Evidence review: What works to improve adult basic skills?


Nine million working-aged adults in England have low basic skills in literacy or numeracy; 22% of adults lack the digital ‘life’ skills required to participate in a digital work; and one in five adults do not have basic financial capabilities. 2021 census data shows around 1,040,000 people have English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) needs. At the same time, participation in adult maths, English and ESOL is falling. From 2012-2020, English participation fell 63%, maths participation dropped 62% and ESOL participation fell 17%. Rates for participation in literacy and numeracy have not recovered post-pandemic, while adult participation in ESOL learning has recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

This review updates an earlier evidence review conducted in 20198 and draws on the best available evidence on basic skills approaches to look at what types of approach are most effective and, where possible, most cost-effective. We also use a wider range of evaluations to set out the issues that should be taken into consideration when delivering basic skills programmes.