Adult education, Politics

Adult literacy must be top of the new PM’s despatch box

11 Sep 2022, 6:00

Changes in government policy and funding in the last decade have reversed previous positive trends, writes Robert Glick

We should acknowledge the chronic low levels of adult literacy, which ranks the UK below average in the OECD – especially since Friday was international literacy day.

Resolving this challenge offers the new prime minister a way to address one of the UK’s deep rooted problems – its chronically low productivity. 

In our increasingly complex and challenging world, a skilled and well-educated workforce is a precondition for success.

For that we really need every adult to be able to read, write and understand maths at a level that allows them to participate effectively in the workforce and in the community.

But the fact is, as many as nine million working-age adults in Britain have low basic skills in literacy or numeracy.

That figure includes some five million who are already in work.

In other words, up to 25 percent of the workforce is underprepared for the challenges of the modern economy.

And more than  20 per cent of adults lack the “life” skills needed to participate in a digital world.

Basic public services, shopping, managing personal finances, news services and entertainment are increasingly moving online.

It means that the more than a fifth of Britons who lack the skills and confidence to use an app or fill in a web form will become increasingly marginalised.

Not only are non-readers less likely to be able to contribute fully at work, they are effectively made to feel like second-class citizens by their inability to access services or relevant state support.

Their health can suffer  too, from anxiety and stress at being excluded, and from the stigma of not being a full participant in society.

We have long known what the solutions are, but they need investment in the right places. And they need it now.

Changes in government policy and falling funding in the last decade have reversed previous positive trends.

Adult participation in English, maths, and ESOL (English as a Second Language) learning has fallen 60 per cent over the last decade.

And where there are adult education courses available, fewer than two in five adults know that they exist, and that figure is likely lower for those who might benefit most from free English and maths provision.

How can we turn the tide?

The Adult Literacy Trust is a new volunteer-led initiative to support adult learners, helping them find the confidence and determination to learn.

But this and the work of other charities is a drop in the ocean compared to the need.

What is required is a properly funded adult education programme.

It should be one that is at least equivalent to Multiply, the government’s much-lauded £560 million adult numeracy programme that is funded by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

We need a properly funded adult literacy programme like Multiply

Some of that support should flow through formal further education services.

But more imaginative approaches are also required.

Partnerships with employers and employer’s associations should provide work-based learning.

More community-based programmes are needed, including family learning and partnerships with schools, providing opportunities for accessible learning locally and supporting parents to help with their children’s education.

Literacy learning support should be integrated into the work JobCentre Plus does to prepare candidates for interviews and work placements.

There are roles for volunteers to help, but they require a clear framework and plan to operate within. That is currently lacking.

Improving adult literacy education needs is the far-sighted intervention that can help solve the UK’s long-standing productivity problem, and put the country back on the pathway to growth and prosperity.

Even with relatively low levels of investment in adult skills, the government can make great progress in achieving the skilled workforce required to improve national productivity.

This will help us to get out of the trap of perennially low growth that has seen the UK fall down the economic league tables.

And while quick, emergency fixes are needed for the country’s immediate challenges, longer-term action is needed to restore international competitiveness.

Addressing deep-seated problems is something only governments can do. 

Latest education roles from

Theatre Manager

Theatre Manager

MidKent College

Event Support Team Leader

Event Support Team Leader

MidKent College

E-Sport Technician

E-Sport Technician

MidKent College

Digital Technician

Digital Technician

MidKent College

Student Welfare Officer

Student Welfare Officer

MidKent College

Head of Langdon College (London)

Head of Langdon College (London)

Kisharon Langdon

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

#GE2024: Listen now as Let’s Go Further outlines the FE and skills priorities facing our new government

The Skills and Education Group podcast, Let’s Go Further, aims to challenge the way we all think about skills...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, colleges and schools can be confident that learners...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Why we’re backing our UK skills ‘Olympians’ (and why you should too)

This August, teams from over 200 nations will gather to compete in the sticky heat of the Paris summer...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Is your organisation prepared for a major incident?

We live in an unpredictable world where an unforeseen incident or environmental event could disrupt a Further Education (FE)...

Advertorial

More from this theme

Adult education, Devolution

WEA wins one-year grant reprieve from combined authority

North East Combined Authority's cabinet said protests from learners informed its decision

Shane Chowen
Adult education, Devolution, Politics

Local elections: What mayoral hopefuls have to say on skills

Elections are set to take place on May 2

Josh Mellor
Adult education

First Holex CEO revealed

Caroline McDonald will assume the position of the membership body’s first chief executive from August

Anviksha Patel
Adult education

Holex on the hunt for first CEO

New chief will work alongside policy director Susan Pember

Shane Chowen

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *