A call for "mobilised support" for "a national target for basic skills" has come from the Government-funded Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, which wants 90 per cent of the population to be functionally literate and numerate by 2000.
The appeal by director Alan Wells is backed up by ALBSU's formal response to the National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets consultation.
ALBSU says the targets, which say half of all school leavers and the workforce should be trained to National Vocational Qualification level 3 (or A-level) by 2000, have sidestepped adult literacy.
The advisory council argues that "there is not sufficient justification" for basic skills to be included in specific additional targets. It wants ALBSU to set a target and monitor progress towards it.
Mr Wells disagrees. "We believe that the national targets need to include everyone in our society rather than just concentrate on higher level skills . . . the underpinning skills of language, literacy and numeracy are crucial to progress and progression." He estimated that around 84 per cent of the population already had at least some basic skills and many needed only a little additional help. But he said a national target was needed to give teachers a clear objective; to inform parents and to set a basic level almost everyone could reach.
ALBSU's aim is that most adults should be able to: * read and understand a short feature in a newspaper or magazine; * use reference material such as a telephone directory or a dictionary; n deal with forms and write letters, reports or notes; * use money to pay in cash, check change and receipts, * select goods by price and compare the cost of items; * measure and calculate areas in metric or imperial, * understand simple tables, graphs and bar charts.
"That's about the level of the average 13-year-old in the national curriculum," said Mr Wells. "Our proposal may seem unduly modest. However, we believe that we have to balance ambition with realism. We need to reach about 2.25 million adults over the next five years."
He also wants an effective strategy to teach English as a second language.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education said the national targets were "misguided" and "elitist" in excluding 40 per cent of the workforce from their main thrust. By 2000, all the workforce not already qualified to NVQ3 or equivalent should be taking part in education, training or development activities, it says.
Diane Spencer ALBSU's proposals can be found in "Making it happen: improving skills for the 21st century", free from ALBSU, Commonwealth House, 1-19 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1NU.