A study has found that in England, class may have a bigger influence on how well educated one is than in any other country.
The report, published by the Institute of Education, blames decades of inequality between the best schools and the worst. It finds that the link between people’s skills in adult life and their parents’ background is “especially high” in England in comparison with 24 other countries or regions.
Adults whose parents went to college have higher levels of numeracy and literacy than those who came from less privileged backgrounds.
The study warns of an “exceptionally” large gap between those who have high skill levels and those at the bottom. This gap was even more dramatic among young adults ages 25-29. The only country that had a stronger link between parental background and young people’s skill levels was Slovakia.
Researchers at the Institute’s Research Centre on Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES) compared data from OECD studies of literacy and numeracy. The study found that “The association of people’s adult skills with their parents’ social background is especially high in England. We conclude that the primary cause of adult skills inequality in England is the exceptionally unequal skills outcomes of the initial education system sustained over a long period, fueled and supplemented by an especially strong influence from social background.”
The study also found that students between the ages of 16-24 score 67 points higher in international numeracy when their parents have a degree. The gap also was noticeable in literacy figures; those whose parents were college educated scored 58 points higher than those whose parents were not.
England has the fourth largest numeracy gap among adults of working age, after France, Canada and the US. It also scored in the bottom half for literacy. In both literacy and numeracy, the gap between the top scores and bottom scores is narrower in Northern Ireland, which retains grammar schools. However, Northern Ireland had an even wider skills gap among the young on some measures.
Director of LLAKES Andrew Green says the findings matter “because skills have well-known effects on labor market and wider social outcomes. Over the last quarter century, the UK as a whole has experienced one of the fastest increases in wage inequality in the developed world.”