Adult Reading

English and maths skills are crucial for people to succeed both in work and their wider lives. However, concerns have long been expressed about the literacy and numeracy skills of the adult population in the UK. The recent International Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) showed that 16.4% of adults (5.8 million) in England score at the lowest level of proficiency in literacy (at Level 1 or below) and 24.1% of adults (8.5 million) score at that level in numeracy. This is why our Manifesto calls for a continued entitlement to free learning for English and maths, including GCSE/ Functional Skills Level 2, to ensure that adults who benefited least from initial education have access to high-quality learning that meets their needs.

The new GCSE reforms announced last year have important implications for adult learners, education providers and employers. We worked together with NRDC, on behalf of BIS and DfE, to consult with stakeholders across the sector on how the new GCSEs in maths and English can be successfully implemented in post-16 education. 127 organisations contributed to our research – including FE colleges, independent training providers, community learning providers, third sector organisations, unions, employers, sector representative organisations and awarding organisations – which concluded that while the sector broadly welcomed the reforms, stakeholders will need support to achieve them. 

More recently, we carried out research, on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), on learners who leave school without GCSE grades A*-C in maths and English. It captured the voices of over 70 learners on their experiences of and attitudes towards the subjects. The findings demonstrate the importance of high quality teaching and learning, access to timely support and peers in supporting learners to engage with, and have a positive attitude towards, English and maths learning at school and post-16. 

We are also part of a partnership – with TNS BMRB, NIESR and AlphaPlus – undertaking groundbreaking research involving randomised control trials to help practitioners and policymakers understand the relative effectiveness of different approaches to improving adults’ English and maths. This includes a longitudinal study investigating the impact of English and maths learning over time. 

Browse our extensive resources on English, including Quick Reads, our Inquiry into Adult Literacy and research into Intensive English and maths provision in prisons.

Browse our extensive resources on maths, including the Maths Everywhere App, our Inquiry on Adult Numeracy Learning and Voices of Adult Maths Learners.


Established in February 2014, the European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET) unifies 78 partner organisations from 28 European countries (including 24 EU member states) engaged in literacy policy-making and reading promotion in Europe.