Education: Literacy

House of Lords written question – answered on 9th February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the current literacy level in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

The 2011 Skills for Life survey provides the most recent estimate of adult literacy (for people aged between 16 and 65 years old) in England, based on fieldwork conducted between May 2010 and February 2011. The headline findings of the survey were published in December 20111, table 1 below provides the information about the current distribution of literacy skill levels among this population, both in terms of proportions and counts.

Table 1: Literacy estimates among the adult population of England, 2011 (percentage and counts)
% Margins of error Adult Population estimate (million)
Entry Level 1 or below 5.0 (4.3 - 5.8) 1.7
Entry Level 2 2.1 (1.7 - 2.6) 0.7
Entry Level 3 7.8 (7.0 - 8.8) 2.7
Level 1 28.5 (27.0 - 29.9) 9.7
Level 2 or above 56.6 (55.0 - 58.2) 19.3
Entry Level 3 and below 14.9 (14 - 16) 5.1
Level 1 and above 85.1 (84 - 86) 29.0
Sample size (unweighted)/population size 5,824 (34.1 million)

Source: 2011 Skills for Life survey: headline findings

The most recent available evidence on literacy levels across the United Kingdom is more dated, from the International Adult Literacy Survey 1994-982. This showed that 22 per cent of adults, aged 16-65 in the UK, had the equivalent of entry level 3 and below (ie IALS level 1) prose literacy3 and 23 per cent had the same level of document literacy4.

1 TNS-BMRB and AlphaPlus Consultancy Ltd. (November 2011) 2011 Skills for Life survey: headline findings, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, BIS research paper 57. Available online at:, accessed on 8/2/12.

2 OECD (2000) Literacy in the Information Age: final report of the international adult literacy survey, Statistics Canada.

3 Defined as the knowledge and skills needed to understand and use information from texts including editorials, news stories, brochures and instruction manuals.

4 Defined as the knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and charts.

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