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Research summary

PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills (2012)

20 Jul 2018

The UK (in this report referring only to England and Northern Ireland) is performing significantly below the OECD average in numeracy – with particular problems among the 16-24 age group.

Almost one in four adults in England and Northern Ireland scored at the very lowest level, compared with the OECD average of fewer than one in five. The OECD says that the UK faces a shrinking pool of skills, with young people in England ranking lower than the oldest cohort.

The International Survey of Adult Skills: Adult literacy, numeracy and problem solving in Northern Ireland. 2013. Department for Employment and Learning.

The international Survey of Adult Skills: Adult literacy, numeracy and problem solving in England. 2013. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The Survey of Adult Skills is an international survey conducted in 25 countries as part of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). It measures the key cognitive and workplace skills needed for people to participate in society and for economies to prosper.

The last time Britain took part in an OECD survey of adult skills – the International Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Survey (IALS) published in 1997 – it came 11th out of 13 developed countries for both numeracy and literacy. The two surveys – 1997 and 2013 – are not directly comparable but the indications are that there has been little improvement in the UK’s numeracy performance in the past 16 years.

These findings confirm the issues raised by the Skills for Life survey in 2011 - there is a persistently low level of numeracy among UK adults - and this needs to be addressed urgently in order to make the economy internationally competitive.

Download the full report