New light on literacy and numeracy (summary version)

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Previous research has shown that poor basic skills are a major obstacle to achievement in many areas of adult life. It follows that enhancing literacy and numeracy skills will produce both social and economic benefits. The research reported here has taken place against the background of a major government initiative in Britain, Skills for Life, that is tackling the problem of poor basic skills in a substantial minority of the population. An important goal of this programme is to investigate in much greater depth than previously the ways in which poor basic skills impede social and economic life in modern Britain.

This report is the latest in a series drawing on data from the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohort studies, which have followed up individuals throughout their lives, with new data about the cohort members collected at regular intervals.The National Child Development Study (NCDS) has followed up all 17,000 individuals born in a single week in 1958. The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70), which is the subject of this report, has followed up all 16,500 individuals born in a single week in 1970. In 1981, when the NCDS cohort members were aged 23, they were asked to appraise their own basic skills difficulties. This identified a small but significant minority who acknowledged serious problems with written communications and number work. It was then possible to show the extent to which self-assessed basic skills difficulties were correlated with a range of indicators of disadvantage in adult life.

Bynner, J. & Parsons, S. (2006) New light on literacy and numeracy (summary version). NRDC: London