HL Deb 28 March 1983 vol 440 cc1428-49

8.48 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of their decision not to renew the remit of the Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education, what steps they intend to take to promote and extend this area of education with particular reference to the Advisory Council's Report Continuing Education: From Policies to Practice and their proposals in The Case for a National Development Body for Continuing Education in England and Wales.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking this Unstarred Question I want to make it clear from the outset that the assumption of the demise of the Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education is predicated on the parallel assumption that the Government will take some significant action in response to their major report, Continuing Education: From Policies to Practice, and their accompanying proposal for a National Development Body for Continuing Education in England and Wales. In view of the great importance of the matters raised in these two documents, it is clear that no responsible Government could do nothing, and I am sure that the present Government will not open itself to the accusation of irresponsibility in this field.

Awareness of future potential has been very much stimulated by the work of the advisory council. For instance, the model "E" option in the DES Higher Education in the Nineties made a clear case for increased participation of adults in higher education; and the PICKUP campaign for professional, industrial and commercial updating is an example of another form of continuing education for adults. Both the UGC and the NAB have recently set up working parties on the subject.

These various initiatives at present lack the cement of a national policy promoted by a national development body, which is what the advisory council is arguing for. In his letter of 23rd December last to the Secretary of State, Dr. Hoggart wrote: The present council is unanimous in its view that the time is now ripe for a new national body, one which will begin to translate into practice the advice we have been giving over the past five years. Much of that advice is contained in the council's report on continuing education mentioned in my question. This is the most important report in the adult and continuing education field since the Russell Report, now nearly 10 years old. In some ways it is more important than Russell, which was restricted to adult non-vocational education. The confinement to that part of the education spectrum which we have always treated as being a poor relation was sufficient to ensure that it had little effect. The council's report, by contrast, is unrestricted in scale; it covers industrial training, the TOPS scheme, further education, the universities, and other responsible bodies as well as private correspondence courses and voluntary bodies. It gives us statistics and expenditure so far as this can be deduced from available evidence.

I am not going to comment on this part of the report because I assume that all of us who are interested, and most particularly the Government, have read it. The picture that emerges is one of "a rich and divese range of provision"—I quote from Chapter 4—which, though "widespread" is also extremely "haphazard" and has seen very little growth in real resources in the past decade, although its actual potential clients are increasing in number both for demographic reasons and on the grounds of deep structural unemployment.

However thorough the homework or illuminating the statistics, there is something else we look for in a good report which I can only call its message. What is the message here? I think we can approach it best through the concluding Chapter 13, in which the council advances some basic propositions, three of which I want to single out. The first is: Any highly industrialised country which cannot refute the charge that it is an under-educated society is condemning its own future". We are certainly open to that charge in comparison with our main competitors.

The second proposition is that: Every country should ensure the highest possible levels of self-reliance and self-fulfilment among all its citizens, for both their individual and collective wellbeing". So long as we have large numbers of unemployed people to whom many part-time and most full-time educational routes are barred we are failing in this criterion also.

Thirdly: A democratic society can only be sustained by its individual citizens' ability to take part in and contribute to economic and social and cultural growth". I should have thought that that was self-evident but, as Professor Dahrendorf recently pointed out in his lectures "On Britain", we are in grave danger of forcing many of our citizens into a new lumpen-proletariat or underclass.

From these propositions stems the central idea of the report, which is that initial education no longer equips people adequately for life. It is no longer sufficient to regard education as an early and finite process in preparation for adult life. The idea of holding the same job for life is becoming increasingly untenable. Accordingly, education must be regarded as a planned and continuing process. The report does not draw artificial boundaries between education and training or between vocational and general education.

After stressing the paramount importance of the ability to adapt and acquire new knowledge and skills, it says that much vocational education and training must depend on the learners having an adequate prior standard of general education. In Chapter 2.8, it points to the number of unemployed people failing the standard entrance tests for many courses in the TOPS scheme and comments: This exposes the simplistic distinction too often drawn between training and education". This statement has my strongest sympathy. I have on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House drawn attention to the damage that can arise from the development of rival education and training camps where what we require is their mutual support and joint development. That there is a great need can hardly be in doubt when one learns from Chapter 2, paragraph 11 that: Approximately half of the adult population in Britain has had no further education or training since completing their initial education". In many cases, that means since leaving school at 14, which is a frightening thought in the complex and rapidly-changing technological environment in which we live.

I am not going to attempt even to summarise all the remedies and measures canvassed by the advisory council. They cover priority groups, barriers to learning for adults, local guidance centres, the need for basic and post-basic courses, types of access (including open access), finance for institutions and learners, entitlement to paid educational leave, staff and retraining of staff, and legal and other matters. I rather think the noble Baroness, Lady David, will say something about the inadequate legal basis of continuing education and I also look forward to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I am also particularly gratified that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has chosen to make this debate the occasion of her maiden speech. Their contributions will, I am sure, do much to fill the many lacunae in my remarks.

In the remaining time at my disposal I want to look at some of the council's priorities for action, which are graded into immediate, short-term, mid-term and long-term categories, although of course some of them overlap. Among the most pressing needs for immediate action is the establishment of an educational guidance service to help adults in identifying their educational needs and finding the best ways of satisfying them. Guidance centres could operate through the public library network and also through the workplace, and here not only the CBI but government departments and nationalised industries could help to make this a reality at very little cost. I also want to mention a scheme which my noble friend Lord Perry would have referred to had he not unfortunately been prevented from being here this evening: that is using the existing network of the Open University Study Centres in the additional role of adult education guidance centres, which would be another relatively cheap method because the premises are there and only the guidance centre staffs would have to be separately funded.

Then research is needed on open entry and appropriate admission procedures for adults. Another crying need is for a national information service on credit transfers so that adults can carry with them from place to place and course to course the result of their participation in pan-time and modular courses. I understand the Department of Education and Science is already working on a scheme and perhaps the noble Earl would say something about this aspect when he comes to reply.

Next, distance learning requires further research and development. It can clearly be a boon to adults but requres an appropriate tutorial framework. The council also stresses the need for local centres of continuing education which might perhaps be accomodated in surplus buildings from the initial education centre.

Here I want to pause in this list to shine my torch for a moment on to another important idea which is expressed in Chapter 7, paragraph 4, as follows: The decline in the size of the child population offers an unrepeatable opportunity to make continuing educational use of surplus school accommodation for the benefit of the growing proportion of adults in the population. This, be extension, applies to higher education as well and of course to the retraining and redeployment of staff to match the shift in the age structure of the population. Only the other day I attended at Goldsmiths' College a meeting of 150 university teachers on the subject of developing part-time degrees for mature students. The noble Baroness, Lady David, was there too and I do not know whether she would agree with me but I took away the impression that there was a real readiness in the universities to adapt and cater for a far broader age range of students than at present. But here was also hesitation about going out on a limb and having it chopped off. The example of Salford, which thought it was doing the right thing and then lost 40 per cent. of its grant was quoted. I have a letter from Salford which says: It would be most unfortunate if at some subsequent date it was found that this activity was not helpful when the UGC assessed an institution". This is where a Government lead is vital. If the Government would say: "Right, that is the end of falling rolls and from now on we are going to redeploy resources, make them work better, make them work for adults and for the country", the effect could be electrifying.

I turn to the advisory council's proposals for its successor body. Its report recognises quite realistically in Chapter 13.8 that, the setting of priorities in the allocations of public funds for education must remain a political decision". That is of course so. Any Government must make their own assessment of priorities for public expenditure, but not without listening carefully to expert and informed opinion. I would argue that the council has made a good case for its preferred option, which is a national development body with a fairly wide remit. But if the Government do not want to go all the way at once, they might prefer to go for a national co-ordinating agency to develop education for unemployed adults along the lines suggested in the council's report, Education for Unemployed Adults. This would have positive results in terms of enhanced employability, which should be valuable in the present national situation. The terms of reference could later be expanded in other directions.

Another possibility would be to fund a specific research and development project—for example, into unemployed adults—for a limited time. All these options would be positive, though in descending order. Perhaps I can tempt the noble Earl to put a tick in the box corresponding to one or more of them. If finance is the sticking point, may I ask him whether the Government have considered joint funding between the Department of Education and Science and the Manpower Services Commission? The council has made out a very good case for the need for a general education input for disadvantaged adults if they are to be able to gain and use new skills. A new body could act very effectively to pool resources from the two departments most concerned. If this has not been considered, will the noble Earl undertake to bring this suggestion to the attention of his colleagues and of Mr. David Young of the MSC?

I am sure we shall be told what the Government are doing already, but I hope it will be clear from the debate tonight that there is no room for complacency. The numbers of university students of mature age—that is, over 21—are down from 24 per cent. in 1979–80 to 21.7 per cent. in 1982–83. TOPS courses are currently catering for a bare half of their peak figure, which approached 100,000 adults in 1977, yet they are almost the only full-time, publicly-funded retraining provision available for adults. I gather that there is a one-year wait to get on to most courses for new technology jobs. Then, again, the social security rules governing participation by the unemployed in part-time courses, which I have here, are full of traps and pitfalls which seem positively designed to discourage self-improvement.

On all these grounds, I think we are entitled to expect from the Government a constructive answer to my Question and at least an advance response to the council's report and proposals. I know there has been mention of a statement in the spring, but the spring is now upon us. They have had the main report since last spring and the proposals, which are very concise, since Christmas. I hope we shall not be told the Government are still brooding on the report Education for Unemployed Adults which they have also had for some time—since, I think, September 1982—because this is confined to a specific area and should not inhibit a response on a broader front. I also hope the Government will not merely fall back on some form of interdepartmental liaison committee, which, though no doubt desirable as an adjunct to more positive action, would lack the independence, drive and separate funding of an arm's length body. If the need for more consultation is prayed in aid, I hope it will be genuine and objective consultation.

There is one course which I am clear is not seriously open to the Government, and that is to offer no successor arrangement at all to the Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education, because this would be to turn their backs on the whole field of continuing education, the importance of which they have already acknowledged on a number of occasions. It would be a terrible waste to build nothing on the work of the advisory council, which has accomplished so much at so little cost to the public purse. I therefore look forward with some expectation to the noble Earl's reply.

9.3 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, for asking this Question tonight on an extremely important subject—a subject which I think will become increasingly important over the next few years. It also gives us an opportunity to hear the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. We look forward to it. It gives us, too, an opportunity to congratulate ACACE on its remarkable achievements in the 5½ years since it was set up in 1977. It has published 30 well-researched reports as well as a number of considered responses to educational documents which have appeared during that time. Of those reports, Continuing Education: From Policies to Practice, Education for Unemployed Adults and Part-time Degree Level Study in the United Kingdom are of particular relevance tonight when we are considering The Case for a National Development Body, in which the council's own proposals for the future are outlined.

It is not certain as yet, as the noble Lord said, that the council will be brought to an end in October, but the odds are that it will. It seems very wise for the council at this stage to be making proposals for what should come after it as a follow-up. The fact that they have said that they think their job is done and that something else should happen now does not mean that they want nothing to happen. In fact, very much the opposite is the case. We hope that this document, The Case for a National Development Body, will make the Government concentrate on the possibilities in good time. Indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mr. Shelton, said in reply to a Question in another place that a statement would be made in the spring. Well, spring started officially a week ago. It would be very gratifying if tonight the Minister did not prevaricate and procrastinate but instead had something positive to offer.

What I believe ACACE has achieved with relatively limited resources is to bring about a complete change of attitude. The climate of opinion has been changed. There is now, I would say, general acceptance that continuing education (a phrase I prefer to "adult education") must be a central part of the philosophy and policy of all political parties. The Labour Party produced last November a discussion document, Education after Eighteen, Expansion with Change, which advocated much easier access to post-school education at any age, a widening of financial support so that mandatory awards would be given for part-time and short advanced courses (and also for designated non-advanced courses), the establishment of an advisory and counselling system and, at a second and later stage, the introduction of adult educational entitlement for one year for all. The proposals are very similar to many of the proposals in the ACACE reports.

There can be no doubt that there is great enthusiasm for widening access for adults and for part-time degrees. As the noble Lord said, 150 university people attended the conference on part-time degrees, chaired by Dr. Hoggart, which was held at Goldsmith's College earlier this month. It was a very stimulating and lively conference. It made one feel that change was afoot and that the universities were ready and willing to play a quite new part. A lot is even now happening and this seems to be the moment to capitalise on the interest that has been engendered. The interest is not only because of the great increase in unemployment and the need for retraining, and training for leisure and early retirement, although these inevitably and obviously play a part.

Research has proved the vast unmet need among the population as a whole. The situation has been that it is the more educated adults who have demanded additional education for themselves. We now want to create a situation where the less educated and the less fortunate have far greater opportunity and encouragement to participate at any period of their lives so that the potential which is most certainly there can be realised for both the individual's and the nation's good.

What Continuing Education: From Policies to Practice points out is the inequality between expenditure on initial and continuing education. Eight to 9 per cent. of the GNP is spent on all forms of education and training. Well over half that goes to initial education. Of expenditure on education by public authorities, 85 per cent. goes to initial education, and this does seem to be a grave imbalance. The hitherto uncritically accepted belief that a single lengthy period of education in the early years of life can meet the changing needs of people throughout their lives is challenged in that report. The DES itself, when in 1980 it published Higher Education in the 1990s, can claim some credit for the shift in attitude. Model E of the options presented in that document makes a case for wider participation by adults in higher education, and the DES PICKUP campaign for professional, industrial and commercial up-dating—which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, also mentioned—is a practical example of one form of continuing education. There seems at last to be a consensus. But at this moment, some commitment to the future is wanted; some comprehensive system of continuing education.

Profound social and economic changes are happening and a sensible Government will surely plan for adaptability in its population. A national development body is what the council proposes. This is not a new idea. Ten years ago the Russell Report advocated it; eight years ago the Venables Report did. The national body would co-ordinate and plan, and would have three main purposes. I shall now quote from the document:

  1. "(i) To review regularly the facilities available in England and Wales for the continuing education and training of adults.
  2. (ii) To initiate, and respond to requests for, advice and help in the development of all aspects of continuing education and training.
  3. (iii) To identify areas of provision in need of specific development and to undertake or sponsor innovative and experimental work so as to encourage and enable the most effective country-wide provision appropriate to particular local circumstances".
The developmental purpose outlined in (iii), which we regard as critically important for the new body, is exemplified in our recently published report on education for unemployed adults. This recommends a central co-ordinating agency for developing educational provision for unemployed adults and argues that these central functions should be discharged inter alia to a national development council for continuing education.

This national body would not conflict but rather work with existing bodies. Care would be taken to ensure that there was no unnecessary duplication. Local centres would be essential. A key element in a system of continuing education would be a network of local centres to provide ease of access for those not able to travel far; attractive settings to encourage into the education system those previously reluctant or too timid to enter education; and local bases within the community from which staff would provide education elsewhere and work at home, in local clubs, or at centres. These bases could be housed in redundant buildings becoming available through falling rolls.

The local dimension is very important to recruitment and to the advisory and couselling sevices. There are a number of ways in which the DES might respond to the ACACE proposals, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, mentioned some of them. I should like to add another; that it could give the responsibility to an existing body, such as the National Institute of Adult Education or the Further Education Unit. It could also set up some inter-departmental machinery to facilitate liaison over different aspects of continuing education between the DES, MSC, DoI, DE, DoE, DHSS, and Home Office. But this is not a good proposal and I hope that the Government will not follow it because it seems to me that to set up something involving all departments might well be a recipe for doing nothing and shelving or putting off decisions.

I believe that it will be impossible for the Government to do nothing when the advisory council comes to the end of its remit in October; I do not think that the department could have the nerve to do nothing. Enough initiatives have been taken from it by other departments, the DoE, the DoI, and I think the field of continuing education really does give the DES a new chance to prove its metal and to innovate. I hope it will.

If it did nothing it would be ignoring all the facts that recent research has established and not only the ACACE research. The admirable working paper produced by the University of Nottingham Department of Adult Education Changes in Student Participation in Adult Education, which proved a large and unmet need, contained some very interesting evidence of where the numbers had fallen over the last five years, from which groups. The economic reasons they give for the falling off among manual workers, the retired, housewives, the poor, are very convincing—indeed, proved. I would just like to read the last paragraph and the conclusions of this paper: The long term damage to adult education is to its values and ideals. Historically adult education has been wrought out of a desire to be socially relevant to all kinds of people and, at the same time, to address itself positively to the less provileged. Thus adult education aspires to be comprehensive and lifelong, and is equally committed to egalitarian ideals as much as to individualism. Striking a balance between the latter two goals is the stuff and lifeblood of adult education and makes for its diversity, richness and interest. But the pursuit of a truly comprehensive service reaching all sections of the community is now in conflict with a narrow, economising view of adult education. The issue of fee levels is symptomatic of a deep rooted problem of priorities and values. The evidence presented in this study suggests that these are being sacrificed to a short-sighted view of adult education". I think the DES now has its chance to redeem itself. I do hope that Ministers have taken note of this very important paper.

To return to the case for a national body outlined in the green document, funding it is suggested should be the responsibility of the DES and the Welsh Office, and there should also be a subvention from the MSC. An annual expenditure of at least 150,000 would be needed for staff and accommodation and office costs; advisory and development work with temporary staff appointments would need £1½ million, and the dissemination of findings, publications, conferences et cetera would need about £100,000, a total budget of £1.75 million which could be built up to over a period of three years. Comparisons can be made with the Adult Literary Basic Skills Unit which costs £1.35 million, and the Further Education Curriculum Review and Development Unit which costs about £2 million. Comparisons could of course be made with the Assisted Places Scheme which costs £30 million, and in Cmd. 8789: Government Expenditure Plans for 1983–84 to 1985–86, £649 million is proposed to be spent on all adult education services, and this includes the youth service. So asking for £1.75 million to be built up to over three years seems a modest demand, and only a little bit more than the transfer fee for Mr. MacGregor which we were told of today.

It will not come as a surprise to the Minister, who has had to answer my Starred Questions on two occasions in January and in February, that I should refer to the Legal Basis of Further Education which was published in June 1981, nearly two years ago. Comments were asked for by October 1981. The last answer the Minister gave me—and it was the fourth I had had, because the noble Lord, Lord Elton, replied in October and again in the debate on the Queen's Speech in November—was to the effect that the department—that is, Ministers—had not yet come to a decision. This, I may say, was after the noble Lord. Lord Elton, said in October that there would be an early Statement. It is imperative that the Government come to a decision on this matter. There are very many devoted workers in the field of continuing adult education who feel slighted and ignored; that the Ministers just do not care. There are the members of the advisory council itself, who have for six years done this excellent work. All workers and enthusiasts are asking for some indication of the Government's intentions and are sick of the stalling, as indeed am I.

Some legislation there will have to be. The Legal Basis of Further Education asks for it. Chapter 12 of Continuing Education: From Policies to Practice asks for it, and it contains actual proposals for revising Sections 41 and 42 of the 1944 Act, as does the Labour post-18 discussion document. I want to tell the Minister that some view, some commitment, is essential now. The Government cannot get away with it any longer. Do they want to stick to the old-fashioned, narrow view of helping chiefly the more academic in a narrow age range, or are they willing to break the mould, follow the good practice that is already going on in some places, and produce a more modern, more up to date, educated, trained, flexible and adaptable population, readier to meet the undoubted challenges and needs of the 1990s?

I hope tonight we can have some good news from the Minister and that the leading article entitled "Remember Model E" in The Times Higher Educational Supplement of 18th March, which says that Sir Keith is pondering whether to create a successor to ACACE and is being advised to do nothing—who by, I wonder?—is wrong. With the THES, I say he should reject that advice.

9.20 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, for raising this Question on continuing education because it is a subject on which I feel so strongly that is has given me the courage to make my maiden speech; and I beg the indulgence of your Lordships' House on this occasion. Continuing education, as has already been emphasised, is a matter of great importance—indeed, of necessity. It is necessary for at least three reasons: first, to enable people to adapt to a society characterised by continuous technological, economic and social change; secondly, for people to realise their potential to attain personal fulfilment both in work and in recreation; and thirdly, it may also be necessary at a basic level to teach skills such as literacy or numeracy to those who, for one reason or another, are lacking them.

The question requires us to think of the future but it may be helpful first, very briefly, to touch on some of the achievements of the recent past. The Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education has done immensely valuable work in its publications on policies, on curriculum and programme development and on basic fact finding. There have been so many other important developments that I can only refer very briefly to two of them, ranging from the large-scale nationally available opportunities afforded by the Open University to innumerable smaller-scale, local initiatives geared to local needs such as the English as a second language courses provided in areas where there are sizeable numbers of people whose first language is not English. Such developments must be seen as encouraging.

If we now turn to consider ways in which future policies can build on what has already been achieved, it may be relevant to identify at least two distinct but related purposes of continuing education: first, it can make educational opportunities more widely available; and, secondly, it can serve the purpose of up-dating occupational skills and knowledge. Both are crucial. For example, with regard to the first purpose—that of increasing educational opportunity—one of the most valuable contributions of continuing education is to offer a second chance to those who missed out the first time round. The adult literacy schemes have played a valuable role in this context and the survey by the Institute of Mathematics, which showed that a disturbingly high proportion of school-leavers were incapable of tackling even very simple everyday mathematical problems, suggests that there may be scope for similar work here.

Another very valuable role for continuing education lies in offering new opportunities to older students. This is perhaps particularly important for women who have devoted many years to caring for their children. When the younger generation leave home many of these women have at least a quarter of a century of active life and service ahead of them and many welcome the chance to embark on vocational training which enables them to take on new and rewarding roles.

However, for many of these older students it is essential that facilities for continuing education are available on a part-time basis because their other commitments preclude full-time study. For this reason I particularly welcome and support the recommendation of ACACE that: Priorities for action should include: development of more part-time provision and complementary child-minding facilities"; and for those institutions providing part-time courses: Adjustment of full-time equivalency ratios to take account of the additional workloads required for part-time education". Perhaps I should declare a personal interest at this point, as I owe both my first and my higher degrees to opportunities for part-time study. I am therefore understandably committed to policies which make part-time study more widely available. This commitment has been enhanced by many years of rewarding work for the Open University, teaching large numbers of highly motivated and splendidly enthusiastic students who deeply appreciate the opportunity to study later in life.

I now turn very briefly to that second purpose of continuing education—the updating of occupational skills and knowledge. There have been important developments here, too. If I may, I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention some recent initiatives which have occurred in my own profession of nursing. I do so (I hope with suitable maidenly modesty) because I think that these developments may have something to offer to the wider debate on the principles which underlie some of the policies of continuing education.

Nursing has been taking the question of continuing education very seriously. A recent paper from the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting states unequivocally: Continuing education is a sine qua non of any professional person today. Every opportunity must be offered to all professional nurses for the updating of clinical knowledge". Recent publications from the Royal College of Nursing link a commitment to continuing education with the fundamental commitment to the provision of the highest possible standards of patient care. Indeed, so strong is this commitment that it underpins current proposals for changes in the professional career structure for nurses.

For example, it is proposed that the formal qualification, obtained at the end of initial training, is seen as just the beginning of professional education rather than a ne plus ultra. In order to be eligible for promotion to senior posts and higher salary scales, nurses will need to demonstrate that they have fulfilled specified criteria of accreditation, including the successful completion of appropriate post-basic training. In other words, there should be no automatic promotion based just on length of service, and no automatic progression through salary bars, as tends to occur in some other professions. Midwifery is even further along the road of commitment to continuing education, for midwives are required to attend regular refresher courses every five years in order to remain on the professional register and to continue in professional practice.

I have mentioned these examples of the application of the principle of continuing education in this professional context because I hope that they may be seen as exemplars of a dedicated commitment to its importance. Although they may appear tangential to the main thrust of the debate as it has been initiated, with its particular emphasis on the work of ACACE, I think they do come within its broad terms of reference. I should like to ask whether some note of this aspect of continuing education might usefully and constructively be taken into account in any considerations of future overall policy.

9.29 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have two duties at the outset. One gives me unalloyed pleasure, and it is to express on behalf of the House our appreciation of the excellent maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. If I may say so, I thought that she not only showed her professional knowledge but also the warmth which she feels about adult education students. That was particularly valuable to us in this debate today.

My second duty is to declare an interest. I do so because, since I am the husband of the convenor of Committee B of the Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education, there might be thought to be some family interest in the future of that advisory council and what might take its place. I want to say straight away that, having had the work of the advisory council flowing through our study and living room for at least five and a half years, there is at 4 Talbot Road a consensus that the advice is no longer enough and that the remit of the advisory council in anything like its present form ought not be renewed when it expires in October of this year.

I should like to refer in particular to the aspects of continuing education which have involved me personally in work for the Manpower Services Commission and work in manpower and industrial research generally. As a starting point I take the ACACE report on the education of unemployed adults because it seems to me that that reveals in all its starkness the contrast between the kind of funding which is available to the Manpower Services Commission and the kind of funding which is being considered for the new development body for adult and continuing aducation. If I give the figures, that will be almost enough to make the point. The MSC strategies for what is in effect adult education in the wider sense in which ACACE used the term involve expenditure of roughly £280 million. The expenditure proposed by ACACE in its report on education for unemployed adults would build up to a figure of, I think, just over £15 million. The MSC has already made it clear that it does not consider that education of unemployed adults is an appropriate area for a slice of the £280 million. As my noble friend Lady David has said, the cost of the proposals for a development body for continuing education amounts to less than £2 million a year, even at the end of three years. So the quantum of money involved in the proposals is very small indeed.

Yet the importance of the need for such a body can hardly be exaggerated. I should almost go so far as to say that it will be unavoidable. My noble friend reminded us that five years ago the discussion document on Higher Education in the 1990s, put model E—the model which most closely approximates to the work of ACACE—almost as the last of the options available, as the most revoluntionary of the options available. I do not think that anybody would now say that. I believe that the fact of the decline in school populations, which in due course will be transferred to tertiary education, is well known. However, in parenthesis I must say that my youngest son, who was born in 1964, is now entering tertiary education, being a member of the largest cohort since the war, and is already feeling the effects of considerable cuts in higher education provision.

The effect of the decline in school populations will certainly result in traditional higher educators scrambling for the work (to put it at its lowest) of continuing education. The Goldsmiths conference, to which noble Lords have referred, makes it clear that that point is well appreciated in the higher education sphere, and that the flexibility which might not have been available 10 or 15 years ago towards continuing education is now very much more accepted by those working in the higher education sector.

I chose as an example the education of unemployed adults, but really the question is very much wider than that, and the other general realisation which has taken place since the publication of the discussion document on Higher Education in the 1990s is the realisation of the effect of technological change. I do not think that anyone will live through a lifetime of work without having the nature of their job changed at least once, probably twice, and maybe three times. I am reminded of a saying of my friend Michael Pentz, Dean of Science at the Open University, who said some years ago that the body of scientific knowledge from the time of the ancient Greeks had more than doubled since he had gained his PhD a little more than 25 years previously. That is the rate at which scientific and technological change is taking place. All of us, at one stage or another in our lives, will have to make major changes in the work we do, some of it, perhaps without adequate training, by coming to your Lordships' House. Other people have different kinds of responsibilities. It will be necessary to increase the provision, much more than has ever been accepted by Governments or by the educational world in the past, for those retraining in skills at all levels.

I carried out a survey some years ago on management education in the London area. I was able to calculate, following 500 interviews, that the amount of time spent on their own education and training by managers working in the London region was approximately two days a year—in other words, less time than they spend making up their expense claims. That position cannot persist either for management or for people working at other levels in industry and commerce and in the public sector. Something will have to be done. The need for a new initiative is virtually unstoppable.

I feel some reluctance, I must confess, to support any proposition that there should be a new body. When anyone suggests that some new institution should be established, my natural instinct is that we should be able to abolish half a dozen others in order to have a rational view of the work that is to be done. There is a real danger in all these areas—education suffers no less than any other sector—of the development of advisory bodies and co-ordinating bodies that trip over each other's heels. That must be avoided. I hope that the Government will not simply set up some other co-ordinating body—the idea of an interdepartmental committee has been criticised—to do the work that is so obviously necessary.

I think, on reflection, that this may be an exception. The number of people who will need to be involved in the provision of the wider range of continuing education that is now necessary is great. They include Government departments, local education authorities, the educational establishments at all levels, the communication industry, broadcasting and the press, those responsible for new technology in the form of data processing and video production of educational material, the trade unions, employers' organisations and community groups. One of the essences of the provision required is that it should be local and accessible to people who do not think of themselves as being in the educational market and who would be more confident if the provision was local among their neighbours in a context and an atmosphere that they could recognise. All of these must be brought together in a constructive way.

The kind of new development body proposed in the ACACE report and by Dr. Hoggart in his message to the Secretary of State last December will have a most difficult job to do. A very large number of people must work together in order to start out on the 20-year programme which ACACE envisaged in the document published last year. The problems are immense. The opportunities are very great. If we do not do anything about it now we shall certainly have to do something which will be much less effective in the future.

9.41 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, may I first join in the congratulations to my noble friend Lady Cox on an exceedingly interesting and able maiden speech. It is excellent that we are going to have her voice in our midst in the future. I rise to speak with diffidence on a matter which concerns only the area south of the Border, but I do so because I am the chairman of the Scottish Community Education Council which has precisely the type of powers which are suggested in the ACACE report. Whether this is the right solution for a much greater area nine times as large in England and Wales, I am not sure, but I do in fact deal a great deal of the time with these matters as well.

I endorse what other noble Lords have said about the quality of the council's report. It seems to me to set out with admirable clarity the reasons why wider and better access to continuing education of one sort or another will be of such importance in the coming years both to individuals and to the economy. Important decisions have to be taken about the central education, and for the whole of Great Britain for training. Whatever the solution, these two areas—education and training—can no longer be separated even though at the present time they are the responsibility of separate Government departments.

I disagree with the report about the imbalance in the funding of youth training. The whole objective of the first part of the Government's strategy is to get a proper foundation of education and training for young people on which they can build in the changing future. I also disagree with what one or two noble Lords have said in relation to the concept of talking about more provisions and better provision, in this context. "Provision" is a suitable word in some areas of what we are talking about, but not, I think, in all.

The report itself acknowledges that it is crucial, especially on the less formal side of continuing education, that people are involved in getting the continuing education going themselves, in arranging it and even in the teaching as in the learning. It seems to me that there are broadly three areas for attention and decision by the Government and those three areas are, in fact, susceptible to three different approaches.

First, there is the continuing education—to which my noble friend was referring when she was talking about the nursing profession—which is closely linked with employment, with the way in which one earns a living. The changing nature of work is not simply a matter of learning new skills. One has, at whatever level one operates, to learn to think in new ways as well. Imagination, the ability to analyse, to innovate, to see how one's work fits into the whole, demands more than simple craft training has hitherto offered. Likewise, the graduate who has learnt the theory of a certain subject, finds that his or her job involves understanding more about people, more about management, more about other subjects apart from that originally studied, if he is to be competent.

This kind of continuing education is very closely linked with training. I believe that it is entirely wrong to say that the Government have no strategy on this subject or will not have a strategy. The MSC is in the course of developing a consultative process at this moment on what the national strategy for adult training should be. It seems that the strategy for continuing education must be linked with this across department boundaries. I sometimes wonder whether this is not an area which is susceptible to a voucher system, a means by which people could buy their share of continuing education from time to time throughout their lives—continuing education linked with their ability to earn a living. Whatever way it is done, funding for this has partly to be found by Government, for this kind of continuing education is about the economy and about the welfare of the entire country. To leave it to employers would not be enough.

The second area is the informal learning of new things which people enjoy, which they very much want and which they desperately need in the modern world. What used to be called evening classes, ranging from keep fit and old fashioned dancing to woodwork, dressmaking and cookery, right through to the effect of the Roman occupation on modern motorways (which was the subject of such a class), used to flourish until they were knocked on the head by the doubling of teaching costs and by the inability of people to pay. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, has said, it has tended to be the educated who have sought more education in this kind of area. Here it seems that the vision in the report that there could be an enormous network of activity at not too great cost is something that really could be tackled. In many parts of the country now, including inner cities and rural villages, people are finding ways to help one another learn and enjoy one another's society as they do it. It happens during the day; it happens in the evening on every sort of subject. People of all ages are involved, including very many pensioners.

The way forward here is surely to have a few professionals acting as what one might call "multipliers"—people who could help local leadership develop in organising classes, forming classes, finding teachers and arranging accommodation and finance. In the area where I live this is happening now most successfully and most cost-effectively. People are then involved in what they are doing; they learn better, and are far more likely to come along than if provision is laid on for them. That is what attracts the already educated. The subject matter may be microcomputer programming, how to get the best out on one's electric oven, aspects of do-it-yourself, or motor car maintenance. The cost will be fixed by the people involved and in that way they will arrange it in a way that is suitable for them. So this great network across the country seems to me to be a possible way forward which really could involve the vast majority of people who want to participate.

The third aspect, which has already been mentioned, is basic education. In Great Britain we already know a lot about that. Government pump-priming which there is at present, and local education authority input have enabled many hundreds of amateur adult tutors to learn how to help a person to read, to write and to calculate. It seems to me that this should continue and develop on the lines it is at the moment. Therefore, there are three aspects. There is basic education, the informal leaning of new things for their own sake, which people want and need so very much, and the education linked with earning a living.

In Scotland we focus it on the Scottish Community Education Council, but the initiative on the ground mostly has to come through education authorities and through voluntary organisations. It is simply the coordinating that is done by our council. Whether this is a way for England and Wales I do not know, but I am convinced that there are enormous possibilities at not enormous cost.

9.50 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, for affording us this opportunity for a brief exchange of views on a subject—continuing education—which is rightly of concern not only to this House but to many well-informed interests outside it. Social and economic changes, largely related to the accelerating pace of technological development, have brought about a much wider recognition of the need for education to be seen as a process which should continue, in one way or another, throughout adult life, and not as a once-for-all process to be cut off abruptly when the individual reaches some point in his mid to late teens or, if he is relatively lucky, his early twenties.

Turning now to the terms of the noble Lord's Question, I should like to make two preliminary points. First, I hope he will not be too disappointed that I am unable this evening to give him a very specific answer. As I suspect the noble Lord himself knew, and certainly as the noble Baroness, Lady David, knew because she quoted it, in reply to a recent question in another place my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education explained that the Government hoped to be able to make a statement "in the spring" on ACACE's proposal for a national development body for adult and continuing education. Notwithstanding any meteorological appearances to the contrary, I thoroughly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, that spring begins on 21st March. I say this with absolute confidence because it happens to be my birthday, and I always say that I was born on the first day of spring. I do not think it can be said, as today I think is the 28th, that we are seriously behind schedule in our consideration of this matter.

I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady David, would not agree that this might be the case when it comes to the Government statement on the report, the Legal Basis of Further Education. Tonight I am not going to get involved in another debate on whether sooner is sooner than shortly, or shortly is shorter than soon. Incidentally, I know that that got on to the back page of the Times Educational Supplement, and a month later it got into Private Eye. I think there might be a message there. I can only repeat that the report and the many representations on it are being considered carefully, and a statement will be made as soon as possible.

Secondly, and purely to set the record straight, I ought just to note that the terms of the noble Lord's Question embody a slight misconception, and this has been recognised by several noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken this evening. No final decision has yet been taken about the future of ACACE when its present term expires in October. But in saying this I must not myself mislead the House. ACACE was original appointed for three years only; and when its term was extended for a further three years, the then Secretary of State explained to the council's chairman, Dr. Hoggart, that he thought this extension should be sufficient to enable the council to complete the task assigned to it. A similar view was expressed by Sir Leo Pliatzky in his Report on Non-Departmental Bodies; and I think it is fair to say that ACACE itself does not expect, nor indeed particularly wish, to be invited to continue in its present form. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for endorsing that.

That this should be so is in itself a tribute to what the council has been able to achieve in the six years of its existence. The council's programme of work has placed heavy demands on the time and the talents of its busy, unpaid, members, and some individuals in particular; their dedicated response to those demands is attested by an impressive list of publications. Over 20 reports have been published to date, with a further 10 or so in the pipeline, covering a wide range of topics. Some of these have been mentioned this evening. A few of the titles will give some indication of the varied ground which the council has managed to cover; Education for Unemployed Adults—which has been referred to by more than one speaker; Part-Time Degree Study in the UK; Adults' Mathematical Ability and Performance; The Arts and Adult Education; and so on. Through the council's efforts, our knowledge and understanding of the problems of a complex field have been significantly enhanced.

Proceeding through the terms of the noble Lord's Question, I come to the major report, Continuing Education: From Policies to Practice, which ACACE submitted last year to the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales. Your Lordships will not expect us to provide a comprehensive response as yet. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, pointed out, many of the recommendations of this wide-ranging document are, in any case, directed to other bodies—local education authorities, individual institutions, examining bodies and so forth—and ACACE themselves recognise the long-term nature of many of the elements in their strategy, and the need for further research and discussion before any definite action is taken.

But there is a third point, which I should be less than frank if I did not make. The overall strategy proposed by ACACE is an ambitious one. Except in the most general terms, proposals in the report are not costed, and I sympathise with the council's desire to avoid a specious appearance of accuracy and objectivity in an area of considerable uncertainty. Nevertheless, the full implementation of ACACE's strategy would, undoubtedly, entail a substantial increase in public expenditure which, within current ceilings, could be met only by redistribution from other areas. This is not, I think, the time or the place for a wide-ranging debate about the allocation of resources between the main public expenditure programmes, nor even between different elements of educational expenditure. We all have different priorities and are rarely prepared to see our favourites cut, as we have learned during past weeks in your Lordships' House.

It follows from what I have been saying that expansion in the provision of adult and continuing education will, to a great extent, depend upon the willingness of those individual students or sponsors who can afford it to contribute as much as possible towards the real cost of provision, thus releasing resources to subsidise provision for those who cannot afford to contribute much. I quite accept that some people cannot afford much, if anything, and that it is only right and proper that special provision should be made in such cases. I am happy to say that the great majority of LEAs charge reduced fees—and, in some cases, nothing at all—to such categories of students as the handicapped, the unemployed, the elderly and persons attending courses in basic literacy and numeracy.

If I may, I will answer two specific questions which were asked of me. One was by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and the noble Baroness. Lady David, about the use of surplus school accommodation for adult education. It is the Government's policy to reduce public expenditure, and one of the ways in which this can be done is when accommodation becomes available through the falling rolls of children. But it is for local authorities to determine, in the light of the resources available, what is to happen to that accommodation which is no longer needed as a result of falling rolls. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, also asked about joint funding for the MSC and the DES. I am delighted that he asked me that question, because there is sometimes a feeling in educational circles that the MSC is the "enemy", and I am pleased that there is some co-operation. I am glad to say that the MSC is considering the development of a strategy for adult training. The DES is in close contact with the MSC over this, and will seek to ensure that any action taken is closely complementary.

Any strategy for the future development of continuing education must seek to ensure that necessarily scarce public resources are deployed in the most effective way possible; which, in turn, involves the careful selection of priority fields for such public investment as we can afford. Let me therefore give the House a few brief examples of what is being done in certain fields which we judge, for various reasons, to be of especial importance.

I shall begin with the Government's PICKUP initiative, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, because it illustrates a point I have been making. The initials stand for "professional, industrial, and commercial updating". The ever-increasing pace of technological change, the development of new management techniques and changes in legislation all contribute to the need for those engaged in industry and commerce to keep abreast of developments. By and large, our educational institutions have not played as extensive a part in this as they might. There are already, of course, a sufficient number of honourable exceptions to establish both the potential contribution which the education service can make and the readiness of employers to pay an economic price for the right product.

Many of the factors inhibiting developments, in other words, are not fundamentally financial. Rather, there exists a communications gap and, in some cases, a lack of confidence based on lack of experience. Firms do not always appreciate the contribution which our colleges of further and higher education can make to meeting their updating requirements; colleges do not always realise that these requirements exist and that the employers will pay an economic price to anyone who is able to meet them. A college which genuinely wants to help may, nevertheless, be unsure how to go about it. In terms both of course content and teaching method, in-service education for mature employees requires a measure of adaptation which colleges accustomed to providing initial vocational education for the young may find daunting.

What is needed, against this background, is a catalyst which will promote dialogue between colleges and employers, encourage the provision of better and clearer information to bring about a better match between supply and demand, and publicise examples of successful practice so that colleges not yet active in the field of post-experience vocational educational can benefit from the experience of the pioneers. The PICKUP initiative seeks to act as such a catalyst. Colleges also need help in the process of adaptation to which I have just referred, and accordingly curriculum development projects in key areas are being funded as part of the initiative.

PICKUP is an example of a form of continuing education in which it is reasonable to look for an expansion of provision on a self-financing basis, given a suitable steer and a modicum of pump-priming from the centre; but, as I have already indicated, there are other priority areas to which different considerations apply, and one such instance is the provision of education in literacy and basic skills. Here, we have carried forward the campaign begun in the 1970s, which originally focused on literacy. I was delighted that my noble friend Lady Cox, in what I thought was an excellent maiden speech, remarked upon this point. Apart from encouraging the local education authorities to make provision, and to subsidise it, we set up in 1980 the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit to act as a central focus, and in particular to sponsor innovatory development projects in collaboration with LEAs and other providers; and last year we announced that grant-aid for the unit would be continued for at least a further two years, until 1985, and also extended the unit's remit to enable it to sponsor a somewhat wider range of projects. We hope to make an announcement early next year about the unit's future after 1985.

To these contrasting examples on initiatives to meet defined priorities I would add two more, In the first of the reports mentioned in the noble Lord's Question, much is rightly made of the problem customarily described by the phrase "educational barriers to entry". Alternatively, as I think my noble friend Lady Cox put it, there is need for "a second chance"—that is to say, there is the problem faced by the mature student who wishes to embark on a course of higher education but finds that he does not possess the necessary qualifications for entry. In fact, there is more flexibility in the system than is commonly appreciated, and what the student needs is to be able to find out, more readily than he often can at present, what opportunities are already open to him on the basis of his existing qualifications and experience. With this in mind, the Open University—and I think that here I come to the point in which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, was saying that the noble Lord, Lord Perry, was very interested—has recently been commissioned by the Department of Education and Science to set up a pilot Educational Counselling and Credit Transfer Information Service; the intention is that this pilot service, operating initially in the South-West but covering courses at all universities and polytechnics, will commence in 1984.

The last example I would mention briefly is that of pre-retirement education. I think that my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour is interested in this. The proportion of retired people in our society is growing and we are convinced that people are much more likely to enjoy a satisfying, active and independent retirement, and to be better able to cope with the transition from work, if they have prepared for it in advance. On the whole, I think it fair to say that this point has come to be increasingly widely appreciated in principle, but that the provision of effective pre-retirement education is not as widespread as might be wished. To support development work and disseminate good practice, the Pre-Retirement Association, who deserve much credit for their efforts in raising public awareness of the need for a well thought-out approach to the implications of retirement, have been given a three-year grant by the Department of Education.

I have left myself little time to speak of the second report to which the noble Lord's Unstarred Question alludes; but as I noted earlier in this speech, a decision has not yet been taken on ACACE's proposals for a national development body, and there is therefore little which I could properly say on this aspect of the Question. Recalling what I have said earlier in this speech, therefore, let me simply say that the need, as we see it, is to secure the optimum deployment of scarce resources to support development in those areas of continuing education which merit the highest priority—and I do not suggest, of course, that those areas are confined to the three or four which I have chosen to mention tonight. The ACACE proposal must be judged against this criterion, and on this basis it has its pros and its cons. A wide-ranging representative body can be well-placed to select key areas for development on the basis of an informed and comprehensive overview of the field; on the other hand, it may be tempted to give each potential claimant too small a slice of what must be a finite cake.

Experience suggests that some of the most successful development agencies have been those with more clearly and specifically directed remits, often over a fairly narrow range of priority areas. Against the advantages of a continuing focus are the disadvantages of quangos with indeterminite lifespans which rely on Government finance. The decision which the Government have to take on the ACACE proposal is not therefore a simple one, and in reaching that decision the Government will of course take account of the views expressed by noble Lords this evening, for which I am grateful.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down may I ask him, since he prayed in aid that the first day of spring was only a week behind us, whether we can expect a more definite statement before the first day of summer?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am always very baffled about this because summertime started yesterday and it rather intrigues me, therefore, as to whether we only get six days of spring, but I do not think that the beginning of summertime necessarily heralds the beginning of summer. I cannot give a more definite answer than that to the noble Lord, I am afraid.

House adjourned at five minutes past ten o'clock.