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The old are better educated than the young

John Rentoul

Handcart 300x206 The old are better educated than the youngThis story was “all over the BBC” apparently, but I missed it and it doesn’t seem to have been in the newspapers. It was in the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), which was published on 8 October. You would have thought the hell-in-handcarters (handcart, pictured) would have leapt on this paragraph as evidence that the country is indeed going to the dogs:

In England, adults aged 55-65 perform better than 16-24 year-olds in both literacy and numeracy. In fact, England is the only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest age group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations, are taken into account.

The survey was of 8,892 adults aged 16 to 65 in England and Northern Ireland, carried out in 2011-12. It therefore compares older people whose school education (ages five to 15 or 16) was between 1951 and 1973, with young people who started at school in 1992 or later.

In England, people in the 55+ age group scored more highly than the youngest, while in Northern Ireland it was the other way round, but the survey says that “the differences are very small”. Even so, the Daily Mail could have made a two-page spread out of the contrast between the golden age of English schooling, from Florence Horsburgh, Minister of Education in 1951, to Margaret Thatcher, Secretary of State in 1973, and the lawless dystopia inaugurated by John Patten, appointed in 1992.

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  • mightymark

    I used to comfort myself with the belief that if the young were not learning stuff they were at least learning how to find stuff out. That was after all the rationale often given for what had changed in education and who was I to question it. That was until I was working on marshaling together a vast number of complaints about a major issue of concern to my organisation, and we agreed for reasons too boring to explain that we would subdivide them by British counties prior to detained consideration. I had what I thought to be a fairly bright, young assistant; conscientious and hard working – certainly not workshy. I asked them to get cracking on this but the reply came “Er, oh – we didn’t do counties at school” clearly feeling this to be an insuperable barrier. If you agree that this was bad wait for this – the person concerned had actually studied librarianship at college!!!


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