Adult learning strategy 2022 to 2027

The Adult Learning Strategy sets out our actions to improve life chances for adult learners across Scotland. It outlines how we will ensure that there are accessible opportunities for adults to learn throughout their lives.

The Case for Change

1. In 2020 324,700 adults in Scotland had low or no qualifications.[1]

2. Data from Scotland's Census showed that 7,796 (0.15%) of people aged 18+ did not speak English at all and 46,993 (0.92%) of people aged 18+ did not speak English well.[2]

3. Evidence from national numeracy surveys suggests while Scotland performs slightly better than average for the UK in terms of adult numeracy skills, there are still around 56% of adults with low numeracy skills. This is the equivalent of 1.9 million working age adults.[3]

4. Scottish Prison Service data shows that 24% of the Scottish prison population have difficulties in using a computer. 18% of the prison population report difficulties with writing and 17% report difficulties with numeracy.[4]

5. Population projections show that, like many other Western European nations, Scotland has an ageing society.[5] Adult learning has a key role to play with this changing demographic.

6. The Adult Learning Statement of Ambition, published in 2014, set an ambition for every adult in Scotland to have the right to access learning to meet their educational needs and aspirations. Adult learners have told us that multiple barriers to participation, learning and achievement still exist. These include many systemic barriers including finance and accessibility.

7. There is more work to be done to close the poverty-related attainment gap and existing inequalities have been exacerbated by Covid-19.[6] Adults who participate in learning are more likely to engage in their children's education, improving outcomes. Intergenerational effects are particularly strong where levels of inequality are high and may accentuate the effects of inequality and exclusions.[7]

8. As a result of COVID-19 the national 2026 target of 18% of University entrants from SIMD20 areas may be more challenging.[8] Community-based adult learning often takes place in our most vulnerable communities and offers a first step back into learning before progressing through the education system.

9. Covid-19 has had a profound negative effect on mental health.[9] Lower income groups are at greater risk of suffering from depression, anxiety and loneliness[10] and a high proportion of disabled people reported that they were worried about isolation during the pandemic.[11] Participation in lifelong learning can impact positively on wellbeing, recovery from mental health difficulties and social integration.[12]

10. Many groups continue to face challenges in the labour market.[13] Current data suggests that employees from minority ethnic groups are more likely than other workers to have found themselves out of work as a result of the pandemic.[14] Evidence has shown disabled people tend to experience greater social impacts from Covid-19 than non-disabled people which could have impacts on their employability longer-term.[15] Consultation on this strategy highlighted the important role that community-based adult learning can play in linking with employability services so no one is left behind.

11. During the pandemic almost all learning moved online and digital acceleration is likely to continue. Online learning has created challenges, especially for more vulnerable adult learners. Access to online learning is challenging for a number of practical reasons, including access to equipment and data, digital literacy levels and general literacy. Digital exclusion can have a negative impact on outcomes such as health, education, social isolation, finances and employment.[16]

12. Adult learning practitioners have told us that to provide digital learning for learners and to become digitally agile they need to develop new skills. They have also told us that to best support learners they need a coordinated approach to their development.

13. Research and engagement in the development of this strategy has highlighted a persistent lack of understanding of the value and impact of community-based adult learning. The current system of mainstream formal education provision in Scotland is long established and understood. Schools, colleges and universities all have clearly defined roles within the system. The benefits from their programmes of learning and the impact they will make for learners are generally clear. Learner pathways and progression between schools colleges and universities are also familiar to most of the population. In contrast, the adult learning landscape is less clear and it can be challenging for prospective learners looking to access provision or progress from one provider to another.

14. The SFC Review highlights the need for a whole-system view of coherence and the role of colleges and universities as anchor institutions. There are opportunities to strengthen connections between colleges, universities and community-based adult learning.

15. In 2015 Scotland signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals. To ensure we are taking action to make us a more successful country, and at the forefront of this international agenda, it is vital that we ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

16. Ethnic diversity is low in the Community Learning and Development workforce and there is an ageing workforce, with 25% of practitioners stating in 2018 that they intended to leave in the next two to five years. There is a gender pay gap affecting women in the workforce and male workers are underrepresented in the sector overall.[17]



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