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Death of the skills gremlin?

There is a treat in store for those who dislike the Government's basic skills adverts - the gremlins are about to meet an untimely end.

A new television advertising campaign is launched tomorrow and focuses on the workplace. In one advert, a woman walks into an office with a gremlin in close pursuit, goading her about wasting her time on a maths course.

When she reaches her desk, she holds up a qualification certificate and the creature explodes. In another ad, a factory worker grapples with a gremlin over an envelope containing his qualification certificate. When he finds out his results the gremlin shrinks and is trodden on.

This new campaign will be running throughout the coming year, but the fact that learners are shown killing off their gremlins does not mean the Government's strategy to improve adult literacy and numeracy has done its job.

The Department for Education and Skills' adult basic skills strategy unit says it has met its target for 750,000 people achieving a literacy or numeracy qualification by July 2004.

Barry Brooks, the unit's deputy director, said: "This is only the start.

When you have more than five million people whose literacy needs to improve, and even more in terms of numeracy, now that we have this momentum going we need to build on it."

The TV campaign has drawn criticism from some working in the field who claimed the adverts ridiculed people with poor basic skills.

But Brooks insists they have been a huge success, making the bold claim that they have even clawed their way into the national consciousness, citing anecdotal evidence of gremlins appearing in comedy routines, and of people walking into colleges and asking to join gremlins courses.

But before the Government can succeed in its aim, it has had to tackle some gremlins of its own. And the biggest is the shortage of suitably qualified basic skills teachers.

In May, a survey by The TES and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education found that 38 per cent of institutions have a large gap in their Skills for Life provision as a direct result of under-qualified staff.

Barry Brooks admits that creating a professional and well-qualified workforce is a huge task, and one that has had to be done from a standing start. "In general, before Skills for Life, there were few, if any, permanent full-time teachers of literacy, language or numeracy. There were some, but not many, and the qualifications, particularly in terms of literacy and numeracy were low-level."

New courses in teaching literacy, numeracy and English as a second or other language are now available at level 4 (degree-equivalent). These are optional for existing staff, but mandatory for new entrants. The adult basic skills strategy unit says there are no figures yet to show how many have achieved the new qualifications. But it does give some regional figures - in the West Midlands more than 500 staff have achieved or are studying towards level 4.

And in the North-east, 77 tutors have achieved the level 4 qualification for literacy, and 44 for numeracy. Barry Brooks also points to a range of continuous professional development initiatives, with more than 51,000 places on programmes filled by basic skills staff since Skills for Life began in 2001.

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