Key figures from across the FE and skills sector have been poring over the adult numeracy and literacy report by MPs on the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee.
Here is a key selection of responses from the sector.
Carol Taylor (pictured right), deputy chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “Many of the committee’s findings and recommendations echo our manifesto, including cross-departmental working, a more flexible approach to adult learning, through the provision of Personal Skills Accounts funded by learners, employers and the state and giving individuals much greater control over their own learning.
“The BIS select committee has clearly grasped the urgency of the situation. We are glad they have addressed many of our concerns. It is critical for the future of our society and economy that all adults have the right opportunities to improve their literacy and numeracy. Raising awareness of the support that’s available is important, but we must ensure that those with the lowest skills have the confidence to take up these opportunities.
“Good quality provision must be made available in a range of settings – colleges, adult education centres, workplaces, communities, as well as in schools to help families learn together. This will help to break the intergenerational cycle of low literacy and numeracy.
“To truly motivate and inspire people to improve their skills we are working on a Citizens’ Curriculum, a study programme approach offering people more of what they both want to learn and what they need to learn to get on in life and work. As well as English and maths, we also believe digital skills should be considered as the ‘third basic skill’. Nearly all – 90 per cent – of new jobs by 2015 will require at least basic digital skills.”
Joy Mercer (pictured left), director of education policy at the Association of Colleges, said: “It is a sad irony that the government’s decision in 2010 to end all advertising means that many adults with low levels of literacy and numeracy don’t know they can access free courses to get these skills. A new campaign is needed.
“The committee is also right to recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills need to work closely to solve the problem of low levels of adult literacy and numeracy. It is a pity, therefore, that a joint Ministerial workforce which used to discuss these issues, no longer meets. Vince Cable and Iain Duncan Smith need to re-establish this group as a matter of urgency.
“Most crucially, of course, is the massive funding cuts which have hit adult learning in the last few years. At the moment, adult learning just isn’t a priority for government. Funding cuts have led to a 35 per cent drop in the adult skills budget over the past five years. This is not sustainable, particularly when we need to strengthen the skills of our workers to ensure that as a country, we are able to compete in the global market.”
A spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: “We urge the government to consider seriously the recommendations of the select committee’s report. The report highlights how we are not alone in thinking that Jobcentre Plus needs to be working more closely with local providers in addressing the English and maths needs of unemployed people if more sustainable employment is going to be the outcome of support offered. We also pleased that the issue of the current benefit rules being an obstacle to the provision of a more flexible traineeship programme has been raised.
“The committee’s concerns about GCSEs being the only proposed form of attainment for English and maths within an apprenticeship are ones we share. For those adults who have not acquired basic skills at school, the government must provide the investment to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, reaches a minimum level of skill. This should include support for functional skills in English and maths as well as GCSEs.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We welcome the recognition by MPs from all the main parties of the great successes Unionlearn has achieved for both workers and their employers.
“We need a skilled workforce for a sustainable recovery and a strong economy with more living wage jobs and living standards rising again.
“We are keen to continue bringing these benefits to as many workers as possible, especially those who are not reached by traditional learning routes.”