Today sees the release of a brand new report on adult education and lifelong learning that argues how it must once again be regarded as a national necessity, 100 years on from the original 1919 committee conclusions.

Adult Education Report

The findings highlight how adult education is an integral aspect of citizenship and vital to addressing the huge societal divisions that exist across the UK. The report states that adult education should not be regarded as a luxury for the few, but instead as a universal benefit for the many.

The report from the Centenary Commission, as part of which Cilla Ross, Vice Principal of the Co-operative College played a key role, makes a series of recommendations including the need for:

  • A national Adult Education & Lifelong Learning Strategy, with a participation target to reduce the gap between the most and least educationally active.
  • A Minister with specific responsibility for Adult Education and Lifelong Learning to report annually to Parliament on progress.
  • Community Learning Accounts, alongside Individual Learning Accounts to provide funding for informal, community-based learning initiatives led by local groups.

Join the debate

Following the release of the report, there are a series of events being planned across the UK to discuss and debate its findings, the first of which will take place at our Centenary Conference on 27 November.

Cilla Ross, Vice Principal, Co-operative College, commented:

As a Commission member and as someone involved in the Steering Group, it has been a great honour to follow in the footsteps of the authors of the original Ministry of Reconstruction Adult Education Committee's Report. My own view, that the challenges we face today are no less stark than those faced 100 years ago, was resolutely shared by an engaged group of Commissioners as well as the many groups and individuals we interviewed for the Report.

By establishing a fully funded, adequately resourced lifelong learning provision, we can start to undo the damage that's been done not only to publicly funded adult education in our towns and cities, but also in the lives of so many individuals and communities who have been affected by de-industrialisation and austerity. Lifelong learning helps to ready us for what is to come: from automation to climate change to the four day working week. Every citizen globally needs to be equipped so that we shape our future at work and away from it - education enables us to do that.

It was noted in the 1919 Report that ‘The co-operative movement is the one working-class body which continuously and persistently stood for a humane education as an essential element in the social aims of democracy’. We are proud that in its centenary year, the Co-operative College, and the co-operative movement of which it is a part, continues to represent that tradition.

Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, Oxford and Chair of the Commission said:

There is a national consensus in favour of adult education and lifelong learning. We need the next government to step up to the challenge, and deliver what is, in the words of the 1919 Report and today's Report, "A Permanent National Necessity". In meetings across the country our Commission found a huge appetite for adult education and lifelong learning - we saw evidence of communities being brought together through imaginative educational initiatives; new groups being formed to analyse and discuss the issues of the day, including the climate crisis; and a desire to understand and prepare for the changing world of work, including amongst those in the 'gig economy' for whom provision at present is scant. Our Commission's recommendations would address all these needs.

Welcoming the Report, the Chief Economist of the Bank of England Andy Haldane said:

This Report contains powerful and compelling recommendations for transforming and embedding adult education. It is an ambitious blueprint, but circumstances today and especially tomorrow call for no less. For three centuries, the UK’s education system has had a singular – and very successful – focus: developing cognitive skills in the young. That model is not fit for tomorrow’s purpose. The education system of tomorrow needs to span the generational spectrum - young to old - and the skills spectrum - cognitive to vocational to interpersonal. The economic benefits of doing so are crystal clear. The social and civic benefits are greater still. Social problems of disadvantage, disconnection and division loom large - adult education is one means of tackling those three d’s at source.” Sir Vince Cable said “I warmly welcome the Report of the Centenary Commission on adult Education. Adult education has never been more important and yet it is in decline and is poorly supported by Government. There is great merit in the idea of equipping adults with a learning account which can be used for adult studies as people progress through life. Today’s skills and qualifications will often become redundant and we need a mechanism, through adult education, to help people adapt.

Download the report

A free copy of the report can be downloaded from the Centenary Commission website via the button below.

Visit the Centenary Commission Website