to acknowledge your dedication to the communities you serve.

One area of your work, Community Learning, plays a vital role in helping adults of all ages and backgrounds gain skills, confidence and motivation. Getting reluctant people to step forward to enrol is not easy, particularly if they struggled in school or employment, or don’t speak good English. Your enthusiasm welcomes them in and persuades them to stay. Social justice, a key part of the Ladder framework, is about bringing opportunities to the people who need them most. I want to thank you for everything you do to help change people’s minds about what they can accomplish. I have seen this in practice in my own constituency of Harlow, where community education was moved to the local library, which became a state-of-the-art centre for adult learning.

Alongside its social value, your work provides a vital stepping-stone to further learning, training and employment. This includes the delivery of the English, maths and digital skills that everyone needs to navigate adult life – a key demonstration of the value of Adult Community Learning in combatting unseen disadvantage.

National Careers Service

A lot of your work is about building people’s confidence, helping them to realise their potential, and signposting them on where to go next. I’m sure many of you have close links with your local National Careers Service advisers, who are based in jobcentres and other community settings.

A quick reminder of what the Service offers! It is relevant to many of the adults on your courses. Anyone can use National Careers Service online, but this in-person support is specifically for adults with recognised barriers to finding work – such as those with special educational needs and disabilities, single parents or the low skilled. These career advisors are trained to work with adults; they are skilled at identifying their potential and motivating them to succeed. They help customers to build a career and skills action plan for their short, medium and long term goals.  Your learners may have already been referred, but it’s always worth asking if they’ve heard of the service or considered using it.

The National Careers Service celebrated supporting one million adults into a job or learning outcome in 2022. I’m really keen that it lives out its purpose to connect disadvantaged adults with the skills and jobs they need to succeed. We are currently considering its future focus, and there will be opportunities for you to share your views on how the Service can effectively provide appropriate support.

Adult Learning for Jobs – Free Courses for Jobs & Skills Bootcamps

The Multiply numeracy programme, announced in 2021, has so far reached almost 10,000 learners. We know the need is out there, and we want to reach far more, which is why we’ve boosted funding up to £559 million over this parliament. I am grateful for your response since the launch, and your crucial role in bringing learners to schemes like this – helping them take their first steps in skills that most of us take for granted.

It’s really important to me that when people want to change career or boost their earning power, there’s a broad eco system of learning options available, offering clear rewards.

Free Courses for Jobs is an initiative to provide adult learners with valuable skills to fill jobs-market gaps. They do exactly as the name suggests, providing Level 3 qualifications that lead to higher wages and better work. They have proved popular, with over 35,000 enrolments between April 2021 and October 2022, significantly increasing the number of adults taking these Level 3 qualifications. We invested £95 million in these courses last financial year (2021-22), with further investment via the National Skills Fund announced at the Spending Review.

We’ve now expanded eligibility to include all unemployed adults, and those earning less than the National Living Wage. The qualifications available were chosen for their strong wage outcomes and key skills in high demand. The programme also includes shorter options to help workers progress in the labour market. If any of your learners are looking to upskill, retrain or switch sectors, please nudge them towards the Free Courses for Jobs qualifications list – it’s been handpicked with them in mind.

Another thing I must flag are Skills Bootcamps – specialised training that links learners directly to their chosen industry. These free, flexible courses of sector-specific skills last up to 4 months, with a job interview offered on completion. In the financial year 2021-22 (latest available data) 16,120 people participated in Skills Bootcamps. We hope to further expand these opportunities through the skills devolution measures announced in the Budget last week.

Skills Bootcamps have the potential to transform the skills landscape for employers seeking  career-changers. Once again, demand has been strong. There are now over 900 Bootcamps, including training in construction, logistics, digital skills, and those that support the green economy – such as heat pump engineering. We will continue to expand Skills Bootcamps, with up to       £550 million funding over 2022-25. Again, my message to you is that this could be the perfect opportunity for those ready to step towards a new career – particularly if they know their abilities but lack confidence at interview.

Lifelong Loan entitlement

Also, I want to mention the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, the vital fourth pillar of Adult Education, which I’m very excited about. This will unify Higher and Further education finance under a single system. From 2025, financial support equivalent to 4 years post-18 education (£37,000 in today’s fees) will be available for individuals to use over their working lives.

Now, a new student finance system might seem rather distant from the needs of your learners. But it will enable access in a way that hasn’t been possible before. Learning and paying by module will present new opportunities for those unable to commit to a long course. Unifying education finance under one banner will create a cultural shift in how vocational courses are perceived and accessed. Each learner’s personal account will display their remaining education finance balance, but also act as a portal to information to guide their learning pathway.  Like getting on and off a train, they’ll be able to alight and board their post-school education when it suits then, rather than being confined to a single ticket.

Our broader vision is to fully integrate the skills education our economy is crying-out for, into the formal systems that direct people towards and through the jobs market. Our eventual aim is a one-stop-shop, where all can explore their career and training options at any point in their lives

Devolving Adult Skills & learning

We don’t want to stand in the way of local leaders commissioning the adult education that’s needed in their area. That’s why we’ve already devolved approximately 60% of the Adult Education Budget to 9 Mayoral Combined Authorities and the Mayor of London. These authorities are now responsible for the provision of AEB-funded adult education for their residents, and allocation of the AEB to providers. We are committed to devolving further from 2025-26, and are already working with new areas to support their devolution deals.

And you’ll know from last week’s Budget that we’re putting Mayors at the heart of economic growth in their regions. We announced two Trailblazer devolution deals with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. These Combined Authorities will work closely with government, FE providers and colleges, using all available levers to align their local skills offer with local needs. Further Education voices, such as yourselves, will be central in shaping this strategy – with a focus on sufficiency, capacity and clear curriculum pathways for learners.


I want to end by thanking Holex and everyone here for your continued advocacy for adult education, and your engagement with the Department. Dr Sue Pember has been a consistent champion of this important work – whether in the classroom or in local government, leading policy in my department or for you.   

I’m particularly grateful for your responses to our consultation on funding and accountability. Funding reform necessarily includes looking at provision that does not result in a qualification. We recognise that individual learner journeys are different, and that a formal qualification is not always best for those furthest from the labour market. But we want to ensure this provision is the right choice for learners, and that it provides value for money and contributes to wider skills and employment needs. 

We’ve listened carefully to the views of the sector. The core aim of the Skills Fund will remain progression to further learning and employment. But I hope I’ve made clear that we also recognise the wider benefits of adult learning – such as health and wellbeing, and stronger communities. The Skills fund will continue to support these aims, with more detail in our full consultation response later this year.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your day at this networking event. I look forward to continuing to work with you all to shine a spotlight on the transformative power of community education.

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