New £2.9m research centre for adult literacy and numeracy

The government is investing £2.9m in a new research centre that will focus on improving adult literacy and numeracy.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock announced the launch of the Behavioural Insights Research Centre for Maths and English during a Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee hearing on adult numeracy and literacy this morning (Tuesday).

It will receive a three year start-up grant of £2.9 million from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Hancock said: “This new centre will team world leading academic researchers with our best and brightest policy makers to give scientific insights into how adults best gain skills in English and maths and the ways in which government can apply these methods to benefit the highest possible number of people to help them reach their potential.”

The centre will be tasked with finding out the most effective ways of motivating people to improve their English and maths skills.

Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “AoC is very encouraged by BIS’s commitment to investment in research that will demonstrate why people engage in improving their skills in literacy and numeracy.

“We would be very pleased to see how the evidence this produces can influence policy to develop sustained improvements in national literacy and numeracy.

“It will also help colleges to target those most in need, particularly those who are unemployed.”

Andy Ganon, director of policy and research for the 157 Group, said: “This announcement recognises that the reasons why people of all ages engage in learning are complex.

“Understanding motivation and behavioural barriers will enable all of us to better serve learners.”

David Hughes, chief executive of National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “I am looking forward to working with the new centre, to build on the work NIACE and others have done to move our thinking forward.

“Our recent inquiry into family learning showed great examples of nudging people back into learning. It will be great to understand how other solutions might be used to tap into the motivation of adults.”

Joe Vinson, NUS vice president (further education), said: “This is something that we would welcome particularly because it recognises that not everybody learns in the same way.

“It’s a positive move for students who are, at the moment, being failed by the current education system.”

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  1. After being around the sector a long time the best use of public money to improve literacy and numeracy would be to provide a free full online diagnostic tool and support materials (along with good practice case studies of how to use them) so that colleges and providers don’t have to waste their funds on a wide variety of commercial products which often have ‘gaps’. It was the one thing the Basic Skills Agency could have done to improve the system but didn’t. Just like impartial central advice and guidance, this really is a must.