Millions of adults have taken basic skills courses
Adult basic skills courses have been a waste of millions of pounds, an educationalist will tell a conference.
Professor Anna Vignoles, from the Institute of Education, believes that good basic skills must be learned early to improve attainment later in life.
The government spent £995m between 2006-07 on one such programme in England, called Skills for Life.
The government says it will not "write off" adults with poor basic skills, and that this is "money well spent".
Roughly five million adults still have the literacy levels which would be expected of an 11 year old, and the government has targeted its further education funding largely at extending the availability of literacy and numeracy courses.
Colleges have in turn complained that training places in other areas are under serious threat.
But 2.8 million people have been through a Skills For Life programme.
"It is well known that an individual's basic skills level affects how much they earn, but research shows that the three Rs are best acquired in childhood," Professor Vignoles will tell the Institute for Fiscal Studies conference.
"Policies and qualifications to help adults develop them have proved largely ineffective."
Professor Vignoles will argue that there is a place for short training courses of up to 20 hours, as they can reach those who have not taken up any other opportunity to learn.
And she acknowledges that adults who take basic skills courses may then go on to other courses.
But she will say the "array of low-level courses available to adults has not boosted productivity and earnings".
"Adult basic skills training might increase equality of opportunity, but unfortunately it won't boost economic competitiveness."
A spokesperson for the Department for Innovation and Skills said it was important for adults to develop these skills for a number of reasons, not just to try to increase their earnings.
"Professor Vignoles may argue that good basic skills are best acquired in childhood but we have no intention of writing off the 12 million adults who struggle with literacy or numeracy," she said.
"We will continue to invest so that even more adults can get a qualification, improve their self-confidence, get work, boost their earning power and help with their children's education.
"The £5bn we have spent since our Skills for Life strategy was launched in 2001 has enabled 5.7m people to go on 12m literacy, language and numeracy courses with over 2.8m achieving first qualifications.
"This works out as £660 per achievement.
"We consider it money well spent."