Essential Skills Enrolments and Outcomes in Northern Ireland from 2017/18 to 2021/22

Date published: 30 January 2023

The Department for the Economy has today published a statistical bulletin: Essential Skills Enrolments and Outcomes in Northern Ireland from 2017/18 to 2021/22.

Economic Output Statistics published.
Economic Output Statistics published.

The Department for the Economy has today published a statistical bulletin: Essential Skills Enrolments and Outcomes in Northern Ireland from 2017/18 to 2021/22.

This publication presents a range of analysis regarding the numbers and characteristics of those enrolling and qualifying in Essential Skills in numeracy, literature and information communication and technology (ICT) since 2017/18.

Key points

Key points include:

There have been 133,026 enrolments in Essential Skills over the past five years.

  • Since 2017/18, 45,832 individuals have participated in 133,026 Essential Skills enrolments and achieved 80,489 qualifications.

After several years of decline, Essential Skills enrolments increased in 2021/22.

  • The 2021/22 academic year saw increases in Essential Skills enrolments and participants. For a variety of reasons, including a dip in the 16-19-year-old population (the main age group taking Essential Skills), improvements in GCSE grades, and Covid-19 related grading arrangements/restrictions, the number of enrolments fell each year from 30,430 in 2017/18 to 23,825 in 2020/21, before increasing by 0.5% to 23,932 in 2021/22.

The annual number of qualifications issued has decreased in each of the past five years.

  • The number of qualifications issued in 2021/22 (13,513) was 26.5% lower than in 2017/18 (18,394), a larger percentage decrease than that for enrolments over the same period (21.4%; from 30,430 to 23,932).

Two-thirds of enrolments in the past five years were from those aged 16-19.

  • Those aged 16-19 accounted for two-thirds (66.2%) of enrolments in the past five years, although their share fell to 60.0% in 2021/22; in contrast, the share of those aged 25 and over in 2021/22 (19.7%) was higher than its recent average (17.2%).

Males account for over half of enrolments.

  • Over the past five years, 56.8% of enrolments on Essential Skills courses have been from male students.

A higher proportion of enrolments are from the most deprived areas.

  • Generally, the more deprived an area is, the higher the number of Essential Skills enrolments from those living in that area. Over the past five years, over half of enrolments (50.7%) have been from the two most deprived ‘quintiles’. In 2021/22, 6,722 (28.1%) enrolments were from the most deprived quintile, while 2,323 (9.7%) were from the least deprived quintile.

Although Numeracy remains the most popular subject, ICT overtook literacy in 2021/22; however, this change hasn't yet been reflected in qualifications awarded.

  • From 2017/18 to 2020/21, Numeracy was the most popular subject (39.3%), while Literacy was second most popular (33.9%), followed by ICT (26.7%). Although numeracy remained the most popular subject in 2021/22, with 35.7% of enrolments, ICT (33.1%) overtook literacy (31.2%).
  • Two in every three (66.6%) Essential Skills enrolments result in a qualification being issued. Numeracy accounted for 43.4% of qualifications issued in the most recent academic year, while a further third (32.9%) were in Literacy and 23.8% were in ICT.

Almost half of Essential Skills enrolments are at Level 2.

  • Almost half (49.7%) of Essential Skills qualifications issued since 2017/18 have been at Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE grades A*-C), a further 32.4% at Level 1 and 17.4% at Entry Level.

This full statistical bulletin and other information is available to download on the DfE website.

Notes to editors: 

1. The Department for the Economy is responsible for formulating policy and administering funding to support skills, tertiary education, training and apprenticeships in Northern Ireland.

It is within this context that the Essential Skills for Living Strategy has been designed to improve levels of Numeracy, Literacy and ICT in Northern Ireland. The vision for the delivery of the Essential Skills Strategy is:

“to provide opportunities for adults to update their Essential Skills to assist them in improving their overall quality of life, their personal development and their employment opportunities and by so doing to promote greater economic development, social inclusion and cohesion”.

The curriculum standards for the Essential Skills of Application of Number (Numeracy) and Communication (Literacy) were refreshed and published in 2016, for first teaching from September 2016. The purpose of the refresh was to update the standards and to make them more suitable for a wider cohort of learners. The assessment methodology was also reviewed and developed to include an external end point assessment model for Literacy and Numeracy at levels 1 and 2. The purpose of this change was to increase the rigour of the assessment methodology in the light of Northern Ireland’s position in international studies of literacy and numeracy.

This statistical bulletin, produced by DfE’s Statistics and Research Branch (Tertiary Education), analyses enrolments, qualifications and performance rates for Essential Skills over the most recent five years of the Strategy.

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