Research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals that England is the only advanced economy in which the youngest generation leaving education is less literate and numerate and numerate than the oldest generation still in work.
The report says of the UK and US situation: “Improvements between younger and older generations are barely apparent. Young people in these countries are entering a much more demanding labour market, yet they are not much better prepared than those who are retiring.”
Young adults in England and Northern Ireland now rank 21st in numeracy, out of the 24 OECD countries for which figures were provided. In literacy, the country is even weaker, ranked at 22nd out of the same 24.
Though the UK’s young adults lag well behind some of the same cohort in comparable countries, the population as a whole performs more solidly. The UK ranks 13th of the same countries in literacy, and 16th in numeracy when groups of all ages are taken into account by the survey.
According to the OECD, the UK is also positioned to make the largest gains from any rise in proficiency in literacy. Improved performance is linked to a larger increase in wages than in any other country surveyed.
Business groups lined up to express concern at the report after its release yesterday. John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, commented: “The OECD report highlights what our members tell us – that young people don’t have the literacy and numeracy skills to do the job properly.”
Mike Harris of the Institute of Directors added: “It underlines the credibility gap between the picture painted by decades of rises in exam pass rates and employers’ real-world experience of interviewing and employing people.”
The OECD had a stark conclusion for the UK and US: “The stock of skills available to them is bound to decline over the next decades unless action is taken both to improve skills proficiency among young people, both through better teaching of literacy and numeracy in school, and through providing more opportunities for adults.”
COUNTRIES BY LITERACY OF 16-24 YEAR OLDS
10. Czech Republic
14. Slovak Republic
22. England and NI
COUNTRIES BY NUMERACY OF 16-24 YEAR OLDS
9. Czech Republic
10. Slovak Republic
21. England and NI