Parents' education matters and 55-65 year olds more proficient than young people, says study


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published its report on adult skills proficiency, 24 rich countries, surveyed just shy of 9,000 age-working adults in England and Northern Ireland. (Release)

Here's some illuminating things the report found: -

  • Young people in England were rated 22nd out of 24 countries for literacy proficiency.
  • For numeracy, they were 21st.
  • The UK (excluding Scotland and Wales) is the only country where 55-65 year olds are more proficient in both literacy and numeracy than their 16-24 year old counterparts.
  • Young people in the UK did do better than average (42.4 per cent) in problem-solving in "technology-rich environments" (computers) - the only area in which we were above average, coming in with middling skills. This compares to 50.7 per cent of young Koreans.

Perhaps the most hard-hitting stats were around socio-economic background and parentage,

  • There is a markedly strong correlation between socio-economic background and literacy proficiency across England and Northern Ireland.
  • This link is even stronger amongst young people.
  • Across all 24 countries, if parents have low levels of education, their children are five times more likely to have poor proficiency in literacy than their peers whose parents enjoyed higher levels of education.
  • In England and Northern Ireland, this probability is eight times greater.

The results indicate diminishing social mobility in the younger age bracket, starkly highlights the educational impact of background and, as a consequence, the economic flak:

Mike Harris, head of skills at the Institute of Directors, commented on the results, pointing to economic cost and the missing connection between what is taught in schools and what employers look for:

The OECD’s report... 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. Too frequently, impressive examination results seem to act as a false barometer of actual attainment and competence.

It is utterly unacceptable for the literacy and numeracy skills of young people entering the labour market today to be no better than those leaving for retirement. This carries a heavy cost, both socially and economically. And the fact that 8.5 million adults in England and Northern Ireland have the numeracy levels of a 10-year-old is patently no platform for global competitiveness.

The report emphasises the need for continued urgent action to improve standards in education, so that the flow of skills into the workforce improves. The Government also needs to ensure that the skills system responds efficiently and effectively to employers’ needs when they’re looking to address skills deficiencies, and that the wider business environment is conducive to that investment in training.

The OEDC calls for policy development on links between "the world of learning and the world of work", relevant training and material benefits, and recognition of skills proficiency, dragging, yet again, past and present education misnomers back into the spotlight.

On a brighter note, improvement in literacy proficiency has made a significant difference to wages earned per hour in the UK:

Moreover, adults with higher levels of literacy proficiency are more trusting of others: