Skills: Strategic Review of Adult and Community Learning

  • By Jamie Saddler



As London government continues its negotiations with central government on a skills devolution deal and presses ahead with its Area Review of post-16 education and training, a separate review of adult and community learning is also taking place. This London-wide review will run in parallel with the Area Review and will establish the long-term strategic direction of post-19 adult and community learning provision in the capital. This briefing provides an overview of the review and its aims and processes.

Community learning funding in London is allocated by the Skills Funding Agency, primarily through London boroughs who then deliver and commission these services locally. From 2016/17, the Community Learning budget will be merged with Discretionary Learning Support and the non-apprenticeship part of the former Adult Skills Budget into a single budget called the Adult Education Budget (AEB), giving providers more flexibility.

As a result of this change “all learning providers will be able to offer non-accredited learning if providers and Local Commissioners (where they are in place) consider such activity to be relevant and effective.”1 The government expects the AEB to be allocated consistently with the principles of effectiveness, simplicity and localisation and that investment decisions should be informed by detailed data on individuals’ learning outcomes.

London government is currently in negotiation with central government about the devolution of the AEB to London from 2018/19, with the opportunity to begin to influence provider allocations from 2017/18.

The government is also conducting a programme of Area Reviews of post-16 education and training institutions throughout the UK, focusing primarily on General Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges designed “to establish the appropriate set of institutions (colleges and providers) to offer high quality provision based on the current and future needs of learners and employers within the local area.”2

The London Area Review began in March 2016 and represents an opportunity for London to take a strategic view across post-16 provision as a whole and establish the infrastructure needed to commission skills under a future devolved system. The review of Adult and Community

Learning (ACL) provision will run in parallel to the London Area Review, its outputs feeding into the wider recommendations for skills provision in London. This review is supported by BIS and London government (which is investing considerable resources in undertaking the review) and contracted to AATEO (HOLEX)3, who will liaise and work with others undertaking the London Area Review.


Purpose of the Review

The ACL review is designed to determine the long term strategic direction of post-19 adult and community learning provision and develop a set of recommendations for the future commissioning and delivery of ACL provision in London following devolution.

The findings of the review, along with those of the college-focused Area Review, will together provide a comprehensive picture of adult education that will inform the development of an integrated approach to future commissioning and delivery in London. The ACL Review will feed-in to the London Area Review process at both a London-wide and sub-regional level. The London Area Review Steering Group will be the forum through which these reviews are brought together, with a final report from the ACL Review submitted to this group in September 2016.


Scope and Methodology

The review will look at all London-based organisations in direct receipt of Community Learning funding from the Skills Funding Agency. This includes all ACL services commissioned by the 31 London boroughs4 and the City of London Corporation; the five Specialist Designated Institutions (SDIs) currently in direct receipt of Community Learning funding and delivering in London5; and general Further Education Colleges in direct receipt of Community Learning Funding in London6. London receives £41.2 million each year for Community Learning (£33.1 million of this is for services provided by the 31 London boroughs) out of a total spend of around £547 million across the various budgets for adult skills provision across the capital.

The focus will be on making an assessment of learner need, producing an analysis of travel to learn patterns for each service, a curriculum review by subject area (including a focus on English, maths, ESOL, digital skills, and provision for LLDD), an assessment of impact and progression (on health and wellbeing, community inclusion, digital inclusion, family learning, further learning, employability and employment) and a review of delivery models and partnerships.



The London ACL Review process will be overseen by a Steering Group including representatives from the GLA, the LEP Skills & Employment Working Group, London Councils, Local Authorities, SDIs, BIS and Jobcentre Plus.

The aim of the Steering Group is to support and guide the contractor (HOLEX) in undertaking the review, provide strategic and constructive advice on the review process and stakeholder engagement, and critically appraising the review’s findings and recommendations prior to the contractor presenting to the London Area Review Steering Group.

The review will also report into London Councils’ Leaders or Executive Committee and the Chief Executives London Committee (CELC) when appropriate, alongside other forums.


Outputs and Outcomes

The review will produce a report assessing the current strengths and weaknesses of ACL provision in London, a map of ACL delivery models across the capital, a map of travel to​ learn patterns and a road map for implementation of the recommendations. Feedback will be provided for each ACL service on its strengths and weaknesses in terms of the good practice identified in the review.

The recommendations will cover future strategic priorities for ACL in London and provide an assessment of the opportunities for community learning services and providers in the delivery of the Skills Vision for London. There will also be an appraisal of options for increasing efficiency and effectiveness in the business model. Recommendations will be produced for London government (as future commissioners of AEB), local authorities and their ACL services and SDIs.




With a skills devolution deal for London on the horizon, the review of ACL services provides another opportunity to influence the provision of a wide range of skills development and training in the capital. Much like the London Area Review, the ACL Review will be an important test of boroughs working collaboratively and strategically across London, as well as engaging effectively with the ACL sector and other stakeholders.

As well as demonstrating boroughs’ abilities to work collaboratively (crucial to delivering the proposed two-tier system for skills devolution), the ACL Review also provides an opportunity to examine and provide answers to a number of key questions crucial to shaping the future of adult and community learning in London. These include an examination of the current value and impact of ACL services in the capital and what the strategic focus for adult and community learning should be in the future. Understanding how London can get the most from the integration of the Community Learning budget will also be important for this aspect of skills devolution to be a success and meet local adult education needs effectively. It will also provide the opportunity about how London can effectively link skills and employment provision under a devolved system. A challenge for the review will be how to identify opportunities for collaboration and efficiencies across boroughs, while ensuring that provision remains locally accessible and reaches communities across London.

Examining the role that ACL services and SDIs might play in meeting local ACL needs under a devolved system, determining what the most effective and efficient delivery models are, assessing how the effectiveness of community learning provision can best be determined and used to help investment decisions and establishing what distinct role ACL services and SDIs should play in delivering the Skills Vision for London will also be important components of the review.

London Councils will work closely with the participants in the ACL Review to deliver a positive outcome for London and demonstrate London’s ability to lead on the skills agenda.


Jamie Saddler, Policy and Project Officer