NIACE response to the 2011 Skills for Life Survey

1 December 2011

Responding to the publication of the 2011 Skills for Life Survey: Headline Findings by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills on Thursday 1 December 2011, Carol Taylor, NIACE Director for Research and Development, said,

“We have far too many people with very poor basic skills in this country and the system isn’t working for them. The headline results of today’s survey show a welcome increase in those adults working at Literacy Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) from 44 per cent (in 2003) to 57 per cent, which proves the powerful impact the Skills for Life Strategy has had. However, it’s alarming that 15 per cent of the adult population are performing at Entry Level 3 or below in Literacy and 24 per cent in Numeracy at Entry Level 2 or below. Put simply, around one in six of the adult population has difficulty with aspects of reading and writing which means they are seriously disadvantaged as employees, citizens and parents. And around one in four of the adult population struggle with the basics of numeracy, a skill which can have a greater impact on life chances than literacy. This is why we’re calling for a specific challenge fund to help those with the lowest skills.”

She continued,

“The Treasury has quite rightly shown an interest in the impact of the Government spend and the fact that, despite an enormous and welcome investment in skills for life over the past decade, there are simply far too many people who have not been helped. NIACE suggests that making learner qualifications the all important target for providers means teachers have been encouraged to teach to the test, thereby ‘plucking only the low hanging fruit’. NIACE also believes that we are still in a situation where too many numeracy learners will find themselves being taught by an unqualified teacher.”

NIACE made a number of recommendations in its Inquiry into Adult Literacy which was published in September. The three principal recommendations that NIACE is highlighting to coincide with the findings of the 2011 Skills for Life Survey are:

  • the Department for Education must recognise the overriding importance of the family in ensuring that children grow up with good reading and writing skills. The intergenerational transfer of poor skills must be addressed;
  • this survey underlines the fact that we still don’t have a fully qualified workforce – teachers must be qualified and have ongoing Continuous Professional Development, particularly with the introduction of Functional Skills; and
  • we must invest in ways to engage those with the poorest skills, who are usually those with low self confidence, in poor or no jobs, with a range of other social issues. We should also incentivise providers, enabling community and workplace outreach programmes (e.g. Community Learning Champions and Union Learning Reps) and the development of innovative ways of working, including partnerships across the public, private and voluntary sectors (e.g. the Quick Reads initiative).

Carol Taylor ended, 

“The investment made over the past decade has meant that hundreds of thousands of people have grown more confident and, for many, gained qualifications for the first time, the impact of which can not be under-estimated. We are encouraged by the announcement about literacy and numeracy teaching in the Autumn Statement earlier this week. It’s vital that we continue to ensure that the literacy and numeracy skills adults need for everyday life are treated as a moral imperative for all.”