HC Deb 05 July 2001 vol 371 cc391-3
8. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

If she will make a statement on her plans to improve adult basic skills. [876]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris)

The Government are fully committed to helping the estimated one in five adults who do not have adequate literacy, language or numeracy skills. The Prime Minister launched our strategy for improving adult basic skills on 1 March, and our manifesto reaffirmed our intention to help 750,000 adults to achieve basic skills by 2004. We are now working to deliver on that commitment.

Mr. Chaytor

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, and add my congratulations on her well deserved appointment.

May I remind her of the very interesting proposal in the national strategy for basic skills, which argues the case for a form of paid educational leave for low-paid workers with poor basic skills? Has there been any progress in implementing that proposal? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the principle of paid educational leave could be considered more generally for groups of low-paid workers with poor basic skills?

Estelle Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I share his concern and determination to ensure that low-paid workers can access training in basic skills. Indeed, it is a truism that such workers are probably low paid because they do not have the basic skills; that just makes sense. I should remind my hon. Friend and the House that, under our strategy, basic skills education is free to everybody, whether they are in work, in part-time work or seeking work. One of our biggest challenges is to identify who those people are.

Such people are often not very confident about coming forward to say that they lack basic skills. As my hon. Friend knows, we shall be doing all that we can over the coming months both through pathfinder and through pilot projects to attack the problem at every level—when people turn up for interviews at jobcentres or apply for jobs in workplaces, and when they are not in work. I shall certainly reflect on what my hon. Friend says. As the strategy progresses, we shall no doubt want to return to the matter.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

I welcome the new Department for Education and Skills team and the announcements on improving adult basic skills. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government's major investment in nursery education will also help to prevent children leaving school and becoming young adults without basic skills, and that decisions that she has had to take in that area are a recognition of past failure to identify and address the specific needs of individuals?

Estelle Morris

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. I disagree with him absolutely. Really tackling literacy and numeracy problems is about working with children before they start school. when their language is developing. If they are behind at the age of four or five, they often find it very difficult to catch up. Given our work in early-years education—not just on nursery places but on training staff so that they can teach what is appropriate at that age—together with our literacy and numeracy strategies, I would be immensely disappointed if the same number of adults had problems with basic skills in decades to come. It is a failure of the education system if people leave school and are still not functionally literate. In that sense, I agree with the hon. Gentleman—the question is very much one of remedial work.