THE CONSERVATIVES want to cut the number of adults being taught the basics of reading and writing to focus on more advanced skills.
John Hayes, the Shadow minister for vocational education, said the Government's failure to spend enough money on level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) training is the root of the skills shortage outlined by Lord Leitch in his report last year.
The party argues, in its first FE policy statement since David Cameron became leader, that responsibility must be passed to schools to tackle the problem though intensive tuition and setting by ability.
Mr Hayes said: "Too much training activity and investment goes on remedial skills because of failures of the system. I do think providing basic skills in FE is part of the problem. It diverts the work of FE from other areas and it says to people `Don't worry, because you will be able to learn this at the age of 25.'
"It's a longstop, and where there is a longstop, there's not so much pressure in schools for the 11 years of statutory education."
More than 45,000 children left school in 2005 without achieving basic literacy and numeracy skills, according to Government figures.
Bill Rammell, the minister for FE, said: "It is absolute nonsense to say FE is being robbed to compensate for poor schools. FE funding has increased by 48 per cent in real terms in the last decade.
"To cut the number of adults being taught basic skills in FE, as the Conservatives suggest, would be a disaster. There are now a million more adults in the workforce with the essential Skills for Life qualification than five years ago."
The Tories endorse the Leitch review's call for a universal adult careers service, a simplified qualifications system and a more prominent role for employers.