Adult Learning

Executive Summary

Information in this executive summary was correct as at 13th April 2017.

This chapter:

  • identifies the benefits and impact of non- formal, non-accredited adult learning on individual and societal health and wellbeing;
  • highlights good practice nationally and locally to Surrey;
  • identifies types of non-formal, non-accredited adult learning;
  • identifies residents at risk of not accessing this type of adult learning;
  • draws out current gaps in services; and
  • proposes recommendations for future work and commissioning;
  • provides links to in-depth and relevant national research.


As the Mental Health Foundation (date unknown: 6) state, “learning and education can have a positive effect on wellbeing”. Its impact is widely researched. Chandola & Jenkins (2014: 83-84) state that
“There are a number of ways in which this increased participation could lead to improvements. These include:

  • effects due to the development of specific skills;
  • generic cognitive development;
  • personal development, including enhanced self-esteem and confidence;
  • opportunities for social interaction, both inside and outside the classroom; and
  • economic benefits such as improved career prospects.”

The Learning & Work Institute (2015: 2) cite the work of Feinstein et al. (2002):
“[There is] international evidence that education is strongly linked to health such as health behaviours, risky contexts and preventative service use… Education is a mechanism that enhances the health and wellbeing of individuals because it reduces the need for healthcare, associated costs of dependence on services, lost earnings and personal suffering. Education, through increased information and awareness also helps to promote healthy lifestyles and positive choices, supporting and nurturing human development and relationships and personal, family and community wellbeing.”

Moreover, Fujiwara (2012) has developed work to place values on the positive impacts of adult learning upon health and wellbeing:

  • “improvements in health, which has a value of £148 to the individual;
  • a greater likelihood of finding a job and/or staying in a job, which has a value of £224 to the individual;
  • better social relationships, which has a value of £658 to the individual; and
  • a greater likelihood that people volunteer on a regular basis, which has a value of £130 to the individual.”

This chapter seeks to outline the landscape of non-accredited adult learning in Surrey, and its impact upon health and wellbeing of residents. The chapter does not examine the differences between formal (please see Further Education JSNA chapter) and informal education, and focuses on learning that is non-accredited, and ‘non-formal’ in order to demonstrate the flexibility and availability of modes and preferences for learning in Surrey (with additional national examples). For clarity, the chapter adopts the definitions outlined by OECD (date known):
“Formal learning is always organised and structured, and has learning objectives. From the learner’s standpoint, it is always intentional: i.e. the learner’s explicit objective is to gain knowledge, skills and/or competences. Typical examples are learning that takes place within the initial education and training system or workplace training arranged by the employer. One can also speak about formal education and/or training or, more accurately speaking, education and/or training in a formal setting. This definition is rather consensual.

Informal learning is never organised, has no set objective in terms of learning outcomes and is never intentional from the learner’s standpoint. Often it is referred to as learning by experience or just as experience. The idea is that the simple fact of existing constantly exposes the individual to learning situations, at work, at home or during leisure time for instance. This definition, with a few exceptions (Werquin, 2007) also meets with a fair degree of consensus.

Mid-way between the first two… non-formal learning is rather organised and can have learning objectives. The advantage of the intermediate concept lies in the fact that such learning may occur at the initiative of the individual but also happens as a by-product of more organised activities, whether or not the activities themselves have learning objectives. In some countries, the entire sector of adult learning falls under non-formal learning; in others, most adult learning is formal. Non-formal learning therefore gives some flexibility between formal and informal learning…”

In order to drive quality improvement and value for money in public funded non-formal learning in England in Wales in the last decade, new processes and systems for measuring impact, and outcomes alongside the quality of teaching and learning have been developed. This has enabled adults attending non-formal courses much improved awareness of the progress made on their learner journey, increasing confidence and feelings of wellbeing. These developments have also given funding bodies much greater confidence about the social return on investment from funding non-formal adult learning.

These modes of learning can be initiated in a number of ways:

  • Sought out by the learner (OECD, date unknown);
  • As a by-product of other experiences/activities (OECD, date unknown);
  • Prescribed/referred by a health professional (Allen, Bain, Dowson, Gadfield, Fitzjohn, Jackson & Moore, 2005);
  • Personalised/tailored learning in conversation between learner and provider (Allen, et al., 2005);
  • Family/collaborative/group learning (Allen et al., 2005).

It is important to note here that all providers of adult learning are required by the Education & Skills Funding Agency to provide Information, Advice & Guidance (IAG) to users. This ensures that providers of accredited and non-accredited adult learning are providing clarity to residents about their individual and combined/partnered offers.

Surrey County Council (SCC) places emphasis on health and wellbeing in its Corporate Strategy. It also continues to promote, support and utilise its Cultural Services – which includes Surrey Adult Learning, Surrey Heritage, Surrey Libraries and Surrey Arts – with all residents. Surrey County Council Cultural Services constantly seek to work in partnership with other local, regional and national organisations to develop the success and efficiency of a relevant offer to residents. An example of partnership working in relation to non-accredited, non-formal adult learning is the Family Learning offer made in conjunction with schools and children’s centres.

Who’s at risk and why?

“…ill health is…more than the problems that individuals experience. A person may have a decent income and education, and may not indulge in risk-taking behaviours, but may still experience poor health and well-being because there is also a social and cultural context to health. The sense of health and well-being that many individuals experience is not a problems or a deficit within themselves, but actually a reflection or a response to the situation they find themselves in… The connection between society and the communities we live in has such a profound effect on individuals that it affects their sense of well-being.”
(James, 2001: 6-7)

The groups at risk of not accessing suitable non-formal, non-accredited adult learning are wide spread, based on the diverse needs of Surrey’s resident population. However, the general determinants and some key relevant statistics are as follows. See also Surrey-i for further detail about the data.


  • Surrey’s population is growing from 1.17 million residents in 2015 to an estimated 1.38 million in 2039;
  • More people move to Surrey than leave each year.

Age (specifically focused on adults) & Safeguarding

  • “The Office for National Statistics (ONS) mid-2015 estimate was that Surrey’s resident population was 1,168,800. This includes an estimated:
  • Surrey’s older population is growing from 18.5% of Surrey’s total population in 2015 to a predicted 25% in 2039;
  • There were approximately 24,500 adults in Surrey aged 65+ years with depression or severe depression in 2015;
  • “Compared with other councils in England, Surrey also had one of the highest proportions of individuals aged 95 and over who were involved in a new statutory Safeguarding enquiry (7%). In England as a whole, this proportion was 4%.” (Safeguarding Adults JSNA chapter);
  • As the age of Surrey’s population is growing, the focus of provision for age-related health and wellbeing issues (such as, but not exclusively dementia) should maintain focus with adult learning providers and policy makers.

Health and wellbeing issues

  • 2 out of 3 adults in Surrey do not eat the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day;
  • Almost a quarter of adults in Surrey are obese;
  • Alcohol-related hospital admissions have risen steadily in Surrey since 2002.

Physical & learning disabilities

  • “[There are] 21,400 adults [aged] 18+ years with learning disabilities and 8,921 with autism – of whom 4510 adults with a learning disability and 2014 with autism are over 65 years” (Wellbeing & Adult Mental Health JSNA chapter).

Mental health issues (incl. gender- and age-related statistics)

  • “Surrey has a slightly higher percentage of mental health incapacity benefit claimants than England” (Wellbeing & Adult Mental Health JSNA chapter);
  • Surrey Adult Learning’s ‘Learner Feedback Survey’ (Surrey County Council, 2016) demonstrates impact upon learners with regards to their health and wellbeing; specifically, mental health. Where 47% of learners said their course was helping them with their ‘fitness and health’:
    • 87% stated it was making them ‘feel better about themselves’
    • 73% ‘feel less stressed and anxious’ and
    • 90% stating they ‘feel more confident’
  • “An identified high risk group for mental health issues (including suicide)… Males aged 25- 44 years and males aged 55-64 years” (Wellbeing & Adult Mental Health JSNA chapter);
  • Women aged 65+ years suffer from more mental health issues than men in Surrey;
  • Nationally, “around a quarter of British adults will experience a diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, of which anxiety and depression are the most common” (Mental Health Foundation, date unknown: 6);
  • “[Mental health issues] can affect physical health, increase blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and hinder recovery from physical illness. Over 16% of the population in England meet the criteria for anxiety or depression, which often occur together” (Mental Health Foundation, date unknown: 10);
  • “Poor mental health has enormous social consequences and economic costs. People with mental health problems may experience stigma and social exclusion, discrimination at work, and are more at risk of losing their job.” (Mental Health Foundation, date unknown: 10).


  • 40% of carers are caring for people with mental health issues including dementia (Adult Carers JSNA Chapter);
  • 25,754 aged over 65 years provide unpaid care in Surrey.

Socio-economic deprivation

  • “The impact of low income on individual’s sense of well-being is evidence” (James, 2001: 78);
  • “Overall Surrey has significantly lower deprivation than England.” (Wellbeing & Adult Mental Health JSNA chapter);
  • Bowcock’s 2012 Hidden Surrey report cites “that whilst Surrey is an affluent county there are a number of pockets of deprivation that are ‘hidden’ due to their proximity with areas of prosperity and high living standards. In some cases, these pockets are amongst the most deprived areas in the country” (Arts & Culture JSNA chapter);
  • Therefore, the most socio-economically deprived areas of the county can become overlooked or forgotten when it comes to targeted services and national perception (Bowcock, 2012);
  • “…the value of education in midlife is greatest for those with the poorest education at the time of leaving school” (Chandola & Jenkins, 2014: 85);
  • The Index of Multiple Deprivation shows wards of Mole Valley and Waverley listed as highly deprived and containing the largest population of 65+ years age group in Surrey, whilst also containing a number of wards in the least deprived areas nationally. A ward in Waverley also registers as having one of the highest levels of common mental illness;
  • Much of the course availability is fee paying, and typically between £6 and £7 per hour. Many Surrey residents are able to afford such charges. However those on low incomes, the unemployed or those dependent on government support typically are not in a position to enrol on fee paying courses.

Ethnicity & Language

  • “Rates of mental health vary by ethnicity. [The chapter] shows that Black males are more likely to be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder; Asian Females are more likely to be diagnosed with a common mental health disorder (CMD) and White females and other mixed and multiple ethnic groups are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts.” (Wellbeing & Adult Mental Health JSNA chapter);
  • “The majority of the Surrey adult population (83.5%) reported their ethnic group as “White British” in the 2011 Census; other white ethnic groups; “Irish, “Gypsy or Irish Traveller” and “Other White” (6.9%), then “Indian” (1.8%) followed by Pakistani (1.0%). Surrey has a significantly lower than England percentage of mixed/multiple, Asian or Asian/British, Black or Black/British and other ethnic groups… For other ethnic groups Surrey is the highest among its CIPFA nearest neighbours. Hence, Surrey likely to have more ethnic groups suffering with mental health issues.” (Wellbeing & Adult Mental Health JSNA chapter);
  • Within Surrey, Woking is the most diverse local authority and North West Surrey is the most diverse clinical commissioning group (CCG) and Guildford & Waverley is the least diverse.” (Wellbeing & Adult Mental Health JSNA chapter);
  • “within the Sheerwater Maybury area of Woking, one third of the population are non-white, almost 40% have very low literacy and 38 different languages are spoken at the local school” (Bowcock, 2012).


  • “At the census 16.7% of Surrey residents in employment were working more than 49 hours a week, compared to the national average of 13.3%. 10% travel more than 30km to work compared with 8% in England.” (Economy, Employment & Deprivation JSNA chapter);
  • “Working long hours is associated with increased risks of heart disease, non-skin cancer, arthritis, and diabetes, with these risks higher for women than men (8).” (Economy, Employment & Deprivation JSNA chapter);
  • “Employees who work long hours have a higher risk of stroke than those working standard hours who display a weaker association with coronary heart disease. These findings suggest the need for greater attention to vascular risk factors in people working long hours.” (Economy, Employment & Deprivation JSNA chapter);
  • 21.7% of Surrey in professional occupations (highest proportion of residents); the percentage in ‘elementary occupations’ is small and therefore at risk of not accessing learning (if not targeted/identified).

Additional Needs

  • Bowcock (2012) states that “Surrey’s dominant cultural identity of affluent commuter towns and a highly educated population conceals not only hidden deprivation but also greater complexity at a localised level”. She suggests additional needs to those already introduced in this section as:
  • “This county houses a relatively high number of prisoners, including two women’s prisons with the implications this brings for rehabilitation and the problems of poor mental health amongst offenders.
  • It is known to harbour particularly high levels of domestic violence.
  • It has the fourth largest population of Travellers and Gypsies within Britain.”

The level of need in the population

Individual & Societal Benefits of Adult Learning

As the groups at risk in Surrey are diverse in their needs, it is vital that we seek to ascertain the benefits of non-accredited, non-formal adult learning for both individuals and society. In support of the notion of adult learning as a key tool in developing mental health and wellbeing, the Learning & Work Institute (2015:3) exemplify the work of the BeLL Report that
“…sought to investigate the individual and social benefits perceived by adult learners from their participation in adult learning… and to document and interpret the benefits learners perceive from participation in adult learning. In so doing, they seek to systematise the benefits using the concept of ‘capital’:

  • Human capital – the know-how and qualifications that enable participation in the economy and society
  • Social capital – networks in which people actively participate, access to individuals and groups, promotion of social integration, civic engagement and social cohesion. It refers to the norms of trust and co-operation, not as an individual characteristic but as a social one.
  • Identity capital – personal resources such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, resilience and internal locus of control.”

Fujiwara’s work (2012) supports this notion demonstrating a visual model directly correlating the impact of ‘adult learning’ upon ‘wellbeing’, via ‘health’, ‘employment’, ‘social relationships’ and ‘volunteering’. This is backed by Field’s work, citing the Confederation of British Industry (2005) who estimated the then cost of work-related stress absence from work at £3.7 million to UK employers.

Therefore it is in the interests of providers and policy makers to support the ongoing development of adult learning for individual and societal health and wellbeing benefit.
Adult Need in Surrey: Learning & Wellbeing

With those aged 65+ years constituting the largest rise in the population in the county, rising from 210,000 in 2015 to an expected 237,900 in 2039 (13%); and more specifically, those aged 85+ years rising a significant 30% from 32,400 in 2015 to 42,000 in 2039, and the general rise in all adult (and child) population groups in Surrey, there is an increasing need for all services related to supporting health and wellbeing of individuals and society. Additionally, there are currently 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. This is predicted to rise to 1,000,000 by 2025 and 2,000,000 by 2050.

With this significant rise of the adult population, it is important to recognize, as Chandola & Jenkins (2014: 89) state, “that the most beneficial forms of provision vary at different stages of the life course”. They discuss the importance of the acquisition of qualifications in early adulthood and midlife because “of the benefits of this type of learning in terms of remaining in employment or getting a job”, but again stress the value of non-formal, non-accredited adult learning alongside that which awards qualifications for older adults. They state that “A case can be made for subsidising non-qualification-bearing courses, given the economic, social and health benefits which adult education can confer. In particular, older adults may benefit from non-vocational courses which boost wellbeing by providing mental stimulation and interest as well as opportunities for social interaction.” (2014: 83).

The availability of non-formal adult learning is good in many parts of Surrey as can be seen from Section 5: Services in relation to need. However, there are geographical areas of weakness. These are particularly high in Mole Valley, Epsom and Ewell and Runnymede, along with more isolated rural parts of the County.

Services in relation to need.

“Participation in learning…does impact on health and wellbeing across an individual’s life course, and could therefore be deemed to be a ‘good thing’ for supporting people to sustain and improve their health and wellbeing. These benefits are at an individual level but also important at a societal level. It has important implications for policy on adult learning and for policy and budgets across other government departments.”
(Learning & Work Institute, 2015: 7)

Allen et al. (2005) suggest that achieving a balanced offer of non-formal, non-accredited adult learning to communities (echoing the list of ‘common modes of…learning’ and the list of ways of initiating learning in this chapter’s Introduction) as well as focusing additional resources on targeted identified groups is key to supporting everyone. Surrey’s adult learning offer (including non-formal, non-accredited routes and options) is both universal and tailored addressing a range of health and wellbeing needs.

There is a raft of non-formal and non-accredited adult learning provision for residents in Surrey to access. Table 1 shows a (non-exhaustive) list of current services, providers, projects and programmes in Surrey aimed at the groups and needs identified earlier. In order to provide useful information for readers, links and/or contact details have been provided where possible. These are provided in addition to universal programmes and projects offered across the county.

Table 1

Provider/Organisation/Service Project/Programme/
Who for? Contact details
Surrey Adult Learning,
Surrey County Council
Passport to Wellbeing Adults with mild to moderate mental health difficulties, regardless of whether a formal diagnosis has been made. Surrey Adult Learning Customer Service Team
0300 200 1044 [email protected]
SMS: 07527 182 861
Text phone (via Text Relay): 18001 0300 200 1044
Surrey Adult Learning,
Surrey County Council
Active Surrey 50+ Partnership People aged 50+ years
Surrey Adult Learning,
Surrey County Council
Family Learning programme Families (with some for adults only) [email protected] Cheryl Brown: 01932 794539
Surrey Lifelong Learning Partnership Community Learning (incl. LearnMyWay & TRANSFORM IT);
Digital Learning (incl. Digital Citizen’s Project);
Learning for Work;
& other programmes
People with mental health issues;
Those in socio-economic deprivation (incl. the homeless)
[email protected]
Surrey Arts, Surrey County Council Surrey Arts: arts programmes and education (incl. carers choirs) People with mental health issues (incl. dementia)
People with Special Educational Needs & Disability
Karl Newman: [email protected]
NHS Surrey & Borders Partnership Variety of courses through Recovery Colleges People with mental health issues, carers and staff 01276 454150 / 07785420047
Surrey Library Service,
Surrey County Council
Read Yourself Well People with mental health issues, incl. anxiety, depression and dementia Rose Wilson:
[email protected]
Surrey Heritage Service,
Surrey County Council
Various programmes All adult residents Barrie Higham: [email protected]
East Surrey College Variety of part-time courses All adult residents 01737 772611
WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) East Surrey Variety of courses All adult residents
Surrey Care Trust Community-based adult learning, mentoring counselling Those facing socio-economic or educational disadvantage
Strode College, Egham Variety of day and evening courses, including accredited and non-accredited routes All adult residents Call01784 228676 or 01784 228677
Email us your enrolment form on [email protected]
Active Surrey Get Active 50+ with free taster sessions 50+ years 01483 518944
Wheel of Wellbeing Database of learning and experiential opportunities All residents
Surrey County Council Day centres and activities Residents with physical and/or learning difficulties SCC online form
Surrey County Council Adult Social Care Advice and guidance including emergency care Residents with physical and/or learning difficulties 0300 200 1005
[email protected]
Textphone (via Text Relay):18001 0300 200 1005
SMS:07527 182 861 (for the deaf or hard of hearing)
Please also see Tables 2 & 3 in the Arts & Culture JSNA chapter

Unmet needs and service gaps

On reflection of What Works, areas such as family learning, teacher-led/facilitated group learning and personalised/tailored learning are offered widely and to a high quality across Surrey.

However, areas that are under-represented in comparison or not provided in Surrey are discussed in the Mental Health Foundation’s research (date unknown: 13) below and are listed as follows:

  • Cohesive community-based adult learning programmes (Surrey Care Trust is a strong current example);
  • Cohesive partnership approach to in situ programmes (e.g. Derbyshire & East London);
  • Prescribed/referred adult learning from medical professionals (e.g. Nottinghamshire & Macclesfield, Cheshire);
  • Consistent and effective partnered approach to sharing information (e.g. Gloucestershire);
  • Partnered central database of services, provision and signposting;
  • Peer support and learning for those suffering with dementia (Department of Health, 2009: 41);
  • Consistent and partnered evaluation process for non-formal non-accredited adult learning (“[it is recommended that] demonstrator sites and evaluation to determine current activity and models of good practice to inform commissioning decisions [are established]” – Department of Health, 2009: 41);
  • Cohesive partnered approach to needs analysis across the county or within boroughs and districts (“there is a need to maintain and continue to develop partnership working” – Safeguarding Adults JSNA chapter);
  • Cohesive and partnered approach to needs analysis across the county or within boroughs and districts that supports information currently used about enrolment trends, learner feedback, Skills Funding Agency priorities and input from partners and support agencies.

“A partnership between adult education providers and Primary Care Trusts (and the new local GP commissioning consortia that are scheduled to replace them) could support people with mild to moderate mental health problems, particularly in light of the unstable economic climate, and subsequent cuts to mainstream services. Adults experiencing mental health difficulties have traditionally been excluded from adult education, and learning on prescription projects could make adult learning services more inclusive. This could help partners to meet the requirements of the Equality Act (2010). Learning on prescription could be used as an alternative or supplementary treatment for patients in primary care, particularly where psychological therapies are difficult to access or where costs associated with these services are high. They may also be useful for people who choose not to access mental health services due to perceived stigma. This report outlines the findings of an independent evaluation of one such community-based adult learning programme.”

What works

“Participation in adult learning impacts on physical and mental health and wellbeing at different levels: Sense of self… Personal health… Family… Social life… Work…”
(Learning & Work Institute, 2015: 2)

Referencing back to the list of ‘common modes of…learning’ and the list of ways of initiating learning in this chapter’s Introduction, this section seeks to unpick what works in adult learning nationally (through literature and case studies) and why, in order to identify gaps in services and recommendations for development in Surrey.

Community-based adult learning

The Mental Health Foundation (date unknown: 6) and the Learning & Work Institute (2015) cite a collaboration between health and education services through a formal
“partnership between Northamptonshire Teaching Primary Care Trust and Northamptonshire County Council Adult Learning Service” which resulted in the Learn 2b programme; a series of community-based adult learning courses for people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety. The programme was structured around three themes: wellbeing, creative expression and healthy living. A wide variety of courses were offered, including stress management, creative writing and yoga. People could self-refer onto the programme or they could be referred through primary care (e.g. through their GP). The Mental Health Foundation independently evaluated this programme over a period of three years… Community-based adult learning programmes such as this provide a simple, low cost way of helping to reduce symptoms of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. This type of service, within primary care settings, could be used for some people as an alternative to other treatments such as medication.”

Supported by the Skills Funding Agency, the Surrey Adult Learning Passport to Wellbeing programme provides a similar offer and route for residents. Surrey Care Trust’s work focuses on community-based adult learning, specialising in free ‘pop-up’ courses across the whole of Surrey, as well as providing counselling and mentoring to individuals.

Additionally, Surrey Lifelong Learning Partnership’s Community Learning programme has developed strong strategic partnerships to focus on providing adults learning to meet the specific needs of localities and communities, specifically on “those [who] are often least likely to participate”. They report that “the impact of community learning on individuals, families and communities is captured through the many case studies and instances of learners improving their personal circumstances through gaining confidence, new skills, new sense of purpose, independent living, employment and sometimes self-employment.” (Surrey Lifelong Learning Partnership website).

In reference to supporting people with “challenging behaviours”, research from the Department of Health (2007: 16) discusses the benefits and disadvantages of day centres, stating that they “have limited experience of serving people whose behaviour presents a challenge and, given relatively low staffing ratios, the limited curriculum and the use of large groups these services are in any case likely to face considerable difficulty.” Their research prefers to promote “small-scale alternative day services providing supported employment or innovative leisure or educational pursuits”.

Additionally, it is important to the note the place of day services for those learning and/or physical disabilities, such as Surrey County Council’s Day Services which are provided across all 11 of the county’s boroughs and districts, as well as care provided by Surrey County Council’s Adult Social Care team and independent providers such as Age UK, Surrey. These services provide key community-based non-formal learning experiences for adults with physical and/or learning disabilities with regards to developing health and wellbeing.

Family learning

‘Family learning’ (NIACE, 2013: 9) and ‘Group learning’ (Allen et al., 2005) have been linked to improving the outcomes of those facing socio-economic deprivation through a variety of different activities that can develop a whole family’s learning culture. NIACE say that “for those with the poorest skills and fewest life chances, the whole family has to be engaged in developing a range of skills and resources critical in overcoming disadvantage.” They go on to present the benefits for children and young people before saying
“it matters because for parents – especially those parents who are considered ‘hardest to reach’ – the wish to better support their children is often the key motive in overcoming any practical, financial or dispositional barriers to learning. Just as importantly, family learning matters because it is a source of stimulation, joy and solidarity for adults and children alike. It is something we should celebrate and support. NIACE believes it should be part of the day-to-day life of every family… Parents are the primary teachers, mentors and guides for children and young people. Research shows that children stand a much better chance of succeeding in life if their parents are engaged in learning.”
(NIACE, 2013: 7)

The report goes on to say that its inquiry “found evidence of the impact of family learning on the skills, capabilities and aspirations of children and their parents and carers; on the ability of parents and carers to assist in their children’s education and development; and on a range of other critical policy agendas, including employability, health and well-being and community involvement.” (NIACE, 2013: 20).

Much of the research emphasises the benefits of family learning for children and young people, but this section seeks to highlight the benefits and importance for adult learners within a family learning context. In support of this notion, Surrey Adult Learning (Surrey County Council) work in partnership work with schools and children’s centres towards a holistic Family Learning programme which aims to:

  • “Embed employability skills;
  • Raise confidence and self-esteem;
  • Change behaviours;
  • Prepare people for future qualifications.”

Teacher-led/facilitated group learning

The vast majority of adult learning through learning centres are teacher-led and/or facilitated (e.g. Surrey Adult Learning courses, East Surrey College, WEA East Surrey, etc.), as well as provided in groups (e.g. many of the courses highlighted in Table 1), with the (usual) exception of mentoring, coaching and counselling options. Arguably, this is the traditional view of what adult learning ‘looks like’. Importantly, James (2016) describes research from BeLL (2014) and the emphasis on the “capabilities of the teacher and the opportunities to promote social interaction [being] fundamental in promoting the value of lifelong learning, but also to ensuring health and wellbeing impacts”. The research discusses the importance of the teacher/tutor/facilitator encouraging social interaction and group learning (e.g. Allen et al., 2005) as much as the distribution of knowledge and individual practical application of learning.

With regards to the cost of teacher-led/facilitated group learning, there is clear evidence of programmes that are offered and promoted at little or no fee to targeted groups with little disposable income where engagement with non-formal adult learning is successful.

Recent examples include:

Personalised/tailored learning

A number of literature sources cite the importance of a personalised approach to ensuring learners are accessing specific, individually tailored learning programmes through discussion between learners and providers, in order to provide a sense of ownership and responsibility towards learning. Allen et al. (2005) specifically discuss work by Hill Holt Wood, Prospects Training and Nottingham County Council (in its Acorn Initiative) who have all taken this approach with their E2E programmes. The benefits of working in this way are stated as:

  • helping them overcome barriers that can often prevent further learning taking place,
  • providing lower-level learning,
  • meeting social needs,
  • set personal (and challenging) goals

To achieve this, staff gather a wide range of information about each learner, which might include their homecare arrangements, relationships with others and attitudes to everyday experiences.

Additionally, Oxfordshire Local Authority’s Adult Learning Service has
“recognised that the key to success is listening and reacting to what learners want. Because many non-accredited learning projects originate organically, in response to unmet needs, their initial tendency is to have, at best, broad agendas, minimal infrastructure and flexible organisation. A good example of this sort of evolution is the programme where members of the county’s travelling community produce their own scrapbooks to celebrate their journey through life and their cultural ties.”
(Allen et al., 2005: i)

They stress the need to “respond to learners’ needs quickly and imaginatively”, citing Oldham’s lifelong learning service who responds to a range of needs.

The Surrey Adult Learning IAG takes a personalised approach, which works to each learner’s specific needs. This is particularly useful for adults with learning difficulties, those engaging in the Passport to Wellbeing programme, and for adults with EAL.

Additionally, strategic partnership of agencies supporting vulnerable adults is an area of great importance when looking at the statistics, particularly attached to older adults in Surrey (Safeguarding Adults JSNA chapter). Marked is the partnership between Surrey Adult Learning, Adult Social Care (ASC), Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board (SSAB) in prevention of Safeguarding issues, identifying those at risk, active involvement of adults at risk, and developing personalised adult learning alongside safeguarding procedures.

Learning in situ

With reference to older people, Chandola & Jenkins (2014: 88) discuss a charity (First Taste) who
“worked with 14 care homes in the Derbyshire Dales to provide care staff with the confidence and ideas to support older residents’ engagement in learning, to re-engage residents with learning and to introduce new technologies to excluded adults. Each home was offered workshops with supporting handbooks and learning requirements on a range of educational arts workshops such as gardening, photography, painting and pottery. An independent evaluation identified a range of benefits for residents and care staff, which included a reduction of a third in medications such as anti-depressants and sleeping tablets”.

When discussing language and English as an Additional Language (EAL), Chandola & Jenkins (2014: 88) introduce an East London literacy project (Deesha) where younger Bengali women “assisted older Bengali women in learning English, through sharing experiences of literacy learning and emotional and physical support. This led to increased self-confidence (especially in relation to employment) and volunteering among the younger women, and reduced feelings of isolation among the older women”.

The research stresses the importance of facilitating the sharing of information saying that “Gloucestershire County Council introduced the position of Activity Coordinator Facilitator. The main tasks of the person appointed included provision of support, advice and training across the County’s 176 care homes. It was also a way to encourage networking and the sharing of good practice.” (Chandola & Jenkins, 2014: 88).

Prescribed/referred learning

A number of reports accessed for this chapter cited ‘prescribed’ or ‘referred’ learning. Some main examples include:

  • ‘Prescriptions for Learning’ in Nottinghamshire which and explored the potential for learning to play a role in improving health. “It allowed healthcare staff to refer individuals to a Learning Adviser, including: patients with mild to moderate depression; people who are socially isolated and vulnerable; and people who want something to do, or want to make more of their lives but may be anxious, fearful or unaware of how to do that. An evaluation of the project found that many of those referred had no qualifications and had not been involved in any learning since leaving school. The project was very effective in engaging adults in learning who would not otherwise participate. The evaluation also reported improvements in patients’ wellbeing, physical symptoms, health related behaviours and sleep problems, following participation in courses leading to formal qualifications, practical skills and leisure opportunities.” (Chandola & Jenkins, 2014: 88). 70% of patients who accessed this service attended further courses or began voluntary work and all who offered feedback felt it had a positive impact on their health;
  • Allen et al. (2005: ii) reference ‘Learning on Prescription Project’ in Macclesfield, Cheshire where learners get support from their learning adviser to make a choice that is relevant to them means a great deal;
  • “The Start Project in Manchester aimed to support people experiencing mental health problems to enter mainstream education through access courses. This represented a partnership between health and education. Courses were taught by an adult education tutor and a tutor employed by Manchester Mental Health Trust. People who accessed the program reported a positive impact on mental health and many went on to access mainstream education courses.” (Mental Health Foundation, date unknown: 13).

The Mental Health Foundation (date unknown: 13) reported that “Mainstream adult learning programmes that improve basic skills may positively impact upon income and employability. An evaluation of a numeracy and literacy programme found that 13% of learners moved into full time or part time employment or began a further education course after accessing community-based adult learning courses. Their research also cites a study that suggested that adult learning “can be an effective way of managing stress and reducing anxiety and depression”. Importantly, Allen et al.’s research (2005: ii) states that “what is relevant at a particular point in life depends on personal circumstances”.

In support of non-formal and informal learning and support for adults with dementia, the Department of Health document (2009: 41) recommends the provision of “support to third sector services commissioned by health and social care” in the context of establishing “structured peer support and learning networks” for those with dementia…and their carers… that provide practical and emotional support, reduce social isolation and promote self-care, while also providing a source of information about local needs to inform commissioning decisions”. They state that “there is much good practice in this area already, but activity is often at a relatively low level. The challenge here is first to determine which models of peer working to adopt, and then how to make them available for all who want to access them locally. What is proposed therefore is a programme incorporating investigation and analysis of current practice and the development and evaluation of new models” (2009: 42).

Currently, there are no opportunities in Surrey for adult learning (formal or non-formal) to be prescribed as part of healthcare referrals. However, formal partnership working is developing between Recovery Colleges and Surrey Adult Learning to better share knowledge of learning opportunities.

Recommendations for Commissioning

Taking the areas of national good practice, the service/provision gaps in Surrey, and national recommendations from NIACE (date unknown) and the Mental Health Foundation (date unknown), this section presents areas recommended for development for non-formal, non-accredited adult learning in the county.

  • A further developed and cohesive programme of community-based adult learning programmes, building on the work of the Surrey Care Trust: “Community-based adult learning programmes can help people manage mild and moderate mental health problems in a non-stigmatising way. Primary Care Trusts and future GP consortia should, in cooperation with local authorities, consider commissioning such programmes. Primary care workers, including GPs, should consider referring appropriate people to such courses… Central government and local authority funding for community-based adult learning should take into account its contribution to individual and community wellbeing. Given the known economic and social burden of poor mental health, further research should be undertaken into the cost-effectiveness of investing in adult learning.” (Mental Health Foundation, date unknown: 7);
  • A developed and cohesive partnership approach to in situ programmes where high quality adult learning is taken into care homes, community centres, etc.
  • A prescription/referral system for medical professionals to prescribe non-formal, non-accredited adult learning to patients (through further developed partnerships between NHS Borders Trust, Adult Learning services and Recovery Colleges): “Future [work] should focus on how courses are accessed, exploring the opinions of potential referral agencies, such as GPs. This would maximise the potential of these programmes in the present economic climate.” (Mental Health Foundation, date unknown: 7);
  • The development of a consistent and effective partnered approach to sharing relevant information;
  • Supporting projects that break down the financial barriers to learning, on the existing range of adult learning courses, for low income adults
  • The development of an accessible partnered central database of services, provision and signposting for residents;
  • Development of peer support networks and learning for those suffering with dementia (Department of Health, 2009: 41);
  • The development of a consistent, partnered and transparent evaluation and follow-up process for non-formal non-accredited adult learning: “Programme curricula should include strategies to follow up with adult learners after courses finish, to ensure that benefits are maintained. This may include developing communities of interest or setting goals for education and employment beyond the programme itself.” (Mental Health Foundation, date unknown: 7);
  • A cohesive partnered approach to needs analysis across the county or within boroughs and districts that builds on and supports information currently used about enrolment trends, learner feedback, Skills Funding Agency priorities and input from partners and support agencies;
  • Further development of the Surrey Adult Learning family learning programme (with a focus on targeted provision for families in socio-economic deprivation) as suggested by Bowcock (2012);
  • Further research into NIACE’s recommendation (date unknown: 11) to “form a joint national forum for family learning in England and Wales to support high-quality and innovative practice, and appropriate policy, advocacy, research and development”;
  • Further developed external promotion and internal workforce development/CPD for the adult learning workforce to promote the role of learning in improving health outcomes (Learning & Work Institute, 2015: 9).

Key contacts

Chapter References

  1. Allen, P., Bain, S., Dowson, K., Gadfield, N., Fitzjohn, L., Jackson, A. & Moore, R. for Adult Learning Inspectorate; Talisman (Issue 43, September 2005) ‘Unqualified Success’. Available from:
  2. Bowcock, H. Hidden Surrey Why local giving is needed to strengthen our communities. 2012. Available from
  3. Chandola, T. & Jenkins, A. (2014) THE SCOPE OF ADULT AND FURTHER EDUCATION FOR REDUCING HEALTH INEQUALITIES. In: “If you could do one thing.” Nine local actions to reduce health inequalities. British Academy, London, pp. 82-90. ISBN 978-0-85672-611-8
  5. Department of Health (2009) Living well with dementia: A national dementia strategy. Available from:
  6. Field, J. (2009) Good for your soul? Adult learning and mental wellbeing
  7. Fujiwara, D. (2012) Valuing the impact of adult learning. Available from;
  8. James, K. (2001) Prescribing Learning: A guide to good practice in learning and health. NIACE, Leicester.
  9. James, K. (2016) THE IMPACT OF ADULT LEARNING ON HEALTH AND WELLBEING European Agenda for Adult Learning 2015-2017. Available from:
  10. Learning & Work Institute (date unknown) Research review paper on Health and Adult Learning: European Agenda for Adult Learning 2015-2017 (paper and Powerpoint presentation).
  11. Mental Health Foundation (date unknown) Learning For Life: Adult Learning, Mental Health And Wellbeing. Available from;
  12. Mental Health Today (2011) The impact of adult and community learning programmes on mental health and wellbeing. Available from;
  13. Moser, C. (1999), A Fresh Start. London: Department of Education and Employment.
  14. NIACE (2013) Family Learning Works: The Inquiry into Family Learning in England and Wales. Available from:
  15. NHS England vanguard (2015 onwards). Available from:
  16. NHS England (2015 onwards).
  17. NHS Foundation Trust, South London & Maudsley (2013) Wheel of Wellbeing. Available from:
  18. OECD (date unknown); Recognition of Non-formal and Informal Learning
  19. Available from:
  20. Surrey County Council Adult Learning (2016) LDD Learner Feedback Results
  21. Surrey County Council Adult Learning (2017) Passport to Wellbeing. Available from:
  22. Surrey County Council Corporate Strategy (renewed in 2016). Available from:
  23. Surrey-I data (updated in 2017). Available from:
  24. Westwood, J. (2003) The Impact of Adult Education for Mental Health Service Users. British Journal of Occupational Therapy (Nov 05, 2016). Available from;

Signed off by

Paul Hoffman, Principal at Surrey Adult Learning