HL Deb 23 February 1993 vol 543 cc176-212

8.54 p.m.

Baroness David rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are their plans for adult education and its funding.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have been good enough to stay to start a debate at this time of night.

It was on 15th July 1991 that I asked an Unstarred Question on adult education. I now ask another. It is a "before and after" situation. Last time we were debating the White Paper. Today we shall be debating the expected results of the legislation that followed it; that is, the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

What is absolutely certain is that the demand now for adult education is enormous, for both economic and social reasons. It is significant that a very large proportion of that demand comes from middle-aged men because of the increase in unemployment and the need for retraining. Many of those middle-aged and often middle-class men are attending classes in business or computer studies. The freedom—or enforced leisure as one should call it—that unemployment creates accounts for the presence of many of those people, many of whom are new students. Those who work in the adult education field have a number of anxieties. The one that has given rise to the greatest number of letters in my post bag has been the fear of the introduction of VAT. Part of the trouble stems from the ridiculous division into two classes: vocational and recreational. In the last debate it was pointed out over and over again as we went through the Further and Higher Education Bill that it was an impossible division to make. Where would one put a class for governors? Where would one put a course for foreign language, which may include people who are there merely to get an acquaintance with the language for a foreign holiday, to talk to a new in-law or for job or business purposes?

The other strong argument against such a division is that a so-called leisure class that someone may start, such as floristry or flower arranging—the most often quoted example—may lead on to a vocational course that may well in turn lead on to employment or the setting up of a small business.

To return to the question of VAT, I believe that there have been enough statements from Ministers for us to know that vocational courses are safe but recreational leisure classes are not. As a result of the changes brought about by the Further and Higher Education Act, the principal for VAT administration at HM Customs and Excise Office gave advice to the Further Education Funding Council on the VAT implications for further education. His letter stated that bodies receiving funding from the funding council would be exempt from VAT, subject to ministerial approval. Recreational evening courses would be exempt if the institutions provided vocational training or education. While he noted that the definition of such courses was not easy, he stated that he did not propose to challenge the exemption currently enjoyed by the further education colleges. Since many adult education institutions will be receiving funding from the funding council, can we be certain that they will be included within the definition in that letter? If VAT inspectors are to be left to decide upon the educational value of courses there is concern that they are perhaps not the best people to judge the merits of programmes of study.

Where does that leave the local education authorities providing such courses not funded by the funding council? They are very worried. The addition of 17½ per cent. will mean a large increase in fees. LEAs are already under severe financial pressure. I have abundant evidence that they have been forced to make significant reductions in their budgets, and it is the non-statutory services—the youth service, adult education and discretionary grants—that suffer and in some cases vanish altogether.

Increasing the subsidy for adult education to absorb the additional cost incurred by VAT would be impossible, and increasing charges will drive off the less well off members of the community, leaving a mainly middle-class clientele. Naturally, the effect of pricing courses out of people's reach will mean that the Government will fail in its attempt to raise additional revenue. It will simply kill off adult education for little or no financial return. William Tyler, principal of the City Lit, reckons that the cost of levying VAT will not only be an added cost to students but there will also be the cost of employing VAT clerks, changing computer software, and so on. He estimates that the entire exercise may add something like three-quarters of a million pounds to the college budget.

A letter from Sir John Cope, Paymaster General to Robert Jackson, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary, in October last says, Certain courses fall clearly into either the taxable or exempt category. Flower arranging and bridge would be taxable while accountancy and business studies would be exempt. However, there are borderline types of course". He said that there was to be a review of the entire educational exemption. Can the Minister say whether that review is now complete? NIACE (the govern-ment-funded body to support adult and continuing education) believes that any proposal to limit VAT exemption to Schedule 2 courses would be inimical to effective access to adults, particularly those on low incomes.

I want to make absolutely clear to the Minister the strength of feeling in the whole educational world against the imposition of VAT and ask for her help and support in making sure that that threat does not become a reality. I remind her of what Alan Howarth, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary, said in committee in another place on 19th February last year. At col. 126 he said that, education is not simply some sort of annex to the economic production line. Clearly, the role of education is to enlarge personal opportunity, to enable more people to have the fullest possible opportunities in life and to make their contributions to the community". I mentioned the difficult financial position in which LEAs find themselves. Many believe that one contributory factor is that the methodology used to calculate the level of resources to be transferred to the funding council from LEAs was seriously flawed and that the amount of funding transferred to the funding council was too large. Some £2.34 billion was transferred to provide the base for the funding council budget, whereas the LEAs estimate that the transfer should have been only £2.2 billion. The exercise was based on guesswork. The view that the DFE assumptions were over-generous was confirmed by the subsequent success of LEAs in negotiating increased capping limits. But without a corresponding adjustment to standard spending assessment, that is not a great help. The only way to spend more would be to put it on the council tax, an extra burden on local people.

During the course of the Further and Higher Education Bill through this House, we tried to prevent LEAs, adult colleges and institutions, having to apply through the local further education colleges to the funding council for funding those Schedule 2 courses they wish to go on providing, assumed to be some 28 per cent. of their adult provision. That seemed to us possibly unfair and certainly cumbersome. The application goes to the college. If it is approved there it is passed on to the funding council which comes to a decision and, I understand, then lets the local college know, which lets the LEAs know. How many hands the funds for the course pass through I am not sure, but it really is bureaucracy gone mad. We felt that savings on that sort of exercise were what the Government were encouraging.

We understand that bids had to be in by November and the LEAs have now received notification of their allocation. The Further Education Funding Council stated that 60 per cent. of bids have been met. What is to happen to the other 40 per cent? I am particularly worried by what will happen to young people with special needs who will lack the confidence to move to another institution to take a course when they would have had the courage to go ahead where they know the teachers and are known.

The national picture is not clear. It looks as though the reduction in adult education provision by LEAs and the shortfall in resourcing Schedule 2 courses may lead to great losses in provision on a national scale. I appeal to the Minister for clarification. There is uncertainty and I believe that there have been some recent decisions. I hope that in winding up the Minister will be able to explain what has been going on and where we are, so that everyone—colleges, institutions, staff of LEAs and of the colleges—know exactly where they stand and how they got there. There was a feeling that treatment had been unfair, but changes may have been made.

There are other providers contributing to the variegated tapestry that makes up adult and continuing education, and I want to speak briefly of two—the departments of continuing education in the universities (I include the polys) and the Open University. The Higher Education Funding Council is reviewing the future of its funding and I do not believe that the result of the review is yet available. But there is a fear that there is a strong drift towards making funds available only for courses which lead to awards. Such a move would put at risk the university extra-mural tradition and the value that that brings; the links between universities and their regions; access to non-traditional students; developmental work and, indeed, the notion that education has a value in its own right. Of the options on offer, option two, which would continue the Universities Funding Council practice of special funding for continuing education, seems by far to be the most attractive. Such funding would be available to any university willing and able to make that provision.

The other options could destroy the large and growing programme of liberal adult education provided by universities with a quarter-of-a-million enrolments a year. The University Council of Adult and Continuing Education sees the provision of non-examined courses as a vital part of the mission of higher education. The acquisition of "credit" is irrelevant. Such provision is a cheap and effective way of reaching out to people both in the inner cities and in rural areas. My noble friend Lord Morris will be speaking on the extra-mural departments and I shall leave him to enlarge.

Costs of courses in the Open University are a worry. I have seen tables containing updated figures by its director of finance. They show that tuition fees have increased by over 90 per cent. in real terms between 1979 and 1983, and that the grant per full credit equivalent student course has fallen in real terms by 24 per cent. between 1980 and 1993. It has become more and more difficult for the less well off to study. Full-time students have their tuition fees paid; part-timers do not. They carry heavy costs, having to attend residential schools and tutorials, purchasing books and equipment, stationery, postage and often supplying or renting personal computers. But the OU really is "O", bringing in higher numbers of those with minimal qualifications or in special groups—the disabled, ethnic minorities and so forth—every year. I shall yet again make the plea, so far to no effect, that in all fairness part-time students, who are highly motivated, should have help with their fees or, at minimum, tax relief on them.

I want to ask one question about family/parent education. Valuable work goes on in schools where parents come into classes to work with the children, perhaps just to help them to read and to write, with an adult education tutor in charge. The regulations made following the 1992 Act say that a member of the school teaching staff must be present, which is ridiculous. Could the wording of the regulation be changed so that it read, provided that there is at all times supervision by a member of the school's staff or teaching staff employed or approved by the school", thus allowing the valuable work of parent education to continue? I understand that the staff at City Lit. have talked to people in the department, but I would like the Minister to give reassurance on this point. That would help a great deal.

I should like to end on a hopeful note. The hope comes from knowing the enthusiasm and dedication of those teaching in all and every kind of institution where adult education goes on and the enthusiasm of the students. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and I went with the all-party adult education group last month to visit the South Norwood continuing education and training centre. It was a cheery experience to talk to the students and a lot of imagination had gone into the provision. There was a créche and a play group on the premises. Talking to the staff and to Margaret Davey, head of continuing education in Croydon, we realised that we must fight to preserve this. Their worries were the worries I have tried to outline in my speech. I ask the Minister to impress on her colleagues the immense value and quality which this work has—the economic value and the social value. I ask for generosity. The investment will bring in very good dividends.

9.9 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this important topic and in particular for her helpful, informative and challenging speech. Education is an issue which is receiving much attention nowadays, particularly in relation to schools and the national curriculum, testing for seven year-olds, and so on. What may not be making the headlines is the extent to which those who are no longer of school age rely on the educational opportunities provided by adult education services, and the fact that this provision is steadily being eroded, particularly in the area of non-Schedule 2 studies.

There is a temptation to think of non-Schedule 2 provision as being less important than vocational subjects—hence the different funding arrangements—but I would argue that this is an artificial divide, and one which will affect the disadvantaged members of society—the poor, the frail and the infirm, as well as the active older members of society.

I was particularly interested to read that during the passage of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 Peers and Members of Parliament of all parties recognised the need for a continuum of educational opportunity and the need for a system of education and training which encouraged the development of a lifetime learning culture. This is not a matter of looking only at courses leading to qualifications, whether vocational or non-vocational, but of enabling people of all ages to learn how to learn. Many so-called leisure activities in adult education provide an unthreatening and encouraging means of learning, and they should not be undervalued. The sad fact is, however, that there is already evidence that the non-Schedule 2 provision in local education authorities is at risk, with increased fees, shorter terms and redundancies of adult education teachers throughout the country.

In my own diocese of Southwark severe problems are being faced with the transfer next month of adult education in the London Borough of Southwark from the Adult Education Institute to Southwark Tertiary College. As with other adult education services around the country, a large percentage of the work is not regarded as satisfying the criteria for inclusion under Schedule 2, and therefore cannot be funded by the FEFC. The amount of money being made available for adult education will have to take into account the contractual obligations to those who are being made redundant, as it is clear that there are not the same number of jobs available in the new scheme. This will reduce the amount available to provide the actual teaching in the future.

The implications of these developments for an already depleted service are ominous. It is not yet clear what the future of adult education in Southwark College will be, or whether it will be able to maintain its traditions of community outreach, and drawing in students who have no experience of formal education since school, or indeed at all in this country.

If we are to take seriously the need for a continuum of educational opportunity, we must remember those who, for whatever reason, have not been able to take advantage of the educational system while at school. It may well be that, through an adult education class, not necessarily vocational, they may develop a hobby to the extent that they wish to take it up as a means of employment, as we have already heard. To prevent people from gaining access at a level which meets their immediate needs may deny them the opportunities they so desperately need.

From all that I have heard and read on this topic, I must express my concern at the evidence that higher fees and shorter terms are being introduced as a result of the cutbacks LEAs are making. From my past experience as Bishop of Bradford, I know that adult education is an important part of community outreach, particularly in areas of ethnic minorities and refugees. For many the very basic courses are vital if they are to integrate fully into our society.

It is also ironic that in the European Year of Older People the opportunities for learning and remaining mentally active are being put beyond such people's reach by a weakened commitment to concessionary fees. The chance to learn new subjects and to partake in classes with others is an effective way of keeping many older people active and contributing members of our society. That provides not only advantages in terms of stimulus, but does much to prevent depression and mental illness from dominating a person's life.

At a time of desperately high levels of unemployment, education and training must not be seen as a once-for-all stage of life. As a society we need to learn continuously, as I have said, so that we can learn to cope with change. We cannot afford to have in our economy large numbers of unskilled people or of people who are unable to learn. That learning should not be restricted to so-called "vocational" courses. We need educational opportunities that stimulate individuals to face change in a positive way.

So I ask the Minister to consider very carefully the impact which increased fees resulting from the rumoured introduction of VAT on non-Schedule 2 provision would have on those least able to bear the burden. These basic levels of educational opportunity are vital. They may not lead to a formal qualification in themselves, but they often form the bottom rung of the educational ladder. We owe it to all sections of society to ensure that they have the continuum of educational opportunity which we all regard as essential for a healthy society.

9.16 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this important Question. Adult education in all its forms has made an enormous contribution to both the growth in qualifications and to the understanding of our cultural heritage as well as our economic and social problems. But it is not a service that can be neatly packaged into any one sector of the education system. There are many providers for that "seamless system", which are the words the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, used on the occasion of a debate in this House on 21st November 1991 (Official Report, col. 110).

Regrettably that seamless system is now in danger of fragmenting. My noble friend and the right reverend Prelate have referred to the problems facing some of the providers. First, I would like to say a word about the seven residential colleges which, though small in number, have made a contribution to adult education out of all proportion to their size. Whereas size is an advantage in relation to the development of adult education, it could be a disadvantage in relation to funding.

The special needs of the adult residential colleges can so easily be overlooked in comparison with the larger provision needed for the FE colleges generally. Does the Minister agree with me that within the FE Funding Council there could be an advantage in having a unit specialising in the needs and provision of those colleges? I believe it is something which has been mooted. I would like to know the Minister's attitude to that.

I turn now to that larger area of provision of adult education; namely, the universities. Currently there are about 350,000 adult students attending part-time, non-award-bearing courses provided by the old universities; that is the university system excluding the former polys. They cater for about 50,000 full-time equivalents. Much of that provision is liberal adult education at undergraduate level.

In the field of archaeology alone in 1990, 720 adult education courses were offered by universities, with over 17,500 participants. The Council for British Archaeology has evidence indicating that since 1990 there has been a 30 per cent. increase in the number of students. The council indicates in a recent submission to the Higher Education Funding Council policy review that: Although only a minority of these courses offer certification, it would be difficult to exaggerate the extent to which non-accredited courses have stimulated public interest in Britain's past. Some classes have made original contributions to research through fieldwork and excavation, on occasion involving sustained campaigns of study. The UGC report on archaeology in 1989 stressed the strength and versatility of archaeology as a discipline, demanding as it does a range of transferable skills, the analysis as well as accumulation of data, and the practical and intellectual interaction of sciences and humanities". What a tremendous contribution this is to the traditional work of the universities.

I know how true this is from the Archaeological Sciences Department of my own university of Bradford, having visited that department only on Friday of last week. The University of Bradford, which is a smallish university, has only recently been designated a university for adult education, but it has over 3,000 students or 115 full-time equivalents. These are organised by the Centre for Continuing Education, which also has successful programmes for continuing professional development and for access courses, some of which are outreach courses. In addition, it runs a very successful community education programme aimed at local minority ethnic communities. Some of these courses are held in four languages.

It is difficult to draw a clear demarcation line for this variety of programmes. At the extremes, some are clearly and rightly self-supporting, while others can never be. In the middle, lines can be blurred from time to time, but all the courses are valuable to both the individual and the community. Evidence from other universities presents a similar picture, yet there is a very real fear that some of that work might be sacrificed because of what I suspect is the bureaucratic drive towards cost-effectiveness—towards the cost-effectiveness of something that cannot be costed on present criteria.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England offers three options in its policy review, none of which appears to be completely satisfactory in adequately covering the funding for such diverse activities. My noble friend referred to one option which appears to me to be the least satisfactory. I refer to the option to fund only award-bearing courses or courses contributing towards awards. That would be far too rigid. It would destroy much of the work that has already been done, either by deterring students who have never thought of and do not wish to enter for awards or by undermining the funding of the courses because the criteria would be based on outputs —that is, on modules or courses leading to modules for a qualification.

It is hoped that the options will provide an opportunity for compromise to emerge. I hope that that will be along the lines of the submissions from UCACE, which wants to see a balance struck between the two types of activity and which urges the Higher Education Funding Council to maintain and extend the funding for non-award-bearing continuing education. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate this evening that she fully supports that principle.

9.25 p.m.

Lord Slynn of Hadley

My Lords, although everyone is conscious of the economic constraints upon the provision and expansion of adult education, the noble Baroness, Lady David, has introduced an important Question. It is a subject upon which our national thinking, plans and priorities need constantly to be updated in the light of what is happening not just in adult education but in universities and schools throughout the country, and elsewhere.

I venture to mention one matter which for a long time has seemed to me important not simply for the individual student but for the country as a whole. It is a matter which should be borne in mind in our planning and budgetary priorities. That matter, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, is the teaching of foreign and, in particular, European languages.

Adult education must be seen in context. In the first place, it is salutary that our universities are now increasingly providing courses which involve a period in a Continental university where, in addition to their particular disciplines, the students will learn a language. Among others, the universities of Birmingham and Exeter have for many years done that for law. Our private University of Buckingham now insists that students in all disciplines who do not have a second language in which they are fluent should learn a language during their course. Many of them become proficient in the second, and in particular in Continental languages. The Erasmus scheme and school exchanges at all levels give a great advantage to those studying a foreign language. I understand that the professions—even the legal profession—have begun to catch up.

I am told that one distinguished firm of solicitors in the City—there may well be others—now provides French classes early in the morning for the young lawyers in the firm who wish to take advantage of them. It is essential, if we are to exercise in Europe the influence which, since we are in the Community, we should have, that that should happen. We must not just be at the heart, we should be at the head of Europe.

What is happening in the schools and universities is important, but we must not stop with those relatively privileged categories. Our national policy should be to encourage adult education authorities to give particular prominence to the teaching of modern European languages, especially French, German and Spanish. It should be borne in mind in our planning and budgetary thinking that those subjects do not necessarily require expensive scientific equipment, even though it is obviously nice to have modern language laboratories. It is important to bear in mind that these are subjects with a practical application; that they can be learned by couples and in groups, so that they are likely to interest and attract adults who would not be attracted by purely theoretical, academic subjects. It is not romantic, idealistic nonsense to think that these are subjects which could be studied by parents and children at the same time, even if in different schools. Modern languages can be studied more easily and perhaps more agreeably than many other subject, thereby giving a sense of satisfaction and intellectual interest in particular to the parents. Account is therefore taken of many of the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate in regard to the present need for educational opportunities.

The importance of this subject and the practicality of doing something about it through adult education were brought home to me forcefully two weekends ago when I visited in Santander in Northern Spain a language school providing for the education of adults. Evening classes each lasting one hour are held between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on five days a week throughout the winter and spring months. The courses, graded in difficulty, can run for up to five years. What I saw brought to my mind four factors which are important for us in this country to consider. I respectfully suggest that the Minister and her department should consider the scheme which I found.

First, the school was provided by the state in order to encourage the learning of other Community languages. It was not alone; there are more than 100 such language schools provided by the state throughout Spain. Secondly, the fee charged by the schools is the equivalent of £30 and reductions and assistance are available for those who cannot afford to pay. In that town, which is important but by no means one of the largest in Spain, 4,000 students attend the school, some learning more than one language. I was struck most forcefully by the enthusiasm of the students, whose ages cover a wide range, and of the teachers. It was obvious that the students and not least the teachers derived great satisfaction from their work. I was full of admiration for what I saw.

But the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. I was most surprised to discover that more than 200 students and former students of the school attended a couple of public lectures away from the school. One was in English and the other was in French and a running translation, often in summary, was provided in Spanish. It was plain that the students understood English, if only because they laughed in the right places at the somewhat feeble jokes of the English speaker.

The fact that 80 per cent. of those 4,000 students are learning English is not a ground for saying that we should maintain our eccentric and sometimes over-proud attitude to the learning of foreign languages. "Let them speak English", is about as realistic in the contemporary world as was "Let them eat cake" at the time it was said, even if taken literally.

As a result of my experience in the EC I profoundly believe that because of our position in Europe we should encourage adults—I mean those who have finished full-time education at whatever level—to learn another Community language. We should do so by providing as soon as resources permit the teaching of other European languages. If we do not do so we shall suffer in industry, in commerce and in the professions. In the Community I often heard it said that not enough English people applied for jobs in the Commission, in the Parliament and in the court. Again there were jobs at all levels. A significant reason was that the English did not have the language qualifications or experience necessary to apply. I hope that, in future programmes for adult education and in considering her budgetary priorities, the Minister will give a high priority to European language teaching at all levels. The chance to learn languages should simply not be available only to the elite.

9.35 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lady David who speaks on this subject with such formidable expertise. We can all agree that education is never finished. I hope that we all go on educating each other. I believe that it was Dr. Johnson who said that whoever tires of London, tires of life. Anybody who ceases to try to educate himself at whatever level is halfway to the grave.

I have been educated by the speeches already delivered and no doubt I shall be educated by those yet to be delivered. I have no doubt that I shall be educated further when the Minister replies. I hope that she will not think that I am showing her any disrespect as someone who has a bright political future if I say that I see her as an ideal adult education tutor. I should have loved to have been in her class. I am sure that she would not have spared the rod, but in the old days—and I dare say now—she would have been very acceptable.

I speak from the point of view of the WEA, which was founded in 1903. It still runs 10,000 courses for 180,000 students per year. I declare not a financial but an emotional interest. My wife and I courted one another when we were both tutors for the WEA in North Staffs. We used to conduct that courting in the old North Staffs Hotel, which in those days was a much less pleasant place than it was when I last visited it. At the end of the week we used to catch the 1.45 a.m. train back to London. Our courting went on in the old North Staffs Hotel. One day the manager, who was very aggressive—I hope that he is not listening to the debate this evening—interrupted and said, "Look here Pakenham", because that is what I then called myself, "We can't have this sort of thing going on in a respectable hotel like the North Staffs". Therefore, we were shipped out into the station waiting room where we got engaged to be married.

Sixty years, eight children, 26 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren later, I salute the WEA in North Staffs and even that rather unpleasant hotel manager. That is the background against which I approach the discussion on adult education. My wife and I both had our first jobs there and that brought us together in our life-long partnership.

There were certain features of life in the classes of the WEA in the old days. As I understand it, they still exist. The atmosphere was very democratic. Many of the students were quite mature and my wife and I were quite young. I had just left Oxford. The students were determined to prove that they had more to teach us than we had to teach them. They may have been right because they had more experience of life. There was always that democratic atmosphere.

Also, the tone was entirely cultural. I taught political theory. We have a professor of political theory here now, but I was not a professor. However, I could chat away about Rousseau, Mill, Karl Marx and the others with the best of them. My wife taught English literature. That is what we taught them and they seemed to enjoy it. I am sure that we benefited from it and I honestly believe that they did too. There was no question of their taking examinations. We used to set them essays. We were young and fairly critical of our students' work and in that sense we demanded a certain standard. Our arrogance may have been good for them, although it was bad for us. We lectured for three years. Was that experience of value? I personally believe it was of great value to our students. That was the culture of the WEA. The courses were non-vocational and did not involve any examinations. However, I am told that now a proportion of WEA students take some examinations. The WEA sought to instil culture and human values in its students. Personally I believe there will always be a place for that.

Substantial help is required from the state to enable such courses to be run. I believe the fees today cover the tutors' costs but not the overheads of the courses. Therefore substantial help is required from the state if the WEA is to stay in existence and expand.

I am well aware that the finances of this matter constitute a complicated subject and I am not sure I understand that subject myself. There was one set of financial arrangements until 1990 and another that lasted to 1993. Some new financial arrangements are now being established. I shall not discuss those in detail except to say that the WEA is concerned for its future. The noble Baroness appears to be sympathetic on this matter. I hope she is as sympathetic as she appears to be and that she will say something which shows that the Government continue to hold the WEA in high esteem and will do all they can to aid its future progress.

9.42 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I approach this subject with perhaps too much earnestness and insufficient knowledge of the complexities of education as it exists today. Nevertheless I believe this Government undervalue adult education in a way no government in our time have ever done before. They seem to have real concern only for the full-time colleges of education which enable people to gain certificates of achievement in trade and professional skills. Concern for full-time adult education is vital. It serves both ambitious students and a nation which is anxious to maintain and perhaps improve its standard of living. Let no one deny a penny of support or an ounce of prestige to those colleges. They play an important and material role. However, they are only part of adult education.

Each year a million and a half students of all ages enrol, pay a substantial fee, turn their backs on television and attend one, two or even three sessions a week in an adult education establishment. They study a wide variety of subjects. Some of the educational institutions they attend provide them with qualifications that are useful in their jobs. However, most students study non-material subjects such as languages, literature, the visual arts, history, household skills or recreational subjects. At a time when we are all feeling a growing anxiety about the moral climate of our society, surely that life-enhancing adult education movement, with its fine traditions, is one which the Government should encourage. However, the movement is not receiving such encouragement.

People engaged in adult education never tire of reminding us that more people attend adult classes every week than attend League football matches on Saturdays. They are quite right to remind us of that fact. Those who attend adult education courses pay their subscriptions a term in advance. The old and the unemployed may qualify for concessions. There are also cheap courses for people on income support, but those are insufficient to cope with the present demand, which is swollen by unemployment.

Yet adult education is still not visibly treated by the Government as an entity in its own right. The historic term "adult education" was not used once in the Act which we passed last year. That may be the reason why the funding seems to be in some confusion. Those institutions which provide a variety of part-time courses must seek funding for those needing certification from the Further Education Funding Council, yet they must not go directly to the council. They have to ask a college of further education to intercede for them, though such colleges have no experience of part-time classes of all ages taking a subject probably at a slower speed than the colleges themselves and catering for students who are interested only in knowledge and will not be examined, All the other courses are classed as recreational and are to be funded by the local authority out of its general grant. Everybody fears that in the age of capping adult education will not be maintained at its traditional level.

Finally, like my noble friend, I should like to say a word about the WEA, which during the past 60 years I have served as an occasional lecturer but more often from time to time as a student. That continues. Only last week my wife and I were warding off the bleak midwinter with Christina Rosetti and in two days' time we shall be comparing Wells' brave new woman of 1909, Ann Veronica, with the feminists of today and finding that many of her battles have still to be won.

The WEA has been in existence for exactly 90 years, stimulating the demand of adults for a liberal education and providing for the needs of those who in educational terms are the economically and educationally underprivileged, which really means those people who have little money and little education. The WEA is a great British institution. For about 70 years it has received a government grant. That is now to be paid by the funding council, which will recognise that its role is quite different from that which would normally qualify for a grant from the council. A third of its grant, however, has also to come from local authorities as an earmarked part of their grant from the Government. The money will be paid to local authorities as part of their general grant, but next year the earmarking will stop. What will happen then is anybody's guess. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Combermere, who is a professional in this field of adult education and university extension work and who knows his way confidently through the labyrinth in which I have been groping, will tell us more about these problems.

I have the gravest fears about the future of adult education. Are the Government being just a little careless? Or are they perhaps contemptuous of much adult education? Or are they being merely cunning, seeing a way of silently slipping in the knife for another grievous cut in well-justified expenditure?

9.48 p.m.

Viscount Combermere

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for raising this important Question. I should like to begin by declaring an interest. I am fully employed in university adult education with the Extra-mural Centre of Birkbeck College of London University.

Since the Further and Higher Education Bill went through your Lordships' House about a year ago there has been considerable concern about the future of adult education in the country as a whole. That is partly, perhaps, because it is difficult in some cases to find out exactly what is going on. As I understand the situation, the Government are saying that a great deal of money is going to local authorities for non-Schedule 2 courses but it is not ring-fenced for adult education. Hence, the money is being used for schools and social services, but not for adult education.

To date a large number of separate adult education centres have been merged with FE colleges. It is clear that some of those centres have had no choice and have been taken over. It remains to be seen whether or not rooms that were previously available for adults will be allocated only to 16 to 19 year-olds. It is of great concern that buildings taken over from adults will be used for other purposes. Behind that anxiety for adult education is the worry that the Government are trying to tip the scales heavily against so-called non-vocational education and in favour of vocational educàtion; and that the former is still considered to include leisure classes and hence is not worthy of support.

That mistaken view was highlighted when an education Bill went through your Lordships' House last year. So-called non-vocational courses are often an adult student's first contact with the process that will lead by progressive stages through access courses to university.

Large numbers of adult students are going through the universities. For example, on a typical university humanities course one-half or two-thirds will be adult students. One needs to ask how those students arrived at university. I suspect that a significant number will have started in those courses which are not specifically vocational. It is vital that the Government understand that a lack of support for one aspect of adult education inevitably affects other aspects which they wish to underpin. Unless that fact is recognised, adult education will die. At present there is no protection for non-vocational adult education. Local authorities do not ring-fence it. Do the Government really wish to get rid of that aspect of adult education?

There is grave anxiety about funding in all areas of adult education. For example, in Essex, two adult residential colleges have gone. Other colleges could be in jeopardy because the FEFCs do not fund non-examination courses. The Government will say of course that it is up to the local authority to provide funds. But local authority funds are not ring-fenced and if they try to provide funds for the usual adult non-vocational courses they are in danger of being rate-capped. There is a further fear that the Inland Revenue would like to slap VAT on adult courses. That would finally finish them off, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, said. I hope that the Government will unequivocally affirm that there is no intention for VAT to be added to non-vocational and non-examination courses.

Despite assurances, local authority budgets for 1993 do not leave LEAs with enough to provide adequate adult education services. What is needed is a strengthening of the law to make adult education services mandatory. Perhaps I may illustrate what I mean. In Barnet, funds provided for non-vocational adult education have been cut from £750,000 to £75,000 per annum, spread over three colleges, a reduction in provision of 90 per cent. The effect will be, first, that there will be no concessionary fees for the elderly or for the unemployed. Secondly, fees will increase sharply. Thirdly, half the programme will collapse and the service will be provided only for those who can afford it. The Government clearly wish to encourage the unemployed to seek qualifications, yet one of the routes, through non-vocational courses, is being made unavailable. Yet those very courses often provide a student's first contact with the process that could eventually lead to university.

I turn to another area of adult education, one to which noble Lords have already referred. The WEA was founded in 1903. It is the only national voluntary organisation solely concerned with adult education in the UK. I have personal experience of its work. I have taught university-sponsored WEA courses over a period of about 25 years. The WEA is concerned over what will happen to approximately one-third of its total grant which is derived from LEAs when this proportion of the grant ceases to be earmarked in April 1994. Other areas of concern include the availability of teaching accommodation. The WEA is totally dependent on other organisations for its teaching accommodation, while charges for such accommodation are becoming increasingly prohibitive. The WEA above all needs funding and the opportunity to acquire reasonable teaching accommodation at reasonable costs.

In conclusion, overall, across the broad spectrum of adult education, there is widespread concern over funding for non-Schedule 2 courses in particular. This has already led to large increases in student fees, which in turn has led to significant drops in enrolments. But behind this there lies the concern that non-vocational courses are regarded as leisure courses and that they are not worthy of support. I have had personal experience in this area for many years as, in addition to teaching award-bearing courses, I have also taught very regularly non-vocational, non-Schedule 2 courses. These happen to be in the area of the history of religions, but surely no-one would suggest that a knowledge of the history and of the deeply held beliefs of Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Bahias in our country is of no consequence. Religious wars and violence in general have too often been generated between religions, and some of this has been based on pure ignorance.

Equally, of course, one could make cases for other non-award-bearing subject areas. Examination courses and courses generally listed as Schedule 2 courses are not all that there is to be said about a rich, wide and well-balanced education. I fully endorse the noble Baroness, Lady David, when she quotes the then Under-Secretary of State for Education reported in this context in February 1992. In addition, quite apart from anything else many adults have found that their first step back into learning comes through just one of these non-vocational courses. To split off these areas threatens progression routes from one type of course to a more demanding one.

I should like to summarise what in my view is needed. First, there should be mandatory provision for adult education, and this should not be limited to Schedule 2 courses. Secondly, there must be adequate funding, and this funding should be ring fenced. Thirdly, there should be an end to uncertainty over adequate funding, and fourthly, the Government should unequivocally declare that no adult education courses should be subject to VAT. Unless these points are accepted non-Schedule 2 adult education will just run down.

It will run down because of inadequate funding, which will be reflected in a diminution of courses available and in vastly increased fees for courses that are still offered, with no concessionary fees for the unemployed or old age pensioners. This will mean that it will become unavailable for the elderly, the unemployed and those generally less well off. With unemployment now over 3 million, the Government should think carefully about the need not only for Schedule 2 and vocational courses but for non-vocational courses as well.

9.59 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I wish to address one particular aspect of adult education, and that is adult education in prisons and the consequences of putting this out to compulsory competitive tendering. Until this year education in prisons had been provided by local education authorities and paid for by the Home Office. Every prison establishment in the country has an education officer together with full-time and part-time staff. But even this system is constantly under pressure from the need for security in prisons and overcrowding, and prison education is often the first thing to go to the wall when other considerations come into it. We are already dealing with a fragile plant which is further threatened by the compulsory competitive tendering system.

If prisons are to provide constructive and positive regimes which will divert people from a life of crime, education is an essential component of their experience in prison. If prisoners are to survive when they leave prison, they need, first, vocational and craft skills to enhance their otherwise very slim chances of obtaining a job, particularly in the current recession. Secondly, they need formal educational skills. Many prisoners have been failed by our educational system and they need skills of literacy and numeracy. Many of them have had disrupted or inadequate schooling through their own fault and it is only within the prison system that for the first time perhaps they have the opportunity for regular schooling. Ultimately, many of them go on to obtain formal qualifications and in some cases Open University degrees.

Education, moreover, in the broadest sense stimulates imagination and may provide new purpose and hope to those with a limited, materialistic view of life. By enlarging intellectual horizons, education can therefore provide alternative strategies for those whose lives have been restricted by narrow opportunities and short-term ambitions. Some prisoners, moreover, have found that they have artistic or writing skills which are saleable on their release from prison.

The move to compulsory competitive tendering jeopardises all those objectives of education in prison and the disadvantages, for example, will inevitably tend to favour the cheapest option. Since competitive tendering is presumably intended as a cost-cutting exercise in the 68 prisons where the change is to be brought about this year, inevitably young, inexperienced teachers will be hired on short-term contracts. The experience, maturity and continuity that are needed for work in prisons will therefore be jeopardised. There is great concern among those who have any experience of prison education that this is what is already happening, partly through loss of morale as well as through loss of experienced staff. It will also become much harder—and this is an experience that I have heard of in the cadet school where there is a restrictive contract with a particular outside organisation—to dismiss staff who are not suitable for work in a particular establishment.

Under the umbrella of the local education authority there has been the flexibility to relocate educational staff elsewhere than within a prison. I suspect that that will become much harder. When we have placed out a contract in some local educational establishment, it will be reluctant to relocate staff who, perhaps through youth or inexperience, or through no fault of their own, are not suitable for working with prisoners.

The consequences of the proposed changes are that prison teaching staff have already been issued with redundancy notices in many establishments. Many are therefore seeking jobs elsewhere and their morale has been severely affected. The fact that the start of the scheme has not been without teething problems is already shown because it has been deferred from 1st April to 1st September this year, leading to further disarray and disorganisation and a lack of clarity about what is actually happening in the prison educational system. Indeed, I understand that the Kent local education authority and the teachers' association concerned are seeking a judicial review on 11th March. That will ensure even further disruption to the prison education service and consequent loss of potential rehabilitation for many prisoners.

I therefore seek an assurance from the Minister that this area of adult education will be closely monitored to ensure that educational standards in prisons are enhanced rather than diminished.

10.4 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, Hymn No. 524 in the Anglican Hymn Book begins with these words: In heavenly love abiding, No change my heart shall fear; And safe is such confiding, For nothing changes here". The place where nothing changes is the hymnist's idea of paradise and I have to tell your Lordships that right now it is pretty close to mine as well. In every university in this land there is a longing for the day when the Government and their bureaucrats will get off our backs and let us get on with teaching and research. In no place in any university is this more true than in departments of continuing education.

The old extramural vision is long dead and gone and continuing education has taken its place, but that is now an outmoded concept. The HEFCE's current consultation document comments: In some respects, as far as funding is concerned, the concept of continuing adult education is an unhelpful one. A better concept is that of funded and unfunded part-time courses". We all know what that means—that for unfunded part-time courses the writing is on the wall. This is pointless, painful and wasteful.

The Director of Continuing Education at Oxford University wrote in his last annual report: Last year the new UFC system for funding continuing education was reported on, a system which suggested a reasonably stable basis for planning for the next four years. During this year the removal of the binary divide in higher education has indicated that stability is not likely to be a feature of the immediate future. Harmonisation, including that between the UFC and the PCFC, and between the CYCP and CPD will bring change and it is clear that in continuing education the changes will be as great as anywhere … That was said before the UFC begat the HEFCE and the HEFCW. They then spawned the consultation exercise, with its options 1, 2 and 3. Is it any wonder that a lecturer recently told me, "They hired me to teach history. All I have done so far this week is fill in questionnaires"? Yet it is simplistic to blame the HEFCE. In its turn, it was set up by the Government in ideological enthusiasm. It was under-resourced and understaffed from the start. It has to make some semblance of sense of the amorphous continuing education sector that has suddenly been placed before it. It follows the bureaucrat's primrose path; it attempts to standardise everything and reduce the bewildering variety and complexity of courses to units and modules, because that is all the bureaucrat has time to recognise and deal with.

I prophesy that the consultation exercise will turn out to be the enemy of freedom, intellectual exploration and the development of vision in continuing education. It will have a constipating effect. It will cause departments to play safe out of fear and develop only those full-length, award-bearing, vocationally-directed courses that are sure to be funded. They dare do nothing else.

It is no secret that the new universities—i.e., the old polytechnics—and the old universities approach the provision of continuing education from radically different standpoints and they will clash. That is no bad thing. But the higher education funding councils have the responsibility of ensuring that out of that clash of opinion and viewpoint comes something new and exciting and intellectually responsible and rigorous. I have to say that the rather dismal consultation document, with its blinkered choice of Options 1, 2 and 3, shows no sign of vision at all. In the words of Shelley, it has "as much imagination as a pint pot".

I believe that the funding councils would do best to pay serious and careful attention to the response of the Universities' Council for Adult and Continuing Education, whose reply to their consultation document patiently deals with the questions they ask but makes a powerful, persuasive and rational case for placing the whole inquiry on a higher level of discourse than that of unit funding alone. In particular, it undermines the unproven, unargued assumption that continuing education is a simple market economy, susceptible to the basic laws of supply and demand that must be consumer-ruled, demand-led and subject to the inalienable law of diminishing marginal utility—that is, that, if one has no education, one has great need of some and, if one has some, one has less need of more—a law which (by the way) is disproved in pints of beer at every rugby club each Saturday night.

The UCACE make a very full and careful case for the proper provision of what used to be called liberal studies but will in future be categorised as non-award-bearing continuing education courses. It is a large constituency of some 350,000 people or the equivalent of five large traditional universities. At the core of that provision is liberal adult education—LAE. As we have heard, that is not sub-degree level work; it is at undergraduate degree level and occasionally at higher level, though sometimes it is more specialised. The fact that it is non-award bearing is irrelevant to its quality. There are large constituencies of adult students who do not want accredited courses. For them accreditation is utterly inappropriate.

LAE courses involve serious commitment to study in terms of out-of-class preparatory work and seminar presentation, written work assignments and so forth. Until relatively recently all that work was subject to HMI inspection and quality assurance and control. Moreover, the fact that some LAE has been accredited at degree level under universities' new modular structures, is further indication of its quality. LAE is provided both on-campus and off-campus, across universities' regional areas. It gives large numbers of adults access to the university system and to its values. For their part universities need constituencies of people from the adult community who appreciate and support their aim. It is a key part of the universities' contribution to an informed, civilised democracy.

I cannot stress too strongly that it is not a case of "musical appreciation for middle-class mummies in Middlesex". We are talking about courses which are intellectually challenging and, by any assessment, useful. Ten years ago at Saint David's University College, Lampeter, we started a course for young women who wanted to learn about computers in order to prepare the accounts for shops, farms or businesses in West Wales. We called it first the "Business Information Technology Course for Housewives", until the acronym made us change it to "Women into New Technology". It was a splendid success. It succeeded in a liberal arts college because it was a brilliant new idea, necessary in West Wales and achievable within the financial constraints which obtained at that time. One would think many times before risking such an initiative today.

But if adult education is difficult within the University of Wales—and it is—and within universities generally, it is doubly difficult in those institutions which specialise in it. I think of Ruskin College, Oxford, or Fircroft College, Birmingham, or Hillcroft or the Northern or the Co-operative College at Loughborough. Or that unique creation in North Wales, Coleg Harlech, founded by the father of my noble friend Lady White of Rhymney—who I am delighted to see in her place—and who herself has done so much for it over the years.

Since 1927 Coleg Harlech has provided opportunities for men and women who left school early without any formal qualifications to go on to higher education. Now over 90 per cent. of that college's intake go on to higher education and, despite the growth in access, despite the Open University, there is a continuous demand for places and available places are always filled. Yet in the stampede to standardise everything that unique institution has been swept into the further education sector and forced to compete for resources against all other FE colleges in Wales. It has to compete in that jungle against animals much larger than and very different from itself. The number of students that it can accept is limited by the number of available grants because its students are classified as full-time. And because the number of grants is cash limited, the FE colleges take the lion's share. I hope that the Government will spare a thought for those special institutions, like Coleg Harlech, which do such splendid work.

All over the country adult education is beleaguered and under siege: it is high time the cavalry came over the hill.

10.14 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I wish to take up an issue connected with organisations less exalted and less famous than those about which the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has just been talking. I refer to the large number of adult education courses going on in colleges and institutions up and down the country, and going on under difficult circumstances for a very long time, whose position today as they see it, and as a great many of us see it, is seriously threatened.

Adult education has always been the Cinderella of the education services and it remains so today. There has not been, and there still is not, a statutory obligation to fund adult education. If I were part of an education authority short of money for school books, for libraries and for all the other educational demands upon it, I expect that I too should be looking at ways in which the resources for adult education which are not compulsory and not statutory could be cut back.

We are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, even at this hour, for making us think yet again about this issue. It is surely the theme of today's debate that all the colleges are deeply concerned about money and resources. Education is a very important, high-minded and exalted activity. But, like many other exalted activities, it cannot run on faith alone. It needs cash. The cash has always been difficult to come by in adult education and we are increasingly worried about it today. A number of speakers have asked about VAT. If VAT is charged on adult education classes, that will be the end of it for many of those classes.

There is another issue concerning resources which, so far as I am aware—it may have been raised when I slipped out of the Chamber—has not been mentioned. What will happen to the facilities that have been available to a large number of adult education courses, affecting around 1.5 million students in the country, in local education authority schools? It is surely in everyone's interests that all education establishments, including the schools, should be used as fully as is possible and practicable. A great many classes have been arranged in local education authority schools and there are clear obligations on schools to make those resources available. But a number of schools are already grant-maintained and many people believe that an increasing number will become grant-maintained. Will the grant-maintained schools be required to continue—and indeed to expand—the use of their premises by adult education classes and by organisations running adult education classes? If an increasing number of schools opt out, the consequences for adult education and for those 1.5 million students will be very serious indeed. That would represent yet another cutback in available resources.

It is surely an extraordinarily short-sighted view of economy. In so many areas of government policy one is impressed by the short-term view taken about the way in which we use our resources. Adult education is an investment and not just a matter of consumer benefit. That is probably true of all education but it is especially true of adult education. It is an investment that will pay off over the years if the Government are prepared to put the money into it and not to rely on people being able to a large extent to finance it themselves on a market basis.

Let us look at the way in which that investment is shown in adult education and how it can be a first-class way of investing money in the community to the ultimate benefit not only of individuals but of the economy as a whole. Perhaps I may underline here what has been said by so many other speakers tonight. Surely the distinction between vocational and non-vocational which bedevils our thinking about adult education is foolish in the extreme. I have never had an answer to the question which I have raised again and again. I do not expect the noble Baroness to give me an answer to it, not that she is incapable of doing so. She will see why I say it. Is mathematics vocational or non-vocational? If I study it, it is non-vocational because I rarely use it in your Lordships' House or anywhere else. But if I were about to be a civil engineer, it would be highly vocational. What does that make mathematics—vocational or non-vocational?

We should be haunted by the fact that we have a hideously under-educated and under-trained population. One of the troubles is that because of past educational failures a very large number of people who lack training and education do not believe that they are capable of getting it when in fact they must be capable of doing so. It cannot be true that the populations of other European countries are so much more able to reach educational and training standards than the people of this country. It is simply that the facilities and encouragement have not been here. Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt about the difference in the various countries. It amounts to a serious economic disadvantage as well as a great disadvantage for individuals.

The so-called non-vocational subjects are very often a way in which people who have never succeeded in anything academic suddenly discover that they can do things and achieve. To give people the realisation that they can achieve is probably the most important first step in getting untrained people into training. My own connection with adult education has been as chairman of Morley College. Perhaps I may give an example. It is that of a young woman who had never done anything at all. She had been unemployed ever since she left school. She then went to Morley College and took an art class, which was totally non-vocational, of course. She discovered that she was good at art. The fact that she was good at doing something encouraged her to go out to get a job which she had had no intention or hope of doing before she took that totally non-vocational course.

So, if we want to deal with the backlog of under-trained people and to ensure that the growing numbers of unemployed people do not lose their capacity for learning, if they ever had it, or that they acquire it if they never had it, surely adult education is one of the best investments that this country can make. But it will not be used in that way unless the money and the resources are there.

It is not only the unemployed who can benefit by taking adult education classes, but the country at large. We have an increasingly ageing population, as we all know. Adult education can keep those older people occupied, interested and alert. It is sometimes said that activity is the reason why life expectancy in your Lordships' House is so long. I was told the other day, though I cannot vouch for the truth of it, that, contrary to all statistics elsewhere, the males in your Lordships' House outlive their wives. That is contrary to the normal experience anywhere else. It may well be because Members have an occupational activity which keeps them going, though whether that is a good thing or not is a matter of opinion.

Activity is a way of dealing with the many problems of old age. If, by providing opportunities for learning and for gaining new interests, one can keep an ageing population going and not making excessive demands on the social services, that is surely a very good investment indeed.

I want to talk particularly from the experience of Morley College. At present, very nearly 50 per cent. of the students of Morley College pay concessionary fees. That means that they are either unemployed, pensioners or people requiring basic education. Although I grant that not all pensioners are very hard up and that some of them could contribute a bit more than they do, that is another matter. Your Lordships have discussed immigrants in the past week and will be doing so again and again in one form or another in the coming weeks and months and, I suspect, years. Morley College has admitted people who cannot speak English —people from, among other countries, Somalia, Croatia and Bosnia, although perhaps not so many as some of us think should be admitted.

We have been cautious enough about the people we admit into this country, but, when we are admitting people who cannot speak the language, surely it is in everybody's interest that they should be enabled to learn it. Places like Morley College are providing that opportunity. As I have said, such students are among the 50 per cent. who pay concessionary fees, but if fees increase they will be unable to take courses.

Is it sensible that our old people, our unemployed people, our alien people (who have been accepted here and who will be a continuing burden on the community as a whole unless they can learn the language and gain some skills) might not be able to take such courses? Is it a sensible economy to cut back our provision for education of this kind?

10.26 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, it is always good to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, with all her experience and wisdom. However, I am sure that we are, above all, grateful to my noble friend Lady David for this opportunity to review educational opportunities for adults now that the Further and Higher Education Act has been in place for some nine months. My noble friend has a distinguished record in this sphere and her commitment is second to none. Long may she continue to act as a vigilant watchdog in this vital aspect of our national life.

During the passage of that Act noble Lords and Members of the other place were at pains to recognise the need for what, as the right reverend Prelate has reminded us, has been described as the continuum of educational opportunity to encourage the development of a "lifetime learning culture".

The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, chair of a training and enterprise council, summed it up well at the time when he called for extended provision to— enable the citizens of the United Kingdom to pursue further and higher academic and vocational education and professional education and development in a flexible manner throughout their lives". It is essential to measure the arrangements for education against the purposes of education. I am confident that most of us in this House would agree that the dual strategic social objectives are to provide the lifeblood of an open, creative and dynamic democracy and to ensure the success of our economy without which that democracy could be in jeopardy. The purposes of education for adults are not, surely, different from those of education for our children. We do not educate young people solely for work—although listening to the half-baked ideas of some Right-wing ideologues I sometimes fear for the future. Our aim must be that all people continue to learn and develop throughout their lives, generating a learning workforce and a learning society.

Relevant education is about work, community, family life, and ourselves as individuals. To take work first, education for work should not be confused with training. Some great companies, like Ford, are well aware of this. I just wish that the Front Bench opposite would demonstrate an equal understanding. Imaginative employers want creativity, flexibility, communication skills, the ability and willingness to learn, and people with confidence in themselves and in their capacity to develop new skills and ways of working. These desperately needed qualities will frequently remain undeveloped in people whose learning experience has been restricted to narrow job-related training.

Second is the community or—as it is often called these days—civil society. Self-confident, aware and well informed people are needed as local councillors, justices of the peace, school governors, hospital trust members, trade union officers, leaders of residents' and tenants' associations, trustees of charities, youth workers, lay preachers and playgroup leaders—the list is endless. The whole thrust of present government policy is to make even greater demands on such services. Education should be about developing awareness, together with a sense of responsibily, and preparing people to shoulder responsibility. Without that, the fabric of our society could be in danger.

Thirdly, we come to the family and home, the very foundation of society. In the complexities and stress of modern existence, the skills needed to manage home life successfully should never be underestimated or taken for granted. If we value family life, it is not good enough to moralise about it; we have to enable people to develop their competence as parents or carers. That includes practical home-making skills, sometimes extraordinarily dismissed as leisure pursuits. But it also includes skills in human relationships, bringing up children, supporting the physically and mentally sick, the handicapped and our elderly family members.

Lastly, there is the greatest challenge of all: the principal hallmark of an advanced democratic and civilised society is surely its determination to offer all its people the opportunites to develop self-knowledge and to pursue ideas and skills without asking what the immediate instrumental and financial benefits will be; a determination to enable all its people to become positive, active players, rather than merely the passive victims of circumstance.

As I have been arguing, general benefits do spring from an educated population, but unashamedly we must stand by the value of the individual's pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Here I detect a danger: that education for work is becoming seen as more important than other forms of education; that some self-styled experts still arrogantly believe that, despite the manifest failure of almost all the attempts at manpower planning, and despite continually rising unemployment, they know the relationship between learning and jobs, and they can prescribe courses of study which will lead to specific employment outcomes. In other words, I sense a danger that the opportunities for adults to learn could be circumscribed by those who would subordinate the individual's goals to their own theoretical and unproven priorities. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's reflections on that danger.

Meanwhile, there remains a rich diversity among those adults who are studying: the young, the middle-aged, the elderly, the employed and the unemployed, people with family or other caring responsibilities, hospital patients, and prisoners, about whom my noble friend Lady Hilton spoke, with her warning about tendering. That diversity is reflected in a diversity of motivation, ranging from vocational to self-fulfilment.

It is impossible to determine the purpose or motivation of students by the nature of their course. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, reminded us, languages are vital. A conversational French class may include a tourist guide adding to her work skills; a cordon bleu cookery course may include a redundant company chef diversifying skills before setting up in his or her own business; some CSCE classes include parents wanting to keep up with their children and to help with homework; and an A-level class may include an elderly pensioner who has no intention of using it for vocational purposes. As the House knows well, matching the diversity of adult students and their motivation is the diversity of provision: universities, the Open University, local education authorities, colleges of further education, the WEA, residential colleges, trade unions, professional bodies, women's institutes, churches and voluntary organisations such as the Pre-School Playgroups Association with its major training programme for playgroup workers.

In addition, people are learning from the media, studying under their own steam, and taking distance learning courses by correspondence. The United Kingdom has often been taken in the world as a model of what education for adults can be. For example, the Open University and the WEA, so warmly praised this evening by my noble friends Lord Longford and Lord Ardwick, are seen worldwide as enviable initiatives to be copied. The number of adults throughout education and training has, until recently, been growing. As my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris so powerfully explained, there are now real anxieties. Some are more long-standing but some arise directly from the application of the new Act.

Early school-leavers, those living in inner cities and those in social classes D and E are least likely to participate in education and training. Proportionately fewer black people participate. Poverty is also a barrier to participation. Some courses are still not available in ways which encourage adult participation; for instance, they are in the wrong places, are at the wrong times and they can be too lengthy. Those with family ties, mainly women, and those unlikely to gain employers' support, mainly the less-skilled and low paid, are often excluded. It would be good to hear from the Minister what research her department is carrying out into the problem and what remedies are being sought.

The Minister will doubtless claim that the new legislation contains some good provisions for adult learners. Certainly it can be argued that it recognises their importance as part of the mainstream of further and higher education. My noble friend Lady Lockwood and other noble Lords have spoken of the role of universities. Undoubtedly, the legislation gives relative hope and stability of funding for those adult learning activities which fall within the scope of the much debated Schedule 2, essentially for award-bearing courses and basic skills work. The Further Education Funding Council has indeed gone out to consultation on a document concerned with funding learning which projects the possibility that adult learning in colleges of further education might at last be adequately funded, with the costs of part-time study properly acknowledged and learning support services such as guidance and counselling accepted as fully legitimate calls on teaching resources.

All that should be readily acknowledged. Yet conversely it must be stressed that the range of work to be supported by the new sector is limited. The Government's case is, as I understand it, that the sector provides for national priorities. But the national priority argument is uncomfortably close to the preoccupation with preparation for jobs in its lack of subtlety and understanding. Despite the Government's insistence that funds available to local authorities for education for adults remain the same, except for those transferred to the Further Education Funding Council for Schedule 2 work, the indisputable fact is that, as we have heard tonight, local authority services are significantly declining and the people who lose out are the tens of thousands of adult students.

Local authorities do not feel that they have the money to sustain local services. The evidence is everywhere. Some authorities evidently feel that the new legislation gives them a clear signal that the Government do not regard non-Schedule 2 education as important. But it most certainly is important. It serves the legitimate learning needs of 1 million people. We should be proud of it.

Not only are services being reduced but, as we have heard, fees are rising out of the reach of many people. Concessions for the elderly, the sick and the unemployed are disappearing. The news of decline, of rising fees and of the withdrawal of concessions comes from authorities all over the country—from Bury to Islington, from Bedfordshire to Salford, from Gloucestershire to South Glamorgan, from Surrey to Northumberland. Unless something is done rapidly it will soon be the case that in many parts of the country only those able to pay substantial fees will be able to participate in non-Schedule 2 activity. With all that is known both about the needs of some adults to re-enter learning at a point of their own choosing and about how even the most vocationally-oriented may be intimidated by the notion of assessment if it is introduced too early, this could be nothing short of a disaster.

Similarly, the review of continuing education being conducted by the Higher Education Funding Council is no doubt necessary in the light of the establishment of a new sector and of the council's responsibilities. The danger, as was stressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Combermere, is that just those general non-award-bearing courses—what used to be called "liberal education"—which have been the starting point of so much individual and collective development will be the victims. It would be a grievous loss.

Finally, as my noble friend Lady David and others have left us in no doubt, there is VAT. That is a threat looming over much of the educational provision for adults. Surely it is madness to pursue the idea of a learning society but to tax the participants. That unnecessary threat should be lifted once and for all. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity this evening to remove all the uncertainties and worry generated by communications such as those to which my noble friend Lady David referred; namely, from Mr. Cleaver of Customs and Excise last October to the Further Education Funding Council and Denman College or that from the Paymaster General in the same month to Robert Jackson, a Member of the other place.

It is alarming that, despite the assurances given during the passage of the new legislation, real opportunities for ordinary people and the much-envied richness and diversity of education for adults in the United Kingdom are under threat. Deterioration of that precious national asset will be bad for people as individuals. It will hinder attempts to improve the skills and employability of our people; it will undermine our economic future; it will be another blow, by doctrinaire philistines, to the quality and fabric of our civic and community life. I fervently hope that the Minister will reassure the House this evening.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for the opportunity which this very important debate gives to all of us. It gives me the opportunity to describe the action which the Government have taken to raise the profile of education for adults.

I believe that we have clearly demonstrated the importance that we attach to such education. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, wished that this Front Bench —and I mean this Front Bench—would only show an understanding of the importance of adult education. I personally take great exception not only to that remark but I take exception to the tone that he has taken in the debate. I wonder whether I inhabit the same world as the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I believe that as a spokesman for education almost from the time at which I entered government I have shown an understanding of education in all its forms in this House. I have also had first-hand experience of governing at all levels of education—and this obviously amuses the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I am a governor of my local further education establishment. I am on the court of the university and I have the utmost passion for and interest in adult and continuing education. In April, with my local further education college, I hope to celebrate incorporation as it prepares for and looks forward to the great day.

The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said that we undervalue adult education. That is not true. Recruitment has never been more robust. In fact, enrolments in all forms of adult education over the past decade have increased by over 25 per cent. Further education has been given a substantial boost this year, which is a very difficult year financially right across Whitehall. Further education has been singled out specifically for favourable treatment.

It is to expand by over 25 per cent. in the next year of which account has been taken in the funding. Entry into higher education has risen from one-in-eight students in 1979, the year in which the party of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, left office, to one-in-four today and is heading to be one-in-three by the end of the decade. As has already been said by many noble Lords during the course of the debate, considerable help is given to many students and to others. The opening up of access courses is having a great deal of success and is enabling people to take advantage of further and higher education. Indeed, many of our teachers now enter via the access courses in many of our further and higher education institutions.

There has not been under-investment in FE for adults. We could all argue politically about how much more should be taken from ratepayers and taxpayers and whether the provision should be funded entirely by the state or whether the balance should be met by the state, local authorities or those who can afford to make a contribution. Between 1979–80 and 1990–91 —the latest date for which accurate out-turn data are available—spending by English local authorities on separate adult institutions has increased by 16 per cent. in real terms. As I said, enrolment data show that adult enrolments in all types of FE maintained by LEAs increased by a good quarter over the past decade. In further education colleges alone the increase was some 70 per cent. Those are facts. I am not speaking emotionally. Emotion has been dealt out in great measure in the course of this debate.

Our proposals for the further education of adults in England and Wales were given legislative form in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which was debated last year in your Lordships' House. We set out for the first time the types of education which we believe should have priority, because, as has been mentioned by many speakers, they help adults improve their skills and acquire qualifications. They are absolutely vital to the health and wealth of this country. These types of education are listed in Schedule 2 to the Act and fall to the responsibilities of the further education funding councils in England and Wales which were not set up in a fit of ideological pique, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. They are wide-ranging and include courses leading to academic and vocational qualifications; access to higher education courses; "return to study" courses; courses to teach basic skills in literacy and numeracy; courses in English for speakers of other languages, and courses which teach independent living and communication skills for people with learning difficulties. In Wales, Schedule 2 also includes courses for proficiency and literacy in Welsh.

Your Lordships will be familiar with this list. I offer it again so that we can all be clear that these courses do not cover vocational courses only, as is sometimes claimed. They are designed to meet both the personal and career aspirations of individuals and so help them develop fully the roles they need to fulfil at work and as citizens. Access and progression for adults lie at the heart of the Schedule 2 courses. They offer genuine "second chance" opportunities within a framework of progression which will be available to all adults, whatever their previous educational background and wherever they live. The Schedule 2 framework also reflects our policy that learning difficulties should not be a bar to access to further education. We want to see students with learning difficulties benefit from the range of opportunities that will be available in the new FE sector.

It is critical that we increase the level of participation in further education by adults, as well as by young people. In doing so we shall build on developments over recent years. During the past 10 years there has been an increase by over a quarter in adult enrolments in England and Wales in all kinds of further education. Adults constitute a very significant part of the FE population: in FE colleges, adult enrolments have increased by some 70 per cent. in the past decade and now form two-thirds of all enrolments.

It is therefore right that Schedule 2 should be firmly placed within the mainstream of our FE reforms. But unlike most 16 to 19 year-olds, many adults will have to juggle with work and domestic commitments alongside their studies. It was therefore important for us to ask the Further Education Funding Council to consider how to encourage the further development of flexible and part-time modes of delivery, including distance learning. The council is now consulting colleges and others on the most effective ways of distributing resources in the future so that the needs of the different client groups in FE colleges may be met.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, asked me specifically about the future of long-term residential colleges. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, mentioned a Welsh college in this regard. I shall mention that college in a moment and I hope he will forgive my pronunciation. The future of long-term residential colleges is secure. Funding is to transfer from the Department for Education to the FEFC, and the Welsh college, Coleg Harlech, will be funded by the Welsh FEFC—that is my understanding—and the student bursary scheme will also remain, though probably in a revised form. They are all now following a recommendation to concentrate on one-year access courses to maximise value for money and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked the FEFC to recognise the need for diversity in the new FE sector. The colleges I have mentioned are an important part of that diversity and we have no doubt that they will follow that route.

Our intention to increase levels of participation in FE was given a very substantial boost in the recent public expenditure round. The Government's plans provide for a large increase in funding over the next three years. They allow for growth of 25 per cent. by 1995–96 in the numbers of young people and adults in the FE sector. We believe that adults should benefit substantially from that planned growth and we want to see more and more adults avail themselves of opportunities in further education—in basic skills courses, access courses and courses leading to qualifications. We also want to see the national education and training targets for lifelong learning become a reality with increasing numbers of people in the workforce acquiring national vocational qualifications.

The fact that the Government have set their own priorities does not in itself diminish the importance of other types of further education for adults. Our legislative reforms took care to preserve the complete map of provision for adults. LEAs accordingly retain their duty to secure the provision of all kinds of further education for adults which do not come within the funding councils' duties.

In contrast with the duty placed on the funding councils, LEAs' duties might be characterised as being generally of a more local nature and responsive to specific local concerns. It is a very wide duty. It covers general education and recreational interests and also many other important matters. Courses can be provided which help adults fulfil particular roles such as parenthood, school governorship or other responsible functions within the wider community or which prepare people for particular events in their lives such as retirement. They can, moreover, serve as stepping stones into the courses for which the funding councils are responsible. In those various ways they can make a significant contribution to the health and well-being of local communities and they are rightly valued for that reason. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, pointed out very well how those rungs on the ladder operate. People enter at a very low level of education, are bitten by the bug and move on to greater and higher things.

Perhaps I may tell the noble Baroness that there is now a survey of the first 100 grant-maintained schools. Happily, all the evidence shows that the use of the facilities of those schools by the community has increased immeasurably. One hopes that that will continue.

We have recognised the importance of the LEA sector of further education for adults in other ways. The recent Act provided LEAs with powers to set up governing bodies at all their institutions so that they can share in the benefits of local management. In addition, LEAs have new duties to secure quality assurance at the institutions which they maintain or assist. There are also new powers for LEA-maintained and grant-maintained schools themselves to put on all types of FE courses for adults. I have already mentioned that the early evidence is very positive. We hope by those means to extend the number of locations serving adults and thereby to widen opportunities. Schools can also help both local education authorities and councils in the fulfilment of their duties for further education.

At this point I should also say a word about the voluntary sector, which we believe has a significant contribution to make to the further education of adults. For some years the Department for Education has paid grant to a number of national voluntary bodies in recognition of their role in promoting education for active citizenship and progression through further education. Those grants are continuing. Many local authorities already provide support to voluntary bodies, for example, to the local branches of national bodies such as the Women's Institute or through community-based projects in the inner cities and elsewhere.

Voluntary bodies have particular strengths. They are often closely involved with local communities and have the capacity to respond quickly and flexibly to local needs. There is scope for harnessing voluntary efforts still further in the interests of targeting and responding to local needs. I believe that local authorities should consider carefully now how voluntary organisations might contribute to the discharge of their duties for further education and should strengthen their partnership with the voluntary sector.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the Workers' Educational Association. It is a crucial part of the voluntary sector and has done sterling work. We were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, that it is 90 years old and looking forward to celebrating its centenary.

The WEA has an assured future. Currently it receives public funding from two sources: from the Department for Education and the Welsh Office about £2 million; and LEAs via the GEST money about £1.3 million in 1992–93. In April the Department for Education and the Welsh Office funding is to transfer to the FEFCs and the GEST funding for LEAs in England is to continue into 1993–94 for a final year. The WEA will be funded for non-Schedule 2 as well as Schedule 2 courses. The GEST funding was brought in to cement the relationship between LEAs and the WEA districts. It has been notably successful in that, and indeed the WEA has asked not to be included in the 1994–95 GEST programme. However, the WEA is concerned that the end of the GEST incentive might lead to a loss of LEA funding and has recently asked for all public funding to go through the FEFC from 1994–95. We are considering that request.

I believe that we have given the local authority sector of further education for adults the recognition that it merits. The legislation provides a firm basis for LEAs' duty to secure provision for adults and we recognise that duty within public funds, as promised by Ministers last year. The 1993–94 settlement reflects the transfer of responsibilities from local authorities to the Further Education Funding Councils on 1st April this year. In calculating the sum to transfer from local authorities to the funding council, we ensured that sufficient funds were left with local authorities to allow them to meet their continuing responsibilities. Of course it is not for the Government to tell local authorities what they must spend on their remaining responsibilities for adults. That is for them to decide in the light of local circumstances. Central government's role is to set the overall level of spending by local authorities for which grant support is available, and the distribution of grant support between local authorities.

The records show that local authorities have increased—not decreased—their spending on the further education of adults over the years. For example, between 1979 and 1990 spending by the local authorities on adult institutions in England rose from £56 million to about £140 million, as I said earlier a real terms increase of nearly 16 per cent.

As for the 1993–94 local authority grant settlement, our proposals allow for local authorities in England to spend nearly £16.9 billion on education. That is an increase of 2.6 per cent. over the comparable figure for this year. In arriving at the total for 1993–94 we took account of the broad range of pressures facing the education service. We also took account of falling inflation, the scope for local authorities to make efficiency savings, our new policy on public sector pay and, of course, what the country can afford. The increase of 2.6 per cent. is reasonable in the current climate. Pay awards are now known and for teachers are contained within a 1.5 per cent. increase. Since pay accounts for some 75 per cent. of local authority education expenditure, the 2.6 per cent. increase should cover pay and price increases which we calculate will add about 2 per cent. to LEAs' costs next year, leaving some head room.

I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady David, whether LEA courses for adults would attract VAT. She was joined in that question by a number of noble Lords. The Customs and Excise is currently undertaking a review of VAT on education. That review is not yet complete. I cannot, as I have been implored to do today, give a definitive answer. Nor can I anticipate the outcome of the review. The Customs and Excise will no doubt consult on its findings. The Department for Education will of course discuss any proposals with Customs and Excise on the merits of any case that it puts.

The noble Baroness also asked about provision made outside the FE sector and about the split between bids and allocation of funds by the FEFC. It is true that the total value of applications was greater than expected. Some of the bids were for new provision, and inevitably some did not meet FEFC criteria for eligibility. The funding council has not yet made any final decisions. Institutions will first be given a chance to comment on the provisional applications. The provisional allocations were issued recently. They are designed to deliver broad stability in the existing pattern of provision and indeed to include some growth for next year. This has been the first year of preparing and considering Section 6(5) sponsorship applications. All parties concerned, LEAs, FE colleges and the FEFC, have put great effort into making it work, and the funding councils drew on expert advice in considering the applications.

The funding council will be reviewing sponsorship procedures for 1994–95, having learnt a great deal from this year. Two important indicators have emerged though. There are clear signs of buoyancy in the demand for Schedule 2 courses, as I am sure your Lordships would expect, and the procedures have led to increased co-operation between institutions in the FE and LEA sectors. That is to be welcomed.

It is important to take account of the wider framework of provision which benefits adults and those on the threshold of adult life. Getting education and training provision right for 16 to 19 year-olds through establishing a more responsive further education sector and providing funding to allow for increased participation will have a real impact on their future as adults. Other government departments play their part of course. The Department of Employment, for example, provides funding for the youth training and credits which support training by employers at NVQ level 2 and above. It also provides substantial funding for the provision of work-related further education administered by the training and enterprise councils in England and Wales. A major new programme of training for work which replaces employment action and employment training will help unemployed adults acquire the skills and the experience to get back to work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, mentioned the important point of prison education. Competitive tendering for the provision of education to prisoners is directed to improve efficiency and effectiveness, and there is a good argument that that should be so. Every pound saved through efficiency and effectiveness is another pound available to spend somewhere else in the service. Education provision in prisons is generally of good quality. I happen to have seen some of it at first hand and been impressed. Some of my local schools are rather envious of some of the facilities at the prisons. But there are variations between prisons, as I am sure the noble Baroness knows, and the new arrangements offer the opportunity to ensure that education programmes of prisoners are of consistently high quality.

On the specific point that the noble Baroness made, may I say how difficult it is to deal with employees who are not performing very well if they come in through the competitive tendering procedure. I have to tell the noble Baroness from first-hand experience that it is easier to deal with somebody when the employment is based on a proper specification of the job to be done and a proper contract is drawn up, with penalties built in. If that contract is not delivered to quality then there is a basis for doing something about that employee. That includes dismissal. This is a greater flexibility than for LEA employed people, which is just about moving people around and relocating them rather than perhaps facing up to the painful business of having to dismiss somebody who is wholly unsuitable.

Let me now turn to higher education. Participation in higher education is at record levels. I gave the figures earlier. The total number of students enrolled in higher education in the United Kingdom was nearly 1.2 million in 1990–91. This represents a 42 per cent. increase since 1980–81 and an 89 per cent. increase since 1970–71. That is a remarkable achievement, for which much of the credit must go to the institutions themselves. I say on a personal note to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that much of that is due to the way the polytechnic sector operated and the way in which the polytechnic colleges made available expansion for young people. Again I pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for bringing those great institutions into the university sector.

The Government's commitment to higher education is clear. Public funding for higher education stands at record levels and will total over £4 billion for England alone in 1993–94. The Autumn Statement provided for an increase in available public funding of 7.3 per cent. in 1993–94, when inflation is running at below 2 per cent. This follows increases of 10 per cent. for the past three years running. In Wales, over £248 million has been made available, an increase of more than 9 per cent. over 1992–93. The Government's spending plans provide for 8.5 per cent. growth in full-time equivalent student numbers in England and Wales and will enable the current record levels of participation to be maintained over the next three years before rising to one-in-three by the year 2000.

There can be little doubt that the increase in mature student numbers in higher education—77 per cent between 1980 and 1990 in Great Britain—is something of a success story for both further education and higher education. Among the developments which will have contributed to this growth the most striking is the dramatic increase in the numbers of access to higher education courses in recent years. There are well over 1,000 such courses compared with about 130 in 1984. The range of subjects has widened very appreciably over the years.

While our public expenditure plans for higher education assume a period of consolidation over the next three years, the impressive levels of mature student entry already achieved stand adults in good stead. Many universities have strong traditions in providing for mature students, including those who approach higher education via routes other than the traditional academic and vocational qualification routes. We believe that these institutions will want to preserve these missions and ensure that mature students maintain an appropriate share of the student intake.

The noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Lockwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, mentioned the liberal university adult education and thought that it might disappear. Funding for part-time continuing education is currently under review by the Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales. Institutions are being consulted on the options for the future. I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the consultation. It has been hinted that the consultation is not worth the paper it is written on, but I have to say that there are serious options and I have every confidence in the way in which those consultations are being conducted.

Let us not forget the record of the Open University in providing for adults, which has been mentioned in the debate. Its undergraduate numbers alone have increased by more than a quarter since 1980 and its postgraduate and continuing education numbers by much more than that. Twenty-two years ago the university admitted its first students. Its coming of age will be marked by its joining the ranks of institutions funded by the Higher Education Funding Council as from this April.

Again, I have had first-hand experience in launching on a number of occasions interactive video programmes and distance learning packages for adults and teachers who are either refreshing their skills or acquiring new skills, particularly in the field of languages.

We are achieving a great deal. We are providing for larger numbers of adults to step on to the ladder of progression which can take them from basic skills courses right the way through to the threshold of higher education. Our educational reforms as a whole will of course have a long-term influence across successive generations. Through the national curriculum we aim to raise standards of achievement in all our schools and therefore prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. Similarly, our further education reforms for 16 to 19 year-olds are designed to ensure that greater numbers of young people acquire the skills and qualifications that they will need as adults. The habits of learning they will acquire will encourage them to return to education all the way through their adult life, to update their skills and obtain new ones, as well as to pursue more general educational interests in themselves.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, mentioned the very important point of languages and the lamentable record of our country. It is in the nature of our people not to broaden their skills by speaking other tongues. However, it is now compulsory under the national curriculum for all students from the ages of 11 through to 16 to learn a modern foreign language. It is also a long-term aim that we should introduce the learning of languages lower down the age scale. But we need a cohort of competent young people who are linguists to come into our schools to improve and increase the numbers of competent linguists. They will then become those who provide the extra people to teach languages.

The point is very well taken, and I am impressed by the number of further and higher education colleges now offering a language as an ancillary course to other courses that are being studied. This is also available to our A-level students. They may not be taking a language but are invited to do an AS-level alongside their A-level studies and their vocational studies, to widen their horizons. There is also the industrial context in which some of the languages are being learnt.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. She will be aware that there are a number of people in the older age groups who come from other countries and have foreign languages as their native tongues. Can they not be recruited deliberately in order to help with language teaching? The noble Baroness has said that she is keen on language teaching. That older section of the population is a wasted resource.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. My understanding is that they are being used in further and higher education. I was talking about bringing it into the schools as a compulsory subject, and further down into the junior schools. A very large number of primary school children are doing it either if there happens to be expertise on the staff or in Saturday morning clubs and local further education colleges. It is an important point and one well taken by me.

I am aware of the late hour and that I have been speaking for too long. I will try to answer the straight question that the noble Baroness asked about maths. I am not sure that my answer is as unequivocal as I ought to give. A-level, GCSE, vocational and BTEC courses in maths are all Schedule 2 courses. I am told that beginners' maths courses can be regarded as non-Schedule 2 courses. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned Morley College for which she has great affection and has worked unstintingly. I understand that that college will be funded directly by the FEFC as a designated body for all its FE provision. Courses in English for speakers of other languages are very important and for that reason are also included in Schedule 2 to the Act.

This has been a useful and timely debate. I am sorry that people feel that my commitment is half-hearted and that the Front Bench is not committed to these matters. I am committed and will continue to give time, energy and as much as my department's energy as possible to furthering these aims. I have given some evidence to the effect that we are doing just that. I believe that the prominence that the Government have given to the education of adults through the legislative framework and its funding will be seen as a landmark in developing lifelong learning in this country. Long may it continue!

House adjourned at twelve minutes past eleven o'clock.