Government 'talked up' skills shortage

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The Independent Online

The Government has exaggerated the number of adults with literacy and numeracy problems in order to make it easier to meet its targets for solving the problem, according to the man in charge of improving the nation's basic skills.

The Government has exaggerated the number of adults with literacy and numeracy problems in order to make it easier to meet its targets for solving the problem, according to the man in charge of improving the nation's basic skills.

Alan Wells, director of the government-funded Basic Skills Agency, said that the public had been "bamboozled" by flawed research and misleading government claims into believing that a large proportion of adults could not read or add up properly.

Ministers have also damaged the UK's international reputation by proclaiming that more than 80 per cent of adults had sub-standard English and maths skills, Mr Wells said.

He argued that millions of perfectly competent adults had been targeted by the Government for extra help "because it's a lot easier to reach targets if you include almost everyone in the target audience". "What's worrying is the impact of exaggerating the scale of the problem," Mr Wells said. "Clearly it tells generations of teachers that they have been doing a pretty bad job. Even more worryingly it 'writes down' the UK. What company would want to keep jobs in this country if four out of five potential employees have difficulties with the basic skills we all take for granted? And what company will develop in an employment black spot if it hears, and believes, the publicity that most potential recruits can't read or write or add up?"

Labour made literacy and numeracy a priority after coming to power in 1997 and commissioned a report, chaired by Sir Claus Moser, which concluded that 7 million adults had poor skills. Mr Wells, who was an adviser to the Moser committee, said he warned at the time that this was "a serious over-estimate" based on flaws in the original research. However, he is most concerned about the Government's Skills for Life Strategy, published in 2003, which concluded that 82 per cent of adults had poor skills. This study argued that all adults who had failed to get at least a C-grade GCSE pass in English and maths needed help. "This is obviously total nonsense," Mr Wells said.

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