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Basic progress

Recent reports on the standard of basic skills provision suggest that teachers are not delivering the first-ever comprehensive approach that addresses the problem of the 7 million adults who lack basic literacy or numeracy skills.

Last week's review of basic skills provision by the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate offers a more balanced picture than reports suggest, and is cause to celebrate the success of the basic skills sector. Lecturers, managers and support staff should be congratulated on revolutionising basic skills delivery. In just two years, more than 1.8 million adults have started stepping-stone and national qualification basic skills courses, and 400,000 learners have achieved qualifications. Our research shows learners valued their experience and we are confident of reaching the target to provide 750,000 adults with basic skills by the end of 2004.

The report offers examples of very good provision in all sectors, and is positive about the provision of literacy, numeracy and language courses, particularly in FE colleges. This is gratifying as this is where the most learners receive their basic skills teaching, and where much staff development has been focused. It is also where the greatest expansion in basic skills provision has taken place. We must now cascade this good practice to other providers.

Inspectors point out where things could improve, and our energy is focused on those areas. The Learning and Skills Council is about to start its new quality initiative, open to all providers. New teacher training qualifications and professional development schemes are underway to address shortcomings which the report identifies, and golden hellos have been introduced to encourage more literacy, numeracy and ESOL teachers to boost quality in these areas.

Basic skills teachers work very hard and with great commitment in one of the most challenging environments. They have responded to changes brought about by the new standards and curricula and have welcomed training and support. They deserve our full support and recognition.

Susan Pember

Director, Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit, DfES

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