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

8  Collaboration between Departments

We need to be brought together to work together in order to crack this incredibly intractable nut. We also need to tackle this within communities. I must emphasise that that is never going to happen unless we have got somebody very high up in Government who makes that happen. [Libby Coleman][125]

81. If the Government is going to be successful in raising adult's standards in reading, writing and doing maths, the collaboration between the relevant Departments—Business, Innovation and Skills; Education; and Work and Pensions—needs to be well-structured and co-operation needs to be embedded deeply in all Departments. Matthew Hancock told us that it was truly cross-Government, and reported to him: "I am a BIS and DfE Minister. […] Both. I am in both Departments, so this reports to me. I do not do things with a BIS hat on and then with a DfE hat on; it just reports to me".[126] He went on to say that:

    We are using a whole series of policy tools across this Department, across DfE, across DWP and across the Cabinet Office […] We are using a whole swathe of different policy areas in order to try to tackle this.[127]

While it is clear that BIS and DfE are working together, questions were raised about DWP's commitment. The Association of Colleges made this point to us:

    We encourage BIS and DWP to work closely to ensure that practice and funding supports those who are unemployed and seeking to gain the skills for employment particularly in literacy and numeracy. DWP and JobCentre Plus need to recognise the time it takes to improve these skills.[128]

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers—which represents the interests of over 650 organisations delivering vocational learning and employment/employability support—wrote that "progress on tackling the lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills in adults cannot be achieved unless and until the Government integrates all education, employment and skills policies across the three main funding Departments involved. There must be a more coherent procurement across DfE, BIS and DWP with co-ordination of data management, target setting and performance management".[129]

82. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of effort and attention given to adult literacy and numeracy, but there are concerns over whether they are being channelled most effectively, as evidenced by parallel pilot schemes in different Departments. Kris Ventris-Field, a volunteer who has worked in the field of adult literacy for over 25 years, wrote to express her frustration at the lack of focus from successive governments:

    Unfortunately, each government fails to learn from previous initiatives—what has worked and what hasn't—and we go round in an ever increasing circle, wasting time, energy and millions of pounds on getting new initiatives in place, when we could build on and refine those that already exist. There are thousands of frustrated practitioners who are fed up of hearing these messages and the press that results—when what they want is support to get on with the job and to be listened to about what works for people.[130]

The point is not necessarily to be coming up with new schemes, but in maintaining and developing effective schemes over the long term. This point was made by Alistair Fruish, Writer-in-residence, at HMP Leicester, who wrote that "sadly, there are only a handful of writers-in-residence remaining working in prisons. Much of the expertise that has been built up over the last two decades is in danger of being lost".[131]

83. The personal commitment of the former Minister, Matthew Hancock MP, to addressing adult literacy and numeracy was commendable, and his Ministerial roles in both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education (DfE) underpinned the close collaboration between the two Departments. We hope that the present Minister, Nick Boles MP, meets the high standards set by his predecessor, and continues the close collaboration in his role as Minister of State for Skills and Equalities, working jointly across BIS and DfE. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Ministry of Justice, and indeed the Ministry of Defence, also have a crucial role to play in developing and implementing adult literacy and numeracy policies and programmes. However, those departments appear less able to collaborate on a suitable level. In its Response, we look to the Department to set out how it will achieve closer collaboration from these Departments. We recommend that a civil servant in each of the relevant Departments is chosen to act as a champion for adult literacy and numeracy. Should close collaboration between these Departments not be delivered, we recommend that the Minister be given more formal powers to intervene in those Departments on matters of adult literacy and numeracy.

125   Q37 Back

126   Q217 Back

127   Q200 Back

128   The Association of Colleges (ALE 23) para 19 Back

129   The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (ALE 9) page 2 Back

130   Kris Ventris-Field (ALE 50) page 1 Back

131   Alastair Fruish (ALE 85) extract Back

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Prepared 8 September 2014