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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


English and maths skills: do England's young people catch up once they're in the workplace?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 21 January 2015

Brian Creese, National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC)
I have lamented here before that while the OECD’s comparative assessment of 15-year-olds (PISA) is deemed sufficiently important to cause entire shifts in a country’s education policies, the adult equivalent, PIAAC, creates barely a flutter of interest.
Having said that, one finding has struck home, albeit incorrectly. I have lost count of how many times I have had to correct speakers claiming that, uniquely, the skills of England’s young people are worse than those of the older generations. Actually PIAAC tells us nothing about my skills compared to someone 30 years my junior. What it does is compare us with similar cohorts in other countries. So actually the 2012 report tells us that our young people perform poorly compared to similar aged cohorts across the OECD while my cohort does rather better than similarly aged people in other countries.
Dr Newman Burdett’s study of the data for the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), presented at a conference last week, does confirm that England’s adult skills age profile is unusual. In most countries (more…)

GCSE Grade C: too much and yet too little for older students

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 21 October 2014

Brian Creese
For most of my years working in and around FE and Adult education I have not spent too much time thinking about GCSEs. Although GCSE re-sits account for a large cohort in the 16-18 sector, we at the IOE’s NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy) have spent more time with the Skills for Life qualifications and working to develop and then bed in Functional Skills.
But following Alison Wolf’s report published in the early years of the current administration, GCSEs are the only game in town. I recently attended a consultation at BIS concerning the new English and Mathematics GCSEs and their impact on post-16 education. As I am sure regular Blog readers will know, there are changes to the content of both mathematics and English GCSE exams and these will be introduced for 16-18 year olds from 2016/17. Alongside this, all 16-18 students without A*-C English or mathematics now have to study for GCSE or an approved ‘stepping stone’ qualification. By 2020, the ‘ambition’ is for all adults (who now seem to be those over 19) to be on a GCSE path. As the DfE/BIS puts it ‘GCSEs are as right for adults as they are for (more…)

What does literacy mean in the 21st Century?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 8 September 2014

Brian Creese

Today is International Literacy Day. On this day we celebrate the role that literacy plays in our lives. We also reflect on what literacy means to us all, individually, locally, nationally and globally.
There is a marked increase in interest among policy makers about literacy, much of it driven by the OECD’s PIAAC study. Its league tables, ranking countries by the literacy and numeracy proficiency of their working age populations, have attracted welcome policy attention. However, a focus on comparative proficiency levels has limited value. All of the countries involved have uncomfortably large populations of adults with literacy and numeracy skills at or below Level 1. From PIAAC we also know that the make-up of the ‘low-skilled’ population is different in each country – and that provides a more fruitful focus for our attention.
This year UNESCO has a focus on what literacy means in the 21st century. At NRDC we have been engaged with others in the UK and internationally to try and understand both the supply of literacy and numeracy skills among the population, but also the demands placed on their literacy and numeracy skills: in the workplace, at home and in the many other settings in which people engage with an increasingly textual world.
The driving force for policymakers in England is the belief that good literacy is required to improve productivity among the workforce. The IOE’s National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC) has been working with Ipsos Mori on a study for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills of the impact of English and maths on English employers.
The use of literacy and numeracy skills in the workplace is complex; different jobs, and the various elements within them, involve a range of literacy and numeracy practices, with workers often learning the specific skills they need for their job from peers and co-workers. Employees consistently report that they have adequate skills to do their jobs. What we see in the workplace is that we often work with others in ways that maximize our strengths and allow us to learn from them. We also see how workplaces can be adapted to remove the demand for literacy and numeracy or to scaffold its use.
Despite the policy focus on the workplace, we have continued to work with emergent adult readers on reading for pleasure. Those less confident with their reading may get great joy from reading novels, biographies or other texts in supportive, collaborative environments. They use adult experience and expertise to develop reading confidence, skills and practices gradually and communally – and in doing so are more able to tackle some of life’s other challenges, such as job interviews or finding better heating deals.
If we think about literacy in 2014 we need to consider mobile communications. People who never read a book and may see themselves as non-readers, may happily tap away at a smart-phone or tablet. We have looked at how learners ‘doing’ literacy work on a computer may see it as IT (‘I’m good at that’ ) as opposed to literacy ‘I’m not good at that’. Is reading a page of a book the same as a newspaper as a screen on a PC or screen on a smart phone? And if not, is digital literacy a new form of literacy, or literacy in a new form?
And finally, it’s worth remembering that the NRDC has long been at the avant-garde of Europe’s thinking about adult literacy, and today more than ever, with its leadership role in the new EC-funded European literacy policy network ELINET, is cementing its place as a hub for the sharing of ideas and information with colleagues across Europe. We are not alone in struggling with these problems and the only intelligent way forward is to work with like-minded organisations across the continent and, increasingly, the world.
The underlying idea of International Literacy Day is that the acquisition of literacy is a human right. We would certainly agree with that, and suggest that an important stage on the road to such a noble goal is to increase our understanding of what literacy actually means and involves in the 21st century.

Adult education: a fundamental good

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 30 July 2014

Brian Creese
Evening classes were once such an unshakeable part of the British landscape. They were the setting for TV and radio sitcoms, editions of the London guide Spotlight used to fly off the shelves on release and the standard advice of 70s ‘Agony Aunts’ – make friends, join an evening class – was the butt of comedians. My own experiences have included learning to touch type, creative writing, car maintenance and pottery. Most of my contemporaries have done evening classes in something, including the near ubiquitous foreign language courses.
But times have changed. In the past few years the headlines have been about falling numbers participating in adult education, a collapse in adult education funding and a collapse of morale.
Back when I was taking part in after work education we were not looking for pieces of paper – although I did get a Pitman’s typing qualification. We were doing these courses to try something out, learn a useful skill, or to be able to talk to the locals on holiday. No doubt some were following the agony aunt advice and were aiming to meet new friends and potential partners.
But it strikes me as sad that since the start of this century, accreditation has become the only game in town. Adult Ed (as we used to call it) has slowly been dragged into the accreditation net, becoming part of the ‘qualifications mania’ that insists on certificating subjects such as dance and music. The prevailing philosophy from all political parties has been that education is not worthwhile unless it leads to a qualification, and that therefore education should not be supported unless it leads to accreditation. No one, it seems to me, will stand up for the idea that education is a ‘general good’.
A European project provides some much needed support for Adult Ed. The Benefits of Lifelong Learning (BeLL) project looked at the individual and social benefits perceived by participants in ‘liberal adult education courses’ in 10 countries. The project produced over 8,500 survey returns, and project teams interviewed more than 80 participants across the participating countries.
The results are striking: adult learners felt that they led healthier lifestyles, had improved wellbeing, had improved their social lives and social networks and were more motivated to continue with learning. Younger participants found the courses acted as stepping stones into adult society, improving their sense of control over their own lives. Older people found that the courses had a cushioning effect, softening some age-related changes associated with retirement. And perhaps most importantly, the lower the participants’ level of education, the stronger the benefits.
An unexpected finding was that these results were not only consistent across the participating countries, but they held regardless of the type of education class being taken. The results were the same for those doing languages, sport or civic education.
Adult education suffers from not being a distinctive sector. It takes place in sixth-form colleges, higher education institutions, FE Colleges, through work-based learning programmes and local authority adult education services. While many courses for over-19s are funded by Government, these tend to be for English, mathematics and vocational subjects leading to qualifications at Level 2 and 3.
Non accredited courses such as those covered by the BeLL report are increasingly hard to find and expensive to participate in. Government, both local and national, appears to have lost sight of the importance of these courses and this report will hopefully provide a reminder of the benefits which used to be taken for granted. There is an echo of that dated agony aunt advice in the finding that adult education classes were one of the few social spaces where you can meet strangers safely, interact with them and make friends. Adult Ed classes are perceived to provide the scaffolding for social cohesion.
There are messages here for many stakeholders, if they are prepared to engage with the study. It provides good evidence for local government, which may need reasons for continuing to support the sector, it should remind central Government that the benefits of adult education go beyond attaining qualifications, and it has particularly strong messages to those that work with mental health or the elderly, particularly in the charitable sector. Adult education really can help people with their mental health and ease older people’s path into retirement.
The sad thing, though is that it takes a European-wide survey with thousands of participants to remind us of something that used to be a self-evident truth. Adult Ed, indeed all education, is a fundamentally good thing; it benefits individuals, their families, society and even employers. It is sad that policy makers and politicians have forgotten this obvious fact. Perhaps in retirement they themselves will reengage with non-accredited education and understand again its importance.

Let's not play fast and loose with language, especially when talking about illiteracy

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 20 May 2014

Brian Creese, NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy)
Oxford English Dictionary: Illiteracy: of persons ignorant of letters or literature, spec. (in reference to census returns, voting by ballot etc.) 
Wikipedia: Functional illiteracy is reading and writing skills that are inadequate “to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level.” Functional illiteracy is contrasted with illiteracy in the strict sense, meaning the inability to read or write simple sentences in any language. Foreigners who cannot read and write in the native language where they live may also be considered functionally illiterate.
The old adage suggests that there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’, clearly blaming the numerate for obfuscating the truth. I think this is a calumny; it is plain to me that it is the literate and the way they subvert the meaning of words who cause all the trouble.
Once upon a time we knew what words meant, and if in doubt, we could look them up in the dictionary. But these days words change so rapidly we can have little recourse to books for help. Here at the IOE I am surrounded by potentially explosive words which have deep and subtle nuances: is that deadline challenging rather than impossible? are we teaching, supporting or delivering? dare I have a brain storm in this company? do I mean English and maths (GCSE) or literacy and numeracy (functional skills)?
Michael Gove, in a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce, declared his intention to “eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy in Britain”. In a welcome burst of ambition he went on, “…in the same way as developing nations know they need to secure clean drinking water and eliminate malaria if their children are to flourish.”
So there is no doubting Mr Gove’s ambition. But is this a hard challenge? The thrust from the likes of NRDC has been to work with those with poor or very poor literacy skills. But we have never made illiteracy a prime target, because there really aren’t many illiterate people in the country. There are undoubtedly a few who exist largely off the radar – remote Traveller families perhaps, some immigrants who may be illiterate in their own language. But usual estimates are that way under 1% of the population is illiterate.
So eliminating illiteracy doesn’t look that tricky!
But perhaps Mr Gove is using a different definition of illiteracy? The Leitch Report, one of the fundamental drivers of basic skills policy for the last Labour government, defined something called ‘functional literacy’ as the skill level possessed by those with literacy skills of Level 1 and above (equivalent to GCSE D-G scores). Confusingly, the report defined ‘functional numeracy’ as those with Entry level 3 skills and above (the average 9- to 11-year-old). This is, I think the definition used by the National Literacy Trust, who suggests there are 5.2 million ‘functionally illiterate’ adults in England alone. The trust defines the ‘functionally illiterate’ as those whose skills are “at or below those expected of an 11 year old”. I assume this means those with literacy skills below Level 1.
Meanwhile, Shadow Employment Minister Stephen Timms recently pointed out that “one in 10 jobseekers lack basic skills.” Mr Timms, however, defines ‘basic skills’ as those of people on Entry level 1 or below (the level of a 5- to 7-year-old), a rather lower benchmark than used by Leitch and the charities.
Does any of this matter? I think it does. The term ‘illiterate’ is not neutral and certainly carries with it a series of expectations which could easily stigmatise an individual. The professionals may be happy to use ‘functional illiteracy’ as a label and have a clear understanding of what it means, but label someone illiterate in the real world and the expectation will be that they cannot read or write. Indeed, the formal definition (above) suggests that illiterates are ignorant of letters.
NRDC and other organisations working with those who do indeed have poor literacy skills know well the strategies used by people to ‘get by’ in the real world. Even those at the lowest formal levels can recognise words, and deduce some meanings. To suggest that the average 11-year-old is illiterate is similarly misleading, and rather dismissive of the achievements of that age group. They may struggle to read the Financial Times but this is hardly a meaningful definition of literacy (functional or otherwise). I would suggest that most 11-year-olds function quite adequately and do have reading and writing skills that are adequate to manage their daily living. I’m sure their teachers would never define the average Year 6 child as ‘illiterate’.
So while I clearly welcome Michael Gove’s support and determination to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of the adult population, I really think his use of language was unfortunate and misleading. Please, Mr Gove, pledge to help those adults with poor literacy and numeracy skills as much as you can, but don’t label them illiterate. That is something else altogether.

Teaching against the odds: education and the criminal justice system

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 March 2014

Brian Creese, NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy)
A few years ago I filmed a group of young people in a young offenders institution. The group was doing car maintenance and I found it an enjoyable if slightly nerve-racking experience. What sticks most in my mind, however, were the comments from the Head of Learning. Teaching in a prison, he said, was like gathering all the most difficult, challenging and awkward students you have ever met across all your years of teaching and putting them into one class.
Many teachers, he told me, don’t last their first week. If they do, however, they will probably teach in prisons for the rest of their lives.
In general we think education is a ‘good thing’ for prisoners. Most governments accept that it can help prevent re-offending. In some countries it is even considered a human right.
However, there has been a change of attitude recently in the UK: the current government views education mainly as a way of improving a prisoner’s chance of gaining employment on release, and Ministers would actually prefer to see prisoners working than learning.
Many ex-offenders attest to the beneficial impact of education in prison, and some academic studies back them up, though most are too nuanced and subtle to support any overt political policy. Ideally, of course, education and work experience together give prisoners the best chance; the publicity around the recent opening of the ‘Clink’ restaurant at Brixton prison suggested that only one of the 80 or so prisoners involved in these schemes has ever re-offended.
All this is why I was interested to read the report “Prison Educators: Professionalism Against the Odds”, from the University and College Union (UCU) and Centre for Education in the Criminal Justice System (CECJS), at the IOE. The research is based on a survey which was returned by over one fifth of all prison teachers, and it tells us a great deal about this group. They are older than the average for further education, and better qualified but less well paid, with fewer holidays. This workforce is positive about the benefits of education in prison, highly motivated and enthusiastic – but many seem to be slowly giving up.

I’m rather glad I’m leaving prison education. I feel so sorry for my colleagues remaining in this downhill spiral. The young inmates are so suffering in lack of education it’s appalling to see inmates and teachers used as pawns by college, prison and government. Trouble is no one can breathe a word of this to the outside community, so it continues while society believes the inmates are where they should be. But surely without some help from good teaching staff this will never be corrected.

Prison teaching is overseen and funded by – another acronym – OLASS, the Offender Learning and Skills Service. The current regime is actually OLASS 4 because the current system is a result of the fourth re-tendering in its nine-year history. Not surprisingly, this constant re-tendering leaves teachers feeling insecure and unsettled. OLASS 4 also saw the introduction of ‘payment by results’, which, say teachers, disadvantages those prisoners who need education the most.

Payment by results is all very well but it actively discourages low ability learners from attending any form of education because they are unlikely to complete the course within the specified time – so the provider doesn’t want to take the risk of them failing and costing them money. 

Prison teachers are experienced, enthusiastic, well qualified and have a passion for their work. But this survey suggests that prison education is no longer seen as a viable career and is losing its potential to play a positive part in the rehabilitative process.

I strongly believe the current policy of payment upon results is totally WRONG – there should be a policy to help offenders once they are released from prison, currently they are thrown out with no support, often with nowhere to live, and no job – prison education is not valued by employers therefore the offenders feel they have no option but to reoffend to get a roof over their heads. Rehabilitation of the offender is not working at the moment.

The picture I gained from reading these distressing accounts from teachers is of a service dying a death by a thousand cuts. The prison population is hovering at just under 85,000. We send a greater proportion of our population to prison than any other country in Europe and they spend longer incarcerated than in other European countries. Rehabilitation must surely be the overriding aim of the service, not simply the narrow focus on job skills.
Education needs to be a central plank of the prison system. Prison teachers must be properly rewarded and supported and, perhaps most of all, valued.

Are basic skills and benefits a motivational combination?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 29 January 2014

Brian Creese, NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy)
After three years away from the front line of government policy, adult literacy and numeracy practitioners suddenly had the spotlights turned on them again last week.
Was I the only one taken aback when Rachel Reeves, using a speech to the IPPR think-tank, announced that the next Labour Government would make it “a new requirement for jobseekers to take training if they do not meet basic standards of maths, English and IT – training they will be required to take up alongside their jobsearch, or lose their benefits”? Suddenly the light is shining very brightly at post-16 literacy and numeracy provision.
Let us leave aside the politics of the proposal, so the questions of where the money is going to come from, how long the courses will be, how will they will be monitored and assessed can be sidestepped (though it is understandable that both the Association of Colleges and teaching unions’ first reactions were to ask about the funding). Instead, I would like to spend a moment or two considering the educational benefits of this approach.
It is likely that many of the cohort of learners to be picked up by this initiative will be people who are no strangers to English and mathematics classes. How are we going to get through to them this time what all the years of compulsory school have failed to achieve? A good start is that if we assume they receive no benefits if they don’t turn up for sessions, attendance is likely to be reasonably good. But is that sufficient? Is just ‘turning up’ enough?
We do not know who will deliver these courses and what the qualification will be. But if the courses are going to follow the adult skills curriculum, rather than the GCSE one, and are taught by FE teachers used to working with adults and who will assume they have an amount of knowledge already – rather than just starting from scratch yet again – this will certainly have a positive impact.
But as all teachers know, motivation is the fundamental issue. Does the learner doing this course really want to achieve this time round? If they do, then their likelihood of success will be raised significantly. If they are just there because they have to be, I think it unlikely that this initiative will make a great deal of difference.
That said, learners doing basic skills because they ‘have to’ can achieve impressively. This was our surprise finding when doing a three-year longitudinal study into basic skills and the armed forces. The young men and women we were following, who came from all three forces, were just those who hadn’t really enjoyed or succeeded at school. Yet when the ‘literacy and numeracy’ moment in their training arrived, they trooped off to do two or three weeks of intensive study…. and succeeded.
I was initially sceptical. One tutor told me she couldn’t remember the last time anyone had failed Level 1 literacy, another talked of those failing numeracy as barely a handful out of hundreds. Wherever we went the story was the same; achievement rates that most FE Colleges could only dream of. Our conclusion was that even if the rookie ratings, soldiers and airmen didn’t necessarily care about the qualification themselves, they knew the Services did. They knew they were expected to pass and that they needed the qualification for promotion. So they went to the lessons, did the work and passed the test.
So interested were BIS in this finding that our colleagues at NIACE, in cooperation with The Manchester College, have since organised a pilot scheme in a group of prisons, running short, intensive sessions on literacy and numeracy. Results suggest that in numeracy at least, success rates have improved significantly in that most difficult of contexts.
I don’t think it is just ‘having to turn up’ however, that is the key; otherwise compulsory education would lead to everyone getting their eight A*s at GCSE. The important thing for me is expectations; if teachers and tutors, parents and peers expect a learner to pass, if employers are going to value the award, then their chances of doing so are that much improved.
So while the success of this policy is likely to depend on the type of course on offer and who teaches it, the key will be whether the Job Seekers’ Allowance claimants believe the qualification they are doing will help them get a job, and whether those around them believe they can succeed.

Adult GCSEs, anyone? We need qualifications that really work for students and employers

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 7 January 2014

Brian Creese, NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy)
I spent a very interesting day a couple of weeks ago at the IOE London Region Post-14 Network Research and Policy Working Day. A very healthy gathering of FE managers and practitioners were doubtless encouraged by keynote speaker Alison Wolf. Although the Wolf Review had more than 20 recommendations, the one which has had the greatest impact on the ground is the policy of ensuring that all students who are in education continue to study English and maths until they get their Grade A*-C. This has many ramifications for schools, sixth form colleges and FE colleges, including the creation of a desperate shortage of suitable staff to teach these subjects to a high standard.
Then last week a dry little document passed my desk, a Statistical First Release from the DfE: ‘Level 1 and 2 Attainment in English and mathematics by 16-18 students’. This tells us about those students who, despite the best efforts of school teachers and Secretaries of State, fail to attain the cherished grade. There are around 220,000 students who fail to get the A*-C grade in English first time around and 244,000 students who do not get their maths. What I found astonishing is that after subsequent study at school or college a mere 17,000 students from each cohort go on to obtain their required GCSE grades. This means that over 90% of those students who did not achieve the benchmark for English and maths initially have still not achieved it when they finish school or college.
The paper does a further breakdown according to the type of provider students go on to after taking GCSEs. Just over 20% go on to attend school, an academy or sixth form college. Of these about 60% are re-entered for GCSE, and success rates vary: from 22% to 42% in English and from 18% to 33% in maths. The picture is very different in FE where a large majority of the cohort attend: here, less than 10% are re-entered for GCSE with about 4% achieving A*-C.
What is unremarked in the statistical release is that most students in FE are studying Functional English and Functional Maths. Colleges widely believe that it is pointless plodding away at GCSE English and maths, which most learners will still fail, when there is a qualification that delivers the skills required in the workplace which can be delivered in ways that will engage with this cohort. The current success rates for Functional Skills level 2 are around 55% to 70%, which means that a much higher percentage of students attending FE colleges will leave with a level 2 qualification which makes sense for them and their employers.
So why do we continue to put students and teachers through this torture? The answer is not that GCSE is the ‘Gold Standard’ but that GCSE is the ‘Gold Brand’. Wolf is correct in saying that it is the only level 2 qualification that employers really understand and they have lost patience with learning the ins and outs of new and different types of qualifications foisted on them by hyperactive policy-makers.
However, is the curriculum content of school GCSE English and maths the best for young adults? If GCSE is the required qualification, perhaps we should think about a different GCSE for post-16s? One that concentrates on the skills needed by adults in work and home life? Not ‘functional’ perhaps, but ‘applied’? Adult Applied English/maths has a fine ring to it!
Developing a new GCSE qualification better suited to post-16s would be a long and hard path, but perhaps by creating a clear adult curriculum for GCSE English and maths we can finally provide a qualification that works for young people and adults and is recognised by employers.

OECD Skills Survey: the adult learning perspective

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 11 November 2013

Brian Creese & colleagues from NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy, language and numeracy)
The results of last month’s OECD Survey received considerable coverage in the UK media. However, despite it being a survey of adult skills, with a focus on lifelong learning and the skills of the workforce, the reporting has focused entirely on schools:
Schools go backwards (Daily Mail)

OECD: English school leavers ‘among least literate and numerate in the developed world (Daily Telegraph)
England’s young people near bottom of global league table for basic skills (The Guardian)
The slightly hysterical reactions appear to have been sparked off by the finding that not only are England’s 16 to 24-year-olds falling behind their Asian and European counterparts in literacy and numeracy but that, as the Daily Mail put it: “England  is the only developed country producing school leavers who are worse at maths and reading than their grandparents.” Overall England came 22nd out of 24 countries for the reading skills of its young people and 21st for maths. These are worrying figures. However, the focus placed on schools by the media and by politicians alike misses the point that improving schools will not help those who are beyond school age.
So what does the report actually say? It suggests that the skills levels nations require to compete in the global economy continue to rise, that adults lose their skills with time unless they actually use them, that immigrants do not magically learn the home language without help and that in all countries surveyed, at least 10% of adults lack the most basic of computer skills.
In the UK social background has a major impact on adults’ basic skills. Poor skills are associated with poor outcomes in most measures of wellbeing, as well as in income. It doesn’t have to be that way. Countries such as Austria, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden manage to combine above average performance in the survey with high levels of social equality.
For those of us who work with adult learners, the report’s key recommendations reiterate what we already know about the need to foster lifelong, skills-oriented learning. In order to continue to compete in a changing environment, lifelong learning must be made accessible to all. This, the report suggests, requires concerted engagement with Government, employers and employees as well as parents and students for adults to be able to constantly improve and update their skills over the lifecourse in order to maximise their economic and social outcomes.
Promoting education to all adults is vital for the economic and social future or our nation, but since those most likely to undertake more education are those who had the highest levels of education in the first place, Governments need to pursue active and positive steps to encourage those with poorer skills to re-enter education as adults in order to escape from the vicious cycle of low skills leading to low income. However, the survey also makes it clear that lifelong learning opportunities are relevant to workers in both high and low-skilled occupations and regardless of their level of initial education.
However good our schools become there will always be a need for adult education. Not everyone can succeed at school and even those who do will need to learn new skills and maintain those that they have. It’s easy for the media to blame schools and those who set schools policy for England’s poor performance in international comparative surveys; it’s much harder to develop effective adult skills policies that provide us with a competitive workforce and address issues of social justice.