Basic skills staff crisis

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Lack of teachers threatens efforts to help millions of adults who cannot read or count properly. Joe Clancy reports

A shortage of specialist teachers is jeopardising the Government's attempt to help more people with basic literacy and numeracy, according to its own inspectors.

The Office for Standards in Education says shortages of teachers with the necessary expertise and qualifications in literacy, numeracy and English for speakers of other languages (Esol) remain in all types of college.

In its report about the Government's "Skills for Life" strategy to to improve adult basic skills, Ofsted says: "The Skills for Life strategy has yet to deliver significant improvements in the quality of provision. The proportion of unsatisfactory provision for literacy, numeracy and Esol is unacceptably high in general further education colleges.

"The lack of skilled teachers is at the heart of the continuing difficulties with effective implementation of the Skills for Life strategy."

The Ofsted findings mirror the results of a survey carried out last year by The TES and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), which drew an angry response from the then skills minister Ivan Lewis.

The TES-Niace survey said that one in seven colleges and adult training centres depends on hourly-paid staff to run their entire basic literacy, numeracy and language courses.

Mr Lewis accused FE Focus of "negative reporting based on a loaded survey."

"It is nonsense to link this negative survey with the Government's target to provide more adults with basic skills training," he wrote.

This week Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, told FE Focus: "Of course our survey was right and this Ofsted report proves it.

"Further education has a problem in not investing enough in training and developing teachers."

Ofsted said almost a fifth of FE courses in these subjects are still unsatisfactory.

The report revealed that the quality of courses for English for speakers of other languages has actually deteriorated, with nearly a third unsatisfactory compared with 26 per cent a year ago.

Their report said: "A significant minority of vocational teachers have weak literacy and numeracy skills themselves.

"However, they are expected to teach such skills as part of their college's approach to embedding literacy and numeracy development within vocational teaching."

It said that generic training courses for post-16 teachers fail to tackle the weak literacy and numeracy of some trainers.

The inspectors said that colleges offering the new level 4 specialist teaching qualifications in further education teacher training were helping Skills for Life teachers.

They found the courses had been introduced successfully, and were good and well-managed.

Ofsted urges the Government and funding agencies to work with colleges and private training organisations to tackle the shortage of trained teachers in Skills for Life subjects.

Miriam Rosen, Ofsted's director of education, said: "It is essential that adult learners get the same high standard of education that we expect everywhere else.

"The Government has made a great deal of progress in tackling this problem by introducing initiatives and funding. But more needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly."

John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "The very success of colleges in bringing Skills for Life from the margins into the centre of their provision, has led to the main difficulty identified clearly by Ofsted: staff shortages.

"These shortages have indeed, as Ofsted says, been exacerbated by the short term and uncertain funding arrangements to support this necessary teacher training."

Skills for life in colleges: one year on www.ofsted.gov.uk

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