DfEE unveils new basic skills strategy

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Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett has unveiled new plans to tackle the problem of poor adult basic skills.

From April next year, a series of new projects will mean basic skills screening for job seekers using national tests based on new adult basic skills standards. National Literacy Tests and National Numeracy Tests will be put in place from January next year, and a new revamped Connexions service will be launched next April. Those being screened will be given an assessment of their skills and will be referred on to other agencies if they need further help.

The government has identified a number of key groups which are in particular need of basic skills training, including young adults and people living in deprived areas, parents and those in low-skilled jobs, on which most of this initiative will be concentrated. The government is particuarly interested in expanding work-based literacy and numeracy skills training, and wants the incoming Learning and Skills Council, trade unions, the University for Industry and National Training Organisations to get involved with looking at this and other ways of building skills. In a number of pilot projects it will also examine whether replacement funding should be provided for organisations (mainly SMEs) where it is difficult to release staff for training.

The new proposals are contained in a paper, 'Skills for Life', which puts forward the following suggestions to tackle the problem:

  • family literacy programmes in which parents and their children learn together
  • tailor-made strategies for targeting resources on disadvantaged areas
  • targeting of groups at risk of sustained social exclusion
  • more opportunities for workplace basic skills training basic skills screening for Job Seekers Allowance claimants

Speaking about the new plans, Mr Blunkett said: "People with poor literacy and numeracy skills tend to be in low-paid jobs or suffer lengthy periods of unemployment. On average an employed person could earn an extra £1000 a year if they improved their numeracy skills. Research carried out for the National Skills Task Force shows that if we were to raise numeracy skills of adults to the standard we expect of 11 year olds, we would increase our gross domestic product by up to £40bn. But tackling poor basic skills is both an economic and social imperative...our proposals build on the ground-breaking report of the Moser Committee, A Fresh Start, and the pioneering work of the Basic Skills Agency. I am asking for views on these measures from all those involved or interested in adult basic education. We will then finalise a comprehensive national strategy for launch in the New Year. It is vital we work together to overcome this huge social problem."

The Education Secretary used the example of LearnDirect as evidence of schemes the government had already put in place to increase access to training. The Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit will be leading and co-ordinating the new strategy.

The DfEE is inviting comments from training providers on the paper before 19 January - an e-mail can be submitted from the website. The new numeracy and literacy standards can be found on the QCA website.

The Guardian has highlighted the fact that the government has looked at withholding benefit payments from unemployed people who refuse to get help with improving their skills. The government is however also considering 'incentives for people with weaknesses' to take up courses, so appears uncertain whether to adopt a 'carrot or stick' approach to implementing its plans.

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