Potential for public legal education in adult learning

A significant report commissioned by Plenet considers the potential for public legal education in adult learning. It presents the findings of an inquiry among a group of experienced adult learning professionals. The opportunity to develop public legal education was enthusiastically welcomed by the participants and this report will help signpost ways in which public legal education can be developed in the adult learning world.

Read the report: Potential for public legal education in adult learning (292 KB)

Key findings

  • There was universal enthusiasm among the experts for public legal education both from the point of view of its value to learners and also its potential for incorporating into their sessions.
  • Most of the experts said that they had experience of incorporating legal information into the content of their learning. Many of the experts had experience of delivering Financial Learning and the instances of incorporating legal content drew heavily on the points of connection between personal finance and the law, such as contracting with financial service providers for loans and insurance products. The experts were enthusiastic about embedding legal education into personal finance but also mentioned subjects such as citizenship where there was obvious relevance for knowledge of the law.

'I can foresee a world where PLE is part of routine daily life and people will then need to pay less for advice and/or have a better understanding of what they do, leading to less mistakes and a happier life !' (MS)

  • There was enthusiasm for the relevance of public legal education both as an important element in a 'general' understanding of social life with all the potential for avoiding problems that this brings.
  • In addition, it was noted that there are opportunities for 'just in time' learning where someone has already encountered difficulties.
  • Adult learning is becoming increasingly professionalised, for example, through the raising of educational entry levels for those working in the Learning and Skills sector. The Financial Learning community is becoming increasingly aware that this professionalisation must be from public funding opportunities. If public legal education is to become accepted in this way, it must also seek to develop practitioners’ knowledge and skills through professional development programmes. Further research is needed to identify how best to structure these.

Sustainable funding from Government and other organisations is vital to ensure long-term success. Professional development of practitioners is critical important for this but, in addition, we would suggest that the subject needs to establish a definition, a clear intellectual framework and a respected body of academic support through independent research and commentary

Potential for public legal education in adult learning (292 KB) was carried out by Howard Gannaway and Lorraine Casey at NIACE - the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education and was published in October 2009. It provides valuable insights into the world of adult learning which will help the PLE community to develop new strategies.

'We see PLE as an important cornerstone in our roles as citizens. We elect our MPs to create laws for us which are then administered through Government offices, the judiciary, the police and other agencies. The strength of our democracy can only be reinforced if our citizens have an understanding of these processes and how they come to affect their lives.'

Alan Tuckett
Director of NIACE

The research follows earlier work carried out for Plenet by NIACE. This looked at the links between the development of PLE and financial capability learning. Dimensions of Public Legal Education: What would a legally capable person look like? (148 KB) by Howard Gannaway was presented to a conference on developing capable citizens in Cardiff on 13th November 2008.


NIACE exists to promote the interests of adult learners and potential learners. NIACE believe that improving, increasing and extending opportunities for adults to learn throughout their lives brings real public as well as private benefits. Their aim is to influence policy, carryout development, research and consultancy activities and publish journals and publications. NIACE has become a leading publisher of all adult learning resources. Some of these are free to download, such as their 'Care Leavers' leaflet.

Care leavers leaflet (41 KB)

Have a look at more NIACE publications