Making visible the social and economic benefits of FE

Further education is a powerful lever for personal, community and social change.

Adult Education and its benefits are dynamic in the sense that benefits gained in one domain such as education impact on functioning in other domains, such as family and community.  Bynner and Parsons (2005) drawing on the preliminary results from their longitudinal research using the 1958 and 1970 British Birth Cohort studies identified substantial differences in life chances.  Quality of life and social inclusion were evident between individual adults at or below entry 2 compared with others at higher levels of literacy and numeracy competence. Entry 2 skills were associated with lack of qualifications, poor labour market experiences and prospects, poor material and financial circumstances, poor health prospects and little social and political participation.


Improvement in skills for men was linked to increased home ownership and better employment prospects. As well as reducing their level of income, unemployment also shifts people from an important social network, and may Impact negatively on their sense of self esteem (Field, 2008). The results also demonstrated a rise in community engagement and political interest. The women experienced similar socio-economic benefits with their skills improvement; these were most noticeable for literacy improvement. In relation to mental health and well-being the members of the cohort who had improved were also less likely to show symptoms of depression, report long-term health related problems, articulate feelings of disillusionment such as having no agency over their lives (Bynner and Parsons 2006). Whilst, a report carried out by, De Coulon et al (2010) aimed to investigate how human capital human (measured by highest education levels and basic skills) is allied to three health behaviour outcomes which include: drinking, smoking and weight. The results demonstrated that education significantly reduced the probability of being a smoker, of being a binge drinker and of being classified as obese. The report stated:

That basic skills and education significantly affect the probability of being a heavy/binge drinker and a smoker. In particular, educational attainment affects both alcohol consumption and smoking status; those with higher levels of qualifications are significantly less likely to engage in heavy alcohol use and are less likely to smoke compared to individuals possessing no qualifications.

(ibid, p 22)

Clearly, adult education including literacy, language and numeracy courses for young and older adults can offer them a second chance of re-engaging with education, it can contribute to personal development, including developing soft skills identified in Duckworth’s study (2013) such as confidence, economic, social and health related benefits and importantly challenging intergenerational inequality which includes poverty. Adult Education is a powerful lever for offering people and their communities a better chance of acquiring the tools needed to run their own lives.