From education to employment

Improving the basic skills of our young people

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an Influential think tank, has released the results of its recent skills survey of adults in the wealthier economies of the world… and the outcome for England indicates some cause for concern.

The survey warns that in England, adults aged 55 to 65 perform better than 16 to 24 year olds at foundation levels of literacy and numeracy (it’s the only country in the developed world where the generation approaching retirement is more literate and numerate than the youngest adults). Out of the 24 nations surveyed, young adults in England rank 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy.

The political fallout from the survey has already begun, with Skills and Enterprise minister Matthew Hancock stating that it underlines the need for reform and rigour in the skills sector. The newly appointed Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt, has responded by suggesting that a future Labour government would ensure all young people study maths and English to the age of 18.

So what does the future hold? How can we build the core literacy and numeracy skills of our young people? Undoubtedly, we can expect a renewed focus on English and maths across all provision and an increased emphasis on embedding it within qualifications and learning.

However, there’s a significant challenge in making these subjects appeal to learners who are intimidated by the prospect of academic learning. We know that not everybody learns in the same way. Therefore, we need to ensure that maths and English is accessible to all individuals, regardless of their levels of attainment or their style of learning.

Bearing this in mind, NCFE is preparing to launch a range of over 100 flexible English and Maths qualifications, allowing organisations to tailor learning programmes to meet their learners’ individual needs. This suite of qualifications provides clear progression routes from Entry Level 1 through to Level 2 and on to GCSE and Level 2 Functional Skills.

We also need to make sure that maths and English are practical in nature and relevant to the modern world, so young people can see exactly how they will apply their new-found skills. For example, by combining maths with Personal Money Management, learning can be placed into a real-life context.

Literacy and numeracy skills are essential for progressing within education and entering employment. It’s a common complaint of business leaders and employers that young people enter the workplace lacking the core, transferable skills they need to do a job effectively.

Therefore, we need to work together to build the skills of our young people, learning from successful education models across the world so that we can raise the status of England in global league tables and compete on an international scale.

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

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