Wales fights adult illiteracy

6th April 2001 at 01:00
A full-scale promotional campaign and pound;27 million will target "shockingly" poor levels of literacy and numeracy

Every college in Wales which receives public funds for post-16 basic skills teaching will be required to assess all students' standards in literacy and numeracy soon after they start courses. The move is part of a three-year basic skills strategy launched this week by the National Assembly for Wales.

In Wales, 28 per cent of adults have poor literacy skills and 32 per cent struggle with numeracy. The Assembly intends to take action to prevent failure in the early years, stop children slipping through the net at school, and to provide a second chance for adults.

At the end of their primary education, 26 per cent of pupils had not reached the level required for their age in English, 32 per cent in Welsh and 31 per cent in mathematics. As they pass through school, with the exception of Welsh where the percentage achieving the expected level is up to 70 per cent, the gap widens and by the age of 14, 41 per cent are below the expected level in English and 39 per cent in maths.

There will be pound;27 million available over three years, and a national promotional campaign will be launched, involving partnership with broadcasting and the print media. Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, said that 780,000 people in Wales had literacy and numeracy problems which closed doors to a full life and led to social exclusion.

The aim of the new strategy was to make sure Wales had the best literacy and numeracy rates in the world. "We will make Wales a country where no one lacks the literacy and numeracy skills most of us take for granted," she said.

A lack of these skills were linked to not just economic poverty, but poverty of aspiration and expectatin and cultural poverty.

People were less likely to vote and get involved in their community. According to the strategy, people with poor basic skills become the "watchers" and not the "doers".

There were other social costs. Some six in 10 people in prison in Wales, mainly young men, were functionally illiterate and innumerate.

Seven out of 10 children with poor literacy at age 10 had parents who also had poor literacy skills. According to the strategy: "What has been called, rather awkwardly, the 'intergenerational' impact of poor basic skills, is one of the most worrying aspects of our problem."

The Basic Skills Agency has been asked to develop a curriculum for adults which will describe the reading, writing and numeracy skills required to reach the threshold of functional ability in these areas. Organisations supported by public funds will be expected to teach post-16 basic skills from this core curriculum.

The agency will also work with the awarding bodies and others to develop national literacy and numeracy guarantees to offer adults a sure route to demonstrate their competence.

Alan Wells, director of the Basic Skills Agency, said: "We are determined that this new strategy for Wales will bring about real and lasting improvement to these shocking statistics. It is unacceptable that so many people in a country as developed as Wales should be held back because they lack these basic skills.

"We believe the National Assembly's strategy is remarkable because it will work from cradle to grave, crossing traditional boundaries and involving not just schools and colleges but also community-based organisations and the workplace.

"We want this strategy to have an impact on everyone who needs it; from pre-school children to the long-term unemployed."

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