The impact of Skills for Life on adult basic skills in England: how should we interpret trends in participation and achievement?
The English Skills for Life strategy symbolises the prominent place that adult basic skills have claimed in education and training policy in England since the beginning of this century. The strategy aims to improve the skills of a large number of learners over a ten year period (2001-2010). This paper explores what we can learn about the impact of the strategy from an analysis of available statistical data. The paper presents trends in participation and achievement over the first four years of the strategy, which indicate a pattern of diminishing returns to numbers participating over time, and which may well reflect the growing difficulties the policy will face of engaging 'hard to reach' learners. Alongside this analysis, the paper raises a number of issues concerning the limitations of available statistical data in providing answers to questions such as the progress made by learners and their subsequent progression, both within and beyond adult basic skills provision. The paper goes on to argue that the strong emphasis on a numerical target related to qualification outcomes may serve to focus both practitioners' and policy makers' attention on this aspect alone. This, it is argued, may serve the interests of international benchmarking of skills levels in the population, but may do rather less in helping to improve learners' lives and capabilities.
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