Poor reading skills 'make life of crime more likely'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Children with poor reading and maths skills are increasingly likely to become hardened criminals as society becomes more complex, according to research that sheds light on the link between education and criminality.

Children with poor reading and maths skills are increasingly likely to become hardened criminals as society becomes more complex, according to research that sheds light on the link between education and criminality.

There was now a "significant" connection between low literacy and numeracy levels and repeat offending, particularly for men and younger people, said a report published yesterday by the Basic Skills Agency.

The study, the first to investigate the backgrounds of career criminals over a period of time, discovered that poor literacy and numeracy were more strongly linked to the criminal behaviour of 30-year-olds than for a similar group of 42-year-olds.

Adults in the younger group who lacked basic literacy skills were 8 per cent more likely to be arrested and 10 per cent more likely to have been questioned by the police than literate adults from similar backgrounds. Truants were 10 per cent more likely to be arrested and 15 per cent more likely to be given a formal caution by the police.

Poor literacy skills were a good indicator of a 30-year-old's chance of being arrested, a statistical analysis showed. Illiteracy and related education factors contributed 33 per cent of the chance of a 30-year-old being arrested. In contrast, arrests among the older group were much harder to predict and were less likely to be linked to poor literacy. Literacy contributed only 7 per cent to the chance of arrest.

Alan Wells, the agency's director, said the study showed how "failure breeds trouble". He said: "There's a well-established relationship between social disadvantage, school failure, lack of support at home and poor basic skills. What's less well known is the close link between poor literacy and numeracy and involvement in crime.

"Raising standards of literacy and numeracy won't lead to a crime-free society but it will make it less likely that frustration and failure result in criminality in all too many young people.''

The report, Basic Skills and Crime, used data from a study of two groups of British adults born in the same week in 1958 and 1970. Professor John Bynner, the director of the Centre of Longitudinal Studies at London University's Institute of Education and co-author of the report, said: "Education is becoming increasingly important. In the past it was less important because everybody got a job when they left school at 16. Now they don't."

Mr Wells said the Government's literacy and numeracy strategies would take a "long time" to reduce the problem. He said: "Even if the Government hits its literacy and numeracy targets for 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the required standard this summer, there will still be one in five young people who do not reach this level."

The agency estimates that one in two prisoners have problems with reading while nearly two thirds struggle with numbers. It argues that educational programmes that target basic literacy and numeracy skills are essential to reduce crime.

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said the Government was spending more than £20m on education for prisoners and their motivation to learn.