Life skills for all

Five million adults lack functional literacy and numeracy skills, and 11 million don’t have basic digital skills. This puts a cap on individual aspiration by limiting career and job opportunities, business success by limiting the skills base needed in the global economy, and society by limiting active participation in society and access to public services that are increasingly digital-by-default.

Across England, around £230m was spent on improving literacy and numeracy for adults in 2014/15. But the proportion of adults lacking these core life skills saw little change compared to ten years ago. Even at the current rate of enrolment in learning, and assuming all learners gain the skills they need, it would take 20 years to support all the adults that would benefit from help.

This suggests a new approach is needed - one that is more focused on genuine improvements in people’s capabilities rather than a primary focus on qualifications, and one that is focused on the outcomes that people achieve as a result.

Our devolution ask

Cities and local areas should invest in a Citizens’ Curriculum to ensure that people gain the essential life skills, including literacy, numeracy, digital, financial, health and citizenship, they need for life and work.

This could be founded on a commitment to ensure everyone has these skills by 2030. Based on current course enrolment rates, this would require doubling current investment in adult literacy and numeracy. This could be achieved by aligning funding from the devolved adult skills budget with European Social Fund investment and other local services.

How we can help

The Learning and Work Institute has been developing the Citizens’ Curriculum since 2013. Last year we ran 13 pilots with partners in settings from prisons, to homelessness services and Local Authorities, including: St Mungo’s Broadway, Leicester College, HMP New Hall, Tomorrow’s Women Wirral, English for Action, Rochdale Borough Council, and Manton Children’s Centre.

This was based on working within existing budgets and provision, rather than requiring significant additional investment. Each pilot co-designed provision with learners, which helped to boost engagement and impact. Overall, our analysis demonstrated the power of this approach in making learning more relevant to the lives of learners, leading to improvements in attitude , greater motivation and a higher likelihood of progression into employment. The Rochdale Council pilot also demonstrated wider positive impacts, where many families involved in the pilot were no longer in contact with the police and had improved their mental health and wellbeing, leading to cashable savings for the local authority and other agencies.

The Citizens’ Curriculum therefore has a track record of delivering a range of impact and savings across other public services, from within existing learning budgets.

We are currently running a number of further pilots, testing the impact of the Citizens’ Curriculum with other groups and in other settings. We would welcome the opportunity to build a Citizens’ Curriculum pilot in your area, and to work with you to consider how a Citizens’ Curriculum approach could be built into the case for and implementation of a more devolved skills system.

For more information please contact Alex Stevenson