The report on post-school basic skills, chaired by Sir Claus Moser, reveals that almost seven million adults in England have severe difficulties in reading, writing and adding up. "This is staggering, indeed shocking, in this rich country," said Sir Claus. Apart from Poland and Ireland, England had the worst figures in Europe.
The report calls for a national crusade to tackle the problem: more and better qualified teachers, new national tests in literacy and numeracy, a new skills curriculum, and better inspection. A huge promotional campaign will be launched to entice people deemed "functionally illiterate and innumerate" back into learning.
Sir Claus said yesterday: "There is no point in having a great programme for lifelong learning if the first step of the ladder, being able to read and write, has not been reached. Without this you have fallen off the ladder."
He told the story of a lorry driver who always took the same route when he made deliveries. "It was not a good route, but he could not read the signs which would show an alternative route. I am amazed at the amount of energy people use in trying to cope."
Sir Claus emphasised that a key part of the report was the role employers would need to play in solving some of the problems. It was no good, however, depending on their idealism. So if they agreed to put on a good basic skills package in the workplace it should be funded by the Further Education Funding Council, on a par with anything happening at a college. "So ultimately that funding, via the FEFC, is from the Government."
Sir Claus said there had to be improvements in the quality of courses. There were currently about 60 different qualifications in basic skills courses, "mostly Mickey Mouse, not taken seriously by the learner or employers". Some would survive, but he hoped the Government would introduce new externally set and marked tests in literacy and numeracy.
The Moser working group was set up last May to advise the Government on how to make provision for adults who lacked basic skills. The Government set a target of helping 500,000 adults a year by 2002 but Moser has been much more ambitious with long-term plans for an end to illiteracy and innumeracy.
The proposals are aimed at halving the number of adults with literacy and numeracy problems by 2010 - from the current 7 million down to 3.5 million. "How on earth does one persuade people to come forward? Why do we dare to think we can make such a vast change?" He added that learning had to be made more accessible and more attractive: "And we have to remove the stigma so that people will want to bother."
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