Press release, 29 January 2014
Social class background is still exerting a powerful influence on the skills of England’s adults, according to a new study from the Institute of Education (IOE) in London, which is published today.
It shows how England’s exceptionally large attainment gap carries on into adulthood and demonstrates that the gulf between the highest and lowest achievers in literacy and numeracy is wider than in the great majority of the 24 countries recently surveyed by the OECD. The only countries with more unequal scores in numeracy are France and the US.
It explains how the education system itself has produced “exceptionally unequal skills outcomes” going back to the 1950s, which have been exacerbated by “an especially strong influence from social background” on children’s choices and opportunities. This is the primary cause of the relatively high inequality in adult skills in England today, it concludes.
The study, from the IOE’s Research Centre on Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, finds that the relationship between adults’ skills and their parents’ education levels is especially high in England – and particularly extreme for the youngest. It means that millions of adults continue to be held back by their parents’ social class.
“The relationship between parental background and adult literacy and numeracy among those aged 16 to 24 is stronger in England than in all other countries except the Slovak Republic”, says the report.
For instance, the impact of social background on literacy attainment is twice as high as in the Netherlands, and on numeracy it is twice as high as in Spain.
Andy Green, Director of LLAKES, said: “These findings matter, because skills have well-known effects on labour market and wider social outcomes. Over the last quarter century the UK as a whole has experienced one of the fastest increases in wage inequality in the developed world.”
The study, co-authored by Professor Green, Professor Francis Green and Dr Nicola Pensiero, also shows that skills inequality is especially marked in numeracy among England’s 25 to 29-year-olds, exceeded only by the US.
This new analysis of data from three international surveys – including the recently published OECD Survey of Adult Skills conducted in 24 countries – shows that nations with high levels of adult skills inequality also tend have high levels of inequality in the qualifications gained from initial education. Taking 10-year age groups from 25 up, the report finds that for each group educational inequality is among the highest in England. For example, among 45-54 year olds, only Spain and Northern Ireland are more unequal in terms of educational achievements.
1. The study, Green, A., Green, F. and Pensiero, N. (2014) Why are Literacy and Numeracy Skills in England so Unequal? Evidence from the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills and other international surveys, published by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies can be found at:
2. The research finds no support for three possible additional explanations for England’s high skills inequality:
inter-age group skills differences: these are low in England.
skills differences deriving from migration flows: the effects are small in England.
especially unequal adult learning: the inequality of adult learning is broadly middling in England; moreover, there is no observed tendency for countries with high inequality of adult learning to have especially unequal literacy and numeracy in their older cohorts.
3. To speak to Professor Green, for a copy of the report, or for more information please contact Diane Hofkins, email@example.com / 07976 703455
or the IOE press office: Rowan Walker, firstname.lastname@example.org / 0207 911 5423 or James Russell, email@example.com / 0207 911 5556
4. The OECD report can be found here
5. The IOE: The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London that specialises in education and related areas of social science and professional practice. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, two-thirds of the Institute’s research activity was judged to be internationally significant and a third judged to be “world leading”. Its performance places it in the top 10 universities nationally for research. In 2013, Ofsted judged the IOE’s Initial Teacher Training provision for primary, secondary and further education to be ‘Outstanding’ across the board. In the latest QS world rankings for Education, the Institute is placed 7th; on the indicators of research quality and impact, it is placed 3rd, alongside Harvard and Stanford. More at www.ioe.ac.uk
6. Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES): This Economic and Social Research Council-funded research centre investigates the role of lifelong learning in promoting economic competitiveness and social cohesion, and in mediating the interactions between the two. Key areas of research include: i) the social and cultural foundations of learning, knowledge production and transfer, and innovation, within the context of a changing economy, and ii) the effects of knowledge and skill distribution on income equality, social cohesion and competitiveness. It has a programme of multi-disciplinary and mixed method research which addresses these issues at the level of the individual life course, through studies of city-regions and sectors in the UK, and through comparative analysis across OECD countries. More at www.llakes.org
7. ESRC: The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2013-14 is ￡212 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk