Ministry gets it on

IT will be two years this autumn since I said goodbye to my friends at Canterbury College to join the "men from the ministry".

The civil servant's bowler hat might not always fit comfortably on a college principal but I am not the only one to have made the move. Janice Shiner has been here since the start of the year and we will soon be joined by Jane Williams as the new FE standards champion (see above).

All of us recognise the huge impact that further education can make and we won't be shy when it comes to reminding our Whitehall colleagues how much FE and community education matters.

In my area of basic skills, much of what has been achieved so far has been down to the efforts of teachers and managers. In the year from April 2001 to March 2002, 156,000 adults demonstrated their improved skills by achieving a national award, and more than one million basic skills courses were started by learners keen to "Get On".

This is good progress toward our target of helping 750,000 adults by 2004, and gives us confidence that we can achieve our new target of 1.5 million by 2007.

The Learning and Skills Council has already shown that it is determined to succeed, but one of the key factors will be the quality of teaching. Basic skills teachers have been on the margins too long. We have taken steps to change that by raising their status.

We have committed more than pound;6.5 million to introduce teachers of adult literacy and numeracy to the new core curriculum through training led by the Basic Skills Agency. More than 14,500 teachers have been trained so far. Training has been led by the London Language and Literacy Unit at South Bank University.

In two years, I have seen the best teaching of my 20-year career, but also some of the worst. Last year, for the first time, all new teachers in the post-16 sector were required to have full teaching qualifications, such as a certificate of education or a post graduate certificate of education. This year we are introducing degree-level certificates for specialists in literacy and numeracy. We will help all current teachers to gain them, too.

These changes have been introduced in close partnership with the Further Education National Training Organisation and more details are available on their website: This is the first time that the expertise of adult literacy and numeracy teachers is being formally recognised and it will provide a huge boost to the profession.

The other important development this month has been the return of the "Gremlins" to television screens. Many providers have taken the Gremlins under their wings by using the Get On campaign to attract learners through their doors, and I'm often approached by other groups who tell me they want Gremlins of their own. If anyone wants their own posters, stickers or beer mats to promote basic skills courses, they can call our Get On helpline: 020 7544 3130.

Gremlins have helped us to reach some of the seven million adults who lack basic skills. They are only a start but something we can build on.

There is much more that we need to do to reach speakers of other languages and employers. We need to remind businesses of the costs of a lack of basic skills to the economy - as much as pound;10 billion a year.

"Skills for Life", the national strategy for improving adult literacy and numeracy skills, is now 18 months old. We have made a good start in tackling this deep-seated problem. But we all need to keep the momentum going. Only then will we make a real difference to the lives of thousands of adults who have never had the opportunity to realise their full potential.

Susan Pember is director of the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit

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