Adults ‘need three Rs campaign’

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MPS have called for the Government to launch a new national campaign to promote the importance of adult literacy and numeracy amid fears that the country is lagging behind other nations.

The Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee has also urged Ministers to move away from “their preoccupation” with GCSEs as the gold standard for adults in a new report published today.

It warns there are many adults who have low levels of literacy and numeracy skills – young and old, in and out of work, who are trying to live their lives “without the skills that many people take for granted”.

It warns that this low level of literacy and numeracy among adults needs to be tackled as it traps people in a cycle of either low-skilled jobs or unemployment. A survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in October 2013, based on interviews with 166,000 people in 24 countries found that England and Northern Ireland was ranked 22nd for adult literacy and 21st for numeracy.

The issue is a particular concern in Yorkshire where for five years from 2008 to 2013 the region had the highest proportion of pupils failing to get five good GCSEs including English and maths in the country. BIS committee chairman Adrian Bailey said: “Problems with reading, writing and maths have a huge impact on people’s daily lives, including getting and keeping a job, understanding bills, forms and documents, and guiding children through education. It can affect adults in many walks of life, but it also undermines the economic performance of our country. There is no silver bullet to tackling the problem of low levels of adult literacy and numeracy but a national campaign will help to get the message out to those who are most in need of support.”

The committee have questioned why “there was little rigorous assessment” in place for when adults claim unemployment benefit. The MPs said this was an ideal opportunity to help adults to gain essential skills needed to get a job. Their report calls on the Department for Work and Pensions, BIS and Jobcentre Plus to ensure there is assessment of skills at the earliest possible stage of unemployment benefit claims.

The report also urges the Government to take a more flexible approach to adult learning.

MPs said they were concerned about reductions in funding to adult learning schemes and calls on the Government to reverse its decision to cut funding to Unionlearn, a scheme which it said has achieved “outstanding results at a fraction of the cost of full-time formal education”.

The committee also recommends the Government move away from its preoccupation with GCSEs as the ‘gold standard’ for adult skills, as less linear and traditional learning schemes are often more effective in engaging adults.

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