PIAAC data could inform social, economic and educational policy

1 October 2013

PIAAC – you may have heard the word and wondered what it was. It stands for the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competences. It’s an international survey attempting to assess and compare the basic skills and competences of adults aged 16-65. Specifically, it looks at literacy skills, numeracy skills and ‘problem solving in a technology rich environment’.

This year 24 countries took part, including England and Northern Ireland, but not Wales and Scotland. The results will be public next Tuesday, 8 October, and will, undoubtedly, have an impact far and wide for those working in post-16 education, as well as for policy makers in the UK. We don’t yet know how England will fare, but we have our suspicions that the country won’t do too well in comparison with many European countries.

Why will it be important? For starters, this survey will be useful to providers who can, for example, compare the progress of their learners with an international survey or use the online assessment with their learners as an initial review. Government could use the findings to target particular groups, such as offenders for example, or to target certain areas, such as numeracy. And the data as a whole could be used to inform social, economic and educational policy.

NIACE is aware that all large scale surveys which seek to compare data from different countries can be problematic – a PIAAC briefing from NIACE outlines some of those issues in advance of the launch of the 2013 data.

The data that comes out on Tuesday won’t be a definitive account of the skills of adults in England – we all know that assessing adult skills is a complicated issue which needs a nuanced approach and the collection and analysis of qualitative as well as quantities data. However, the data will give a high-level picture and may very well give our country pause for thought, over 10 years after the launch of Skills for Life strategy.