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Action needed on adult literacy and numeracy skills – FE News

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Research by the Institute of Learning and Work highlights a big difference in literacy and numeracy in adults across England, explains David Redden, Product Manager for the education charity and NCFE Vocational Training Leader.

When the government set out its promotion agenda, its main focus was to ensure that opportunities were more evenly distributed across the UK. Research from the Institute for Learning and Work released last week, however, points to the fact that this is still not the case when it comes to basic literacy and numeracy skills.

The proportion of adults with low levels of literacy and numeracy varies widely across England, according to the study. This may not come as a surprise to those in the sector, but it does not diminish the need for a different approach.

The decline of these skills has been going on for more than a generation

For more than a generation, we’ve seen a decline in these skills, but still can’t seem to have the desired impact. For the Chancellor to spend more than half a billion pounds on the Multiply project shows that concern has finally come to an end and we welcome this level of investment. However, it only provides a solution to half the problem.

We have seen money spent on this in the past. However, the issue is not only about money, as there are other issues as well. We’ve seen a 63% decline in basic skills among adults over the past decade, and two-thirds of adults with low essential skills are in work – so why is this?

2 out of 5 adults agreed that they have a right to a free education

Recent research has shown that only two in five adults admit they are entitled to free education to improve their skills. If people are not aware of the support available to them, how can they begin to actively improve their skills?

This is already prevailing with the recent launch of the Digital Skills Agenda. Despite more than 11 million adults needing to improve their digital skills, we see a small number of them going through the newly launched qualifications, despite it being a legal funding right for all adults, and 16-19 year olds.

Marketing and promotion in this area was limited. I would assume that for most members of the public, the only contact they have with educational materials is through the general flyers for their local college. Given the lack of awareness, this is an area to focus on first; understanding how we can reach adults to encourage them to overcome barriers and take the first step is essential.

Awareness raising

Organizations like National Numeracy have made great strides in raising awareness, but more needs to be done. Here, employers have a great responsibility and a great interest in this.

With such a high proportion of employed adults with low required skills, we need to reach out to employers to make them understand their role. The long-term benefits for them are already well documented, such as increased productivity and a highly productive workforce.

NCFE has recognized this and has recently given fellows the opportunity to take an initial digital skills assessment to determine if they need any training in this area. If so, there is an opportunity for them to complete a qualification that will boost their confidence and productivity.

This approach can also be replicated for numeracy and literacy skills. Working together with employers, this can create opportunities to address the skills imbalance once and for all.

Likewise, schools and colleges can work with parents and really focus on upskilling adults in literacy and numeracy – selling the benefits at inductions, parents’ evenings and monthly newsletters. Parents who are better off and able to support their children while improving their employment prospects benefit everyone – especially schools and their outcomes.

I understand that there will be challenges in all of this, but we need to come together and work on solutions, not just stress about why something won’t work or hasn’t worked in the past.

Multiply may face the same challenges as previous programs if the campaign fails to reach its target audience. We need to capture potential learners in areas where it will be mutually beneficial for all parties to pursue upskilling.

It is only through a collaborative approach that we can start to ‘upgrade’ basic skills across the UK. Without literacy and numeracy, opportunities will continue to be limited – especially in areas of high deprivation.

Pa David Redden, Product Manager for the education charity and NCFE Vocational Training Leader

David is Product Manager for English, Maths, Digital and Skills Assessment at education charity NCFE. With over 12 years’ experience in the English and Maths sector, he has worked closely with subject specialists, sector leaders and regulators to ensure the needs of learners are at the center of the sector.

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