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Britain Must Break Cycle Of Failure - Those Left Behind By The Education System Will Never Catch Up.


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It is a widely held belief that each new generation will be better equipped than the last but a report released today blows a hole in that perceived wisdom.

According to the figures, young people in England and Northern Ireland have levels of numeracy and literacy that are on a par with, or only marginally better than, their grandparents.

To make matters worse, according to the Skills Outlook report, young people in the 22 other countries studied are blazing way ahead of us and eclipsing previous generations with their superior skills.

Why have our young people stagnated while their peer groups abroad have come on in leaps and bounds?

And that’s not the end of it. The research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows we also have shockingly bad numeracy across our adult population. In England and Northern Ireland, nearly a quarter of adults (24%) scored at or below the lowest level in numeracy, compared to the 19% average across the 24 countries.

So why have our young people stagnated while their peer groups abroad have come on in leaps and bounds? And why are we so bad at maths? This government is rather predictably doing its best to blame the previous one, which is all too easy given the headline statistics. But the real story is more complex and the solutions need to be bold to ensure we can turn this dire situation around.

The school system is getting a fair amount of blame today, based on low trust in teachers and too much assessment of young people.

We seem to revel in failure and if you don’t succeed early on at school then the likelihood is you will not succeed for the rest of your time there.

A new study from Save the Children has shown that children who fall at the first hurdle can never catch up. The charity found that more than four-fifths of children from low-income families who have fallen behind by the age of seven will fail to achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths – the current national benchmark of achievement.

Early intervention and extra funding for schoolchildren from deprived backgrounds is key. At the University and College Union, we say increase and extend special funding called the Pupil Premium, to put these children on a more equal footing with their classmates.

Lots of children do better through vocational education, but in England, they’re made to believe academic study is the gold standard. So we need to give greater support and funding to vocational education to even things up.

And what happens at school really matters, but learning must continue through life too. The government must encourage adults to learn new skills, rather than penalise them or make it more expensive. Funding is much harder to come by after the age of 19 these days.

That partly explains why the OECD study showed that low-skilled workers are far less likely to go back into education. Only 29.6% of adults with the lowest literacy took part in adult education, compared with 75.3% of those with high literacy.

We need a strong supply of highly-skilled workers if we are to stay competitive in the global race that our leaders so often talk about. That requires decisive action from the government to turn things around.

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