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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Six Forum: Adult education
Peter Pledger from the Learning and Skills Counil answered your questions.



Butlin's visitors are to get the chance to improve their reading, writing and maths skills.

Rather than sunbathing and playing bingo, campers can work towards passing online tests set by the government.

The plans are part of a government campaign to improve adults' educational skills.

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As well as the Butlin's scheme, adults studying GCSE courses will receive weekly grants and free tuition.

Millions of adults in the UK do not have the skills of an average 11 year old, according to education minister Ivan Lewis.

Will the holiday camp scheme work? Can literacy be improved? What are your education options?

Your questions were answered by Peter Pledger from the Learning and Skills Council, the government agency responsible for running the Butlins project.


Transcript


Manisha Tank:

Hello and welcome to the Six Forum, I'm Manisha Tank. What do you prefer on holiday - sun and sea or sums and science? The Government hopes the answer is both as it tries to combat Britain's problems with adult literacy. Visitors to Butlins holiday camps now have the chance to improve their reading, writing and maths skills in a new government campaign. Free tuition will be offered and on-line tests can be taken in key subjects. So will the holiday camp scheme actually work and generally what are your education options?

I'm joined by Peter Pledger who's an executive director at the Learning and Skills Council - the Government's agency responsible for running the Butlins project. Well lots of questions as to why Butlins - we'll get to those eventually Peter but first of all just a general question about literacy that came from Brian Lee, Dunstable: Why is such a large proportion of the country illiterate? Why aren't basic skills being taught properly at school?


Peter Pledger:

The reasons for that are quite complicated. There are a whole range of reasons why many, many adults have a reading age of less than 11 and have difficulty with numeracy or with language. Some of that is related to their experience in schools, some of that is related to the fact that they left school early and got work when everyone was able to get work. Whatever the reasons, we do know that there are 7 million adults in Britain today who have a reading age of less than 11 who have difficulties with mathematics or have language difficulties and we are determined to deal with that problem to ensure that all those adults have an opportunity to acquire the skills that they need to fully engage in our society.


Manisha Tank:

Gary Parsons, Leamington Spa asks: Why target Butlins for these learning centres? What is the thinking behind the scheme?
Now I know from you already that it stretches a little bit further than that.


Peter Pledger:

Absolutely. Butlins is just one example of hundreds of projects that the Learning and Skills Council is organising and paying for to tackle the basic skills problems in England. Butlins has been ticked as one of those places because we know people go there to have fun and we believe learning is fun and people should have an opportunity to associate the fun that they have at Butlins with the learning opportunities that are available.

But it isn't the only place. We have learning centres based on housing estates. We have learning centres based in community venues. We have learning centres based around schools and colleges and in other venues. There are hundreds upon hundreds of venues where we are deploying government resources to ensure that every adult has an opportunity to acquire numeracy, literacy and language skills.


Manisha Tank:

No surprise then Peter though that not everyone is convinced. Harriet, UK asks: Is this where the extra money earmarked for education has gone? If so, it's scandalous! We need more teachers in schools, not in Butlins.


Peter Pledger:

Well Harriet is right in that we certainly do need teachers in schools and I'm pleased to say that the government policy has led to an increase in teachers in a great many schools. But the Learning Skills Council's responsibility is for those who are 16 years-old and above and we know, as your viewers have already demonstrated, that a great many of them didn't do that well in school and have disengaged from learning. And so yes Harriet, we do need more teachers in schools and more teachers are being recruited in schools. But the money we have given to us by Government is to ensure that the adults who've missed out get a second chance because I don't think it's really fair that if you've missed out at 16 or missed out at 18 you don't get another chance. We at the Learning and Skills Council believe that adults should have a second or third or even fourth chance to get back into learning to acquire the skills for them to prosper and also for them to acquire better jobs and to earn more.


Manisha Tank:

I get the impression that you have quite a marketing project on your hands here because Emma McCartney, UK asks: I'm a teacher, and as far as I can see the government's plans are targeting the sort of disinterested and disruptive pupils who hate school and leave at the first opportunity. How do you propose to tempt them back into the classroom now?


Peter Pledger:

Well there are some pupils like that who are disinterested when they had a chance at school and now have learnt and want to re-engage in learning. We often find that people who have left school at an early age - at 16 - and only as they settle down, perhaps when they start a family or perhaps as they try to progress in their career when they're 18, 19, 20 or older - do they realise that they missed that first chance. Now I don't think it's right that we should simply say, well too bad you had a chance at school and we should give those people another chance, not just for their sake but for our sake to ensure that they have an opportunity to progress and that their families are properly supported.

But it's not just that market they'll be looking at because they are a great many adults who didn't have the opportunities that we have today and these are adults who are 30, 40, 50 or older and we believe that those adults also should have a chance to acquire the skills that many young people take for granted today. Everybody will benefit from learning - the Learning Skills Councils is committed to supporting that learning.


Manisha Tank:

Let's then talk about the sort of examinations, the qualifications that can be picked up and we'll go right across the board with this. Andrew Crossen, Wirral: Why is the Government only encouraging people to take GCSEs? What about adults who want to take A-Levels or do university courses?

Just beyond that question also does this stretch to picking up technical skills that can help you in the work place as well for example?


Peter Pledger:

Absolutely. The Learning Skills Council is encouraging all adults not just to take GCSEs, to take A-levels, to take other qualifications, to take National Vocational Qualifications but any qualifications that are credited that meet those learners' needs. If we are encouraging employers in the training of their staff - and we ourselves are investing many millions to ensure that people acquire technical skills and in particular we want to encourage young people and those up to the age of 25 to embark on a modern apprenticeship. Apprenticeships were the backbone of the industrial world in England many years ago, it's now a route to learning not just in engineering and construction but also in retail, in office skills and a whole range of other skills and those courses are supported and funded and we would like to encourage people to acquire those technical skills. So no, it's not just about GCSEs it's the whole range of qualifications from basic skills up to the higher level of qualifications. The Government's policy is and our work is to try and ensure that more and more people who are able and willing to go into higher education can and do go into higher education.


Manisha Tank:

Now there are people who will say that when it comes it comes to technical skills, employers should be ploughing money into their employees and making sure that they have the right skills to do the jobs. Anna, Bude, UK asks: Are there any incentives for employers to give people time off work to take these courses?


Peter Pledger:

You right about the responsibility of employers and I'm pleased to say that employers invest billions of their own assets in training their staff but you'd expect me to say that that's not enough and we want more invested by employers to meet the skills needs of the country.

But also we, on the Learning and Skills Council, are investing a great deal of public money to meet those skills needs. But what are the incentives? Well, if an employer would take on a modern apprentice and that apprentice is a 16 - 18 year-old, then we would pay for that training at 100% of the cost. If the learner is between 19 - 25 years old, we pay for that training at 75% of the cost. If the employer has an employee that has a numeracy, literacy or language need, then that learning is available at no cost to the employer delivered either through a further education college or an adult community provider. So there's a great deal of financial incentive for the employers to allow their staff to engage in learning. But more importantly, employers know and all the research has demonstrated this, that once the staff are trained those staff become more productive and the employer becomes more profitable and therefore there's lots of incentives for employers. I will be leaving on your website, information for employers to contact us, if they are interested, in releasing some of their staff to do a modern apprenticeship.


Manisha Tank:

But also let's go into a couple of personal scenarios that have been sent to us by some of our viewers. Ant, East Dulwich: I gave up school after GCSEs, but now I'd like to go back and get proper qualifications. But how will I support my family if I go back into full-time education? Will the Government help?

Now this is a huge issue for many people - the financial support.


Peter Pledger:

Absolutely. There have been a number of pilot programmes to give an allowance to people engaged in learning and re-engage in learning. And in fact when the Government launched its skills strategy some months ago, part of that announcement was up to 60,000 people would be supported with financial grants to see them through their courses. These projects are being piloted right now and I'm pleased to say that one of them is going to be within west London covering the area in which the BBC is based. But there will be a number of these projects around the country and they'll be rolled out of the next year or so therefore there will be help certainly for those adults who want to get back into learning.


Manisha Tank:

I'd imagine that the websites you are going to leave us with, people can find out about financial help through those.


Peter Pledger:

Absolutely.


Manisha Tank:

Sarah, Chester ask: I am an adult learning attempting to take a degree with the Open University. However, even in primary school I suffered learning difficulties which I now know are due to Dyslexia. The Government plans to improve educational skills - but what about improving support for people with learning difficulties?


Peter Pledger:

This is critically important and this is also the responsibility of the Learning and Skills Council. For too long people who suffered from disabilities or learning difficulties could not fully engage in learning because either the facilities or the support that they needed was simply not available. The Learning Skills Council is committed to ensuring that nobody is denied access to learning because of their learning difficulties or disabilities and we do that by providing additional financial support as well as supporting specialist colleges. In some cases learners with severe difficulties may need to go to a residential institution - we'd support it, we'll pay for that if it is demonstrated that the learning can only be delivered in that way and there is some quite substantial financial support available to such learners. But also we are trying to encourage and support and provide facilities in the mainstream further education colleges within school sixth forms, and with others to ensure that nobody is denied learning because of their learning difficulties or disability - everybody should have an equal opportunity.


Manisha Tank:

Janet Holmes, Dundee: I'd like to know if taking a course in IT will improve my chance of getting a job.

Good question but also IT has been a very popular area in the past few years and this brings up the question as to do you suspect that some courses will be over-subscribed and can we cope with that?


Peter Pledger:

Some courses will be over-subscribed and some courses may not necessary lead to the jobs that the individuals want part of our work is reviewing the courses that are available and making sure that the colleges, the schools and the work centres that we contract with are delivering what learners want and need and what employers want and need and we haven't got that right yet and we're working on that now.

But with regard to IT, there has been a tremendous demand for IT. But the reason for that is that IT skills are now as important as literacy, numeracy and language skills and while that demand is high, I still believe that we need to increase the provision for IT to ensure that everybody has a chance.

Right now I imagine most parents - and I have a five year-old daughter - will see that their children have IT skills that probably match or exceed their own. There are many parents who need to learn. I've come across a number of parents who've said to me that they'd like to help their children with their homework but they haven't got the skills because the computers simply weren't in the schools when they were at schools. So we need to meet that demand, we need to help them and the Learning Skills Councils is committed to doing that.


Manisha Tank:

Fay Johnson, London asks: Where can I find out where these learning centres are - will they be in all Butlins holiday camps?


Peter Pledger:

Well not necessarily in all Butlins holiday camps but they will be in every part of the country in a whole range of different venues. There are a number of websites but probably the easiest to contact is the Learn Direct website which www.learndirect.co.uk and through that website you'll get information on a whole range of courses that are available. There's also websites for colleges and in London all the colleges have combined together with one website which is called www.londoncolleges.com and you'll find out about all the college courses that are available in London. But I'll leave all those website contacts with yourself so that viewers can make contact and find out more.


Manisha Tank:

Thanks very much, Peter Pledger of the Learning and Skills Council for joining us on the Six Forum.

Peter was going through some of the websites that you can look at to get any more information that you need on adult education. All you have to do is go to www.bbc.co.uk/sixforum and all those websites will be available there. That's it for now, goodbye.




SEE ALSO:
Butlin's campers to learn online
19 Aug 03  |  Education
Over-19s get learning grants
08 Jul 03  |  Education
New drive against learning 'gremlins'
18 Aug 03  |  Education
Adult education losing appeal
09 Jun 03  |  Education


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