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Are we afraid? No fear

The Get On basic skills campaign is making gremlins an endangered species. Joe Clancy reports

A scrapbook containing more than 400 articles cut from local newspapers has been filed away in the office of Susan Pember, the director of the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit.

The cuttings feature further education colleges and most show pictures of teacher-trainers and students dressed as grotesque creatures with gnarled faces and long pointy ears.

She keeps it, she says, to highlight the ways in which individual colleges have localised the national Get On campaign, featuring the dreaded gremlins.

Stunts like the one performed by Peterborough college, in which members of the crew in a dragon-boat race dressed as gremlins, received a lot of local publicity.

There was also the Gremlin Day, organised by North Tyneside Adult Basic Education Service in which three staff dressed as gremlins at an awareness event on a BBC publicity bus. The event was covered live by BBC Radio Newcastle and found its way into five local newspapers.

The gremlins campaign, now in its third year, has achieved the second-highest level of awareness-raising of all government campaigns, surpassed only by the army recruitment campaign.

By the second year, levels of spontaneous awareness had reached 61 per cent. When those questioned were given clues, levels reached 91 per cent.

Ms Pember said: "When the campaign began we envisaged colleges getting involved at a local level, and even prepared publicity material for them, but we didn't reckon on people dressing up as gremlins. It's something the local press turns up for - because it provides good pictures."

The adverts have now generated more than a quarter of a million calls to the campaign phone line. Research also suggests that for every person that calls in, six more make another form of contact with a learning provider.

"The adverts have had a dual effect," said Ms Pember. "They have removed some of the stigma associated with illiteracy and innumeracy. People are now coming into colleges and asking to enrol on gremlins courses.

"They have made tutors feel they are part of a big nationwide initiative to tackle the problem."

The gremlins are designed to represent "the thing that stops you being able to read, write, spell or do sums", the voice in your head that undermines your confidence, mocks your mistakes and threatens to embarrass you".

The first campaign, which ran from September 2001, focused on getting people to recognise that they had a problem. The second was based on the benefits that could be gained from improved skills. But the campaign is now focusing on the excuses people use for doing nothing about it.

Those working in the basic skills field have so far ordered 45,000 posters, 220,000 postcards, 42,000 sheets of stickers and 100,000 beer mats, as well as a host of other merchandise.

Ivan Lewis, minister for skills and vocational education, said: "The Get On campaign is encouraging people to confront their gremlins and enrol on one of the free courses across the UK.

"People with poor basic skills will see their children getting GCSEs - something they feel they couldn't achieve themselves. Yet around 470,000 adults have gained a literacy or numeracy qualification since the launch of the campaign, with many going on to gain other skills.

"Millions of adults across the UK do not have the skills of an average 11-year-old, and this affects how much they get paid or means they are unable to help their children with homework. We are determined to help 1.5 million adults to improve their reading, writing and maths by 2007."

Get On helpline: 0800 100 900

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