Professor Lorna Unwin awarded OBE

July 25th, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

The LLAKES Centre congratulates Professor Lorna Unwin – formerly Deputy Director of the Centre, and currently Honorary LLAKES Professor – on her award of an OBE in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to vocational education and training.

Workshop on OECD Survey of Adult Skills

June 6th, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

Tuesday 17 June 2014, 12.00 noon to 3.30 pm

Room 642, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL

This event, organized by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES) draws on inputs from experienced researchers with a shared interest in enhancing the levels of knowledge and skills of the adult population.

The OECD Survey of Adult Skills (SAS), carried out as part of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) assesses levels of competence of over 160,000 people in 24 countries across three main domains: literacy, numeracy and problem solving. While the strengths and weakness of the methodology are open to discussion, the results provide a useful baseline for comparative analysis and policy development. This workshop will address several aspects of the SAS results, and will attempt to develop conclusions for policy recommendations.


 12.00 noon – 12.45 pm              Buffet Lunch

12.45 pm – 1.00 pm                    Welcome and Introduction

1.00 pm – 1.45 pm                      John Field

Understanding lifelong learning: the case for a generational approach

 1.45 pm – 2.30 pm                     Andy Green and Nicola Pensiero

Adult Skills Inequality Compared across Countries: The Evidence from the OECD Survey of
Adult Skills and other International Surveys.

 2.30 pm – 3.15 pm                    David Mallows and JD Carpentieri

                                                       Using PIAAC for policy: do the numbers add up?

3.15 pm – 3.30 pm                    Summary discussion and close

Please register for the event by e-mailing



Pre-Election discussion contributions by LLAKES Professors

May 29th, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

The Institute of Education has published a collection of think pieces from leading experts at the IOE, putting forward
in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. Two of these items are written by members of LLAKES: collection of think pieces from leading experts at the IOE, putting forward
their views

Professor Karen Evans – Safeguarding adult learning at the local level

Professor Alison Fuller – Towards expansive apprenticeships for youth transition.

Probing the roots of adult underachievement

May 28th, 2014 | News | 0 Comments


Why do English-speaking countries – including England, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic – do relatively poorly on international comparisons of adult skills? A symposium of senior academics and practitioners from across the UK and Eire this week set out to answer this question and find ways to boost opportunities in their countries.

Andy Green, director of the Centre for Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES) at the Institute of Education, London, said social class background was still exerting a powerful influence on the skills of England’s adults. He led a study showing that the gulf between the highest and lowest achievers in literacy and numeracy is exceptionally large. The gap is widest for young adults. Along with the US, England has the widest gap for this age group of all the 24 countries recently surveyed by the OECD. For all working-age adults In England, the difference in numeracy scores is wider than in all but two countries (France and the US). Northern Ireland’s skills gap is almost as wide as England’s, Professor Green found.

The symposium, hosted by the Higher Education Research Centre (HERC) of Dublin City University in association with LLLAKES and the Royal Irish Academy, brought together researchers and policy makers with a shared interest in enhancing adult skills.

Professor Maria Slowey, director of HERC, said: “The relatively poor results for adults in Ireland point to the need to find ways to widen access to education and training across all levels, and at all stages of life – a ‘second chance’ for many who never enjoyed a ‘first chance’.”

The symposium, “How to tackle intergenerational equity gaps in knowledge and skills?” offered an opportunity to locate Ireland in a wider international context. OECD’s PIAAC study — which assesses the skills of more than 160,000 people in 24 countries in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving – was a key focus for discussion.

Professor Green’s analysis of the OECD evidence and other skills surveys shows that in England there is a particularly strong relationship between adults’ skills and their parents’ education levels. 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, he told the symposium. “This is the primary cause of the relatively high inequality in adult skills in England today”.

He 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.”

However, his analysis suggests that high quality vocational education helps to reduce inequality. He told the symposium that dual systems – such as Germany’s highly-respected approach involving both in-company training and education at vocational schools – helps reverse the inequality deriving from the education system at age 15. In addition, countries where there is high participation in vocational education and training also tend to have more equal skills distribution ­– though there are other contributing factors.

“It’s a Herculean task to bring down educational inequality when economic inequality is increasing internationally,” he said.

Speakers from both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland said that, unlike in England, where young adults score no better than older people, 16 to 24-year-olds’ basic skills surpassed those of people aged 55-65.

Donal Kelly, from the Republic of Ireland’s Central Statistics Office, said adults aged 16-24 perform 20 points higher on literacy than adults aged 55-65, with 12.9% of 16-24 year olds found at the lowest levels of literacy compared to 27.8% of 55- to 65-year-olds. Studies continue to show that early school-leavers are most likely to perform at low levels – but today just 6% of those aged 16-24 are in this category, compared with almost half of 55- 65-year-olds.

Victor Dukelow, joint head of analytical services for the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, said that a comparison of the results of the International Adult Literacy Survey, conducted in 1996, and PIAAC, conducted 2011/12, shows that  literacy was improving. The proportion of the working population functioning at the lowest levels of literacy had fallen from 23% in 1996 to 18% in 2012. In addition, Northern Ireland was getting closer to the OECD average, although it still remained in the bottom half. The gap had reduced from 11 points (on a 500 point scale) in 1996 to 4 points in 2012, and it was improving at a good pace compared to other countries. Nevertheless, there is a clear recognition that much more progress is required if Northern Ireland is to match the best performing countries in these important skill areas.

Meanwhile, John Field, emeritus professor of lifelong learning at Stirling University, told the symposium that Scotland lacks the information it needs to boost adults’ skills and job prospects because the country decided not to take part in the PIAAC study.

“Not only do we lack a firm evidence base for evaluating skills distribution and comparing it internationally; we are as a result missing from the international conversation over the lessons from the survey,” he said.

Professor Field suggested it was a difficult time for those interested in improving adult skills in Scotland because the Scottish Government had focused its attention and money on full-time education, particularly higher education. “The two big losers from this focus are adult learners and people who want vocational education. We have seen a significant decline in numbers in both groups.” The number of part-time further education students in Scotland’s colleges fell by almost 200,000 in the five years up to 2012-13.


Editors’ notes

1. The OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) report can be found here.

2. To speak to Professor Green, or for more information please contact Diane Hofkins, / +44 (0) 7976 703455. Professor Field can be reached on +44 (0) 7725 739475

3. 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

4. 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.

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 Llakes, can be found at:

 5. 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

 6. Dubin City University delivers more than 200 programmes to over 12,000 students across its four faculties DCU’s excellence is recognised internationally and it is ranked among the top 50 Universities worldwide (QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ 2013). In the last eight years, DCU has twice been named Sunday Times ‘University of the Year’ in Ireland.

DCU’s Higher Education Research Centre (HERC) is an interdisciplinary research group, led by Professor Maria Slowey, Director of Higher Education Research and Development in the Office of the Deputy President and Registrar. The Centre undertakes and promotes research in the broad field of higher education and lifelong learning in collaboration with colleagues across DCU, linked colleges and partners in other universities in Ireland and internationally. The particular focus is on policy orientated research that brings the research community together with those engaged in policy and practice in higher education from public, private and NGO sectors, as well as representatives of civil society: stimulating debate and facilitating collaboration.

For further information contact: Maria Slowey


Research Seminar and Book Launch, 11 June 2014

May 27th, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

 ‘Youth, Politics and Protest in the European Union: reflections on the European Parliamentary elections’

James Sloam, Royal Holloway University of London

3.00 to 4.30 pm, Wednesday 11 June 2014, Room 731, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H OAL

Public involvement in traditional political institutions has declined significantly over the past few decades, leading to what some have seen as a crisis in citizenship. This trend is most striking amongst young people, who have become increasingly alienated from mainstream electoral politics in Europe. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming evidence to show that younger citizens are not apathetic about ‘politics’ – they have their own views and engage in democracy in a wide variety of ways that seem relevant to their everyday lives. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, young Europeans have borne the brunt of austerity in public spending: from spiralling youth unemployment, to cuts in youth services, to increased university tuition fees.

In this context, the rise and proliferation of youth protest in Europe is hardly surprising. Indeed, youth activism has become a major feature of the European political landscape: from mass demonstrations of the ‘outraged young’ against political corruption and youth unemployment, to the Occupy movement against the excesses of global capitalism, to the emergence of new political parties. This paper shows how these common trends actually manifest themselves quite differently, from one country to another and amongst different groups of young people (e.g. rich and poor). It also shows how the recent 2014 European Parliament Elections reflect the general frustration with mainstream electoral politics, as young European search for a mouthpiece for their ‘indignation’.

James Sloam is Reader in Politics and co-director of the Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is co-convenor of the specialist group and working group on young people’s politics in the UK Political Studies Association and American Political Science Association, respectively. He has published widely in the area of youth politics in journals such as Parliamentary Affairs, West European Politics and Comparative Political Studies. Shorter pieces on youth participation can be found on the Fabian Society and LSE Europe blogs and Political Insight magazine.

The seminar will be followed at 4.30 pm by a book launch, in Room 736, for Education for Citizenship in Europe: European Policies, National Adaptations, and Young People’s Attitudes, written by Avril Keating, and published by Palgrave Macmillan. Refreshments will be served, and discounted copies of the book will be available.

Attendance at these events is free; please book places via

CEDEFOP workshop, 22-23 May 2014

May 21st, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

Karen Evans and Natasha Kersh have been invited as expert contributors to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training international workshop on “The role of credit transfer systems in opening access, admission and exemption between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education (HE)” that will take place in Thessaloniki, on 22-23 May 2014.

Presentation on Employers’ Skills Demand

May 15th, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

Lesley Giles, Deputy Director of the UK Commission on Employment and Skills (UKCES), and Professor Francis Green, Deputy Director of the LLAKES Centre, gave a joint presentation on 14 May 2014 to an invited audience of  civil servants and other interested individuals.

The session covered questions relating to Employers’ Skills Demand, given that in recent years a stated aim of policy has been to give employers more of a say over the training system. This makes it especially important to understand employers’ demand for skilled labour. The presentation examined the demand for skilled labour in modern economies, with a focus on Britain. It provided an overview of the following issues: why employers matter; the conventional model, the resource-based view of the firm and skills demand; how and why the demand for skill has been changing overall; is there a problem of low skills demand in Britain?; thinking about the future.

Further presentations in this series are due to take place in the near future.

PIAAC symposium, Dublin, 22 May 2014

May 2nd, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

Symposium: How to tackle intergenerational equity gaps in knowledge and skills? Ireland in international perspective

Date: 22 May 2014

Time: (Registration 13.30) 14.00-17.30, followed by reception

Venue: Royal Irish Academy, Dublin

This symposium hosted by the Higher Education Research Centre (HERC) Dublin City University in association with the Royal Irish Academy and the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES).

This event will bring together experienced researchers and senior practitioners from the policy community with a shared interest in enhancing the levels of knowledge and skills of the adult population.

The OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) assesses levels of competence of over 160,000 people in 24 countries across three main domains: literacy, numeracy and problem solving. While the strengths and weakness of the methodology are open to discussion, the results provide a useful baseline for comparative analysis and policy development.

The relatively poor results for adults in Ireland point to the need to find ways to widen access to education and training across all levels, and at all stages of life – a ‘second chance’ for many who never enjoyed a ‘first chance’.

The symposium will offer a unique opportunity to locate Ireland in a wider international context. Contributors will include:

Professor Andy Green, Director LLAKES (Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies) Institute of Education, London University,  co-author of comparative studies analysing PIAAC results, including Lifelong Learning, Equality and Social Cohesion.

Donal Kelly, Central Statistics Office, responsible for administering the PIAAC survey in Ireland.

Victor Dukelow Joint Head of Analytical Services, Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland.
Professor Anne Ryan, Department of Adult and Community Education, Maynooth.

Professor John Field, Emeritus Professor of Lifelong Learning, Stirling University.

Fiona Hartley, Executive Director, SOLAS.

To facilitate in-depth discussion, places are limited. Please register though the following link:

Research Seminar, 20 May 2014

May 2nd, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

Tracking choices of the second generation in upper secondary education: a comparative perspective

Laurence Lessard-Phillips, University of Manchester

3.00 to 4.30 pm, Tuesday 20 May 2014, Room 746, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H OAL

There are important differences between ethnic minorities with regard to test scores and attainment during compulsory schooling in many Western countries, as well as important differences in continuation rates into upper secondary education. Some of these differences can be attributed to variations in social background, but not all. In this presentation, harmonised analyses of various national datasets are used to explore the field of upper secondary education by investigating an important differentiating aspect at this education level, which can have an important impact on the future educational and occupational labour market careers of the second generation: tracking into academic (or general) and vocational paths. On the one hand, vocational educational tracks may smooth the transition into the labour market. Yet, on the other hand, vocational education will not lead to high-status occupations, as is possible with more academic tracks, especially the ones leading to tertiary education. Given this disparity, the presentation will discuss the extent to which the second generation choose, or is channelled, into the different tracks and whether this differs from the majority group.

Dr Laurence Lessard-Phillips is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. She completed her doctoral studies at Nuffield College in 2009, and worked subsequently at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute and the Institute for Social Change. She is working currently on her own project, funded via the ESRC’s Future Research Leaders scheme, entitled: Unity out of Diversity? Perspectives on the adaptations of immigrants in Britain, which explores the perceptions of immigrant adaptation (and its dimensionality) in Britain in the spheres of academia, policy, and public opinion. She is also undertaking research on the social mobility of immigrant generations and the use of experiments in measuring immigrant integration.

Commentary – Education about Europe

April 9th, 2014 | News | 0 Comments

“Education about Europe  promotes European identity but is not a panacea for all of Europe’s citizenship ills”

Avril Keating is an ESRC Future Research Leader and a Senior Lecturer in Comparative Social Science at the LLAKES Research Centre. She is the author of Education for citizenship in Europe: European policies, national adaptations and young people’s attitudes, which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan this month.


The European Parliament (EP) elections won’t take place until the end of May, but campaigning is already well underway. In Britain, much of the recent debate has focused on the impact of UKIP on the national political landscape, and its apparent ability to attract new voters and influence the electoral strategies of the more established political parties. While UKIP make for interesting headlines and analysis, this focus obscures the fact that turnout for these elections is likely to be low. Only 35% of people in England voted in the 2009 EP elections, and across the EU, turnout for EP elections has remained ‘stubbornly low’ and by some measures is even declining. Participation rates among young Europeans were even more alarming; only 29 per cent of young people aged 18-24 voted in the 2009 EP elections, a figure that is 14 percentage points below the European average and 4 percentage points less than young people in this age group voted in 2004.

This downward trend in youth turnout has prompted EU policymakers to redouble their efforts to raise participation among young European citizens. At times such as these, it is not unusual to hear policymakers and commentators call for young people to be taught more about European integration while they are at school. Knowledge among the general public about European institutions, policies, and citizenship has consistently been low (regardless of age), and this lack of information is believed to be one of the key reasons that EU citizens do not vote in EP elections. Providing information through schools would seem to be a natural and efficient solution. After all, schools are a key site of socialisation and citizenship learning, and nation-states have long used this forum to provide children and young people with the information, skills, values and norms of national citizenship. Likewise, the European institutions have for many decades encouraged their member states to provide a ‘European dimension’ to their school curricula and to teach young citizens about the history, culture, institutions, and languages of Europe. Over time, member states have gradually adapted to this proposal, and the latest Eurydice review of citizenship education found that all EU member states (and most candidate countries) now have a European dimension to their citizenship education, at least at lower secondary-level education, but often throughout formal schooling.

But does education about Europe ‘work’? We know that individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to vote and to support European integration, but in the past, few studies have examined whether introducing a European dimension to the school curriculum will have a similar effect. However, data from the 2009 International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) allows us to consider this question, and it provides a somewhat mixed picture.[1] On the one hand, this data suggests that students who have more opportunities to learn about Europe at school are more likely to report having a European identity and are more likely to report positive attitudes towards freedom of movement for EU citizens. Individuals with higher levels of European identity are, in turn, more likely to vote in EP elections and support European integration. Yet this data also suggests that in and of itself, education about European issues made little or no difference to students’ intentions to vote in EP elections in the future.

In short, if the goal is to create active European voters, simply including more information about European issues in the school curriculum is clearly not sufficient. Indeed, for a more immediate impact, policy activists may wish to concentrate their efforts on media and political campaigns, which have been shown to have a stronger relationship with voting preferences. This is not to say that education, and education about Europe, is not important. Rather, it simply underlines that education is not a panacea for Europe’s democratic deficit, and that simply tinkering with the education system, or simply proposing more education, will not bridge the gulf between the political actors and citizens of Europe.

Seeking to address this gap is particularly important at this critical juncture in the European political project. The financial crisis that started in late 2008 has damaged not only the European economy but also the relationship between governments, citizens and the European institutions. And it is worth noting that the decline in EU support has potential implications not just for European integration, but also for power and politics in the national arena. In particular, a rise in Euroscepticism is associated with an increased likelihood of voting for radical right-wing parties, who are skilled at exploiting dissatisfaction with European integration.

At this critical juncture, citizenship-projects are in an unusually high state of flux, and it is still too early to tell what the long or medium implications may be for the relationship between political institutions and their citizens, be it in national or European arenas. In this often tumultuous context, it is not clear that European citizenship will be viable or desirable project in the future. But regardless of its medium and long-term prospects, EU citizenship at least, is currently a reality and therefore its citizens deserve to be informed about their rights, how the institutions work, and how they can seek to influence these institutions. For this reason, then, we need to continue to seek to understand the role that education plays in this process – be it in schools, policy texts, or informational campaigns, and regardless of one’s beliefs about European integration and EU membership.

[1] ICCS is a cross-national study of civic attitudes, behaviours and learning among young people aged, on average, 14. This study was conducted in 38 countries around the world, and included a European Regional Module in 24 European countries to examine more specifically young European’s knowledge about, engagement with, and attitudes towards European issues.