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Thursday, March 25, 1999 Published at 13:10 GMT


England's 'staggering' adult illiteracy

Training - for those brave enough to seek it - is 'patchy'

One fifth of adults in England have severe problems with basic literacy and numeracy, according to an official report which calls for a "national crusade" to tackle the problem.

The BBC's John Andrew: Many adults are embarrassed about their problem
The report, by the Basic Skills Agency, urges the government to introduce new national tests to assess adults' basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills.

It reviews evidence that adults in England have poorer literacy and numeracy skills than those in any other European country apart from Poland and Ireland.

It calculates that one in three adults cannot work out the area of a room, while one in five would be unable to find a plumber in the Yellow Pages telephone directory.

[ image:
"One in 16 adults shown this poster cannot say where the concert is being held" - Moser Report
It was produced by a working group of experts in education, employment and the community sector, headed by the Chairman of the Basic Skills Agency, Sir Claus Moser.

"The fact that as many as seven million adults in England have more or less severe problems with literacy and numeracy is staggering, and indeed shocking in this rich country," he said.

"It is sad reflection on decades of poor schooling and past government policies."

The report says the consequences of this are "devastating for society, for the economy and above all for the individuals concerned". It also criticises "the patchy, almost random" provision of help for those who need it.

It recommends a national strategy to provide targeted study schemes involving the government, employers and colleges.

Adult learning drive

The report follows an announcement last year that the government is to give £2.3m to 64 adult education projects in England.

[ image: Sir Claus Moser:
Sir Claus Moser: "This is a shocking situation"
Grants ranging from £3,000 to £147,000 will go to a wide range of schemes - from community radio stations to developing materials which encourage fathers to read with their children.

Many of the projects aim to improve adults' basic literacy and numeracy skills, and as a consequence make them more employable.

They are the first beneficiaries of the Adult and Community Learning Fund, launched last August, which will see a total of £15m being spent over the next three years.

[ image: Jimmy White:
Jimmy White: "Get some help"
Welcoming the report, the Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett, said: "We recognise the crucial importance of raising basic skills standards amongst adults as part of our agenda to widen participation in learning and to improve skills in our working population.

"Basic skills education has a key place in the initiatives we have already launched. We are fortunate that awareness is growing about the scale and nature of the problem.

"Many people will have seen features in soaps like EastEnders and Brookside, where a literacy story line was developed - in no small part due to the efforts of the Basic Skills Agency and broadcasting companies.

Snooker player Jimmy White talking about the trouble he had reading
"But Sir Claus's report demonstrates that there remains a major challenge. We must find many more new ways of helping adults to gain these basic skills so they have the foundation on which to improve their skills and employment prospects, and to play a fuller part in the life of the community."

Mr Blunkett said he was asking the Education and Employment Minister, Tessa Blackstone, to lead a small group to draw up such a strategy.

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