The news that almost 50 per cent of the on-the-job-training that employers provide for adults is substandard is a severe jolt for the Government in its drive to improve skills in the workforce. The upshot is that many adults drop out of their courses, giving the United Kingdom one of the worst-trained workforces in the Western world. The best that can be said for the findings in the Adult Learning Inspectorate's annual report, published this week, is that things are not as bleak as they were last year. Then, the figure was 60 per cent.

Reaction has ranged from political criticism of the Government for presiding over such a dog's dinner of a system (the Lib Dems) to a call from the Association of Colleges for training providers to be forced to apply for a licence to operate before setting up in business.

Why is the training given to adults in work of such poor quality? David Sherlock, the Chief Inspector of Adult Learning, puts his finger on the problem. In the UK, adults can train for up to 2,000 different vocational qualifications. In most other countries, the maximum is 20 to 30. As a result, most providers don't understand enough about the qualifications on offer to lay on the courses that people need. Reducing the number of qualifications should be a top priority for ministers, according to Sherlock. He suggests losing about 100 as a starter. We agree. Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector who is in charge of the Government's inquiry into education for 14 to 19-year-olds, also agrees, and he has the wherewithal to push Sherlock's recommendations forward. He can ensure that the diploma he is advocating to replace the existing A-level, GCSE and vocational education system offers high-quality courses that employers and training providers can understand. That must be a priority for his final report next year, and one that ministers should accept.