An adult education campaigner said it is “appalling” that young people in the UK are no better skilled than their grandparents.
David Hughes (pictured), head of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, told MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee that schools are not doing enough and adult education is underfunded.
Mr Hughes was giving evidence at the first session of the BIS committee’s inquiry into adult literacy and numeracy, following the results of the 2013 Survey of Adult Skills by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The report found that England was the only country where the generation approaching retirement is more literate than numerate than the youngest adults, a point that was seized upon by committee member Brian Binley, who called it a “frightening prospect”.
“It’s appalling, isn’t it, that a modern society can have those sorts of results?” Mr Hughes responded.
“We still have a school system pushing people out without literacy and numeracy and an adult system not getting enough funding to the people who need the most support.”
But Mr Binley rejected Mr Hughes’ calls for more money and questioned why children could no longer read and write, suggesting instead that teachers had “lost their ability to teach”.
The OECD report found that social background has a major impact on literacy skills in England and the US, whereas it does not in most European countries.
Mr Hughes said the school system in England tends to support young people who already have support from their families and communities, but is not so good at supporting those from deprived backgrounds.
Judith Norrington, director of policy, research and regulation for vocational education body City and Guilds, told the inquiry that teachers who lack confidence with literacy and numeracy need more professional development and support.
Helen Casey, executive director of the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy, suggested that many adults had learnt to cover up what they could not do from a very young age.
She and Mr Hughes both said family learning can play a “powerful role” in improving literacy and numeracy among young people.
Ms Casey said: “There’s a lot of evidence that when you work with parents and children together it moves children on in their progress and improves the adults’ skills too.”