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

9  Conclusion

Good quality provision is expensive but it is a worthwhile investment because it will help to address gaps between rich and poor and the attainment gaps that have a negative impact on the UK's workforce. Ignorance is always much more expensive than knowledge. [Lyn Tett][132]

84. This quotation is from Lyn Tett, who submitted evidence in a personal capacity, and who led the team that produced the Adult Literacy and Numeracy Curriculum Framework in Scotland. The quote highlights the main thrust of our Report—that adults with low levels of literacy and numeracy have difficulties in navigating through their lives, and this has an economic impact on both their lives and on the economy as a whole, putting a strain on the benefits system, and perpetuating a cycle of under-achievement.

85. There is no silver bullet to solve the issue of adult literacy and numeracy; it is a complicated problem because of the diverse range of people involved, young and old, in or out of work, who have very different experiences and needs—and who may not admit to needing help, be willing to seek help, or know where to find help. There are many effective programmes that help adults to gain better reading, writing and maths skills, set in a variety of contexts: in the workplace; with homeless people; in colleges; and in the community. The earlier the intervention, the better, and we therefore recommend that family learning—where parents learn, and encourage their children to learn—and schemes for young people (who, for whatever reasons, have not attained necessary skills at school) are both made a high priority for the Government to invest in and to promote. Also, there needs to be better assessment of the skills that adults have, when they claim unemployment benefit. That is an ideal opportunity to ensure that claimants are assessed for the skills they need to get a job rather than merely their eligibility for benefits.

86. We reject the blanket acceptance that GCSEs in English and Maths are the gold standard by which schemes and attainment are measured. GCSEs are not always the most appropriate qualification for adults to work towards, and we look to the Government to give employers, colleges and adults themselves the flexibility to choose the type of learning that best suits those adults. In the workplace, organisations such as Unionlearn has achieved outstanding results at a fraction of the cost of full-time formal education, by introducing literacy and numeracy skills to apprentices and other workers, presented within the context of the jobs they are doing or the vocational skills they are learning. The Army uses functional skills, and the teaching of literacy and numeracy within the context of learning skills out in the field, which have been proved to be an effective way of teaching. In the prison system, improvement of English and maths skills can be a major component of rehabilitation, but courses and funding need to be flexible and portable enough to ensure that prisoners take their accredited hours of literacy and numeracy work with them, when they are moved within the system or leave it, so they can continue to develop their skills.

87. We are encouraged by the deep commitment and achievements of those engaged in adult learning, but are disturbed by the examples of reductions in Government funding for various schemes, which has caused concern and instability for learners and learning providers alike. This is a short-sighted financial saving which will result in long term costs, as any reduction in provision can only make it harder for adults with limited literacy and numeracy skills to gain employment.

88. That said, we were heartened by the enthusiasm and support given by Matthew Hancock, the Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, and hope that his commitment will be matched by his successor, the Minister for Skills and Equalities, Nick Boles MP. This commitment needs to be matched with significant financial support from the Government, and with cross-Departmental support. The Government must make best use of limited funds, and so we urge them to undertake long-term, joined-up planning, concentrating resources on a core of effective, established, proven schemes, rather than being diverted by a proliferation of short-lived pilots across various Departments. First and foremost, the Government must get the message across to those adults with limited English and maths skills that help is available, with a national campaign that advertises the fact that there is free training and tuition for any adult who wants to study English and maths up to GCSE level.

132   Lyn Tett, Emeritus Professor, University of Edinburgh (ALE 53) para 5.2 Back

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