Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Destruction of Adult Education.

Adult Students.

Without having or needing educational qualifications, I attended a two year full-time course in economics and politics at Ruskin College from 1960 to 1962. It supplied me with the educational transformation of my life and gave me access to University.

From 1966 to 1987, I taught at Sheffield in Adult Education mainly to classes of Trade Unionists and on Access Courses. Many of students (who themselves had no relevant qualifications) went on to study full-time at Adult Education Colleges and/or Universities. They invariably used their final qualifications in ways that were a positive value to society. Those entering Sheffield University obtained better than average degree results.

I always considered that I shared in our studies, learning from students and thus benefited as much as anyone. Yet I never set any exams for anyone, apart for some exam practice for those required to sit an entrance exam for (of all people) the Philosophy Department at Sheffield University.

The form of education I was involved with (as student and tutor) for 23 years of my life has virtually been destroyed in a process started under Thatcherism and being completed by New Labour.

Any adult without relevant formal qualifications, wishing to benefit from higher education now has to jump through a number of early hoops to pick up qualifications mainly via a series of modules. It is the early hoops which deter many. This even impacts upon the work of today's Adult Education Colleges.

Furthermore, adults are likely to be pushed into avenues of part-time education. For (often with family commitments) they are put-off by the operations of the student loan system and by finding that the education that is available is increasingly being determined for them by their employers. Education in which adults can develop their interests, widen their horizons and to help contribute to a more vibrant democracy is being swept aside. Unfortunately, the Government doesn't have the wit to realise that the form of education they are attacking is also the best way to equip people to take up valuable employment.

A body I worked closely with was the Workers' Educational Association. The latest attack on their work is highlighted here.

Hat Tip "Fat Man On A Keyboard".


Anonymous said...


Successive goverments fo not want people to be taught how to think, that is too dangerous. They aim for robots.

The WEA taught me how to think and stood me in good stead. The Miner's Welfare taught my parents how to think.

I sometimes think in these latter years, yet the people in power would repeal the 1944 Education Act if they could.

Harry Barnes said...

Mavis: Unfortunately, I am unable to access your blog. If you click into "Adult Education" shown at 'Labels' at the end of this post, you can trawl down to some other items I posted related to this topic.

Taylorakis said...


You won't remember me from Adam, but our paths crossed in the mid-late 80's, when I was a District Community Education Officer in Derbyshire and active in the Chesterfield Labour Party.Any road thanks for the link to the Guardian piece on Adult Education. The irony is that a version of this critique about the attack on liberal, adult education could have been written 20 years ago. Indeed in the early 90's, when back in Wigan, as an Education Officer responsible for AE, I fought a losing battle against the impact of FEFC funding upon a rounded, eclectic, even wonderfully eccentric 'evening class' curriculum. In all of this the WEA were amongst the few allies.

I haven't a blog, but coordinate a web site on behalf of a loose, pluralist, but critical and dissident group of youth workers, community educators and voluntary activists at

The strong anti-New Labour sentiments to be found there are not just ultra-left prejudice, but rather reflect people's responses on the ground to its 'social liberal' policies.

Oh, and Marilyn Taylor, my wife sends her best wishes. From around 86-90 she worked for NE Derbyshire, setting up the PR/ Media/ Communications Unit [not sure what the original title was].

Hoping you're in good fettle

Tony Taylor

Harry Barnes said...

Tony Taylor: You are correct to say that the assault on liberal adult education can be traced back to the establishment of the FEFC. In 1992 I served on the Standing Committee of the Further and Higher Education Bill which set up the Funding Councils and at the time I expanded upon the sytle of arguments posted above in vigously opposing the measure. In those days, what I said was still in line with Labour Party policy.

Earlier I was on the Standing Committee for the initial Student Loans Bill (1990-1) which also hit access to Adult Education Colleges. Again, Labour policy was at the time still in line with my stance.

In the early 1990's I was with a number of Labour MPs who met with Tim Eggar the Tory HE and FE Minister in a failed effort to save the traditional two year courses at Ruskin College.

Unfortunately, New Labour built on the Tory's foundations.

It will link to your web-site. I notice that Malcolm Ball is part of your collective.He has arranged for me to address a session at Wortley Hall in June on Iraqi Trade Unionism.

Thank Marilyn for her good wishes. My own wife, Ann undertook Youth and Commnunity work until I became an MP. The Gosforth Youth Centre in Dronfield has a "Barnes" room which is named after her.

If you are not already aware of the blog of "Fat Man On A Keyboard" who has similar interests to your own, a link can be found at the close of the original item I posted above.