A pound;150 MILLION drive against poor adult literacy and numeracy is to be unveiled by ministers in July.
Tony Blair has dubbed the campaign to improve basic skills a "crusade" and given his personal backing to the three-year initiative - led by the Department for Education and Employment but cutting across many departments.
A report by the Basic Skills Agency revealed this month that one in four British adults could not read or write properly or do simple sums (TES, May 12).
The drive will be co-ordinated by a new adult basic skills strategy unit based at the DFEE and involve Downing Street's social exclusion unit.
DFEE officials told The TES that Britain needed urgently to tackle basic skills problems affecting at least 7m adults and "the legacy of decades of neglect".
The Cabinet had considered the appointment of a "literacy tsar", but this was ruled out in favour of a strategy unit, accountable directly to ministers and senior civil servants. If the new unit is successful, its life will be extended from three to five years. Details of how it will work have yet to be fully established.
Although the cash for the initiative has yet to be finally approved, the Prime Minister's backing makes it likely to go ahead. A bid for pound;80m to pound;150m will go to the Government's spending review this summer.
New approaches to adult learning - more relevant to everyday life - will be extended to the workplace and community groups. A curriculum will also be devised by the Basic Skills Agency with rigorous standards, equivalent to those in schools.
The unit will set up new programes covering English as a second language, financial literacy, citizenship and learning in the workplace. It will also work to strengthen teacher training.
The DFEE is advertising for a director and has appointed Steve Broomhead, chief executive of Warrington Council and a former college principal, to advise on regional and local tactics.
Mr Broomhead said: "We will have to work through the regional development agencies, local learning and skills councils and take account of local education authorities' statutory responsibility for community leadership."
"I will be going around championing the strategy alongside the director. Blair's endorsement will ensure that this is a crusade."
Last November, Baroness Blackstone, education and employment minister, announced pound;16m to train basic skills teachers. But last year's landmark report on basic skills by Sir Claus Moser had called for pound;600m.
His report exposed the "horrendous" problem of one in five adults lacking basic skills - a figure raised after re-analysis by the Basic Skills Agency to one in four.
Critics will be quick to say that even pound;150m is inadequate, but Mr Broomhead said that "this would be a real error of judgment". "Increasingly, basic skills is seen as mainstream. The Further Education Funding Council is funding short courses of three to nine hours ... and the University for Industry is addressing the basic skills agenda."
He said the private sector would play a bigger role in basic skills improvement.
For more on the new initiative see www.tesfefocus.co.uk
Family basic skills, III