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Illiteracy

Volume 181: debated on Friday 23 November 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what current plans he has to combat illiteracy in adults.

Local education authorities are the main providers of basic literacy tuition for adults; central Government support is provided to the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, which acts as the central focus for adult literacy and basic skills work in England and Wales.The Department will continue to work closely with the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit to promote improvements in adults' basic literacy skills. We are continuing to provide support through the education support grant programme to enable local education authorities to establish open learning centres and are encouraging the development of workplace tuition by employers. The training of tutors to teach adult literacy and related basic skills is currently a national priority area in the local education authority training grant programme. We will also continue to co-operate with the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, the BBC and the Employment Department on the basic skills accreditation initiative.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what resources are being devoted to combat illiteracy among adults in the current financial year; and what increase is proposed for the next three years.

The Department of Education and Science and the Welsh Office support the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit: the Department's grant for the current financial year is £3,030,000. The Department is also supporting expenditure of £1·7 million this year in the education support grant programme to enable local education authorities to establish open learning centres. Training in adult literacy is a national priority area under the local education authority training grants scheme and we are supporting expenditure of £700,000 this year.Local education authorities are the main providers of adult literacy and other basic skills tuition. The Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit estimates that local education authorities in England and Wales are spending about £26·3 million a year on adult basic education. The Employment Department funds training and enterprise councils, which provide training programmes taking account of local labour market needs, including the requirements of unemployed people with literacy difficulties. The Home Office also makes provision for those with inadequate literacy skills in prisons.The Government are not yet in a position to announce what funds will be available in the next three years for those programmes which it funds directly. The expenditure of local education authorities is for them to decide in the light of available resources.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many teachers are currently employed in the Government's efforts to tackle illiteracy.

Comprehensive figures are not available. Local education authorities provide annual returns to the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit. These include the numbers of staff involved in teaching adult literacy and related basic skills. In November 1989, 751 full-time tutors and 8,514 part-time tutors were employed by local education authorities. In addition, there were 3,925 volunteer tutors.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will conduct a survey to establish the extent of illiteracy in adults in the United Kingdom at the present time; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans to conduct such a survey at present. Our best estimate, based on evidence from the national child development study survey in 1981, suggests that about 13 per cent. of adults may have some problems with literacy and numeracy. I understand that a further survey for this study is currently taking place.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what agencies, voluntary and statutory, are involved in the Government's efforts to tackle adult illiteracy.

A number of voluntary sector providers have a substantial involvement in adult basic education, for example, the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders, but a comprenhensive list is not available. The main statutory agencies involved in improving adult literacy and related basic skills include the following: the Department of Education and Science and the Welsh Office which support the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit; the Employment Department through its training, enterprise and education directorate; the Home Office; local education authorities; and other organisations such as the BBC and the library service.