HL Deb 21 April 1999 vol 599 cc1155-7

2.45 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take in response to the report by Sir Claus Moser's working group on literacy and numeracy.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are committed to doubling to 500,000 the number of adults being helped with literacy and numeracy skills by 2002. The University for Industry and our expansion of further education are two important initiatives towards meeting that target. We welcome Sir Claus's report and its proposal for a new national strategy. As a first step, I shall chair a high level strategy group, supported by expert practitioners, to take work forward to tackle this important national issue.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and I wonder whether she can add to it in respect of two specific concerns raised by Sir Claus. First, how do Her Majesty's Government propose to address the need for more involvement by employers in improving the general standards of literacy? Secondly, can she tell us anything about the structure of the new system of awards and qualifications proposed in paragraph 10.13 of the report?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, about the enormous importance of involving employers in this work. They are in a good position to assess employees who have particular problems of adult literacy and numeracy. It is important that as a first step my group should invite the views of the key bodies involved; they are the CBI, the National Training Council and the TUC.

As regards the noble Lord's second question, one of the problems identified by Sir Claus Moser in his report was the large number of qualifications which currently exist for those taking courses in adult literacy and numeracy. There are too many and it is confusing. We shall consult the QCA about ways of developing a new strong qualification that is credible and recognised by all. We shall also examine ways of reducing the large number which now exist.

Lord Tope

My Lords, is the Minister aware that according to the Moser Report we shall need another 15,000 full-time teachers for the new basics course, compared with fewer than 4,000 which we have at present? Can she say how the Government intend to fill that huge gap and how long that will take?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am aware of what Sir Claus said about the need for people to provide adequate tuition in this area. Many part-time staff already work in numeracy and literacy and we value their work. We will obviously examine the further expansion of part-time people in this area, but it is important that they have the proper training that is required in order to make the courses successful. My group and the group of experts advising it will consider how to develop high-quality rapid training so that a workforce can be in place as soon as possible.

Lord Elton

My Lords, given that Sir Claus states that at present too many teachers work part-time, will the Minister assure us that more full-time teachers will come on stream? Will the Minister tell us also whether the Government are going to carry forward, and if so how, his recommendations that local targets should be set and local action plans made to meet those targets because the problem cannot simply be addressed nationally?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the need to look at this matter at the local level. It would be quite wrong to have an entirely top-down national programme. The Government have already set up learning partnerships involving local authorities, TECs and the further education system. We shall ask those local partnerships to try to develop coherent and exciting programmes— some creative thinking needs to be done—for addressing that serious national problem of adult illiteracy and numeracy.

On the issue of part-time versus full-time, we should not dismiss the contribution which part-time teachers make in this regard. We have many full-time teachers in FE. We need more. That was the issue which I addressed in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, the Minister will have noted that, last week, Sir David Ramsbotham again deplored the educational deficit in the prison population (which is indeed three times as bad as even the terrible figures revealed by Sir Claus Moser for the population at large). Will the Minister pursue current enthusiasm for joined-up government by joining up with the Home Office in order to address the grave need for improvement in education provision both in prisons and in young offender institutions?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister of State at the Home Office is sitting next to me in a very joined-up way. We are working together on this problem. Indeed, I believe that I have already said to the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, that we are anticipating working together on a visit to Cardiff Prison which we shall make in the near future.

However, the Prison Service has developed a new, rather exciting education policy with a particular focus on improving basic and key skills. It has its own performance targets, which are ambitious. I have no doubt that those targets will be achieved.