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E801: Action 1.13: Policy Context

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Hamilton, M., Macrae, C. & Tett, L. (2009) Powerful literacies: the policy context. In Solar, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (2009) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts. London, Sage.


International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS)

  • cognitive, independent of context
  • primarily reading: prose, document & quantitative literacy

Serious critiques of methods/validity but relied on in policy

England and Wales

1970s The Right to Read - first adult national literacy policy

1:1 and small group tuition

Basic Skills Agency - 1975 (materials, events, good practice)

Many volunteers at first, increasing professionalism

Late 1980s accreditation framework produced - related to NVQs

Increasingly formalised

UK - Creating a skilled workforce; Europe - informed citizens

Moser (1999) - tighter control

Integration with other education provision; no link to research

Wales - bilingual materials and tuition; more flexibility and local discretion


Mainly 1:1 with volunteers, locally

Writing and numeracy more popular than reading

Scottish Adult Basic Education Unit (SABEU) - wanted broader skills programmes; generally ignored by regional councils

Since mid 1980s no national agency and wide disparity across country; mainly volunteers; mainly 1:1

Broad remit encouraged

NDP (2000) survey - poor quality and capacity were concerns

Literacy 2000 - task group

Northern Ireland

Further education colleges- adult literacy organiser + group tutors + volunteer tutors for 1:1

Also voluntary/community groups and prisons

Adult literacy liaison group (ALLG) + Adult literacy and Basic Education Committee (ALBEC) - material, guides, courses, standards

General education is mainly grammar, secondary highs/colleges, denominational, single sex

Economistic emphasis


Long history of voluntary literacy schemes

>1985 paid literacy organisers

Locally based

Research on participation and access - increased quality

Literacy has high priority; multidimensional approach

My Thoughts

I cannot equate the picture of the provision in England with the adult literacy teaching that I did in 2003. This was organised by a small local college and it was led by a qualified teacher with help from volunteers and trainees. The group consisted of people who were learning either literacy, numeracy or IT skills. The focus was on social aspects of learning although some people were hoping that it would also improve their job prospects. Certification was not a focus and people generally left the course without any extra qualifications although many moved on to take Key Skills or GCSE qualifications at the same college. It was a really relaxed atmosphere with coffee and biscuits available at any time. It was very student focused: one man was trying to learn to read in order to read to his grandchildren and so he wanted to practice with children's books; another wanted to be able to write to his children in Australia so he was concentrating on typing on the computer, not handwriting.

I would agree that ABE professionals are not valued or supported and certainly not listened to when it comes to designing provision. The people with whom I was working were ashamed of progressing to qualifications with the same name as those their children/grandchildren were doing, but at a lower level. The college were not interested in what we were saying about this fact as they were being encouraged to standardise the qualifications.


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