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"Literacy and numeracy underpin virtually all the other skills we need in our daily lives - be that at work, in the family or in leisure and other activities", Words Talk - Numbers Count (p6, 2005). The Welsh Assembly Government's (WAG) Strategy to Improve Basic Literacy and Numeracy in Wales, Words Talk - Numbers Matter outlined the problems facing those who lack functioning literacy and numeracy skills. This strategy has had a major impact on my workplace Wrexham ITeC, Further Education (FE) and Work-Based Learning (WBL). I plan to discuss its findings and how this strategy has affected and shaped policy within Wrexham ITeC and Work Based Learning.
Research shows that 1 in 4 (25% of total aged 16-65) adults living in Wales do not have Level 1 literacy skills and that 1 in 2 (53%) do not have Level 1 numeracy skills. When a similar survey was undertaken in England it showed that Wales' performance was several percent behind. This research highlighted the depth of the problem and the strategy discussed ways forward. Its aims are to develop "a country where no-one lacks the literacy and numeracy skills most of us take for granted", (Words Talk - Numbers Matter, p1, 2005).
Basic skills deficiencies can affect society as a whole. Research from the Words Talk - Numbers Count (2005) strategy explains that the lack of a functional ability to read, write and undertake number functions will particularly effect children of parents with poor basic skills, as they are more likely to struggle. Thus causing an ongoing society of possible underachievers. Productivity at business and the workplace may be lower than they should be. Mistakes for example, in a manufacturing environment could cost time and money for the company. The report also explains that there is "an association with crime and unemployment - over half the prison population has poor basic skills as do many of the economically inactive", (p6, 2005).
The outcome of the Words Talk - Numbers Count report has had a huge effect on education and training policy. Improving literacy and numeracy is also one of the key priorities within the School Effectiveness Framework (SEF) and which aims to address the problem of school children leaving education without literacy difficulties being tackled and the Quality and Effectiveness Framework (QEF) which aims to quality standards in post-16 education.
During Estyn's last inspection at Wrexham ITeC it highlighted that support for learners with the "majority of learners with low basic skills improve these skills" (p13, A report on the Quality of Work-Based Learning and Jobcentre Plus Programmes in Wrexham ITeC, 2006) it felt that "the provider's procedure to allocate basic skills support to learners are not robust" (p13, 2006). I have recently been assigned to the Basic Skills team and my remit is to ensure that this matter has been addressed in preparation for any forthcoming inspections.
Moser found that 1 in 5 people in Britain where functionally illiterate; but whereas Moser was concerned with the social effect on an individual who would struggle in society with a lack of relevant skills. Reports including Moser (1999) emphasised the effects that skills gaps, and in particular literacy and numeracy shortcomings had on people's lives.
Employability was the focus behind other reports. The need for people to gain more skills including the functional skills of literacy, numeracy and relevant qualifications was highlighted by Lord Leitch's report 'Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills' (2008). Leitch sets an ambitious target of "95% of adults to achieve the basic skills of functional literacy and numeracy" (p3, 2008). I feel that programmes such as Skill Build are a good way of addressing the skills gap in the unemployed and his findings are apparent throughout my report.
There are many reasons why raising standards of literacy and numeracy are important. According to the Literacy Changes Lives report by the National Literacy Trust (2008) "Adults with low or very low literacy skills are more likely to be in low-paid jobs, unemployed, or dependent upon state benefits and less likely to have had promotion, or work-related training. Adults with low literacy levels are also more likely to be in poor housing, and to have poor health" (p12, 2008). The report considers many of the socio-economic factors affecting those with poor literacy levels and the impact it may have on their whole life.
The impact of poor literacy and numeracy on unemployment are also alarming. Bynner and Parsons (2006) found that men and women with poor literacy had the lowest levels of full-time employment at the age of 30.
Figure 1. Percentage employed by highest level of qualification obtained, by gender, 2009
As the chart above explains those with higher qualifications are more likely to be in employment.
I have recently become involved in pilot programme being run in partnership with Job Centre Plus. All new claimants are screened to assess there likelihood of problems with literacy and numeracy. We have then been offering a short job seekers literacy programme.
The lack of these skills can obviously be detrimental when seeking employment. The recession has also compounded this problem as there is much more competition for jobs. Those who are lacking in skills are at an obvious disadvantage to those with skills. An employer when faced with a decision between hundreds of applicants will tend to pick the applications with few errors. Accuracy is a vital component in so many jobs from manufacturing to retail. A functional understanding of basic maths and english, transfers to a variety of jobs, without these skills many people will struggle in the job market.
The aim of the programme is to up-skill their literacy and communication level with particular reference to job-seeking i.e. CV production and interview techniques. The programme is currently 2 hours per week for 8 weeks and we are therefore limited with how much we can achieve particularly with the lower level learners who obviously have a greater learning need. Those who need further help have been offered a place on our Skill Build Programme as central to this programme is the improvement of literacy and numeracy levels.
The WAG currently funds an all-age preparatory and National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) skills training programme for both younger people (16-18) and adults entitled Skill Build. The programme is aimed at learners who are vocationally unfocused and who may lack confidence, have poor motivation and/or poor literacy and numeracy.
Basic Skills has been high on the agenda within Skill Build for many years and improving students level of literacy and numeracy is central to many training programmes. Estyn also place a high importance on this and (WAG) also keen that the number of adults with poor basic skills should be diminished significantly and have released funding to help providers become better qualified. It is also key in the PGCE standards and I feel the Skill Build programme embraces CK3.3 The different ways in which language, literacy, numeracy and ICT skills are integral to learners' achievement in own specialist area.
To recognise the gap in achievement qualifications in Basic Skills (Certificates in Adult Literacy and Numeracy) where developed to recognise and certificate the "ability of adults (post 16) to read, write, speak, and use numerical skills at a level necessary to function and progress at work and in society in general" (Certificates in Adult Numeracy and Adult Literacy Qualification handbook, p4, 2001) these were considered an integral part of the Skill Build programme and funding was weighted to encourage providers to provide these qualifications.
There was also considered to be need for qualifications that incorporated 'Key Skills' from employers as they complained that employees were coming to them without the real skills needed in the workplace. In 1996 the Dearing Review of Qualifications for 16-19 year olds recommended the creation of Key Skills qualifications that would the acknowledge transferable skills needed in employment. Dearing recommended that all schools, colleges and training providers should provide opportunities for students to gain Key Skill qualifications. Key Skills were developed to recognise "the skills that are commonly needed for success in a range of activities at work, in education and training and life in general", (The Key Skills Qualifications: Standards and Guidance, p3, 2004).
The Basic Skills and Key Skill qualifications were essentially created to tackle the same problems and therefore in 2008 DCELLS announced that Wales would follow England's convergence of Key Skills and Basic Skills. From September 2010 a new suite of qualifications called Essential Skills Wales would be implemented in Wales. ESW defines the qualifications as the "skills that you will need to get on in life, no matter what career path you choose to follow", (Essential Skills Wales website, accessed February 2011).
All learners at Wrexham ITeC work towards ESW qualifications and developing frameworks to embed the transferable skills required is high on the agenda of my workplace. There were problems in September as the awarding bodies were not fully prepared for the change in qualifications and this obviously caused problems. Particularly on the Skill Build team as learners are only in learning for 10 - 12 weeks and we were unable to deliver the new Essential Skills programmes between September - November 2010. To tackle this problem staff involved in the delivery of Key Skills and Basic Skills have set-up working groups to look at how best to deliver the qualifications.
The Skill Build programme is one of the ways that Wrexham ITeC seeks to improve standards of literacy and numeracy for unemployed. However, there are other programmes that concern raising standards of literacy and numeracy such as the Employer Pledge which was a key development in the Words Talk - Numbers County strategy (2005).
"A study conducted by CBI (Confederation of British Industry) in April 2008, which surveyed over 700 businesses, found that 41% of employers are concerned about their employees' basic literacy skills. This has ramifications for wages and also may account for the difference in the promotion chances between those with good literacy skills and those without". (Literacy Changes Lives, p23, 2008).
The aim of the Employer Pledge is to encourage employers to provide training to raise the skills of their employees. Its purpose as part of the Words Talk - Numbers Talk strategy (2005) is to diminish the number of adults with poor basic skills significantly. As an estimated 47% of adults with basic skills needs are in work, it is essential that employers and the workplace are engaged in the solution. The Literacy Changes lives report supports this with research that explains "Men who were poor in both literacy and numeracy were more likely to be in semi-skilled and unskilled jobs, to have had fewer work-related training courses, to have lower weekly wages and poorer promotion opportunities. 40% of women with low skills were in manual work, a much higher proportion than for other women in this cohort. It should be noted that although literacy levels have a powerful impact on a person's employment, poor numeracy rather than poor literacy was associated with low economic well-being" (p18, 2008).
The Employer Pledge is supported by government and the change in government has not affected it. "The Employer Pledge is an important part of this strategy, and private and public sector companies in Wales are encouraged to participate in the scheme" (p15, The effectiveness of employer engagement and the support for industry provided by FE colleges, April 2010). Employer Pledge training is designed to compliment the business. For example guidance on report wiriting for care workers
Quality Mark - Laura
Impact of Employer Pledge and future - Claire
Where you draw together the main findings from your work
"not enough staff have NVQ level 3 basic skills support qualifications" (p5, 2006)