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Literacy levels on par with global standards

Adult literacy levels in Scotland reflect those in other comparable countries, according to the Scottish Government, which has just released the most recent findings from a study conducted last year.

This shows that 73.3 per cent of those aged between 16 and 65 have a level of skills "recognised internationally as appropriate for a contemporary society".

The remaining 26.7 per cent "may face occasional challenges and constrained opportunities" in reading and writing and, within that quarter, only 3.6 per cent (one person in 28) have "serious challenges".

Education Secretary Michael Russell said the results of the study, carried out by a research team from Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, were a cause of "modest satisfaction", but he said there should be no complacency. The figure of around a quarter of Scots who have literacy problems has barely changed since records began, and the Government is pledged to use the latest findings as part of its literacy action plan due to be published in the autumn.

The researchers reiterated the familiar refrain that literacy problems are associated with poor attainment, low skills, less income, unemployment and poverty. Generally, age is not a factor although 26 to 35-year-olds perform more strongly than others.

The research report stresses that assessing literacy is complex. "People have spiky profiles, with areas of strength and weakness, and a greater ability to use texts more effectively in some circumstances than others," it states.

Further analysis reveals that, on a scale of 1-5, the majority of people in Scotland score on levels 2 or 3 - ranging from 55 per cent to 66 per cent on different tests of literacy. Very few were at level 5.

It is these figures that are said to be "similar to those of other advanced economies in the 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey".

The Government also uses a "proxy indicator" of those with low or no qualifications, defined as Standard grade General or below, to track progress with literacy. This shows the number in that category has fallen steadily from above 20 per cent in 2001 to 14.6 per cent in 2009.

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