Fifth of 19-year-olds struggle to read

Ngaio Crequer

Ngaio Crequer on Sir Claus Moser's discovery of 'horrendous' lack of basic skills

Nearly 20 per cent of 19-year-olds in England can barely function at work or in society because of their lack of literacy and numeracy, according to a new report published today.

Sir Claus Moser, who was appointed by the Government to investigate basic skill levels among adults, said he was shocked by the discovery. The figure for 19-year-olds is only slightly lower than that for all adults.

"These are people who left school three years ago. It is the clearest indication of past poor schooling that there could possibly be. They are unable to function properly," says Sir Claus.

His report calls for a crusade to eliminate most illiteracy and innumeracy - something no industrialised country has done.

Sir Claus wants a huge increase in the number of teachers of basic skills - from 4,000 now to 15,000 - with better qualifications.

He also proposes a new national test for literacy and another for numeracy. These would be externally set and marked. Other qualifications would continue "but in 10 years' time we will find that these new tests will be preferred. Because for many learners it will be the only one to appeal to them and employers as a real exam."

Sir Claus expects a new national strategy, halving the number of people barely able to read or write by 2010, to cost up to pound;600 million a year, but he believed the expense would be worthwhile in ending the human misery, and the social exclusion of those involved.

"It is horrendous that we have this situation, but this is the first time a government has decided to get a grip on the problem," he said.

His committee's strategy would complement the Government's programme in schools, including the literacy hour. Sir Claus hoped that the programme would "turn off the tap" so the problem of a lack of basic skills would not keep on repeating itself.

Yesterday Education Secretary David Blunkett, in welcoming the proposals, appointed Tessa Blackstone to draw up a strategy based on the Moser report and other existing initiatives.

Lady Blackstone, education and employment minister, said the Government took the issue very seriously and welcomed the idea of a national crusade on basic skills. "We are determined to deal with it," she said.

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