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Exam success is bigger boost than flirtation

Men find gaining qualifications more exciting than being on the receiving end of a sexual advance.

Well, that's what Government statistics would have us believe.

More than 1,000 adults in a Learning and Skills Council (LSC) survey found that men rated the confidence gained from passing an exam higher than praise from their boss, or even being chatted up.

The survey results are published as an extra 130,000 adults a year are to be recruited to basic skills courses in a campaign to improve numeracy ability.

The LSC is targeting 6.8 million adults in England whose maths skills are believed to be below entry level 3 expected of 11-year-olds. That level includes the ability to tell the time, add and subtract with a calculator, or measure the temperature with a thermometer.

The campaign continues the FE funding body's general skills advertising - "Our future, it's in our hands" - by representing people who could benefit from the free courses with stylised images of their faces composed of hands. It marks the latest stage of a three-year, pound;20 million promotion of skills training, which is spending at nearly double the rate of the last big push to raise the public profile of basic skills.

In contrast to the "gremlins" series of advertisements, which for four years represented illiteracy as a taunting monster, this campaign is focusing on the life-changing aspects of qualifications.

The gremlins campaign was considered a success as it attracted 350,000 helpline calls, despite complaints that it portrayed people with basic skills needs negatively and scared children, and Ofcom ruling that one TV advertisement could only be shown after 7.30pm.

Nearly 1.8 million had picked up qualifications through Skills for Life by last year, beating the target of 1.5 million set four years earlier.

Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, said: "Building on its success, the focus now turns to numeracy as we look to boost millions of people's confidence with a free maths qualification.

"Anyone who takes this first step could be opening up a whole raft of opportunities for themselves."

Chris Banks, the LSC chairman, said: "We aim to hit 2.25 million literacy and numeracy qualifications by 2010. Ensuring that people have access to free education to become skilled is vital to a prosperous economy and a confident nation."

The Confederation of British Industry said half of employers were concerned about the level of numeracy skills among workers, with slightly more saying literacy levels are a problem. It estimates that low basic skills cost the typical business with 50 employees about pound;165,000. It said failings in the school system needed to be addressed, when half of 16- year-olds were not reaching the required standard in basic skills.

Research by the London School of Economics suggested each person earning a qualification through Skills for Life, at a cost of pound;2,000, would provide a return of pound;4,500 to the economy.

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