Bringing Europe together to better support the adult learning workforce

1 October 2019

When it comes to adult learning, European nations have more in common than not. Right across the EU, and in Brussels, policymakers know adult education is a good thing, and that it needs supporting. They are aware that adult learning contributes to achieving positive social and economic outcomes thanks to recent reports from UNESCO and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Earlier this year, the European Commission’s own synthesis report of adult learning policy and provision showed the breadth and depth of adult learning across Europe and looked at how it could be improved. There is much to learn from each other, and plenty we can share.

While editing the synthesis report, I noticed one thing all countries could all improve on: how we support the adult learning workforce.

If I were to summarise my views I would say: we need get more strategic about it. Too often, support for the adult learning workforce is seen solely as concern for learning providers, often as a ‘quality assurance’ issue. Workforce planning is therefore regarded as responding to policy changes rather than shaping them.

Few national adult learning strategies really plan to support the leaders, managers, teachers, and other staff who will deliver them. This year’s Augur Review in England had some welcome paragraphs on the workforce, without it being one of the review’s guiding principles.

Perhaps, there should be a new principle that says ‘adult learning is delivered by people and they need to be adequately supported’. After all, ‘broadening and strengthening the capacity of the lifelong learning workforce’ was one of the recommendations of the Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning.

With new adult learning strategies being developed or considered in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it has never been a better time to discuss this. Across the UK with greater devolution to the cities, adult learning professionals are being asked to work more collaboratively with colleagues in health, social care, community safety and cultural services. In 2018 we highlighted that as adult learning works in more collaborative settings, there will be a demand for dual and multi-professionalism, an enhanced skillset in measuring the wider outcomes of learning, and better systems leadership across geographical areas. We wanted to explore what needs to happen to prepare the workforce, in all its diversity, to meet these challenges.

With the support of the European Commission and the Further Education Trust for Leadership we asked ten UK practitioners  to summarise their views on what needs to be done. The result were the thinkpieces in Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: implications for workforce development.

Fellow L&W associate Helen Plant and I pulled together the main themes from the events in Cardiff, Birmingham, Belfast, and Edinburgh and developed a possible conceptual framework for future workforce development planning.

Just as adult learning is based on the concept of the learner journey—or many messy and complex journeys—the same notion should be applied to professional learning. To this end, we established three interlinked pathways: entry, practice, and leadership.

Colleagues have been sharing their views on EPALE, the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe. With more than 50,000 registered EPALE users we hope to see lots of  comments and conversations from across Europe.

The report will be available at L&W’s joint conference with EPALE on 23 October 2019. The one-day event will provide an opportunity for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners from across Europe to come together to discuss what needs to be done.

Visit our webpage for more information and to register your place on this free event.


Mark Ravenhall, associate for Learning and Work Institute

ab