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Best selling children's book of 2013 "The eighth book in Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series, Hard Luck, was the bestselling book across all print formats in 2013, selling over 1.8 million hardcover copies". - "The Bestselling Books of 2013" - Publishers Weekly [3rd Jan 2014]

"From 2016, basic literacy and numeracy tests will be introduced for around 600,000 children in the first few weeks of the reception year." - Children aged four to be tested in literacy and numeracy days after starting school - Parent Dish [28th Mar 2014]

"...literacy and numeracy standards in the UK had shown little or no improvement for three years" - OECD: English pupils are 'more practical than academic' - Independent [1st Apr 2014]

England's Young Adults Score Poorly in International Literacy Tests

The standard of education in England is the subject of seemingly endless debate and questions concerning what to teach, how to teach and how to assess students are always controversial. The matter has now come to the fore again as the results of a recent study by the OECD show that young adults in England and Northern Ireland have among the poorest standards of literacy and numeracy in the industrialized world.

According to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills 2013, of the 24 OECD nations that took part England was ranked a lowly 21st for numeracy and 22nd for literacy among 16 to 24-year-olds, with Northern Ireland only slightly better. This means that young adults in England are lagging behind many of their counterparts in Asia and other parts of Europe. Also, the survey showed that they performed no better in the tests than those aged between 55 and 65; meaning that, when other factors such as socio-economic background were taken into consideration, England was the only country where the results went backwards – the older generation outperformed the younger.

Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise Matthew Hancock has described the OECD report as “shocking” and said that it shows that young adults in England are among the least numerate and literate in the developed world. He laid the blame firmly at Labour’s door. He said, “These are Labour’s children, educated under a Labour government and force-fed a diet of dumbing down and low expectations.”

Defending Labour’s record Tristram Hunt, appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Education, has pointed to great improvements in Mathematics and English GCSE results under labour between 1997 and 2010 as evidence of a rise in standards. Under a future Labour government, he said, all young people would study Mathematics and English to the age of 18 and unqualified teachers would not be allowed to teach on a permanent basis.

Commenting on the results, OECD education guru Andreas Schleicher said that the results in England showed an unusual pattern with the younger people showing no greater ability than those in the older age group despite the fact that they had more qualifications. He said that this could indicate grade inflation and showed that better qualifications did not necessarily equate to better skills. Describing the difference in abilities between England and high-performing Japan, he pointed out that many Japanese secondary school students are ahead of English graduates.

Mr Schleicher has warned that the lack of a skilled workforce could have serious implications for the economy; in job markets there is increasing demand for higher skilled workers, while demand for lower skilled workers is either static or falling. England and Northern Ireland, he points out, have high numbers of adults with the lowest levels of numeracy and literacy and yet the rewards – social and economic – for the most highly skilled are particularly good. The report shows that, while there is a strong link between the global economic race and educational performance, the United Kingdom’s share of the most skilled workers is dropping.

Commenting on the study, CBI employment and skills director Neil Carberry said that Britain’s economic future was dependent on improving the skill level of the workforce; the study merely emphasised that the country could not afford to stagnate. Agreeing, Work Foundation director Ian Brinkley said that the study illustrated that Britain faced a “relative decline in the economy’s skills base” and “ a major generational challenge.”

The OECD study involved some 166,000 adults from 24 OECD countries with a total population of 724 million. It tested actual skill in numeracy, literacy and digital as opposed to looking at the qualifications of the participants. It found that the best performing countries in the lower age groups were Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. The lowest ranked country for numeracy was the United States; the decline in the performance of the United States being even sharper than that in England. The study showed that America, which once had the highest percentage of skilled adults in the world at 42%, now only has 28%.

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