New qualifications based on the national tests are replacing a wide mix of qualifications that few people understand or value. Adult learners who want their achievements recognised - and many do - will get a fair, quick and accurate assessment.
The testing process will also contribute to learning: candidates will receive detailed feedback on how they have done and will find out which skills they need to focus on to improve.
Those who take the test generally like it. Out of 1,400 learners who took the first-ever versions of the test in literacy at levels 1 and 2 and numeracy at level 1, 74 per cent said they enjoyed it (41 per cent in numeracy at level 2).
There is no deadline set for when an adult should sit the tests. Nor are they compulsory - although I hope that tutors will encourage their learners to take them when they are ready. Those who are starting from a lower skills base will still be able to take qualifications at entry level, based on the new national standards for literacy and numeracy, and their achievements will count towards the national target.
Helping 750,000 adults improve their literacy and numeracy skills by 2004 is a challenge for all of us. I believe we will only succeed if we stop making assumptions about what is right for learners, try out new approaches and concentrate on what works.
Susan Pember Director, Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street London SW1