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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Survey provides national profile of adult literacy and numeracy skills
The first definitive national profile of adult literacy and numeracy skills, published by the Department for Education and Skills, demonstrates the need for the Government to continue its drive to improve adult basic-skills training and school standards, particularly in mathematics.
Conducted as part of the Government’s “Skills for Life” programme to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of 1.5 million adults by 2007, the National Needs and Impact Survey of Literacy, Numeracy and ICT Skills assesses working adults’ basic literacy and numeracy skills and shows the direct impact they have on attainment and employment prospects.
The survey shows that the proportion of adults aged 16-65 who have literacy skills below the “Skills for Life” baseline – level 1 (a D-G grade at GCSE) – has fallen from the 7 million estimated in 1997 to 5.2 million adults now. Those who have numeracy skills below the “Skills for Life” baseline – entry level 3 (the standard expected of 9-11 year olds) – has fallen slightly from the 7 million estimated in 1997 to 6.8 million adults now.
However, the survey also highlights past decades of neglect in basic-skills education, revealing that 15 million adults overall lack the numeracy skills expected at a lower-grade GCSE. The “Skills for Life” programme has seen more than 1.8 million adults start basic-skills courses. It emphasizes the significance of delivering the new skills-strategy entitlement to free tuition for all those who never achieved a qualification (vocational or academic) equivalent to five good GCSEs or an NVQ level 2.
The survey covered 8,730 respondents. Key findings include:
1.7 million (5 per cent) of adults aged 16-65 have literacy skills below entry level 3 (the standard expected of 11-year olds), and 5.2 million (16 per cent) below level 1 (less than a D-G GCSE);
6.8 million (21 per cent) of adults aged 16-65 have numeracy skills below entry level 3, and 15 million (47 per cent) below level 1;
men and women have similar levels of literacy, but men appear to have higher levels of numeracy, with one in three men achieving level 2 (an A*-C GCSE) or above, compared to one in five women;
many respondents had a high level of awareness of, and practical skills in, ICT applications and terminology, with 50 per cent achieving level 2 or above in an awareness assessment, and 47 per cent achieving level 1 or above in a practical skills assessment;
lower levels of literacy and numeracy were associated with socio-economic deprivation, with adults in more deprived areas tending to perform at a lower level than those in less deprived areas;
good literacy and numeracy skills tended to be associated with good wages, with 68 per cent of full-time workers with level 2 or above in numeracy skills earning more than £20,000 a year before tax;
parents with lower literacy and numeracy skills were less confident in helping their children with reading, writing and mathematics.
Ivan Lewis, the Minister for Skills and Vocational Education, said:
I am determined to ensure that today’s young people will no longer endure the decades of neglect in literacy and numeracy education that is reflected so starkly in this survey. Our recruitment of 50 per cent more maths teachers in four years, and dedicated literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools, are already delivering significant improvements in maths attainment at secondary level. And our “Skills for Life” programme is giving adults the chance to get the basic skills they need to get on and succeed.
In the first two years of the programme more than 1.8 million adults started basic-skills courses, and 470,000 achieved key qualifications. The Minister reported that the Government was confident of reaching the target to enable 750,000 adults to achieve a basic-skills qualification by the end of 2004, and that this would be increased to 1.5 million adults by 2007.