What do adult literacy levels mean?

Adult reading on train

In England, adult literacy is often referred to in terms of ‘levels’ – for example, government statistics show that 14.9% (or 1 in 7) adults in England have literacy levels at or below entry level 3, which is equivalent to that of a 9 to 11-year-old.

The government’s 2011 Skills for Life survey defines the five lowest literacy levels as follows: 

  • Entry Level 1 is equivalent to literacy levels at age 5-7. Adults below Entry Level 1 may not be able to write short messages to family or read a road sign.
  • Entry Level 2 is equivalent to literacy levels at age 7-9. Adults with below Entry Level 2 may not be able to describe a child’s symptoms to a doctor or read a label on a medicine bottle.
  • Entry Level 3 is equivalent to literacy levels at age 9-11. Adults with skills below Entry Level 3 may not be able to understand labels on pre-packaged food or understand household bills.
  • Level 1 is equivalent to GCSE grades D-G. Adults with skills below Level 1 may not be able to read bus or train timetables or understand their pay slip.
  • Level 2 is equivalent to GCSE grades A*-C. Adults with skills below Level 2 may not have the skills to spot fake news or bias in the media.
Get further support and information on adult literacy.