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The UK has one of the highest proportions of employees working 45 hours or more each week to be found in the EU. As such, many parents in Britain, particularly single parents, often find it difficult to reconcile the demands of a career with their commitment to care for their children.

The many workers who turn to their parents "“ the child's grandparents "“ for help with childcare will have been disturbed by a report published last week by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) which showed that over half of all 55 to 65-year-olds in England lack some of the basic skills which would help them better support their grandchildren's learning and education.

As Grandparents are statistically the number one carers for children in Britain today (after parents), spending on average around 16 hours a week with their grandchildren, the Government's Get On campaign is using the figures to call for more over-55s to take action to improve their basic numeracy and literacy skills.

Problems from the Survey

The Skills for Life Survey showed that adults in the 55 to 65-year-old group have the biggest skills need in England suffering problems with maths and literacy, and as a result, struggling with everyday tasks. The most striking finding of the survey was that over half (53%) of all 55 to 65-year-olds have the maths skills expected of a nine year old, with maths problems more commonly found amongst grandmothers than grandfathers.

The report also reveals similar literacy skills gaps amongst the 55-65 age group. One in five has the literacy skills of an 11 year old and will find it difficult to write a formal letter or check an employment contract. These findings suggest that grandparents are likely to have trouble helping older grandchildren with their homework and wider development.

Campaign for Change

Age Concern is supporting the Get On campaign's call for more over-55s to brush up their skills. Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern England said: "It is never too late to learn. Developing interests and passions at any age is a fantastic way to boost confidence and stay mentally and physically active. As well as being a great achievement, the skills and experiences older people can pass on to their grandchildren are invaluable."

Skills Minister Phil Hope is keen to encourage the over 55 age group to take advantage of the thousands of free courses which are available throughout the country as part of the governments Skills for Life strategy: "Research shows that the over 55s have the biggest skills needs of all adults in the UK, but many are now returning to education later in life.

"People over 55 are more active and are spending more time with their grandchildren. Older learners are telling us that getting involved with their grandchildren's homework can be a powerful reason for wanting to improve their own skills. Whats more, dealing with those English and Maths gremlins has often helped to bring them closer to their grandchildren and other family members."

Michael Lloyd

Join Phil Hope and Age Concern with your view in the FE Blog

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