Post-16 - Get the whole family involved to boost attainment
The first international survey of adult skills, published last week, made grim reading for countries across the globe. Of the 24 developed nations that were scrutinised, all but one - Japan - had significant numbers of people with only the most basic levels of literacy or numeracy.
Many commentators seized on the survey as proof of the need to foster cultures of lifelong learning, with adults constantly updating and improving their skills.
But according to a report on family learning in England and Wales by adult education body Niace - published today after a major year-long inquiry - the answer is to be found at school: teachers should educate parents alongside their children to drive up literacy and numeracy standards.
Niace is now calling for whole-family education to be made a core part of early-years provision at all schools.
"We are a nation in a crisis as far as skills and the attitudes to our citizens' learning are concerned," said Baroness Howarth of Breckland, who chaired the inquiry. "Surely it is a moral outrage that a nation such as ours should be in this position?
"The commissioners on this inquiry suggest very strongly that it is only by addressing the issues within families, working with them to develop positive attitudes to learning, that we can ever hope to make the step- change difference that is needed."
The UK fared particularly badly in the international rankings published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development last week. The country's 16- to 24-year-olds - ranked in the bottom four in both literacy and numeracy - were found to be no more skilled than their grandparents.
Meanwhile, adults whose parents received only low levels of education were eight times more likely to have poor literacy than their better-educated peers.
According to Niace, engaging the most disadvantaged parents in their children's education, while simultaneously offering them the chance to learn themselves, could improve pupils' attainment by as much as 15 per cent. It could also drive up their reading age by six months within a year, it said.
"Family learning made me feel human again," said Zoe, a single mother who took part in one of the projects. "It gave me hope for the future . I realised I did have options and I wasn't alone any more.
"I did have support. My kids see me learning now. We all sit down and do our homework together and they understand how important it is to listen at school."
Most family-learning projects are made up of a combination of joint sessions, in which parents and children learn together, and separate classes for adults, where they work on skills such as literacy, numeracy and general parenting while children attend their own sessions with specialist teachers.
A separate study by literacy charity Booktrust found that almost two- thirds (64 per cent) of parents with babies never read books with their children, but the inquiry reported that the arrival of a new baby in the family often acted as a spur for parents and grandparents to return to education.
Family learning also brought wider social benefits, the inquiry found, including improvements in health and employability, and led to greater involvement in the community, culture and sport.
International research has supported the inquiry's findings. One pre- school programme in the US, which included one and a half hours of "parental training" each week, was found to have yielded a $12 return for every $1 spent.
A study of a similar scheme in Turkey found that children who took part had "improved educational outcomes up to and including university and also tended to have higher occupational status as adults".
Although the inquiry estimated that the overall cost to the Westminster government of "troubled families" amounted to pound;9 billion a year, wider funding cuts led to a 6.7 per cent drop in participation in family- learning projects between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
"Without parents who are confident in their own skills, the generational cycle of low English and maths skills will continue, to the detriment of individuals, families, communities and the economy," a Niace spokesman said.