British youngsters 'most illiterate' in developed world

Credit: David Davies/PA

British youngsters are the "most illiterate" in the developed world, according to the findings of a new report that ranks worldwide numeracy and literacy levels.

According to the organisation for economic co-operation and development, who analysed data from around the world, English teenagers aged 16 to 19 were judged to have the worst literacy levels and the second to worst numeracy levels of the 23 developed nations that were compared.

The report also suggested there were millions of adults between 16-65 in England who "struggle with basic quantitative reasoning or have difficulty with simple written information".

There are an estimated nine million working aged adults in England (more than a quarter of adults aged 16-65) with low literacy or numeracy skills or both.

The OECD's Credit: OECD

Key findings from the report:

  • England has three times more low-skilled people among those aged 16-19 than the best-performing countries like Finland and Japan

  • Around one in ten of all university students in England have numeracy or literacy levels below level 2

  • English 15 year-olds have similar literacy levels to their counterparts but by 20-22 their literacyskills appear to fall behind

What the OECD recommends should be done about the issue?

A key OECD recommendation from the report, which also identifies one in ten English university students as having weaknesses in their literacy and numeracy, is that students who struggle with numeracy and literacy issues should not continue on to university.

Those with low basic skills should not normally enter three year undergraduate programmes, which are both costly and unsuited to the educational needs of those involved, while graduates with poor basic skills undermine the currency of an English university degree. These potential entrants should be diverted into more suitable provision that meets their needs.