Adult education shows strong class divide

The number of adults taking part in learning has plummeted during the past two years, according to figures released yesterday. Middle-class people with well-paid jobs and good qualifications are far more likely to go on courses than the unemployed and unskilled, researchers said.

The overall drop in numbers has been caused partly by firms backing away from offering training opportunities for staff as the economic squeeze continues to bite.

Research presented to an adult education conference yesterday shows that only 38 per cent of adults have taken part in any learning opportunities in the past three years – the lowest figure ever recorded by the annual census on participation rates.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, from the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, said that 2010 saw the start of employers investing in more training opportunities for potentially threatened staff as the recession began to bite. "Now, as the economy is still in the same position, employers may not be able to invest so much in training."

Her report also revealed a stark class divide. In general, it was the middle classes who already had impressive qualifications rather than the unemployed or those with lower-level skills who opted to do more learning.

In all, 49 per cent of ABs – the highest social class – opted for learning compared with 24 per cent of unskilled workers and those on low incomes. Amongst the unemployed the figure was also 24 per cent – compared with 44 per cent of those with a full-time job. Even amongst those in employment, there was a clear class divide – with opportunities more likely to go to those already in well-paid jobs, it was argued at a conference to promote the research.

David Hughes, chief executive of NIACE, said there was an "inequality of class, prior attainment and age" when it came to participation. Dr Aldridge added: "If we continue as we are, the inequalities are not going to be addressed."

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