Counting the cost

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Evidence from studies by government and independent researchers in recent months shows how deeply ingrained the dislike of numbers and all things mathematical is in our culture. It also reveals how isolating socially, culturally and politically such levels of ignorance can be.

Ironically, the full extent of Britain's plight has been brought into focus by a government that has given adult basic skills more support than any other since the Second World War. It has done so by saying: if you want the money, give us the evidence.

The first annual national staffing survey to be done jointly by The TES and Niace, is even more revealing. It points to pockets of desperate teacher shortages in colleges, adult and community education centres and training workshops. The survey was - like the Government's own Skills for Life analysis - conducted to inform, not condemn.

A headline figure is that seven out of ten institutions cannot meet the Skills for Life improvement targets because of a serious shortage of qualified teachers. Yet there is plenty of evidence of excellent practice, despite such appalling shortages, as this TES special supplement, sponsored by Niace, shows.

Niace has a bid to the Treasury for pound;50 million extra following the comprehensive spending review for tutor support and other big initiatives.

That may seem conservative in the light of the survey.

One of the key reasons for the parlous state of teacher supply is that institutions are still living with outmoded employment practices. Many workforces are casualised to the extent that managers cannot be sure the army of hourly-paid and part-time tutors will stay from one week to the next. And few heads of department feel they have any managerial control over staff training, reflecting the urgent need for better leadership skills.

But extra cash is also essential - and more besides. All providers of adult training - with their local learning and skills councils - must put adult numeracy top of the agenda.

Ian Nash Editor, TES FE Focus

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