This project makes use of data from the Programme of International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to assess educational and other determinants of adult skills inequalities. By comparing data for selected countries on skills distributions among 28-31 year olds in 2013 (from PIAAC) with data on distributions of skills amongst 15 year olds in 2000- 2003 (from PISA) we will be able to assess the durability of skills inequality and the effect that post-compulsory and adult learning have in increasing or mitigating such inequality.
This project makes use of data from the Programme of International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to assess educational and other determinants of adult skills inequalities. These inequalities have been found to vary significantly across countries in an earlier survey of adult skills (the IALS study of the mid- 1990s which was administered in only 14 countries) and in a time series dataset of highest qualifications (the World Bank dataset developed by Thomas et al, 2000). The PIAAC data represent a considerable improvement as they use direct measurements of adult skills (unlike the dataset on qualifications) and were collected in a much wider range of countries than the IALS data. Moreover, the large national samples (5000 respondents) enable assessments by cohort.
By comparing data for selected countries on skills distributions among 28-31 year olds in 2013 (from PIAAC) with data on distributions of skills amongst 15 year olds in 2000- 2003 (from PISA) we will be able to assess the durability of skills inequality and the effect that post-compulsory and adult learning have in increasing or mitigating such inequality. This could help to answer a key policy question about whether school-based or apprenticeship- based VET is more effective in reducing the unequal outcomes of compulsory schooling. The influence of other conditions thought to influence adult skills inequality – such as the levels and distributions of skills amongst migrants, and inter-cohort differences in skills levels resulting from over-time changes in education and training systems – will also be tested. The project has started in October 2012.
What the project did
The project initially analysed the data from the 2011/12 round of the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) to compare inequalities in literacy and numeracy skills across countries. Inequality in skills outcomes was measured using inter-quintile differences in skills, with significance tests, and skills Gini coefficients. Inequality of skills opportunities was calculated using the data on highest qualifications of parents to produce social gradient measures. Skills inequality was measured for different age groups and for migrants. A comparison of measures of skills inequality in corresponding age groups in the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) (from the 1990s) and SAS (1911/12) was also used to assess trends over the life course and over time in levels of skills inequality. Subsequent research used a quasi-cohort analysis of the tested literacy and numeracy skills of 15-year-olds in PISA 2000 and 27-year-olds in the 2011 OECD Survey of Adult Skills (SAS) to estimate changes in numeracy and literacy skills inequalities during the life course across countries. A difference-in-difference analysis was conducted to test the relationships between characteristics of upper secondary education and training systems and variations across countries in changes in mean skills levels and skills inequality during the life course.
- Amongst the adult (16 -64) population mean levels of literacy and numeracy skills in England are in the middle range for OECD participating countries; however mean skills levels for those aged 16-24 are lower than in most other countries, and England (and the US) are the only countries where these are no higher than for those in the 55-64 age group.
- In England there is a larger gap in literacy and numeracy scores between the highest and lowest achievers than in most other countries.
- The high ranking on skills inequality is especially marked among those aged 25 to 29; for this group England’s high inequality is matched only by that of the United States.
- The relationship between parental background and adult literacy and numeracy skills among those aged 16 to 24 is stronger in England than in all other countries except the Slovak Republic. England’s extreme position holds, even after we control for different levels of educational achievement.
- Adults’ skills in Anglophone countries, and particularly in the U.S. and England, tend to be more unequal than in other countries on a wide range of measures. This cannot be explained by inter-cohort differences, skills distributions amongst adult migrants, or levels and distributions of adult learning, but inequality in education levels provides a strong predictor of skills inequality amongst adults. Whereas research suggests that early selection drives skills inequality in compulsory schooling, certain forms of tracking, such as bifurcation into academic or apprenticeship/vocational education in upper secondary education, seem to have a mitigating effect.
- Different types of upper secondary education and training system show greater or less propensity to mitigate inequalities of skills opportunities and outcomes during the life course between ages 15 and 27.
- Greater parity of esteem between academic and vocational tracks, as found in German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, has some positive effects in mitigating skills inequality. However, the most important factors in mitigating skills inequality seem to be high completion rates from long cycle upper secondary education and training and mandatory provision of Maths and the national language in the curriculum.
- Nordic countries (Norway and Sweden) with comprehensive upper secondary education and training systems and German-speaking countries (Austria and Germany) with dual systems of apprenticeship were particular effective in raising relative average levels of literacy and numeracy skills during the upper secondary phase, whilst countries with mixed systems (England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Spain) showed a relative decline in both literacy and numeracy.
- The education system characteristics that account for these differences are (a) the inclusiveness – as proxied by high rates of participation at 17/18 and low social gradients of level 3 completion; (b) the esteem of vocational programmes; and (c) curriculum standardisation with regard to the study of maths and the national language.
The LLAKES Centre’s early analysis of the data in the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (Green, Green and Pensiero, 2015), focusing skills inequality in the UK, achieved substantial media coverage. The initial findings were published in a LLAKES Research Paper 47 in January 2014 with an accompanying Press Release and two blogs by Andy Green (‘Class Drives Equality Gap in England’s Adult Skills,’ The Conversation, 6th February, 2014; and ‘How Class Continues to Drive the Equality Gap in England’s Adult Skills,’ IOE Blog, 10th February 2014.) The research findings were extensively discussed in The Telegraph (‘England among the Worst Nations in the World for its Class Skills Gap’, 29.1.2014) and the Education Journal (‘Poor Skills of Millions of Adults Still Held Back by their Parents’ Social Class,’ 7.2.2014). Mentions of the research also occurred in: Mail Online (‘Underprivileged Pupils Fall further behind despite Nick Clegg’s Flagship Education Policy to Narrow Gap between Rich and Poor Youngsters’, 29.1.2014); The Independent (‘Children of Brainy Parents Test Better’), and The News Matrix (29.1.2014). Francis Green gave an interview on the report for LBC Radio, and Andy Green and Francis Green presented the paper to a special seminar at BIS on 25th February, 2014. Andy Green presented oral evidence, based on this research, to the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility in 2015 and his evidence is widely cited in the final report from this committee as well as in the final report of the Intergenerational Commission entitled ‘A New Generational Contract.’ and in the 2015 NIESR report for The British Academy entitled ‘State of the Nation: A Review of Evidence on the Supply and demand of Quantitative Skills.’
Green, A., Green F., and Pensiero, N. (2014) Why are Literacy and Numeracy Skills in England so Unequal? Evidence from the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills and other International Surveys, Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies (LLAKES), Research Paper 47.
Green, A, Green, F. and Pensiero, N, (2015) ‘Cross-Country Variation in Adult Skills Inequality: Why are Skill Levels and Opportunities so Unequal in Anglophone Countries?’ Comparative Education Review, 59, 4 (featured article), pp. 595-618 .
Green, A. and Pensiero, N. (2015) Policy Briefing: The Effects of Upper Secondary Education and Training Systems on Skills Inequality, London: LLAKES Research Centre, UCL IOE.
Green, A. and Pensiero, N. (2016) ‘The Effects of Upper Secondary Education and Training Systems on Skills Inequality. A Quasi-Cohort Analysis using PISA 2000 and the OECD Survey of Adult Skills.’ British Education Research Journal, 45, 5, pp. 756-779).
Pensiero, N., and Green, A. (2018). ‘The Effects of Post‐Compulsory Education and Training Systems on Literacy and Numeracy skills: A Comparative Analysis using PISA 2000 and the 2011 Survey of Adult Skills.’ European Journal of Education. doi:10.1111/ejed.12268
Green, A. : Oral Evidence given to House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, 2015: (http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/social-mobility-committee/social-mobility/oral/18761.html)