Lords debate literacy in the workforce

26 April 2017

Labour peer Baroness Rebuck asked the Government what they were doing to improve standards of literacy in the workforce in a short debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday 25 April 2017.

In his opening remarks, the Department for Education’s Minister in the House of Lords, Lord Nash, listed the ways that the Government believes they are helping to improve literacy standards of people in the workforce; embedding English into “major education and work-based training programmes”; full funding for adults to access free English courses to level 2; supporting community and workplace programmes and imporving the quality of English teaching for adults.

It was clear that Baroness Rebuck was not satisfied with the Minister’s initial response to her question, “I thank the Minister for his Answer, but 9 million adults in England suffer from poor literacy and would struggle to send a simple email or fill in a basic job application form” she replied. Baroness Rebuck quoted evidence from the CBI’s 2015 business survey in which 50% of businesses reported a workforce literacy deficit, up from 40% in 2009. She also quoted Learning and Work Institute and JRF’s work suggesting an extra £200 million a year on adult literacy would ensure all adults would have sufficient basic skills by 2030.

“…does the Minister agree that scaling up local literacy interventions in the 100 worst-performing constituencies, as identified by the National Literacy Trust and Experian, is a prerequisite to fulfilling the post-Brexit industrial policy? Would he agree to prioritise adult literacy—this is an important question—and provide the necessary funds to address this chronic and worsening problem?”

Lord Nash was unable to answer directly about adult literacy, instead responding about work being undertaken for 16-18 year olds.

Elsewhere in the debate:

  • Opposition Peers argued for more accessible apprenticeships so they’re open to people with young people leaving school with poor literacy. Lord Nash said the Maynard Review looked at this.
  • Lord Bird wanted to see improvements in prison education and more opposition to closure of libraries to tackle literacy issues. On prison education, Lord Nash commented that the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper makes a commitment to assess prisoners’ education needs, including English and maths, for a personalised learning plan.
  • Answering a further question on funding, this time from Labour’s Lord Watts, Lord Nash highlighted that the budget for adult skills participation increased by 40% from 2015/16 to 2019/20.

The final question was asked by Lord Storey, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson on education, who asked about how companies can be involved in helping their workforce’s literacy needs. In his response, and concluding the debate, Lord Nash highlighted how the proportion of young people with a C or equivalent in English is the highest it’s been, and said:

“We also work with organisations such as Unionlearn and the Learning and Work Institute to promote literacy training for people in the workplace.”

Full Transcript