Government targets for improving workforce skills are frustrating efforts on the ground to get people back into education, adult-learning leaders have warned.
Bureaucrats holding the purse strings of the government's multi-billion-pound training budget are inclined to focus so much on hitting targets that initiatives designed to get adults back into learning are neglected, according to the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education.
Niace director Alan Tuckett told a conference on adult education: "We cannot have targets getting in the way of raising aspirations."
He told The THES that some local learning and skills councils were so narrowly focused on paying for sufficient learning to hit targets that they had lost sight of the principles behind the targets.
He said: "It means you can get people saying they are going to pay only for basic skills work that leads directly to the basic skills targets. Yet public policy states that we may need to reach out to 2 million people to hit a target of 750,000 passing basic skills tests. We risk marginalising the other 1,250,000 if we focus too narrowly on the target."
Mr Tuckett said data gathered by Niace illustrated how hard it was to make progress on widening adult participation. In a survey, about 40 per cent of adults said they had been involved in learning in the past three years. But this proportion has barely changed in the past decade.
"The trouble is, the education and training system is only part of the picture. Frankly, it is often what is happening in the world of work that has a real impact," Mr Tuckett said.
Ivan Lewis, minister for skills and vocational education, told the conference held last month: "You can stimulate demand among employers and, to some extent, individuals, but if we are not able to raise aspirations of communities then we will not be able to achieve our widening-participation targets. I want us to try various ways of raising community aspirations and to mainstream that practice."
Caroline Neville, director of policy and development for the national Learning and Skills Council, said the LSC was committed to achieving "milestone" targets for 2004 and 2007 set out in its widening adult participation strategy document.
* Priority funding earmarked for adult learners to gain a level-2 qualification
* Local LSCs to agree priority areas to tackle adult underrepresentation
* Widening participation to be an important part of learning provider assessments
* Tracking and monitoring systems in place to assess adult participation
* Flexible learning to be supported through a national credit system
* Employers to provide evidence of their role in encouraging learning and training among their employees