Literacy skills just don’t add up for half UK workforce

Up to 16 million adults – nearly half the UK workforce – are holding down jobs despite only having the reading and numeracy skills of primary school leavers, a government report will reveal today.

MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee claim that a major government scheme costing billions of pounds has done little to improve the quality of adult literacy and numeracy teaching, reports the Guardian.

The Department for Education and Skills will have spent almost £6bn on its Skills for Life scheme by 2010, but its first few years have delivered little evidence of improvements in the provision of literacy and numeracy classes in colleges or in on-the-job training by employers, the committee warns.

The committee discovered that about 12 million people in employment have Level 1 literacy skills and 16 million Level 1 numeracy skills – equivalent to what is expected of an 11-year-old. The number of people under-skilled in both aspects is unknown.

The report highlights poor quality of provision and teaching as a major reason for lack of progress. Training is also a problem for those in low-skilled jobs, the report says.

“Many employers do not place a high priority on staff training and are only likely to become involved if the training offered is flexible.”

Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP and chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The low level of literacy and numeracy in the adult population is bad for national productivity and bad for those individuals who may struggle to cope with work and daily living.”

Skills minister, Phil Hope, said: “Tackling the huge legacy of poor adult literacy and numeracy skills is a key priority for this government. Poor skills may cost the country as much as £10bn a year and our continuing investment reflects this.

“Already, 3.7 million adults have taken the first step to engaging in learning, with more than a million of these going on to achieve their first qualifications.”

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