Learning from the past as we look to the future

“Adult education is a permanent, national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore should be both universal and lifelong.”

Final Report, Adult Education Committee, Ministry of Reconstruction, 1919

One hundred years ago, a milestone report was published that went on to form the foundations of our modern education system.

The country was facing the huge task of rebuilding itself after the First World War and The Ministry of Reconstruction’s Adult Education Committee had been asked to make recommendations. In November 1919, its Final Report was presented to the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George.

A century later and, once again, we are living in a time of immense change – albeit of a different nature. As individuals, if we want to keep up with the pace of this change then we will need to continue learning throughout our adult lives.

In recognition of this, there has been a flurry of activity around the topic of lifelong learning. Here are some of the initiatives that have been taking place over the past year:

Commission on Sustainable Learning for Life, Work and a Changing Economy

This independent commission of business leaders and industry experts was formed in June 2018. Led by Former Chair of the Education Select Committee, Neil Carmichael, it was originally conceived by digital education company Pearson.

Over a period of six months the commission conducted a series of public evidence sessions. An interim report was launched at the Conservative Party Conference in October, with the final report published in December. This called for an “immediate focus” on three key areas: “Ensuring the right provision and flexible pathways are available”, “Creating opportunities that stimulate and enable lifelong learning” and “Invest further and differently in our education system”.

The Independent Lifelong Learning Commission

Launched by the Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable in March 2018, this commission is comprised of experts from the fields of education and skills. One year on, and the commission has now published its final lifelong learning report.

The report includes a proposal that government grants, of up to £9,000, are put towards Personal Education and Skills Accounts (PESA). Under the plans, every adult resident in England would be given a PESA, helping them to access the funds they need for lifelong learning.

The Lifelong Learning Commission

In its 2017 manifesto, the Labour party proposed the formation of a National Education Service. To help move towards this, it promised to form a commission on lifelong learning “tasked with integrating further and higher education”.

The commission was launched this February, featuring a panel of 14 experts from across the field of education. As part of its remit, the commission plans to provide detailed proposals on how qualifications can be integrated and transferred, helping individuals to “pick up or pause their studies” as needed throughout their lives.

The Centenary Commission

Launched in January 2019, the Centenary Commission has been formed by the Universities of Nottingham and Oxford alongside the Workers Educational Association, the Co-operative College and the Raymond Williams Foundation.

The commission plans to mark the centenary of the Ministry of Reconstruction’s 1919 Final Report by publishing its own report on lifelong learning. Chair of the commission, Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, Oxford, said: “There are eerie parallels between the problems of 1919 and those of 2019, making a powerful case for a new Commission to look at the challenges.”