Minister of State with responsibility for lifelong learning
- I wonder how many of you - like me - found Claus Moser's report a compelling, but alarming, read?
- When we first asked Claus to set up a working group to look into the issue of poor basic literacy and numeracy, we knew that we were facing a huge problem. The problem is bigger than many people suspected: 7 million adults needing help with their reading and writing; and possibly double that number needing help with their numeracy? These are compelling and appalling statistics.
- It is not often that one thanks the bearer of bad news. But like David Blunkett, I want to thank Claus Moser and his colleagues for drawing this totally unacceptable state of affairs to public attention, and for recommending how to solve it. Or at least how to begin to solve it.
A long-term commitment
- Let's make no mistake. This cannot and will not be a quick fix on the part of the Government. Decades of neglect cannot be put right overnight. But I want you to be in no doubt about the Government's resolve to tackle this problem. David Blunkett and I are absolutely determined to help this group of adults overcome their disadvantage.
- As David made clear in his earlier message, the Government is today making a pledge that, for as long as we remain in office, we will give high priority to reducing the number of adults with poor basic skills. We will tackle this objective with the same urgency and the same passion as getting the basics right in schools. "Education, education, education" is for adults too!
- The way forward involves three main stages.
- The first is to reform the way basic skills education is provided. That means improving the framework for learning; improving the quality; and improving the opportunities on offer.
- The second stage is to make sure the capacity is there to deliver a step-change in the number of learners.
- The third stage is to drive up demand, so that far more people come forward to improve their literacy and numeracy.
Laying the Foundations
- We have already begun to tackle the problem of young people leaving school with poor literacy and numeracy skills. The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies for primary aged pupils will provide a firm foundation for better basic skills in the future. A few months ago we were being told that the national targets of 80% and 75% of 11 year olds achieving the standard for key stage 2 English and maths were unrealistic. But recent results show we are well on track - 70% now achieve the standard in English compared to 57% when we took office; and 69% are now achieving the same standard in maths.
- The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies are very encouraging because they show that a lot can be achieved in a short space of time. But we mustn't be fooled into thinking that these strategies for young children can themselves do much to reduce the number of adults with poor basic skills, except in the very long term. The first pupils to complete the programme will not leave school until 2007; and it will be a further forty or fifty years before they and their successors have replaced the current adult workforce. That underlines the importance of acting now to address the problem.
Improving the framework
- Sir Claus's report describes a complex and disjointed system. Of course some of it is excellent - those of you who are taking part in the Better Basic Skills workshops organised by the DfEE, FE Development Agency and Basic Skills Agency will attest to that. But too often it is patchy and unreliable in terms of content, quality and quantity.
- No basic skills revolution will be possible without a clear concept of standards and a common curriculum. We must be absolutely clear what a person at each level can do and what they need to learn in order to move to the next level.
- The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority have recently issued draft standards for consultation. The final version should be ready by March. The Basic Skills Agency and others have also just begun work on the curriculum, and this should be completed soon after the standards have been finalised.
- A basic skills revolution also demands a clear and reliable measure of a person's achievement. Employers understandably want to have reliable information about the literacy and numeracy skills of job applicants. And individuals will want to know how competent they are against the standards.
- So, in January 2001 we will introduce national tests at Levels 1 and 2, based on the national standards which will be published next March. These will replace all other test-based basic skills qualifications at these levels. They will act both as certificates of basic skill attainment, and as the tests of the skills, knowledge and understanding which will underpin the key skills qualification. Ultimately we want to offer the tests electronically and on line, both to reduce the cost of administration and to ensure that they become easily and widely accessible.
- QCA are also advising us on the link between the national test and other forms of assessment and qualifications. Our aim is to give as much clarity and rigour to the new system as possible. QCA will be working closely with UfI to develop pilots of the test items. The first pilots will take place early next year.
- At the same time, we want to help all basic skills provision improve to the level of the best. We will do this in three ways.
- First, for new entrants to the basic skills teaching profession we have asked the National Training Organisation for FE and the Basic Skills Agency to begin developing a new initial training framework and qualification. The new framework for basic skills will be closely aligned to the new training framework being developed for FE teachers.
- We have high expectations of this new teaching qualification. It will bring a greater degree of professionalism and improve the status of what is wrongly but widely regarded as a Cinderella service. This is crucial if we are to attract significant numbers of new basic skills teachers.
- Second, we will implement an intensive training programme for all existing basic skills teachers. The programme will use the same successful format that we used in introducing the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies: the development and piloting of materials and training in the first phase; training the trainers in the second phase; and cascading the model to teachers in the third phase. By summer 2001, all basic skills teachers will have ready access to the new teaching pack and will have had the benefit of at least 3 days training.
- Third, we will ensure that all basic skills provision is inspected regularly and consistently, using a single reporting approach. Under our legislative proposals for post 16 -19, all inspections from April 2001 will be based on a common framework.
- At present, opportunities for learning basic skills are often in the wrong place or are available at the wrong time or in the wrong form. We must open up opportunities for learning so that it becomes natural and enjoyable rather than a chore.
- An important step is to make provision more widely available in the community. As a first step, we will be providing £4million between now and April 2001 to support community-based organisations in the development and delivery of high quality basic skills programmes. Funding will also support a number of pilots, building on the recent experience of projects supported by the Adult and Community Learning Fund.
- Family Literacy and Numeracy programmes are also an important way of raising standards of language, literacy and numeracy and self-esteem amongst underachieving parents and their children. Next year we will be raising funding for these programmes by an extra £1million to a total of £7 million.
- We must also exploit the latest learning technology. Information and communications technology will provide much more accessible and cost-effective forms of learning for adults. The 700 new ICT learning centres the Government has already announced for disadvantaged communities, and the 1000 or more learning centres to be established by the UfI will widen access to ICT facilities and make it easier for people to learn when and where they want. And UfI's plans to develop innovative new learning materials will help to make learning more exciting and more enjoyable. Ron Dearing will tell you more later about the progress UfI are making.
- We will also ensure that unemployed people get the help they need. Currently, systematic screening and intensive programmes of help in basic skills are available within the New Deal 18 - 24. We will introduce systematic screening for those aged over 25 who have been unemployed for 6 months, to help us identify those who would benefit from the basic skills support currently available. We will also pilot new arrangements for carrying out diagnostic assessments and new programmes tailored to the needs of individual clients. These pilots will help inform decisions about future provision for this group.
- Not all adults with basic skills problems are unemployed. Far from it. You only have to look at the falling levels of unemployment to see that a high proportion of the 7 million adults who need help with their basic skills are in jobs. Sometimes they do not realise they have a problem or are very good at concealing it. Understandably, their employer is not the first person they turn to when seeking help. But employers, trade unions and other business-led organisations can actively do a great deal to help.
- There are lots of examples of good work already being done. To pick just a couple: Colman's of Norwich have been working very closely with their local education authority over a number of years to identify the specific basic skill needs within the firm and develop ways of tackling them. Activities have included short courses and one-to-one training for employees who have particular literacy and numeracy needs at work. They have also run Saturday morning family learning workshops for employees and their children. Grampian Convenience Foods in Suffolk found that some of their employees were unable to complete the Basic Food Hygiene Certificate because of poor basic skills. The firm's response was to set up a 60 hour training programme which, to be workable, had to take account of the firm's production schedule as well as employees' shift and travel constraints. The firm's training officer found that he was able to get every member of the course onto the Food Hygiene training, including those who had tried to avoid it before, and there was a general improvement in attitudes and confidence among the employees who took part.
- These and other success stories show that both employers and employees have much to gain from working together to improve basic skills. I would like to see many more employers taking the basic skills needs of their employees seriously. They can help by removing some of the stigma attached to basic skills education - by treating it as a normal part of their training programme or by integrating it with other forms of training. They can offer support and encouragement to employees who are willing to take part. They can introduce flexible working hours to allow people to attend college or assist in making IT facilities available for learning on-line. The Government for its part is providing an additional £3 million over the next 16 months to support new forms of basic skills education in the workplace. We particularly want this work to focus on small and medium sized firms. We will also put an additional £1.5million in the Union Learning Fund over the same period to help boost the support trade unions can offer to those with basic skill needs.
Building capacity and delivering change
- The Key challenge is to increase the number of learners. There are 7 million adults of working age who cannot read the instructions on a medicine bottle and a similar number who do not know what change to expect from a simple purchase at a shop. We have to change this. On the one hand, we must totally change the scale and quality of the opportunities to learn, and on the other we must motivate people to use these new opportunities. It is a tremendous challenge and the government intends to make this into a national crusade. There will be targets both nationally and locally. The national targets will be announced next year and from April 2001 it will be up to the board of the new Learning & Skills Council to deliver them.
- We will expect the Learning and Skills Council to set clear objectives and participation and achievement targets for local Learning and Skills Councils, working closely with the Lifelong Learning Partnerships. We will also expect them to develop strategies for promotion, drawing on evidence of what works, and engaging the widest range of channels to appeal to and reach potential learners.
- My speech today has sketched out the way forward. It is not the whole answer, and it would be wrong of me to suggest that there is a single right answer to the massive problem we are facing.
- Some progress has already been made. We will constantly reappraise the situation and review what is working and what isn't to ensure we continue to make rapid progress.
- I have already made clear that new money will be available. Over the next sixteen months the Government has decided to devote an additional £17 million in total, to support the work on standards and national tests I have been describing; and to improve the quality of basic skills education and extend the range of provision in the community and workplace.
- I do not pretend that this will do more than start us off on the right track. We must make sure that resources match the need. The Government's Spending Review, starting this autumn, will be an opportunity to assess what resources will be needed to start the process of building up the capacity of the system. David Blunkett will announce our national strategy to tackle poor basic skills as soon as possible next year.
- We would like something from you in exchange. No Government can tackle this problem alone. Many adults with poor basic skills do not realise they have a problem. And if they do, many are not able or prepared to do anything about it. We have to change the culture of learning in this country. And that requires constant encouragement and pressure from anyone who can make a difference. That includes employers, trade unions, public and voluntary bodies, colleges and other providers; in short any organisation or anyone who can help. I would like you all to make a commitment to help address this problem. And I would like you to encourage your colleagues and partners to do so too.
- Tackling poor basic skills for all adults has to become a top priority for the country as a whole. With your help, I believe we can succeed.