Funding of adult basic skills to be overhauled in new pilot

The funding of basic numeracy and literacy is to be completely overhauled following little improvement in adult basic skills during the last decade.

The government will pilot a new funding scheme next year which allocates provision based on the ‘distance’ a learner has ‘travelled’ on a programme, rather than the end qualification.

The pilot, announced in the ‘New Challenges, New Chances: Further Education and Skills System Reform Plan’, will incentivise providers to deliver better skills gains for learners on basic skills courses.

The report states: “Building on Lord Boswell’s report on adult literacy we have undertaken a major review of how provision is delivered to improve the economic and personal returns to this investment.”

The pilot will be introduced despite the Skills Funding Agency’s (SFA) existing plans for a new, simplified funding system for adult skills, which will be ‘dual running’ next year and fully implemented in 2013/14.

The report adds: “Despite considerable efforts over the last 10 years to improve the basic skills of adults, our new national survey shows that 24 per cent of adults (8.1 million people) lack functional numeracy skills and 15 per cent (5.1 million people) lack functional literacy skills.

“This is unacceptable.”

The new funding pilot is one of 15 recommendations set out in the ‘Review of Research and Evaluation on Improving Adult Literacy and Numeracy Skills’, published by BIS but produced by John Vorhaus, Jennifer Litster, Michael Frearson and Stuart Johnson.

The review states: “Inspections and programme evaluations should include attempts to assess whether and how far learners retain skills over time, and how far qualifications are geared towards promoting underpinning literacy and numeracy skills.

“It should be a priority to gather longitudinal evidence on skills retention and loss over time.”

The new funding scheme is a response, in part, to the 2011 Skills for Life Survey, published by BIS, which shows a decrease in the number of adults acquiring basic maths.

Toni Fazaeli, the Chief Executive of the Institute for Learning (IFL), said: “We agree strongly with the government’s focus on numeracy and literacy and its proposals to ensure that proficiency in maths and English is embedded throughout the FE and skills system.”

The 2011 Skills for Life Survey found that 24 per cent of respondents failed to achieve an entry Level 3 or above in numeracy – a three per cent increase in the last eight years.

Joy Mercer, the Director of Education Policy at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “One of the problems with the qualifications for adults literacy and numeracy is that they didn’t produce people that could actually enter the workplace with functional literacy and numeracy skills.

“You therefore get teaching to the test, because colleges are measured very definitely on the attainment of qualifications, rather than here’s individual A, what do they really need to become functionally literature.”

The survey also found an increase of 13 per cent in the number of people achieving a Level 2 or above in literacy, with “no significant change” in respondents achieving at least a Level 1.

Carol Taylor, Director for Research and Development at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), says there are too many adults with “very poor basic skills” learning in a system which “isn’t working for them.”

She said: “It’s alarming that 15 per cent of the adult population are performing at entry level 3 or below in literacy and 24 per cent in numeracy at entry Level 2 or below.

“Put simply, around one in six of the adult population has difficulty with aspects of reading and writing, which means they are seriously disadvantaged as employees, citizens and parents.”

NIACE has recommended that BIS improve the quality of teaching by working more closely with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), as well as local authorities, further education colleges and training providers.

“The Treasury has quite rightly shown an interest in the impact of the Government spend and the fact that, despite an enormous and welcome investment in skills for life over the past decade, there are simply far too many people who have not been helped,” Taylor said.

“NIACE suggests that making learner qualifications the all-important target for providers means teachers have been encouraged to teach to the test, thereby ‘plucking only the low hanging fruit’.

Ms Fazaeli added: “We are concerned that too few literacy and numeracy teachers have the specialist subject teaching qualifications they need, and this is borne out by Ofsted’s observation that literacy teaching is better when teachers are properly qualified in the subject.”