Speech by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language.
Sincere thanks for inviting me to address the conference today and to the learning and work institute for organising this important conference.
I am delighted that the focus of this conference is on building a nation of second chances - where its never too late to learn.
And I hope you feel - as I do - that it is an exciting time for us to be meeting to discuss the work we can do together to support our adult learners on their journey of lifelong learning. It is something I care passionately about and it is always inspiring to be part of a discussion with so many others who feel the same and to be able to learn from your experience of making that difference.
But if I may say first to Scott, it is truly inspiring to listen to your story.
How education helped, not only to turn your life around, but potentially the lives of others.
I hope you achieve your ambition of a shed in every town. Be proud of what you have achieved.
Da iawn ti - well done!
Now to that idea of a nation of second chances, - let me start by saying I know that there has been debate about this term and what it might mean.
That’s not a new phenomenon.
We started by hearing from Scott but there is another Scott I want to refer to – maybe a little improbably in the context of adult lifelong learning conference – and that is of course - F Scott Fitzgerald. Critics and commentators alike often quote his maxim, that there “are no second acts in American lives”.
It is meant to sum up the supposed ‘one shot, one chance’ rule of public life, careers or politics. Well, I fundamentally disagree.
And when it comes to education, our lives should not – must not – depend on one shot, one chance, one pathway, one decision.
It must never be too late to learn.
Or to become more democratically and critically engaged through education.
To learn that new skill, acquire that new qualification.
To become more personally, culturally and academically fulfilled.
I want wales to be a nation of second chances in education.
And Scott Fitzgerald was actually onto something.
The full quote (from his essay my lost city) – which people often overlook – says:
“I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives,
But there was certainly to be a second act to New York's boom days.”
Colleagues, out of necessity much of my first act – my first year – as education and welsh language minister – has focused on working with you to keep the nation learning through the pandemic.
For our second act – I, we – must focus relentlessly on the central role that education will have in creating the boom days that can lie ahead for wales again.
- in breaking the link between deprivation and destiny;
- in creating and nurturing employable, engaged and ethical citizens, of all ages; and
- and in raising standards and widening access through digital and technology.
These aspirations are no less relevant to tertiary education – including adult and community learning – than they are to our schools.
So, I want to spend some time today exploring how we can move forward together in this endeavour.
And even if there are no second acts in American lives
I am determined that wales should be a nation of second chances, and that we can realise that ambition together.
Firstly, I want to thank the sector for all you have done during the past two years, you have taken on the challenge of working with us in implementing a new funding and planning model, with parity and equity at its heart.
There is of course further to go, but we now have a sound platform on which to build.
And I want to discuss how we do that in the context of four approaches:
The importance of strategy and strategic duties;
The shared responsibility we have for this;
The need for sustainability; and
That idea of second chances.
Turning to the first of those – strategy and strategic duties.
Colleagues – there’s something exciting happening in welsh law and lifelong learning at the moment.
Now I recognise that the bar for what counts as “exciting” in the world of law is probably set a bit lower for me as a lawyer than for many
But let me remind you.
In the Tertiary and Education Research Bill, which recently passed the general principles stage in the Senedd; for the first time ever we are legislating to promote life-long learning.
Putting it into law.
Making a duty on the new tertiary commission.
And making it the first such strategic duty in the Bill.
You may not have spotted it in the draft bill published last year.
And there’s a good reason for that - it wasn’t there.
But on becoming Minister – I took the view that we needed to put more of our values and ambitions into the bill.
For me, that starts with lifelong learning, and with adult community learning at the heart of that.
It sits alongside other duties – enshrining our shared principles and values - equality of opportunity, of collaboration, of tertiary education through the medium of welsh, of civic mission and of global outlook.
The new commission – our new steward for all tertiary education and research – must operate under these principles and duties.
This also links to the purposes and principles of our new national school curriculum, empowering our young people to learn throughout their lives.
The new curriculum represents what we want and expect from the citizens of the future.
Guaranteeing the core skills of literacy numeracy and digital competence, it empowers learners to grow as citizens through broad and balanced experiences, knowledge and skills.
It shares much in common with the learning and work institute’s innovative ‘citizens’ curriculum’.
That looks to tackle the barriers that prevent adult learner participation.
So that learning those essential and life skills such as literacy and numeracy can become more relevant through co-construction and using community delivery.
Although it is a new approach – it is rooted in that adult education tradition of community, culture and citizenship.
Engaging with, and empowering adults to access public services, to be engaged citizens and to enjoy improved health and employment outcomes.
I think this is an idea with real potential for us in wales. So I want to tell you that i have asked our new external reference group for adult learning to study this approach and to make some recommendations to me on how we can pilot a citizens curriculum for wales, in wales.
Our new school curriculum was co-constructed with those who have the experience of teaching our young people so I want us to draw on that way of working, that spirit of co-development and co-production, allied to the expertise and experience at this conference, so that we can design a national framework ready for local adaption, design and delivery.
And that brings me to my next theme. Shared responsibility.
Blending the national and local, with learners at the centre, is fundamental to my idea of shared responsibility.
I mentioned the new reference group for adult learning a couple of moments ago.
It met for the first time a couple of weeks ago, influenced by Sue Pember’s excellent report for the wales centre for public policy.
Together it will look at the systemic barriers in our path.
We all know that they are complex and they are longstanding. So we will need to be imaginative and creative in tackling them.
The next two years are going to be crucial in building the capacity and capability we need to deliver this commitment.
In helping co-design a programme of national co-ordination, the group will provide advice and scrutiny and ensure we reach as wide a constituency as possible.
I am pleased to announce that I have provided funding of £2m over the next two years to back up this work.
To help get the sector ready for the future.
We must have a programme of national co-ordination based on close collaboration between providers.
So my ask of you all here today is to engage with that, so that we can work with and across the whole tertiary education system.
Our shared challenge is to improve quality and access to skills-based, formal, and informal adult learning and support progression for all our learners.
We must get this right as we move ahead with the creation of the commission for tertiary education and research.
The commission will take responsibility for the funding and overall strategic direction of adult learning, in addition to further education, higher education, apprenticeships and school sixth forms.
It will provide the funding to local authorities, colleges, and adult learning wales that is so critical to realising the mission of adult education.
But it will do this with a renewed strategic focus - enshrined in legislation as I have said - on enabling and ensuring lifelong learning for people from all walks of life.
The commission will also be responsible for signing-off outcome agreements with colleges and universities.
I want us to be in a position where those institutions, reflecting that lifelong learning duty, are in the habit of disseminating their work more widely.
Whether that is online, taster courses, public lectures and seminars, working with local employers and enterprises – we need to see wider and deeper engagement.
And though we talk of civic mission, this isn't of “missionary work” as my late friend Hywel Francis described it, rather genuine empowerment and democratic engagement.
I expect to see this as a key priority within those outcome agreements in the future.
And alongside this I am also keen to explore the idea of a national charter for lifelong learning.
The role of supporting people on their learning journey, to help them flourish and help strengthen our communities in doing so extends beyond education institutions to partners such as libraries, museums, but also can reach beyond that to other public bodies and further perhaps to tech, media and indeed other companies – how can we develop and approach where these can sign up to agreed principles and actions that support community and lifelong learning.
I want us to do more to encourage this work, particularly as it relates to citizenship education, tackling misinformation and digital competence. I know that the director of the national museum describes that institution as a ‘central service for learning’, and I want to embed that spirit and shared responsibility.
We are at a critical juncture in co-creating a sustainable and strong system.
How we harness digital learning and technology is essential to that sustainability.
The idea of coming together to learn,
To break down barriers,
To engage and explore,
Is essential to education as a public and common good.
And this must be true, whether it is in the classroom, in the community, or online.
I have already provided almost £6m to improve the digital capacity and to address the challenges of net zero in the adult learning and college sectors.
A further £2m has also been allocated to the network of local authority adult learning to re-engage the hardest to reach learners in our society. To support the promotion and delivery of engagement and hook provision.
Building on experiences over the last two years, I am keen to do more to support the adult learning sector to broaden its reach through digital and blended learning.
We have made tailored support available to the sector through JISC, to help each provider build its digital capabilities.
Through the reference group and programme of national co-ordination, it is imperative that we look at how we can take this forward and find further opportunities in this area, including more shared resources for adult learners.
In school and colleges, we have the incredible asset of our globally recognised Hwb learning platform. What could an equivalent platform look like for adult learners. A destination which is trusted, well-known, with a wide offer of content – resources, training, guidance, and where content was straightforward to access, easily navigable and convenient. I am keen to hear from learners and from the sector what potential this could have to support learning.
I know that adult learning is a lifeline for so many people, so staying connected was hugely important during lockdown. One local authority told us that:
“one vulnerable isolated learner living alone… cried when the equipment was delivered to her and said she felt part of the world again now she can see people”
Through the last two years many learners have found their way online and become familiar with remote learning.
But we also have to recognise that the social, personal and well-being impact of the period means that many are even further away from learning.
We already know that 24% of adults are without a level 2 qualification;
14% without a level 1 qualification;
And almost half of adults from the lowest socioeconomic groups have not received any training since they left full-time education.
We must tackle this together.
We have ambitious targets to reduce the numbers of working age adults with no qualifications to 5% or below.
And to ensure 75% of working age adults in wales are qualified to at least level 3 by 2050.
However, it has been over a decade since the last national audit of adult literacy skills in wales.
It’s about time that we corrected that – and get an up to date view of the situation, alongside that qualifications data and targets.
So I have asked my officials to commission a new ‘state of the nation’ audit of adult literacy and numeracy to address this.
In creating a nation of second chances where it is never too late to learn, we first need to be honest and understand the scale of the challenge. I will have more to say about the audit in the coming weeks.
The sustainability of the workforce is integral in how we move forward successfully.
Over the last two years, we’ve been able to allocate £175,000 to the adult learning sector to support mental health and professional development.
Much of this has focused on wellbeing support, helping to build resilience for both learners and staff.
We will continue to work closely with you to make sure that the right support is in place.
The post-16 workforce development project is currently underway to develop a professional learning framework for staff across all parts of the post-16 sector.
Adult learning plays an important part in this work and I am pleased that representatives from the sector are engaged through the steering group and task and finish groups.
The three themes I have discussed, strategy, shared responsibility and sustainability all lead into my overarching fourth theme – that idea of a nation of second chances where it is never too late to learn.
I mentioned the misinterpretation of one of F Scott Fitzgerald’s famous lines at the start.
I should point out that Fitzergald also said that:
“no grand idea was ever born in a conference”…
Let me assure you, the idea of a second chance nation was not born in a conference,
But I know that it will develop, evolve and become tangible through the contributions, ideas and deliberations of people in this conference and beyond.
And we have already started building that new future.
Our new bill will place a duty on the new commission to secure proper facilities for relevant further education and training for eligible adults.
This is a big step forward in adult provision and it will be backed up by funding and we will work with you to define the scope of that duty in regulations over the coming two years.
My long term vision is a universal right to lifelong learning to give every citizen that chance.
We need to work collaboratively to increase the number of adults learning in wales.
I do not want us to narrow our sights.
I was struck by Sir Alan Tuckett’s recent words and analysis.
That we must move away from the binary consideration of the purpose of adult and lifelong learning.
He said that there had been:
"too narrow a focus on investment as a choice between vocational education and neglected education for citizenship and cultural fulfilment.
"economic prosperity and social cohesion both benefit from sustained commitments to lifelong learning".
I couldn’t agree more.
And I am determined that we move forward in that spirit.
Initiatives like Taith, our new global education exchange programme show the importance we attach to creating new opportunities.
I know Susana, director of Taith is here to talk to you about the programme but I wanted to say that it is the best funded international mobility programme in wales ever, with funding available for applications specifically from the adult learning sector this year. Lets make the most of the exciting opportunities Taith will provide for adult learners and staff across the nation.
To conclude colleagues, I am confident that we do have those boom days for adult learning ahead of us.
It will require us to keep the faith.
To share responsibility.
To create opportunities that are truly sustainable.
There’s an old welsh proverb that says it’s ‘tri chynnig I Gymro”.
Three times lucky for a Welshman.
Colleagues, education chances and true lifelong learning shouldn’t – mustn't – be a matter of luck.
A true nation of second chances is one where
We work together,
Build our shared citizenship,
Tackle the impact of poverty on aspiration, opportunity and education.
Nothing is more important for a modern and successful economy, for empowered communities and a fair and inclusive society.
A nation where it is never too late to learn.
Diolch yn fawr.