Adult Literacy and Numeracy - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

5  Workplace initiatives

[A] third of all employers are still not offering any form of training to any of their staff and 38% of employees say that they received no training over the past 12 months. [Trade Union Congress][78]


49. According to Ofsted, employers are still struggling to find staff with appropriate literacy and numeracy. It highlighted the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES):

    The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) 2013 Employer Skills Survey, that surveyed over 90,000 employers, reported that there appears to have been an increased difficulty finding applicants with appropriate oral and written communication, literacy and numeracy skills. These core generic skills were all cited as lacking by greater proportions of employers reporting skill-shortage vacancies than in the previous survey of 2011.[79]

The TUC also highlighted the 2013 Employer Skills Survey:

    [A] third of all employers are still not offering any form of training to any of their staff and 38% of employees say that they received no training over the past 12 months.[80]

Our evidence also highlighted the fact that many working adults have a lack of literacy and numeracy skills, which is holding them back, or putting their jobs at risk. The Workers' Educational Association highlighted this worrying position for many employees:

    Many adults requiring these skills are in employment, often of a precarious, short term and/or part-time nature. The co-operation of employers is essential; government should take the lead in developing (directly or indirectly) strong links between industry/sector bodies and employers to ensure their needs are well-understood and embedded in English and maths provision as well as encouraging Community Learning involvement in LEPs and similar planning bodies.[81]

50. One organisation that helps both employees and employers in accessing greater skills is Unionlearn, the learning and skills arm of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which supports a union learning model that has "drawn praise and respect from all quarters".[82] Tom Wilson, the Director of Unionlearn, described to us their work, in relation to adult literacy and numeracy, specifically in relation to peer-to-peer coaching:

    Our union learning reps, of whom we now have 30,000 trained up and down the country, do exactly this kind of peer-to-peer, 'If we can do it, you can do it'. They are workers too, so it is dinner ladies teaching other dinner ladies, train drivers teaching other train drivers, and prison officers teaching other prison officers—and prisoners too, by the way. That model of peer-group learning is fantastically successful and very cost-effective. We have trained, I would guess, around 1.2 million learners over the last 10 years—probably more; that is a conservative estimate—at an average cost of £97 per learner, which is less than 5% of the cost of the typical FE student. I am not claiming that we do everything; a lot of our learners will go on to do FE, but is a massive cost-effective programme that is training over 1 million people. You can ask the question, 'How do we train the next million?' We can do that in five years—much quicker—and probably at slightly less cost, but not a great deal less.[83]

He went on to pay tribute to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, for the support that the Department has given to Unionlearn:

    Around half of all the learning that unions do is funded by the taxpayer through BIS; the other half is funded by unions themselves. The half that is funded by the unions is growing, because the whole operation is growing. It is enormous. Around 15% to 20% of everything unions do is now about learning. That is the way in which they can help their members to get on at work. A great deal of that is about workers who would otherwise never get off the churning around of moving in and out of low-paid jobs, which is bad for them, bad for the economy and bad for their employers.[84]

While Matthew Hancock MP told us that he worked closely with Unionlearn because it is able to reach people who cannot be reached as easily in other ways,[85] the Government has recently cut its funding for Unionlearn. Tom Wilson explained the effect of this reduction:

    Our funding has been cut by about £2.5 million so far this year; it could be more. That will directly result in thousands fewer learners in the workplace than would otherwise have been the case. I entirely understand the pressures on the public purse, but I would just like to take this opportunity to put on record the fact that we do think it is a real mistake.[86]

51. The Government is cutting £2.5 million from Unionlearn's budget, even though the Minister himself acknowledged the impressive work that the organisation does in adult skills training. This is short-sighted financial gain, which goes against the many positive interventions by the Government. It also sends out the wrong signal about the Government's commitment to adult learning. At a cost of under £100 per learner, and bringing in an extra £4 to £6 additional employer funding for every £1 of Government funding, Unionlearn is a cost-effective way of reaching large numbers of learners with the most acute English and maths needs. This is an area of high impact, which offers value for money, so we urge the Government to reverse its decision to cut Unionlearn's funding.

The Army

52. In 2013, around 38% of trainees joining the Army were assessed with literacy skills below Level 1, and around 38.5% has numeracy skills below Level 1:

The Army, ALE46

Brigadier Gary Morris, the Army's Director of Educational Capability, told us of the flexible approach to English and maths learning that the Army takes. When asked whether specialist teaching or informal teaching works better, he replied:

    We use the whole spectrum and that has got to be the way forward. At one end, we do have some specialists and we do target them at the guys who are struggling at the lowest levels who might need a one-to-one and a particular programme developed. Around that, we wrap soldiers supporting other soldiers. They may have gone through the same learning themselves and they are great instructors who have learnt quite recently, as adults, how to get through this. We are supporting that with more generalist teaching staff. We take every opportunity to build into them specialist support where they need it, and a lot of them can get through without that one-to-one support. There is a spectrum, though, that does need that sort of support. In terms of what the Government can do, it is recognising that we need to be flexible in how we support those people, as opposed to presuming how we might get to that end-point because some of them take a lot longer than others.[87]

53. The Army uses Ministry of Defence in-house provision (delivered by Army specialists), publicly-funded external provision through FE colleges, and other providers, such as those that deliver its Apprenticeship schemes. The Army's written evidence described the funding arrangements:

    Central Skills Funding Agency-Army funding arrangements, enable the Army to organise contracted external literacy and numeracy provision. This gives the Army greater 'employer ownership' with the ability to source provision to meet Army requirements more closely.[88]

The end results for the Army are impressive, with the vast majority undertaking support programmes:

    It is estimated that around 80% of Army literacy and numeracy learners undergo intensive provision. The model has been successful in delivering qualifications at Level 1 and Level 2. 10,703 Functional Skills (FS) English or Maths awards were achieved through the Army Apprenticeships route during 2012-13. Standalone provision for Level 1 and Level 2 has consistently delivered annual pass rates above 87% over the last four academic years. In 2012-13, this delivered a further 3,879 qualifications.[89]

Gary Morris told us that the Army runs the biggest Apprenticeship programme in the country, with over 40 schemes, and he said:

    It is a really practical way of getting adults to learn literacy and numeracy because it is embedded in the workplace. It is making them practically apply what they are doing. That is the key; it makes it tangible and real to them, so whether they are an infantry man, a signaller or a gunner, they have to apply what they are learning in those subjects to real-life problems which can be contextualised for their workplace.[90]

54. The Army's provision of literacy and numeracy is to be highly commended, and it has a good record of delivery. Although their military training might not always translate into other organisations, their approach to adult literacy and numeracy, embedded within functional skills, and contextualised to make it relevant to the learners' lives, has been shown to be extremely successful, with tangible benefits for Army personnel. The Government should acknowledge the fact that a significant part of this success is the fact that the Army delivers training under Central Skills Funding Agency-Army funding arrangements, which means that the Army can organise its own contracted external literacy and numeracy provision. We recommend that the Government study the Army's methods, and promotes examples of best practice in other Government-funded initiatives.

78   TUC (ALE 41) para 4.3 Back

79   Ofsted (ALE 34) extract Back

80   TUC (ALE 41) para 4.3 Back

81   WEA (ALE 22) para 6.8 Back

82   TUC (ALE 41) para 1.6 Back

83   Q42 Back

84   Q42 Back

85   Q200 Back

86   Q54 Back

87   Q107 Back

88   The Army (ALE 46) para 16  Back

89   The Army (ALE 46) para 17 Back

90   Q127 Back

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Prepared 8 September 2014