Professor Lyn Tett

Professor of Community Education, HudCRES

I have been researching the impact of community education on adults for the last thirty years especially on those that have taken part in literacy and numeracy provision. Community education (CE) aims to develop the capacity of individuals, groups and communities to participate in democratic processes so that their voices are heard on the issues that affect them and their communities. Programmes and activities are developed in dialogue with participants and focus on engaging people in learning that responds to their concerns.  This form of education is particularly effective in engaging groups and individuals living in disadvantaged communities that regard education and learning as not for them (see Community education, learning and development, Edinburgh: Dunedin Press).

As a result of my expertise in CE I was recently invited to provide oral evidence to the House of Commons’ Education Committee's adult skills and lifelong learning inquiry, chaired by the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP.  

In this session the committee was gathering evidence about the benefits to the individual, society and the wider economy from three academics, myself and Professors John Holford (Nottingham University) and Alison Wolf (Kings College, London). We were able to provide evidence about the direct and indirect benefits of lifelong learning in terms of physical and mental health, employment, social cohesion and integration and democratic participation.

For example, improved literacy and numeracy capabilities can foster an increase in life satisfaction, a stronger sense of identity as someone that can learn and an increased involvement by parents in their children’s education (see ‘Transforming learning identities in literacy programmes’, Journal of Transformative Education, 17 (2) pp. 154-172).

In relation to employment, workplace learning that draws on the knowledge of employees can lead to a greater job satisfaction and more acceptance of innovation and consequently increases in productivity (see ‘Work-based Learning, identity and the skills agenda’, Studies in Continuing Education, 32 (1) pp. 17-27).

The inquiry was also exploring the level of support available to learners, and the role that is played by local authorities/combined authority areas in providing adult education. Here the evidence we were able to offer focused on the decline in participation over the last 15 years with the Social Mobility Commission reporting that nearly half of people from the lowest social classes had undertaken no learning at all since leaving school (2019, p. 26) . 

This is clearly a social justice issue and we considered that it needed to be addressed by providing much greater access to lifelong learning for educationally disadvantaged people. One suggestion was that there should be an entitlement to free access to provision that individuals were interested in rather than the current system of providing subsidies to employers and an insistence on formal qualifications.

We also discussed the problems caused by having lots of small pots of money for specific initiatives that meant that front-line staff, particularly those working for Non Governmental Organisations, had to focus on applying for funding rather than delivering adult education.  It was considered that this was a waste of everyone’s time and it would be much more effective to have a general fund for adult skills and lifelong learning.  


It is sometimes difficult as an academic to see the impact of your research but this evidence session provided a direct route to well informed and interested politicians to discuss our mutual interests in lifelong learning.  It was a real privilege to be invited to be a witness to this inquiry. An audio recording of the session is available here.


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