Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
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Government hosts international conference on importance of basic skills

International experts gathered to compare how leading economies were supporting their workforces with the skills needed to secure employment.

International experts gathered at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) yesterday (14 January 2015) to compare how leading economies were supporting their workforces with the basic skills needed to secure long term employment.

The conference, ‘Improving basic skills: An international perspective on a UK dilemma’, is part of a government programme of research and coincides with the publication of a report commissioned by BIS to understand more about how England can improve the basic skills of its workforce.

Skills Minister Nick Boles, who attended the conference, said:

Good literacy and numeracy skills are vital if people are to fulfil their potential and to find and sustain employment. Sharing knowledge with other countries on how to improve basic skills levels is very important, and the OECD again demonstrates that a skilled workforce is central to a vibrant economy.

Our long-term economic plan is working and it’s vital that we continue to provide people with the skills they need for work to help secure future growth.

The research looked at basic skills delivery in 4 case study countries (the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and South Korea), to identify lessons for England. The report shows a direct link between the overall performance of leading economies, and the proportion of young people still in education or education and work.

The research findings demonstrate a similar focus in the case-study countries on workplace provision of basic skills, identifying a need for more provision of basic skills development throughout all stages of learning. This had a generational effect, with the level of parents’ education having a particularly strong impact on the skills levels of young people in England.

A 2012 OECD report identified the need for improved education rates among young people in England and since then key government policies have generated significant improvements. For example, last year the number of 16 to 18 year old students taking English GCSE increased by 53% (or 52,000) and maths GCSE by 36% (or 63,000). In the 2013 to 2014 academic year 951,800 adults aged 19 or over participated in government funded English and / or maths courses.

The conference coincides with a week-long visit to England by OECDofficials to assess skills provision and comparisons to other leading economies.

Notes to editors

  1. OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills, part of its Programme for the Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), was conducted in 2012.
  2. The report published yesterday is based on secondary analysis of that survey together with an evidence review of basic skills policy in 8 high-performing or rapidly improving countries according to PIAAC (Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Estonia, Germany, Canada, Poland and Korea) and in-depth case studies in 4 of these (the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and Korea).
  3. This research was conducted by the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC) and Ipsos MORI.
  4. The case studies included an international literature review and interviews with in-country experts on basic skills policy and practice.
  5. Achieving grade C GCSE in both maths and English helps students to progress to further study, training and skilled employment. The government’s maths and English condition of funding ensures all 16 to 19 year olds have the best chance of achieving this standard.
  6. From the 2014 to 2015 academic year all students; starting a new study programme of 150 hours or more, aged 16 to 18, or aged 19 to 25 if they have a Learning Difficulty Assessment or Education and Healthcare Plan, who do not hold a GCSE grade A* to C or equivalent qualification in maths and or in English, are required to be studying these subjects as part of their study programme in each academic year.


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