This project here took place against the background of a major new initiative in Britain, both to understand and to tackle the problem of poor basic skills in a substantial minority of the population. Concerns were driven by the growing body of international evidence that basic skills difficulties were a major impediment to successful functioning in modern society, not least in the UK. This culminated in the work of the Moser Committee, (Moser report (1999), A fresh start. Improving literacy and numeracy. DfEE), and the government strategy that flowed from it, Skills for Life.
The 1958 and 1970 British birth cohort studies, longitudinal studies that follow up all babies born in a single week throughout their lifetime, were an important source of evidence for the Moser Committee’s enquiry into adult basic skills (literacy and numeracy) that needed expanding and updating because of the relatively small sub-samples from which the original basic skills data were collected. The Skills for Life strategy, and the research programme NRDC set up to support it, offered the opportunity to extend measurement of literacy and numeracy skills to the whole of one of the birth cohorts – the 1970 cohort at the age of 34, for which funding was already available for a follow-up in 2004.
The 2004 survey has two main parts: the Core Interview, which every cohort member who agreed to take part completed, and the Parent and Child Interview, that only selected cohort members with resident natural or adopted children completed. The Core Interview also included:
• the assessment of all BCS70 cohort members’grasp of literacy and numeracy.
• a number of exercises to assess the presence of symptoms associated with dyslexia.
• a standard Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI) and Computer Assisted Self Interview (CASI) to update the record of cohort members’ lives and to observe their current situation in respect of education, housing, health, work and family life.
The Parent and Child Interview contained:
• an additional CAPI section in the personal interview where cohort members answered questions about the health, care and education experiences of each of their resident natural or adopted children aged 16 years, 11 months or less.
• a paper-based self-completion questionnaire, which required cohort members to answer questions covering parenting styles and the development of each eligible child.
• the assessment of the cognitive skills of their children between age 3 and 16 years, 11 months.
The prime purposes of the report are to demonstrate ‘fitness for purpose’ of the instruments to be used in the research undertaken to support the Skills for Life strategy and to supply the details of design that will be of help in interpreting the research results. The report also serves in the nature of a source book enabling others to replicate the approach to assessment design on new samples of adults or children1. Overall, the development work represents a substantial contribution to the knowledge base on which the success of Skills for Life ultimately depends.
Parsons, S., Bynner, J. & Foudouli, V. (2005) Measuring basic skills for longitudinal study : the design and development of instruments for use with cohort members in the age 34 follow-up in the 1970 British Cohort Study. NRDC: London