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Number of adults in basic skills learning plummets by over 60% in a decade as new group launches to reverse the trend

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The number of adults participating in English and maths learning in England have dropped by over 60% since 2012, a new report finds (@LearnWorkUK). 

On current trends it would take 20 years for all adults with low literacy or numeracy to participate in learning. The report marks the launch of a new Skills for Life Alliance of researchers and sector experts, which is exploring ways to tackle this crisis.

Today’s report “Getting the basics right: The case for action on adult basic skills” by Learning and Work Institute, a founding member and co-chair of the new alliance, lays bare the impact of sharp cuts in government funding to the adult education budget, which more than halved between 2011/12 and 2019/20. This period has also seen a dramatic fall in participation in English, maths and ESOL learning, down by 63%, 62% and 17% respectively between 2012 and 2020.

This drop in adult basic skills learning represents a stark crisis given that nine million adults have low literacy or numeracy across England, with millions more having low digital skills. These skills are increasingly crucial to finding work, building careers, improving health and wellbeing and being active citizens in connected communities. For example, better literacy is associated with a 7 percentage point rise in employment rates, while almost a quarter (23%) of employers say their current workforce lacked basic digital skills and 24% reported struggling to recruit staff with the basic digital skills they need.

Lacking basic skills can also negatively affect people’s personal lives. Adults with poor literacy skills have poorer health, with 43% of adults aged 18-65 lacking the literacy skills to routinely understand health information, rising to 61% when numeracy is involved. Improvements in basic skills are also associated with increased civic participation and community engagement and improved well-being and self-esteem.

Today’s report has been produced to mark the launch of the newly formed Skills for Life Alliance. Convened by Learning and Work Institute and Holex, the group consists of leading researchers, delivery organisations and sector specialists.

It is exploring what affects participation in basic skills learning, and will use these findings to help drive adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills up the agenda in England.

Stephen Evans Dec 2018 100x100Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

“Literacy, numeracy and digital skills are vital for life and work.

“But with nine million adults lacking these skills it is deeply concerning that participation in basic skills learning has fallen 60% in a decade. We urgently need a clear strategy to increase participation, backed by a focus on funding, policy and practice.

“Everyone should have access to the skills they need for life and work.” 

Sue Pember 20Sept 100x100Sue Pember, Policy Director at Holex, said:

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“Participation is decreasing when the need to support adults to improve their English and maths skills has never been so important.

“We need to work together to ensure we all play our part in encouraging adults back to learning and ensure their experience is life changing.”

Nafisah Graham-Brown and Rachel Öner, National Association for Teaching English and Other Community Languages (NATECLA), said:

“Those with ESOL needs often aspire to learn English, be active in their communities and gain employment to fully utilise their existing skills but are disadvantaged by lack of opportunities to learn. They are often at a social disadvantage as poor language skills can lessen work opportunities and limit openings for further education and training, causing a negative impact on earnings and wellbeing. ESOL provision and a national ESOL strategy would ensure that linguistic minority communities are given the same opportunities for levelling up to transform their lives, enjoy better health, and progress to higher level training and employment as others.”

Jane Hickie 20Dec 100x100Jane Hickie, Chief Executive of Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said:

“The dramatic fall in adults participating in English and maths learning since 2012 is staggering.

“Action must be taken immediately to tackle this crisis and get adults trained and into quality, long-term employment.

“I welcome the new Skills for Life Alliance and their focus at a crucial time for our adult learners”.

Sally Dicketts 100x100Sally Dicketts, President of Association of Colleges, said:

“Whilst it is very worrying that participation in adult basic skills has continued to decline over the last decade it is encouraging to see so many organisations committed to working together with the aim of reversing this.

“More importance needs to be placed on prioritising adult basic skills at government level and we need to encourage an open and honest conversation about it amongst the general public. The government has an ambitious agenda for higher level and technical skills but we need to ensure that people have the basic skills to allow them to progress in work and life.”

Getting the basics right The case for action on adult basic skills

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