A leading think tank has called for urgent action to close inequalities in adult skills, as a new national survey highlights large inequalities in access to learning and retraining.
The Adult Participation in Learning Survey – conducted annually by Learning and Work Institute – explored access to learning opportunities among over 5,000 adults, who were representative of the UK population as a whole. The survey found that there had been high levels of participation in learning during lockdown. Over two in five (43%) – 22 million people across the UK – had taken part in some form of ‘lockdown learning’.
However, participation varied enormously across different groups, with those who could most benefit being least likely to take part;
Full time workers who had been furloughed were less likely to take part in learning than those who had remained in work. Four in ten (42%) full time workers who were furloughed took part in lockdown learning, compared to over half (54%) of those who were not furloughed.
The stark inequalities in access to learning are a serious concern given the unequal impact of the pandemic on the labour market. People with lower levels of qualifications, and those working in low paid or low skilled roles are more likely to have lost their jobs. While these workers are more likely to need to retrain to find work in the post-covid economy, this new data suggest that they are less likely to be accessing learning opportunities to support this.
This unequal access to lockdown learning is matched by long-standing inequalities in lifelong learning. The survey found that fewer than half (44%) of adults in lower socio-economic groups had taken part in any form of learning in the last three years, compared to three in four (74%) of those in the highest socio-economic groups. Adults who left education aged 16 or younger were less than half as likely to have accessed any form of learning in the last three years, compared to those who stayed in education until at least age 21 (36% compared to 74%).
The survey did show some positive signs for participation in learning in the future, and some indications that changes as a result of the pandemic may lead to longer-term shifts. Two in three (64%) of those who accessed online learning opportunities during lockdown said they were very likely to continue taking part in online learning in the future.
In a recent speech on adult skills, the Prime Minister announced a ‘lifelong learning guarantee’ to support people to retrain and upskill. Funded by the £3 billion national skills fund, this will provide funding for adults without an A Level equivalent qualification to access college courses.