Where L stands for literacy

Young people have been coaxed into improving their reading in a scheme which links lessons in literacy with learning to drive.

People on the Skilled project in the London borough of Bexley have been given lessons in basic literacy while they learn how to take the theory part of their driving test. They are also being offered 10 free driving lessons.

The basic literacy scheme is one of nine projects funded by News International, which publishes The TES.

Schemes have been running across Britain during the spring and summer, all using popular activities such as driving to interest young people with low levels of literacy who may have missed out on basic teaching.

At Bexley, a group of 34 people aged between 17 and 25 have taken part in the scheme, attending one session a week for up to 15 weeks.

As well as learning to drive they have been offered activities such as go-karting, attending a car auction and learning from the police about the risks of drinking and driving.

Learning about motoring has been mixed with improving reading, writing and speaking. Literacy skills have been taught through practical tasks such as filling in forms and writing letters to a car insurance company.

The national Skilled project co-ordinator, Bryan Merton, said similar schemes had been tried before but never on such a large scale.

Skilled was also unusual for bringing together youth workers and basic skills trainers to run each project, he said.

Mr Merton, who works for the Community Education Development Centre, a charity, hoped lessons could be learned which could be applied nationwide. He said: "This is education by stealth to help young people get a City and Guilds basic literacy qualification.

"It should make them more employable. If they do not get a job it should help them get a place on a training scheme to get a step nearer to work."

Liz Swift, who teaches basic skills to young people in a project in the Thamesmead housing estate in Bexley, said all those who attended seemed to be improving their skills.

There was a wide range of people in her group; some were bright but did not apply themselves, while others had learning difficulties. She said: "Some had almost forgotten what they learned at school and they have found that learning can be useful.

"They realised offering driving lessons was a carrot but did not seem to mind too much. And being able to drive as well as improving their literacy should help them get a job."

Youth worker John Goouch, who worked with another group in nearby Crayford which included two schizophrenics, said it was difficult to measure the enormous increase in confidence gained by some people, which meant a great deal to them.

Tammy Stanlick, 19, from Thamesmead, who is unemployed and pregnant, said she wanted to get a job once her baby was born. The course offered her a chance to improve her letter-writing and interview technique.

She said: "My grades could have been better when I came out of school and this gives me a bit of a boost. The teaching is brilliant, you don't get that pressure from authority that you have at school."

Jenny Townsend, 21, also from Thamesmead, said she wanted to use the course to get a job with better prospects.

She works part-time but feels she has no chance of promotion, and is keen to work in a shop or office where she could become a supervisor.

She wanted to feel more confident speaking to groups of people as well as improving her writing.

She said: "Sometimes I feel like I'm at school again, sometimes I don't.

"The course is all right, although I would have liked more written work and to have done more on the theory of the driving test, rather than spending so much time learning to fill in forms."

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