Adult education campaigners have been shocked by the results of a survey showing huge regional discrepancies in the rates of participation in post-16 continuing education.
In the Gallup survey, which was published on Monday by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education and marked the start of Adult Learners' Week, 55 per cent of respondents said they were unlikely to take up education in the future and 74 per cent of those whose last educational experience was school said they were very unlikely to take up a course in the future.
According to the survey, those living in Yorkshire are most likely to be taking or have recently taken part in some form of continuing education (52 per cent, up from around 40 per cent in 1990). Those living in Northern Ireland, included in the survey for the first time, were least likely (28 per cent).
Similarly, 45 per cent (12 per cent up on 1990) of those in the North of England were learners while the North West managed just 35 per cent (down 5 per cent in the past six years). In the East Midlands 50 per cent (up 13 per cent) are continuing learners compared with 35 per cent (down 11 per cent) in the neighbouring West Midlands.
The survey also showed that people in regions with higher existing participation rates were also more likely to do courses in the future. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North West said they were fairly or very unlikely to undertake education in the future.
Alan Tuckett, director of NIACE, described some of the findings as "terrifying" and said that the regional discrepancies may be due to the collapse of traditional manufacturing industries, where many people had never had to or been encouraged to retrain or continue learning, and to local authority spending restrictions.
Scotland had a relatively poor showing, too, with a 38 per cent participation rate compared with England's 42 per cent.
The survey proved something of a surprise to Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who gave the keynote address at the Adult Learners' Week launch. She called on everyone involved in continuing education to do more to respond to the challenges highlighted by the survey.
The survey goes on to show that 40 per cent of people had undertaken some form of adult learning within the past three years and that more men than women are learning.