At the start of last week, the OECD released a report that shows that young people educated under the last Labour Government have some of the worst levels of literacy and numeracy in the developed world.
The OECD tested the literacy, numeracy and computer-based problem solving ability of adults in 24 countries. Their researchers sampled around 5,000 people aged between 16 and 65 in each nation to come up with the results. In almost every country, younger adults performed better than older people, with the biggest gaps seen in Korea, Finland and Spain suggesting that these countries have dramatically improved levels of basic skills over the last few decades.
However, the report found that “in England and Northern Ireland [Scotland and Wales didn’t take part in the study], the differences in proficiency between younger and older generations are negligible. Although young people in these countries are entering a much more demanding labour market, they are not much better equipped with literacy and numeracy skills than those who are retiring. In fact, England is the only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest.” Amongst 55 to 65 year-olds, England was ranked 3rd out of 24 for literacy and 11th for numeracy; amongst 16- to 24 year-olds, it was 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy.
In other words, despite spending billions of pounds more of our money, despite more pupils leaving schools with top grades and more people going on to university, we have gone backwards. I can think of no better proof of the core Conservative argument that what matters most is not how much you spend on a public service but how you spend it.
This Government is trying to put things right - making the curriculum and our exam system more rigorous, reforming the measures we use to hold schools to account so that they don’t perversely encourage schools to only focus on certain children and certain subjects, making it easier for teachers to impose discipline in the classroom, closing low-performing schools and focusing resources on those from less well-off backgrounds who tend to be worst let down by our education system.
Sadly, near all of these reforms have been opposed by Labour. On education, just as on the economy and welfare, they haven’t learned from this mistakes, they haven’t changed.