Ministers bid to get basic skills back on track

19th May 2000 at 01:00
LOCAL authorities and further education colleges have largely gone their own way in tackling adult literacy problems and failed to produce the joined-up approach demanded by ministers, a forthcoming Scottish Executive-backed study will show.

It will also reveal most existing council programmes are unable to reach and attract the numbers of learners research suggests are not achieving their full potential. Authorities are estimated to be working on average with fewer than two out of 100 adults in their target market, defined as the one in five of the adult population with the lowest levels of literacy.

Councils blame repeated cuts over the past decade. Figures published three years ago showed the number of basic education places had fallen by 40 per cent. Currently 6,500 places are on offer.

Henry McLeish, Enterprise and Lifelong Education Minister, this week launched a basic skills assault by announcing a task force on adult illiteracy and will reinforce the message over the next few ays during adult learners' week, the ninth year of the campaign. "The current state of adult illiteracy is unacceptable," Mr McLeish said.

But he admitted figures on the number of Scots with difficulties are not "robust" and has invited the task force to conduct further research. The estimate that up to a million Scots may lack the literacy and numeracy skills to play a full part in society is based on English evidence, much of it outdated.

Details about the task force's membership have yet to be finalised but the group has been asked to set out a programme of action, point out where cash is needed and establish targets. Community learning plans being drawn up by local authorities are certain to dovetail with the national agenda.

Findings from the survey of 31 authorities and 16 colleges will show that remedial approaches to learning remain more common than the lifelong learning method backed by adult education campaigners who want a shift away from "stigmatised learning".

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