How did England do in the 2013 Adult Skills Survey?

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Round One of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Adult Skills Survey covered 23 countries.  Participants were tested during the period 2008/13. The results were published in Autumn 2013.  OECD warned the results should be used with caution because of the sampling problems.  This caveat has mostly been ignored.

A second group of countries including Chile, Greece, New Zealand and Singapore will be tested during the period 2012/16. 

A third group will be tested 2014/18.  The OECD is inviting participation.

English participants took the survey between August 2011 and March 2012.  The response rate was 59% (NFER).  The OECD asked countries which didn’t meet sampling requirements to complete Non-Response Bias surveys.  England and Northern Ireland did not complete all of these but OECD still stands by the results.



The mean score in England was not significantly different to the OECD average for literacy.

Adults aged 16-65: 8 countries significantly outperformed England.  8 countries performed significantly below.

Young adults aged 16.24: There was particularly poor performance amongst England’s youngest adults compared with other participating countries.

In England, the youngest adults (aged 16-18) scored an average of 6.1 score points less than the oldest (aged 55-65) but the difference was not significant.


Adults aged 16-65: England’s performance in numeracy was significantly below the OECD average. There were 15 countries that significantly outperformed England and five countries that England significantly outperformed.

Young adults scored significantly below the OECD average.

In England, the difference between the score of the youngest adults (aged 16-18) and the oldest (55-65) was not statistically significant.  The pattern of decreasing numeracy skills in younger adults was found in some high scoring countries as well as in England, but these other countries are not falling so far below the OECD average as England.

PROBLEM SOLVING: England’s scores were significantly below the OECD averages.



England average: 273.  Highest average was in South East (283); the lowest in the North East (259).


England average: 262.  Highest average was in South East (274); lowest in North East (247).


England average: 281.  Highest average was in the Eastern area (289); lowest in North East (268).

NFER repeated OECD warnings:

“…the possibility of biases associated with non-response cannot be ruled out. Readers should, therefore, exercise caution in drawing conclusions from small score point differences between countries or population groups, even if the differences concerned are statistically significant” (my emphasis).