The Adult Education Budget (AEB) funds education and training for learners aged 19 years and over. The AEB is managed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) outside of devolved areas, and by Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) in devolved areas (for learners resident in these areas).
The AEB funds a wide range of learning aims and programmes for adults, including nationally recognised qualifications, as well as quality assured non-qualification activities. The range extends to skills provision for the unemployed, workplace learning, traineeships, community learning and independent living skills. It also funds learning support for adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and discretionary learner support for adults facing financial difficulties.
Some of the learning aims and programmes form part of the fully funded national entitlements for adults aged 19-23 years who have not yet achieved the equivalent of 5 GCSEs (free level 2 offer) or 2 A levels (free level 3 offer), e.g. Ascentis Level 3 Access to HE Diploma Childhood Studies. The legal entitlement for 19-23 year old adults without their first level 2 or 3 means that these learners do not have to find 50% of the basic cost of the course as a tuition fee, so removing a potential barrier to participation.
Since April 2021 the free level 3 offer has included adults aged 24 and over who have not yet achieved their first full level 3 qualification, which is equivalent to a technical certificate or diploma, or 2 full A levels. They are able to access hundreds of fully funded courses but only in specific sector subject areas, e.g. engineering, construction, logistics, health and social care, science, ICT, hospitality and catering. From April 2022 the free level 3 offer has been extended to include unemployed or low waged adults even if they are already qualified at level 3 and above as long as they enrol on the level 3 adult offer qualifications approved for funding with effect from 1 April 2022.
Adults who have not yet achieved GCSE English and maths at grade 4, and those who are assessed at below level 1 in Essential Digital Skills, are also entitled to study these subjects, including approved stepping stone learning aims and units, without having to pay tuition fees. Unemployed learners of all ages as well as employed adults on low wages (
less than £20,319 annual gross salary for 2023 to 2024) who cannot contribute towards the cost of co-funding fees, are also fully funded.
Adult ESOL learners are normally co-funded and so would have to pay a contribution to the tuition fee, unless they are unemployed or on a low wage. There are other situations where ESOL learners may be fully funded, e.g. under devolved authority arrangements or discretions for other state benefits, but always check with your management information or funding compliance team.
Under AEB local flexibilities providers can offer adults bespoke locally designed learning, that can include both qualifications and non-regulated learning, to support progression to full level 2, to retrain and upskill learners already in receipt of level 2 or above, or, to refocus or restart a career if unemployed, e.g. Ascentis entry level 3 award in Skills for Employment.
Adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities are also entitled to learning support funding to help them complete their learning programmes. This is funded at a fixed rate of £150 per month for each month the support is provided. Should support costs more than £150 in a month, this can also be claimed as excess learning support from the ESFA or devolved authority.
Adult education budget (AEB) funding rules 2023 to 2024 sets out the rules that apply to ESFA funded AEB for the 2023 to 2024 funding year.
AEB funding for qualifications or learning aims is determined by the ‘single activity matrix’ which measures their funding value in guided learning or total qualification hours and the programme weighting for the qualification, e.g. Ascentis entry level 3 award in Essential Digital Skills at £300 for 50 hours.
Figure 2 AEB Single Activity Matrix for 2023 to 2024 funding year