It is estimated that 7 million adults in England possess literacy skills which are below the level of that expected of 11‐year‐old pupils. The figures for the UK as a whole are unavailable, but are likely to reflect similar levels. To address this problem the Skills for Life Strategy Unit was set up in 2000, operating at first within the Department for Education and Skills and later, following departmental reorganization, within the Department for Innovation, Universities, and Skills. Since the level of adult literacy is particularly low among the prison population, the Unit works closely with the Prison Service, as well as with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, to implement the Skills for Life strategy. This has involved the development of National Standards for Adult Literacy (NSAL), which are set at entry level and levels 1 and 2 of the National Qualifications Framework. These standards act as a benchmark against which an adult's level of literacy skills can be assessed. They cover a range of literacy skills, encompassing not only reading and writing, but also speaking and listening. In order to ascertain whether an adult is in need of literacy support, the individual is first screened, and may then go on to an initial assessment, which is designed to identify their level of functional literacy as measured against the NSAL. This process is also used to ascertain the learning needs of adults for whom English is not their first language and who are seeking literacy support for their speaking, listening, reading, or writing skills. The assessment materials used also function to identify underlying problems such as dyslexia.
Part of the strategy has included the development, begun in 2006, of a series of books, known as Quick Reads, designed to engage the interest of adult emergent readers and to encourage them in reading as an enjoyable leisure pursuit. Although simplified, edited versions of popular novels have been in existence for several decades, often aimed specifically at the prison population, the Quick Reads series takes a rather different approach, commissioning well‐known celebrities to write original work which aims to build the confidence of adults who are in the process of developing their literacy skills. See also basic skills; Moser Report.