X Close

Institute of Education Blog

Home

Expert opinion from academics at the UCL Institute of Education

Menu

Prisoners' basic skills: what happened to the Government's commitment?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital2 December 2016

Brian Creese. 
The pace of academic publishing is something most researchers accept, but I’m sure that others feel, as I do, that the excitement of having findings published seems slightly historical as their research has moved on. Or in the case of prison education, everything has moved on. So delighted though I am by the publication of my article on prisoners’ basic skills levels I thought this might be an opportunity to outline developments since this was written.
A year ago, when I posted my initial report on prisoner basic skills, the world of prisoner education was very upbeat, even expectant. The surprise appointment of Michael Gove as Minister of Justice appeared unexpectedly positive. The Coates commission was collecting evidence and would subsequently come up with a series of recommendations which would win almost universal support from those working in prison education. Prisons were mentioned in a Queen’s Speech for the first time in decades and the topic of ‘prison reform’ was on everyone’s lips… Then came Brexit, Gove’s failed leadership bid and the emergence of a new Government, a new minister, a new set of priorities.
The Coates reforms, while still theoretically government policy, look ever more fanciful in (more…)

Dear Secretary of State for Education…

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 July 2016

Now we know. Justine Greening, MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, has become the new Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities. Her brief is to include higher education and skills, formerly under the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Downing Street says the education department will take on responsibility for: “Reforming the higher education sector to boost competition and continue to improve the quality of education that students receive; and delivering more apprenticeships through a fundamental change in the UK’s approach to skills in the workplace”.
Ms Greening, one of the few education secretaries to have attended a non-selective state secondary school – Oakwood Comprehensive in Rotherham – was previously Secretary of State for International Development. The new education secretary has a background in accountancy.
While teacher supply –  discussed in a recent IOE blog post – will be at the top of her very full in-tray, she will also need to master a wide range of topics from Academies to Teacher education. As early as next week, she will have to steer the Higher Education and Research Bill through its second reading. Here, IOE experts suggest priorities for Ms Greening to consider in key areas of education policy. (more…)

OECD basic skills report makes grim reading

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 February 2016

Brian Creese
After three years of deliberation, number crunching and further evidence-seeking, the OECD has published its report on the basic skills of adults in England based on the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey. It does not make for happy reading, and to save you the misery of trawling through its 110 pages, I thought you might like a brief summary. But you may want a stiff drink before you settle down and read this blog…
An estimated nine million adults of working age have low basic skills.
This is the number of working age adults OECD estimates have poor or very poor literacy and/or numeracy skills and puts England close to the bottom of the OECD rankings. The particular concern for England is that while in other countries standards are improving, in England they are not. The performance of older age groups is as good if not better than the youngest, while in most countries younger cohorts have higher skills than their elders. At every qualification level low literacy and numeracy skills are more common among young people in England than in most other OECD countries. And it should be stressed that these young people are not predominantly school dropouts or the (more…)

The Holy Grail of e-learning: the quest continues

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 September 2015

Brian Creese, National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC). 
Sometimes something is just too easy. I was really surprised when taking a short break in Valencia earlier this year to discover that the Cathedral there housed the Holy Grail. Here was I thinking that this was one of the great and mythical mysteries of western civilisation and all the time I had simply neglected to look in the right Cathedral. Suffice it to say that despite the great amount of circumstantial evidence provided, I remain somewhat sceptical that the vessel in Valencia Cathedral was actually the one Jesus used at the Last Supper.
I had a similar feeling when I saw a headline on my regular FE News email a few weeks ago, “15 hours of e-learning can increase Functional Skills attainment by 9%”.
Successful e-learning for over-16s in English and maths is something of a Holy Grail for this (and previous) governments. Advocating e-learning is just so tempting. How can we get more young people through English and maths qualifications (more…)

Prisoner literacy levels: a worrying lack of statistics

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 July 2015

Brian CreeseNRDC (National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy) 

‘When I learned to read at the age of 16 I suddenly got in touch with education, with the chance of becoming a different kind of boy. Not the one always in trouble with the police. But someone who could in the end make the most of myself. Get behind literacy and you get behind social justice and social opportunity’.
John Bird

So starts the press release announcing the launch of a new campaign from Big Issue founder John Bird to highlight the importance of literacy and education for people in prison called ‘Right to Read (and write)’. The exciting bit for me was that Bird had noticed my continuing complaint about the lack of any real data about prisoners’ literacy and numeracy levels. John’s press release continues: (more…)

How class continues to drive the equality gap in England's adult skills

Blog Editor, IOE Digital10 February 2014

Andy Green
The latest OECD Survey of Adult Skills (SAS) generated much commentary on the relatively poor level of adult skills in England – particularly the revelation that on both literacy and numeracy tests young people scored no better than older generations and worse than their peers in all other countries except Italy and Spain. There was less discussion about how skills are spread around the population, but this is just as important. On this dimension the news is no better, because the distribution of adult skills in England is very unequal.
There is a larger gap in literacy and numeracy scores between the highest and lowest achievers than in most other countries and the impact of parental background on skills attainment is stronger than in most countries. Despite some evidence of a narrowing in the dispersion of skills in England over the last 16 years, the skills of the youngest cohorts are still more unequally distributed than in almost all other countries.
Difference in Average Numeracy Scores of Top and Bottom 20 Percent of 25-29 Year Olds
chart1jpg
There are large gaps in the skills of the 16-65 year olds, particularly in numeracy. Scores in SAS are measured out of 500 but the actual range of scores is much lower. In England the average score in numeracy of those in the lowest-scoring 20 percent is 153 points below the average score of  those in the highest scoring 20 percent. The gap in literacy scores is somewhat smaller at 134.3 points. Only two countries, France and the USA, are more unequal in numeracy and in literacy only Finland and Canada are more unequal. However, the situation for the younger age groups is even more alarming. For the 25-29 year olds there are no countries with more unequal skills distributions in either numeracy or literacy. England is also the only country where skills are as unequal amongst the younger age groups as the older ones.
England also does relatively badly on equality of opportunity – in terms of the degree to which social background influences skills attainment. The only country where the parents’ level of education has a greater effect on children’s skills attainment in literacy and numeracy is the Slovak Republic. Young people with graduate parents are likely to score 67 points higher in numeracy and 58 points higher in literacy than those whose parents only have GCSE level qualifications. English-speaking, ‘liberal’ countries generally show less equality of opportunity than other countries, and England and the USA the least.
Inequality of Opportunity in  Numeracy Skills for Younger and Older Age Groups
 chart2
Inequality of Opportunity for Numeracy and Literacy for 16-24 Year Olds by Country Group
chart3
Why are adult skills in England so much more unequal than in most other countries? Some possible explanations can be ruled out. Differences between age groups play no part in England since the skills levels of younger age groups are much the same as for older age groups. Inward migration seems to contribute a small amount to adult skills inequality in England but no more than in most countries and rather less than in some. Adult learning does not appear to play a greater role in exacerbating the skills inequalities amongst adults in England than in other countries.
However, there is one likely explanation and that has to do with initial education. Skills and educational qualifications are very closely related. In England, each of the different age groups has a very high level of inequality in education qualifications compared with other countries. Since most qualifications are achieved before the age of 25 this implies that the initial education system has been producing very unequal outcomes going back to the 1950s. Our research (pdf) concludes that the primary cause of adult skills inequality in England is the exceptionally unequal skills outcomes of the initial education system sustained over a long period, fuelled and supplemented by an especially strong influence from social background.
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Grant Number: ES/J019135/1
This blog post first appeared on The Conversation 
 

Why government should provide more funding for older learners

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 January 2014

Andrew Jenkins, IOE, and Tarani Chandola, University of Manchester
Health in Britain, including life expectancy, has continued to improve in recent years, yet health inequalities have not only persisted, but widened. Those who are best off financially have the best health too. Evidence from the US has suggested that as little as 20% of the influences on health may be to do with clinical care and quality of care. Health behaviours account for a further 30% of influences and the physical environment for just 10%, while socio-economic factors have the largest impact on health – 40% of all influences. However, the wide range and inter-relatedness of socio-economic factors makes it hard to focus on just one factor to reduce health inequalities.
The British Academy has just published a collection of opinion pieces on health inequalities written by social scientists: “If you could do one thing…” Nine local actions to reduce health inequalities. Each of the authors has produced an article drawing on the evidence base for their particular field, identifying policy interventions which they think should be introduced to improve the health of the local population and reduce health inequalities.
In our chapter, we consider the scope of further and adult education for reducing social inequalities in health. Adult education practitioners have long been aware of the power that learning can have in transforming individual life paths. There is growing statistical evidence to support this, showing associations between participation in various types of adult learning and improvements in wellbeing, health, and health-related behaviours. A good deal of this evidence has been obtained by researchers using the rich data available in birth cohort studies. These data sources enable the researcher to understand the relationships between sequences of learning events and health outcomes through time.
However, the benefits of learning at individual-level do not necessarily imply that investment in education will reduce health inequality. For example, if additional investment in post-compulsory learning is heavily weighted towards higher education among young adults, this would probably be of disproportionate benefit to middle class young people. The long-term impact of such an intervention could then be to increase inequalities in health rather than reducing them. Similarly, funding for training programmes that were only available to those in work would run the risk of increasing inequalities between the unemployed and the employed.
Bearing these complexities in mind, we recommend three key interventions. Firstly, there is a strong case for the provision of financial support to those without any educational qualifications to attend further and adult education institutions and obtain qualifications.  Secondly, adult learning for people who leave school without any qualifications should focus on key literacy and numeracy skills, the lack of which acts as a major barrier to obtaining employment. A policy which concentrates on learning for such economically disadvantaged groups is unlikely to suffer from the risk of increasing inequalities in health. Thirdly, as the NIACE-sponsored Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning argued, there is a good case for the education budget to provide more support for older learners. Adult learning could contribute to a healthy and active old age.
Unfortunately, policy in recent years has tended to focus on young people doing full-time courses while funding for other forms of learning has been cut back. Increasing the financial barriers for adult learners will be felt particularly acutely among the socially disadvantaged and there is a real concern that this will have detrimental consequences for health equality.
This post first appeared on the NIACE blog