The Centenary Commission’s campaign to put lifelong education at the heart of the Covid-19 recovery has been boosted by mayoral candidates.

Candidates from across the country have voiced their support for the Centenary Commission on Adult Education’s call for regional leaders to focus on rebuilding economy, democracy and civil society.

The Commission has called for a programme to Build Back Bolder, with wide-ranging reforms such as:

  • A community learning centre in every town;
  • Funds for community groups so they can shape their own learning;
  • a regional Adult Learning Partnership including local authorities, universities, colleges, voluntary groups, employers and trade unions.

Commission chair Dame Helen Ghosh has written to all mayoral candidates from the main political parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Green) asking them to promise support for adult education. She says:

“Lifelong learning is vital, yet it has been allowed to collapse in the past 15 years. The Government needs to spend more, but adult education is now organised locally so we are delighted to have had so many positive responses to this initiative.”

The Commission says education for adults means so much more than ‘skills for jobs.’ For some, it means learning how to read and write, or use a computer. For others, adult education means learning a new language, mastering personal finance, understanding mental health better. It means engaging with others, exploring difficult topics together, and shaping communities through understanding and tolerance.  A long-term learning strategy for all adults is needed, properly funded and implemented.

The commission wrote to candidates in nine mayoral elections and so far has received positive responses from 19 out of the 36.

In London, positive responses have come from major figures in the election. Labour’s Sadiq Khan says:

I commend the work being done by the Centenary Commission on Adult Education, which is more important than ever given the devastating effect this pandemic has had on jobs in our city. A second chance at education or retraining opportunities can change the lives of Londoners. I have consistently fought for the devolution of the Adult Education budget to our city and communities and I am committed to ensuring that running targets those excluded groups who need it most and that Londoners have the skills they need to help our city recover from this pandemic.

Sian Berry, Green Party co-leader and candidate for London Mayor, pledged her support for the work of the Centenary Commission.  She said:

“The Green Party recognises that life-long learning will help to create a healthy society; through strengthening mental health and helping people lead fulfilling lives. As adult education is constantly evolving it demands a flexible approach to new courses whilst ensuring core aspects of education are preserved even where enrolment is low. As you outline, there were challenges before the pandemic and we need to be proactive and responsive as the job market changes.”

Other positive responses included West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer.

In March the Commission launched its Build Back Bolder campaign, backed by more than a hundred senior figures nationally, including seven former ministers from all political parties, 11 current and  former vice chancellors, the heads of nine Oxbridge colleges, a former head of the home civil service a former House of Commons speaker and almost every professor researching lifelong learning. The Commission believes the Government’s promise of £2.5 billion over five years to fund a ‘skills revolution’ will do little to reverse a decade of deep cuts.