Too few to teach basics

Estyn report praises teachers - but says there is not nearly enough of them to raise skills levels. Nicola Porter reports

Not enough teachers in Wales are qualified or experienced enough to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills, it has been revealed.

Susan Lewis, chief inspector of schools in Wales, gave a near-glowing report on the performance of Welsh teachers in her annual report for 2004-5, published this week.

But her verdict on the delivery of programmes intended to boost basic skills was not so full of praise - largely because they are not yet reaching enough people.

Ms Lewis said basic skills projects unique to Wales were helping to improve literacy and numeracy levels among all age groups.

However, a shortage of programmes and a lack of teachers meant not enough needy people were accessing Wales-only schemes. This is particularly bad in work-based learning settings, where one-third of employers inspected by Estyn failed to provide basic skills to trainees.

In her report, Ms Lewis said existing projects did not yet cover enough people and the shortage of teachers was particularly bad in numeracy.

Young offenders in pupil-referral units were one of the most needy groups missing out on new learning programmes. Training teachers in basic skills has largely fallen on schools.

Most primary teachers already have the training required to teach basic skills. But the number of secondary school teachers given such training depends on how far schools go in reaching the Basic Skills Quality Mark.

The standard-setting strategy encourages school staff to take more responsibility for teaching basic skills. Under the scheme, more monitoring is done of pupils' progress. Evidence from local authorities shows schemes helping to get children up to speed in maths and reading, such as the catch-up scheme, are helping to boost underachievers.

The Quality Mark is open to all schools through special grants from the Basic Skills Agency (BSA) and the government. But new programmes depend on having enough teachers and schools accessing the scheme.

Estyn's findings come as a setback to the BSA in Wales, which last week launched a huge media campaign to raise numeracy skills. Figures revealed by the agency for the Numbers Count initiative show one-third of Welsh parents cannot do maths expected of an 11-year-old.

But Alan Wells, director of the BSA, said: "We need to be sure there are enough teachers, and that the courses are good enough."

He said the best teachers from all sectors should be enlisted to help raise basic skills standards.

At the launch of the Numbers Count scheme in Cardiff last week, Toni Schiavone, executive director for the BSA in Wales, said Wales had proportionately more people needing help with basic skills than the rest of Europe, mostly because of deprivation.

The Assembly government hopes to raise the number of adults achieving a basic level 1 standard to 80 per cent in literacy and 55 per cent in numeracy.

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