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Key skills target 'will be missed'

Sir Claus Moser urges haste on a

government that says it is committed to banishing illiteracy. Steve Hook reports SIR Claus Moser says Britain has already fallen too far behind in improving basic skills to meet the targets set out in his landmark report on numeracy and literacy.

There is little prospect of achieving the 50 per cent reduction in the seven million people with poor basic skills by 2010, he told the annual conference of the Basic Skills Agency, in London this week.

Sir Claus, chairman of the agency, was speaking on the eve of the Government's announcement of its basic skills strategy, which follows last year's report, A Fresh Start, on adult numeracy and literacy. Sir Claus was chairman of the government working group that produced the report.

A Fresh Start urged cutting the proportion of adults who are functionally illiterate from 20 to 10 per cent of the population by 2010, and the functionally innumerate proportion from 40 to 30 per cent.

While there have been many initiatives by the Government, he said it had been too slow to tackle what he describes as a national "crisis", with a third of British people lacking basic skills.

"It is unacceptable for a rich nation like ours to have so many children and grown-ups handicapped by lack of basic skills. It is right... that this problem ranks among the Government's top priorities.

"I was pleased hat this was not a report that would be shelved," he said, adding the Education Secretary had left the nation in no doubt of his determination to act.

"I must admit that the speed of achieving on-the-ground implementation of the whole gamut of necessary steps has not matched the original commitment of urgency.

"Getting on for two years after we reported, we still await that whole-hearted crusade which we know ministers favour.

"There was an ambitious target for 2010. We said we should get half of those with problems out of the problem area. That would mean more than three million people. That is a tough nut to crack. I don't know whether that target is now realistic."

Of the seven million, 35 per cent are unemployed, 47 per cent employed and the rest are unavailable for work.

Speaking after Mr Blunkett's basic skills statement on Tuesday (see page 33), he said: "I think this demonstrates that the Government means business. I don't think things will move as fast as we would have liked but at this late stage I think the targets for 2004 are realistic.

"Some of the more radical proposals in our report don't seem to be in there but I hope they remain in ministers' minds. We need more about access, about providing places other than FE colleges where people can learn.

"I am getting older and I want to see these things happen before they carry me out."

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