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Skills for Life is the national strategy in England for improving adult literacy, language (ESOL) and numeracy skills. The strategy was launched by the Prime Minister in March 2001.

The Skills for Life strategy sets out how the Government will reach its Public Service Agreement (PSA) target to improve “the basic skill levels of 2.25 million adults between the launch of Skills for Life in 2001 and 2010, with a milestone of 1.5 million in 2007”. This PSA target is part of the wider objective to “tackle the adult skills gaps”, by increasing the number of adults with the skills required for employability and progression to higher levels of training.

The Leitch Review, (Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills, Dec 2006) commissioned by the Government, has indicated the next likely Skills for Life target. The Review recommends that the UK commit to becoming a world leader in skills by 2020 with a basic skills objective "for 95% of adults to achieve the basic skills of functional literacy and numeracy" by 2020 (a total of 7.4 million adult attainments over the period).


In 1998 the Government asked Sir Claus Moser, Chairman of the Basic Skills Agency, to produce a report on how to “tackle the vast basic skills problem in this country”. The Moser Report (A Fresh Start – improving literacy and numeracy) was published in 1999, and found that 20% of adults lacked functional basic skills.

The Government responded by launching the Skills for Life strategy. When the strategy was launched in 2001, free literacy, language and numeracy training was made available to all adults without a Level 2 qualification (equivalent to a GCSE at A* - C).

Scale of the problem[]

As part of the Skills for Life strategy, a nationwide survey of basic skills (Skills for Life Needs and Impact Survey) was published in 2003. The survey showed that of the adult population aged 16-65 in England:

• 5.2 million (16%) have literacy skills below Level 1 (equivalent to a GCSE at D – G)

• 15 million (46%) have numeracy skills below Level 1 (equivalent to a GCSE at D – G)

• Only 18% achieved Level 2 in both literacy and numeracy (equivalent to a GCSE at A* - C).

Estimates place the cost to the country of poor basic skills at £10 billion a year. This takes account of the effect of lower incomes, reduced productivity, poorer health and the cost of benefits and welfare services. The cost of poor numeracy and literacy skills for a company employing 1,000 people has been estimated at £626,000 per year. For organisations employing 51-100 employees the cost is estimated to be nearer £108,000.

Higher earnings are correlated to good basic skills (Skills for Life Needs and Impact Survey) On average:

• Those with Level 2 numeracy skills earned an additional £4,000 per year

• Those with Level 2 literacy skills an extra £2,000.

Further analysis of non-graduates published in 2006, showed that three years after finishing a numeracy course, people were earning on average 13% more than those who had not been on such a course. Attending a literacy course generally has less impact on earnings.


The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) published the first national standards for adult literacy and numeracy in 2000. These standards formed the basis of the core curricula and national qualifications in literacy and numeracy at Entry Level, Level 1, and Level 2.

The following qualifications, achieved by adult learners, aged 16 years and older, count towards the Skills for Life target:

• Adult literacy and numeracy certificates (based on the 2000 national standards)

• Key Skills qualifications in ‘Communication’ and ‘Application of Number’

• GCSE Maths and English


The Skills for Life strategy has one over-riding target (A) and four key delivery objectives (B-E):

A. PSA target: to improve the basic skills levels of 2.25 million adults between the launch of Skills for Life in 2001 and 2010, with an interim target of 1.5 million adults by 2007

B. Learner and employer engagement: to engage and increase participation of young people and adults from priority groups in literacy, language and numeracy learning

C. Ensuring capacity: to improve the planning and funding of literacy, language and numeracy provision so that learning provision is effective and well co-ordinated

D. Improving quality: to improve standards and quality in teaching and learning in literacy, language and numeracy and to remodel and professionalise the Skills for Life workforce.

E. Improving achievement and progression: to improve outcomes in literacy, language and numeracy provision and progression onto further learning and to assess the impact on social inclusion and economic outcomes.

Target groups

• Unemployed people and benefit claimants • Jobseekers

• Prisoners and those supervised in the community

• Public sector employees

• Low-skilled people in employment

• Young adults

• Other groups at risk of exclusion • Parents • People who live in disadvantaged communities


A national "Get On" media campaign encourages adults to overcome their fears of learning and “get rid of their gremlins”. There is a national helpline on 0800 100 900.

File:Certificate geton.jpg


Since the launch of the strategy in 2001, 4.7 million adults have taken up Skills for Life learning opportunities with 1,619 000 learners achieving their first Skills for Life qualification in literacy, language or numeracy. This figure includes achievements by over 138,000 offenders (figures for February 2007).

Key organisations involved in the Skills for Life strategy[]

The Skills for Life Strategy Unit, based in the the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), is responsible overall for driving forward the Skills for Life strategy and ensuring efforts to improve basic skills are well co-ordinated. The Unit’s priorities include:

• Improving the standards in and quality of teaching and learning

• Ensuring that provision is effectively planned and funded

• Managing the transition of responsibility for the delivery of work to partner organisations and the ongoing risks that this could pose to delivery

• Ensuring that provision is accessible to those from priority groups

• Engaging employers and continuing the development of high quality workplace learning

• Promoting the take up of numeracy qualifications and learning

• Improving the analysis of performance to highlight our fundamental role in the long term skills agenda being considered as part of the Leitch Review.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is the chief delivery partner, which through its network of 9 regional and 47 local councils is responsible for the planning and funding of post-16 vocational education and training. The LSC has led responsibility for delivering the adult skills PSA target. The LSC have responsibility for offender learning, and Jobcentre Plus clients.

The Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) leads of developing a Quality Improvement Strategy. As of April 2006, the QIA has taken on responsibility for commissioning programmes for teachers, supporting improvements in the quality of education and training, ensuring provision is responsive to the needs of learners and employers, including Train to Gain, and developing integrated approaches to quality improvement within Skills for Life.

Skills for Life is inspected against the common inspection framework by the Inspectorates: the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) and OfSTED.

The Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA) leads on developing new qualifications and the associated standards and assessment models. Works with Awarding Bodies to ensure new qualifications are embedded.

National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC) is dedicated to conducting research into adult literacy, numeracy, ESOL and ICT. Established and funded by the DfES.

Key initiatives and resources[]

Train to Gain: the service offers skills advice and business needs with training providers. The service, led by the LSC, is designed to enable adults to achieve a first full Level 2 qualification and to improve their basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Move On Up: Move On Up is a national project funded by the Department for Education and Skills and delivered by Skills for Life company, Tribal CTAD.The project aims to help adults to brush up their skills and gain the National Certificate in Adult Literacy or Numeracy.

BBC Skillswise: is an interactive adult literacy and numeracy resource from the BBC for tutors and learners, with a range of factsheets, worksheets and quizzes.

Whole Organisation Approach: The Whole Organisation Approaches for Delivering Skills for Life Project is designed to embed Skills for Life across post compulsory education. Delivered by KPMG, Tribal CTAD, LSN and The Experience Corps on behalf of the QIA.