Leadership, Learning and Demographics: The Changing Shape of the Lifecourse and its Implications for Education

We have known for quite some time about the likely impact of demographic change on British society. The population is aging, as it is in many other countries
in the developed world, with clear and fundamental implications for education, especially further education and skills, as well as for issues such as health, social
care and pensions.

Yet we have been remarkably slow to react to what will soon become an all-too-predictable crisis. It is perhaps indicative of the endemic short-termism of our politics that we have delayed our storm-planning until the black clouds are fully formed above our heads.

The problem was well understood a decade ago when Tom Schuller and the late (and much missed) Sir David Watson published Learning Through Life, the influential and still-relevant main report of the Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning, funded by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (now the Learning and Work Institute). The report argued that lifelong learning policy should be based on a new model of the educational life course, with an emphasis on stage rather than age and a fair rebalancing of resources to reflect the need to support people to lead productive and fulfilling lives for longer.

Unhappily, 10 years later, we are no closer to the kind of lifelong learning society envisaged by the report. In fact, in some respects we seem to be going backwards, with resources still inequitably skewed towards young people and adult participation in learning in steep and, as yet, unarrested decline, largely as a result of cuts to funding that we remain a very long way from reversing.

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