In a move which helps to fulfil Labour's pledge that specialist schools should become community centres, the Basic Skills Agency and the Technology Colleges Trust have developed a scheme to use their facilities and teaching expertise.
The schools have been told to develop new approaches to lifelong learning after concerns raised by basic skills workers that only a few of the people needing help with literacy and numeracy take up traditional courses.
Four schools are taking part in the pilot which is initially intended to reach up to 480 adults. It involves developing literacy and numeracy as an offshoot of other activities.
Wright Robinson sports college in Manchester will teach members of sports clubs to use spreadsheets and desktop publishing. They will be able to create fixture lists, handle budgets, produce newsletters and design invitations to fixtures.
Kenton school, a design and technology college in Newcastle, will offer basic skills as part of specialist work-related courses using high-tech equipment such as computerised sewing machines.
And Cranford community college, a specialist language school in Hounslow, will support members from ethnic-minority communities, including asylum seekers and women returning to work. The idea is to give them credit for their skills in their home languages to encourage them back into education.
Specialist colleges were introduced by the Conservatives, but have been taken up enthusiastically by Labour, which wants to see the number expand to 800 - one in four of all secondaries.
But ministers have said that as a condition of approval, the schools must open their facilities to other schools and the wider community.
Specialist schools were praised last week for higher-than-average improvements to GCSE results.
The four pilot schools have been asked to look at alternative ways of teaching basic skills. "Motivating people is the key if we're to reduce the number of adults with poor basic skills," said BSA director Alan Wells.