'Angry' McLeish orders action on literacy scandal

30th June 2000 at 01:00
A GROUP of four experts has been given six months to come up with answers to the "national scandal" of adult illiteracy and innumeracy. It will have a pound;2 million investigative budget.

Henry McLeish, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, who highlighted the issue in a speech to the Association of Scottish Colleges two weeks ago, has appointed Stephanie Young, director of lifelong learning at Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, to lead the "Literacy 2000" team and she will report to him by December.

Mr McLeish began a political crusade a month ago to raise literacy and numeracy levels, believing the problem threatens the Executive's drive to ensure learning difficulties do not exclude people from social and economic life.

He told the conference of college principals and chairs of management boards he was "angry" at figures that showed as many as a quarter of adults may be functionally illiterate. But his announcement of the task group acknowledged there was not enough research to pinpoint the exact extent of the problem.

The new team will be expected to carry out an audit of needs and of the provision that exists to meet them. An Executive study published last month revealed that local authorities were providing on average for only two out of 100 among the most illiterate adults in their areas. Councils blame the repeated effects of cuts which have hitnon-statutory services the hardest: the number of adult basic education places has fallen by 40 per cent over the past decade.

Ms Young, who chairs a national development project on adult illiteracy, will be joined on her secondment by Catherine Macrae, the project's co-ordinator, and two HMIs - Gerry Cairns who specialises in adult basic education, and Anne Pia whose expertise is in core skills.

The team, which will be supported by three officials from the Executive, will also be expected to outline an action plan, set out performance indicators, suggest targets and spell out the resources that will be necessary to tackle the problems.

Mr McLeish said: "It is unacceptable in a modern Scotland to have so many people with literacy and numeracy problems. Their quality of life is lessened and in some cases they are unable to make an effective contribution to the Scottish economy." He believes many of them "suffer in silence", too ashamed to admit to their difficulties.

He added: "I am determined that we can and will make a positive difference to the quality of life of all of those people in Scotland who, because of problems of literacy and numeracy, are held back from playing a full part in the daily activities so many of us take for granted. It is vital for our future national prosperity that we make the maximum use of everyone's talents."

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