Skills report warns of numeracy and literacy failings in England and Northern Ireland

Numeracy and literacy levels among young people in England and Northern Ireland are falling way behind the rest of the world, a new report on adult skills has warned.

The figures appeared this morning in a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

It warned England and Northern Ireland had some of the highest proportions of adults scoring at or below level one — the lowest possible level — in numeracy, where adults can only perform basic mathematical processes.

It stated: “In fact, 24.1 per cent of adults, around 8.5 million people, scored at that level, compared to the average [among participating countries from across the world] of 19 per cent.”

Around 16.4 per cent of adults, or around 5.8 million people, in England and Northern Ireland scored at level one or below in literacy, which is closer to the average of 15.5 per cent of adults among all participating countries.

At level one in literacy, adults can only read brief information on familiar topics.

The report warned: “Individuals with lower proficiency in literacy are more likely than those with better literacy skills to report poor health, to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and not to participate in associative or volunteer activities.”

It is a damning indictment on level of basic education levels in England and Northern Ireland.

However, it could bolster support for government vocational traineeship schemes, launched in August, which aim to boost trainees’ maths and English as well as on-the-job skills.

In terms of ability to solve technology-orientated problems — for example using computers — just 42.4 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds in England and Northern Ireland were proficient at level two or three, compared to the average among 23 participating countries of 50.7 per cent.

England is also the only country surveyed where the oldest age group (55 to 65) has higher proficiency in literacy and numeracy than the youngest group (16 to 24).

This was 21 per cent lower than in Korea, the best performing country in this area.

The OECD report stated: “The implication for England and Northern Ireland is that the stock of skills available to them is bound to decline over the next decades unless significant action is taken to improve skills proficiency among young people.”

It warned about high levels of social and pay inequality among skilled and unskilled workers.

“The median of hourly wage of workers who score at level four or five in literacy is 94 per cent higher than that of workers who score at below level one,” stated the report.

“In England and Northern Ireland 83.4 per cent of highly skilled adults are employed, compared to an average of 79.1 per cent of adults in all participating countries.

“Only 13.4 per cent of adults scoring at level four or five [compared to 17.1 per cent on average across participating countries] are out of the labour force.”

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