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History repeating itself?

Was chatting about the White Paper on informal learning (DIUS. (2009). The Learning Revolution. Cm7555) over supper and mentioned how easy it is to be suspicious if not even cynical about the government’s motivation in suddenly deciding to support informal education after years of decreasing the funding given to adult education, except for those classes which led to formally recognised qualifications. The white paper itself recognises this: “The Government has taken the decision to re-prioritise LSC funding on longer, more valuable accredited courses that provide real help for people to get on in work” (para 24, p. 9) and goes on to acknowledge this has led to to an ‘expected reduction in shorter courses: “Many were in areas like health and safety at work or food hygiene which are properly the responsibility of employers. Some have been in areas which, while popular, would not attract the highest priority, or where learners are willing to pay full fees. Recreational language classes used to be one of the short courses most heavily-subsidised by the LSC and many still take place, but in a different form” (para 25, p.9). So thriving adult education classes have been closed or passed to other providers and people have found other learning opportunities which are not funded by Government leading to a flourishing informal learning sector which often goes unnoticed and unrecognised.

Now if we turn the clock back 25 years or so, we find huge changes in social care provision under the Conservative government of the day. Promises of support for the voluntary sector turned to support for volunteers (when it was realised how much voluntary organisations cost) and then to informal and family carers (when it was realised volunteers do not come completely free of overheads). During those years we saw the beginning of the contracting out of social care to voluntary and private organisations,  the closure of the large mental hospitals in favour of care in the community, and the move from public sector funding of care to the lottery. OK, not all that has happened in the social care field is bad, and some people may have slightly more say in the care they receive now, but there are also many casusalties of the caring revolution.

So where will the learning revolution lead.  It is driven by economic and demographic factors – the credit crunch and the increasing number of older, economically inactive people and younger people with few employment prospects. One can almost hear the thinking, now if we can formally recognise all the work these non-funded bodies and informal groups are doing and label it learning and perhaps even accredit some of it, we can reduce the amount we spend on formal education while claiming to increase the total amount of learning happening within the UK.  We can even disguise what we are doing with our digital agenda pointing to the need to ensure everybody is upskilled for the digital age.

Call me an old cynic, but these are worrying times we live in.

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