The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has investigated the literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills of 16- to 65-year olds across 24 countries (see skills.oecd.org/skillsoutlook.html). England and Northern Ireland, rather than Britain as a whole, was taken as a separate country, coming 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy, below Estonia, Poland and Slovakia.
Young people in these two regions got lower scores than their parents and grandparents, representing the only developed country where 55- to 65-year-olds had better results than 16- to 24s.
The study also concluded that the basic skills of those aged 16 to 24 were no better than a 10-year-old’s. It said that while young people “...are entering a much more demanding labour market, they are not much better equipped with literacy and numeracy skills than those who are retiring” and “...the pool of highly skilled adults is likely to shrink relative to that of other countries.” It also claimed that literacy and numeracy skill levels are closely correlated with employment opportunities, level of wages and health (though given the number of graduates working on minimum wage in bars, you have to wonder what that correlation is).
UCU, the university and college lecturers’ union, described the finding that young people are no better skilled than their parents’ generation as “deeply worrying” and blamed lower investment in post-16 education, along with the fact that lifelong learning is now more difficult and expensive for those who need it most.
• Office of National Statistics figures show nearly one million 16- to 24-year-olds are unemployed – and that only includes those actively seeking work in the last four weeks. There are also 1.09 million “NEETs” (Not in Education, Employment or Training”). ■