Keynote speech - Jane Davidson
Good Morning. I am delighted to be here today, just over a year since I launched the Welsh Assembly Government’s second Basic Skills Strategy for Wales. This is an ideal opportunity to pause and reflect on what has been achieved so far in realising the vision that underpins the strategy. To focus in particular on the impact we are making, and to concentrate our attention on what remains to be done.
Let me say straight away that in my view there is nothing more important than basic skills in the whole field of learning. Without good literacy and numeracy it is very difficult to make progress in other things.
I therefore make no apology for putting considerable resources into my Basic Skills Strategy, “Words Talk, Numbers Count”: £40 million in the first three years – which is of course on top of all the mainstream funding provided through local authorities, colleges and learning providers.
The last year has been a period of transition. Through the establishment of the first National Basic Skills Strategy for Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government showed a long term commitment to tackling under attainment in Wales.
Awareness of the scale of need is growing and a range of initiatives have been implemented in response to specific needs within early years’ settings, schools and amongst adults. The partnership with LEAs and other stakeholders has been strengthened.
Through our strategy we aim to get many more people up to Level 1 in both literacy and numeracy. To prepare all young children for learning before they begin school. To reduce the number of children leaving primary school struggling with basic skills; to reduce the number of young people leaving compulsory education struggling with basic skills. And to reduce the number of adults with poor basic skills.
The target we have set is that by 2010 80% of working age adults will have at least Level 1 literacy skills and 55% will have at least Level 1 numeracy skills.
Why are we so keen to pursue these aims? Because basic skills are the foundation stones of education and learning opportunities, which enable us to manage our financial and health affairs and to participate in society. All in all, a good quality of life depends on these skills and they are key to Wales’s knowledge based economy.
Our first challenge is to get the message across to those whose quality of life could be much improved if they improved their basic skills. This is essential if we are to achieve a culture change in terms of attitude, aspiration and achievement.
We are making progress here through our imaginative, awareness raising campaigns, including the most recent one, “Words Talk, Numbers Count”. In total 24,575 adult packs and 65,708 young people’s packs were sent out in response to the TV advertisements. Following on from that we have set up a Financial Literacy initiative to support numeracy basic skills within relevant and meaningful contexts.
Our second challenge is to make real progress in improving delivery in all learning settings.
Over the last year significant progress has been made across all sectors. All LEAs have signed a new Partnership Agreement which ensures that book bags are delivered to children twice in their early years.
Over 10,000 parents and children have taken part in Language and Play and Number and Play programmes this year – substantially more than our target for the year. In addition over 5,000 parents and children have taken part in Family Literacy and Numeracy programmes.
Our all-age approach recognises that intervention at key points in the lifelong learning cycle will have real and lasting impact on skills levels.
Over two million pounds has been invested in intervention in schools and there are now over 10,000 children receiving additional support through catch-up programmes which identify children that are under-attaining at an early age and provide additional support for them.
In the post-16 sector we now have over 150 employers who have signed the Employer Pledge and nearly 90 action plans have been submitted outlining the basic skills support that employers are willing to provide for their employees.
The Quality Mark has been achieved by 91% of primary schools, 88% of secondary schools and 80% of post-16 providers. This is good progress but I want to reach the 100% target quickly. I ask schools, LEAs and other stakeholders for their total co-operation in maintaining and lifting standards.
If we stimulate interest we must be able to meet the demand. Ensuring that teachers are well trained to deliver basic skills is essential and we can now offer a Level 3 Basic Skills accredited course for teachers and supporters in the post-16 sector. Training of teachers will continue with the establishment of a National Support Project for Training and Continuous Professional Development.
Three other National Support Projects are also up and running targeting Offenders and ex-Offenders, Young People and Welsh Language Basic Skills needs.
In terms of learning networks we also contributed to the Quick Reads campaign which has substantially increased the quality and quantity of novels for new adult readers.
So you can see that already this year there is much significant activity. The key question from now on is – “What impact are we making?” It is difficult to measure progress when we are targeting pupils and clients who can be hard to reach but over the next few years we will need to demonstrate the outcomes resulting from our considerable investment. We need your support here.
The first topic for you to focus on today was Innovation and Creativity. Some of the best ideas come out of ‘brainstorming’ in small groups so please be confident in sharing your ideas!
You are exploring the theme of Evaluation. We have commissioned a formal evaluation of the Strategy in terms of the impact we are making. But your thoughts and ideas will also be valuable as we find a way forward in an area where it is difficult to be scientific.
You are also looking at the Embedding of basic skills practice so that it cuts across all learning pathways whilst we at the Welsh Assembly Government work to ensure a cross cutting approach across other policy areas. A good example of this is the links made with Health.
When I launched "Words Talk, Numbers Count", I emphasised that skills and good health and well-being go hand in hand. I am therefore delighted that officials in the Assembly's Public Health Strategy Division have developed good working links with the Basic Skills Agency.
The Agency is already making a positive contribution to Health Challenge Wales and further work is planned. Opportunities for looking at how health impact assessment could support the development of future Basic Skills Agency initiatives in Wales are also being considered by my officials and the Basic Skills Agency team.
Another example is the targeting of Communities First areas so that work on basic skills feeds into wider scale regeneration initiatives. We need to embed the basic skills message across everything we do.
I hope that this new format conference has given you the opportunity to discuss your experiences and put forward your views. I am sure that lively debate will continue for the rest of this afternoon! Thank you all for attending.
I wish you well in making sure that raising the level of basic skills in Wales retains the high profile that I am keen to see.