My Department prioritises supporting literacy acquisition both in childhood and throughout adult life. Good literacy skills equip citizens to participate in education, in work and in society. Children in Ireland, on the whole, perform very well in international surveys of literacy. However, the situation for the adult population is somewhat less positive, but there has been improvement in this area. In 2014, 14.6% of the working-age population had an education attainment of less than lower secondary. By the end of 2018 this figure had decreased to 11.8%. The target for end 2020 in the National Skills Strategy is 7% and despite the steady improvement in the figures it is unlikely to be achieved.
Over €800m is invested annually in the further education and training (FET) sector, and literacy and numeracy is a key component of all FET programmes. Within the overall investment in FET, some €35 million is spent annually on dedicated adult literacy programmes. Dedicated adult literacy programmes are part time and mostly accredited at levels 1 to 3 of the National Framework of Qualifications. While growing participation in these programmes should enable pathways into the higher level accredited provision required to contribute the achievement of the National Skills Strategy target, it will not in itself deliver the required outcome. It should also be noted that there has been no decline in the numbers of beneficiaries of adult literacy provision. There has been an increase of over 4,000 beneficiaries taking part in adult literacy programmes, from 60,800 in 2018 to 65,000 in 2019.
The delivery and enhancement of adult literacy and numeracy provision is being driven through the implementation of the Further Education and Training (FET) Literacy and Numeracy Strategy which is contained in the FET Strategy 2014-19. My Department, along with SOLAS, the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and partner agencies are collaborating on the ongoing development and enhancement of the structures required to progress its implementation. The strategy sets out 12 inter- related elements which aim to promote, develop and encourage literacy and numeracy skills in the adult population.
As well as dedicated literacy programmes, there is also a focus on supporting integrated literacy and numeracy on all FET programmes. Transversal skills, such as literacy and numeracy, form part of the QQI award standards in the FET sector. As the intergenerational benefit of Family Learning offers significant impacts to both the adult learner and the child, Good Practice Guidelines Family Literacy in ETBs have been developed over the last year and will roll out in 2020.
Building on the substantial level of adult literacy and numeracy education already delivered in the FET sector, my Department has focused increasingly in recent years on the needs of vulnerable people in employment. Initiatives such as Skills to Advance and the EXPLORE programme offer targeted support for employees in lower skilled jobs who need to adapt to a changing work environment. These initiatives are also a significant part of the Department of Education and Skills’ national efforts to implement the European Commission's Upskilling Pathways Recommendation: New Opportunities for Adults, which aims to help adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills and gain accreditation at levels that will contribute to delivering on the National Skills Strategy targets.