Government auditors call for better literacy and numeracy training at school

Too much public funding for work-based training is being wasted on giving people literacy and numeracy skills that they should have learned at school, according to a government report.

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts report, Employers’ perspectives on improving skills for employment, said that the most recent statistics showed 60% of 16-19 year olds had literacy levels below level two and 80% had numeracy skills below level two.

Government figures show that the Department for Education and Skills spends about £6.7bn, through the Learning and Skills Council, on employment-related education and skills training in England. However £457m of this went on training people up to level two – the equivalent of four or five GCSEs at grade C or above.

“Public money intended for employment-related skills training should not have to be used to equip people with the basic skills they should acquire at school,” the report concludes.

“Schools should work with further education colleges to make learning more attractive to hard-to engage teenagers, for example by combining practical vocational and life skills with literacy and numeracy qualifications that will help them gain employment.”

Collectively employers spend more than £23bn, including the costs of training and employees’ time, the report said. But it criticised the fact that more than one in three employers (35%) still offer their staff no training.

Edward Leigh MP, who chaired the committee, said skills gaps in England alone were costing the UK £10bn a year in lost revenue.

“A modern economy simply cannot afford to have more than one third of employers providing no training for their staff,” he said. “Employers need to be persuaded that releasing their employees for training makes business sense.”

Anthony Thompson, head of skills at the CBI, said that while employers could do more it was the responsibility of government, not business, to ensure that people of all ages have the necessary reading, writing, arithmetic and communication skills.

“It must make sure that the Learning and Skills Council delivers more for the £6.7bn it receives of taxpayers’ money each year. Further education colleges must focus on teaching the skills employers really need,” he said.

The Committee of Public Accounts


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