Adult Literacy and Numeracy - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

6  Other examples of adult learning programmes in specific contexts

They are far more likely to learn because they can see the point of it, they are being treated as adults, it is contextualised, and they know it is going to help them to get a job on the outside. [Tom Wilson, Unionlearn, on a programme for young offenders][91]

55. The need for a range of types of provision was addressed earlier in this Report, and the need for learners to see the relevance of what they are learning to real-life problems is particularly important for the most disadvantaged learners. This chapter explores two examples of such contextualised learning programmes.


56. The take-up of English and maths learning is especially low among prisoners compared with the level of need assessed at prisoners' inductions. Partnership with the prisoners and learners rather than prescription is key to the success of literacy and numeracy strategies. One prisoner from Leicester described the negative effects of being forced into attending prison classes:

    You've gone upstairs and done the tests and probably failed them, but that don't mean you should be stuck in a class where you don't want to be. You should have that option to be in a class where you want to be, really—somewhere where you feel comfortable, as well […] If you're in a class where you enjoy doing something you're more likely to get on with it and enjoy it rather than just sit there.[92]

57. Tom Wilson, from Unionlearn, told us about a programme run in a young offenders' institute, which embeds numeracy and literacy teaching within other, vocational courses, within a relevant context:

    We have a programme in Glen Parva Young Offenders Institute, where a great majority of young people with literacy and numeracy issues—and these are 17-year-olds who cannot read at all—are working class white from local council estates. What we are doing with them is giving them skills in logistics, which is how to get a job in a warehouse. There are union reps from the local Sainsbury's who go into that young offenders institute and will teach them how to drive a forklift truck and how to work in a warehouse, which is a complicated operation these days, if you think of Amazon, and so on. To get those skills they have to learn, on the way, ICT, literacy and numeracy, all embedded together. They are far more likely to learn because they can see the point of it, they are being treated as adults, it is contextualised, and they know it is going to help them to get a job on the outside. That is the kind of thing that we would advocate as being the most effective way to deal with the massive literacy and numeracy problems that there are in prisons and young offenders institutes.[93]

58. Adam Fruish is the Writer-in-residence at Leicester Prison. His evidence described the innovative paths used to get prisoners interested in reading and writing:

    These 'hard-to-reach' prisoners can be engaged with, by creating non-threatening, fun situations that are entirely for their own sake. Too hasty attempts to tie everything into a qualification, are often counterproductive with the people who need the most help. Qualifications scare some people off.[94]

59. Nina Champion, from the Prisoners Education Trust, also highlighted the need for each prisoner to have his or her learning plan, specifically formulated for their particular learning requirements:

    We welcome the recent Government announcement of the roll out of literacy and numeracy assessments for all prisoners, but this must be done […] in a way that is going to engage that learner—not just assess them, but look at them as a whole person. The timing of the assessment is also really important. If it is done with the first couple of days of coming into prison, often someone is not in that right frame of mind; they might have been still using drugs or it might be their first time in custody. In some prisons they do two lots of testing and the second test tends to be more reliable in terms of their actual ability. That should be borne in mind. Joining up is important. A lot of the time they will have a number of different plans, so they might have a learning plan through education; they might have a National Careers Service plan[95] and they might have a sentence plan. More often than not, those plans are not actually joined up together. We would like to see much more joined-up working across Departments to formulate one single plan for that prisoner for their time in prison.[96]

60. One of the obstacles to effective provision of services appears to be confusion over who is accountable for it. Karen Adriaanse, from Ofsted, who told us about the separation of the education and training provision, and the prison system. She said that:

    The governors of a prison do not currently have clear accountability for the quality of the education, the teaching, the literacy and numeracy, or the English and maths provision in a prison. We would expect that the governors would know what the need is, would know how well they are meeting the needs and support that.[97]

However, Matthew Hancock MP argued that this issue was known to the Government and was being addressed:

    The training providers that go in are graded by Ofsted. The prison governor is increasingly being held to account, under the reforms, for what happens to their prisoners when they leave; that is part of the rehabilitation revolution. It is a bit like school heads being held to account now for the destination of kids when they leave school. Obviously prison governors being held to account for what happens to the prisoners when they leave is a different level. There is a form of accountability there, but Ofsted is also a form of accountability; if we have a grade 3 or 4 provider in a prison, then we should be asking questions about it.[98]

61. Partnership working with prisoners, and the offering of more relevant, functional courses, in which English and maths skills are embedded, has a record of success. There is a problem with the separation of the education and training provision from the prison system itself. There is also a lack of clarity on the accountability for the quality of English and maths provision within the prison. This needs to be spelt out to providers and to Governors.

62. There may not be enough hours of literacy and numeracy classes to raise prisoners' reading, writing and maths to a reasonable standard, especially if those prisoners have short sentences. The courses need to be flexible enough to ensure that prisoners take their accredited hours of literacy and numeracy work with them, and, much like the pupil premium, the funding of the prisoner should be portable and should accompany the prisoner.

63. All prison libraries should be open over the weekend, to ensure that prisoners have greater access to prison libraries. We would also like reassurance from the Government that improved literacy supports rehabilitation, and that the Government is doing as much as possible to encourage this.

Homeless men and women

64. There are many problems faced by homeless men and women, many of whom find it extremely hard to access formal literacy and numeracy courses. St Mungo's Broadway is a charity which supports people who are sleeping rough in London, Bristol, Oxford, Reading and Sussex. According to its evidence: "many of St Mungo's clients find it difficult to read, write and do basic maths; 33% do not have the necessary skills to complete a form, 16% cannot read a letter and 14% need support with numeracy". One of the learners from St Mungo's Broadway sent in audio evidence, telling us of her experiences:

    I was fostered as a child and told that I was stupid and chaotic, which I believed. I didn't spend much time in school so I didn't improve my literacy. I had no self-esteem or confidence, and I'm starting to build on this now. Because of my bad literacy, I lost my home because I couldn't fill in housing benefit forms. I didn't know what it was, so I put it in the drawer. I didn't know whether or where to find support to help me. We were then evicted and I ended up living on the street. I now attend St Mungo's Broadway recovery college. I have completed courses such as self-confidence, IT and assertiveness. This has improved my confidence and self-esteem, and I am now improving my literacy. This is because it is flexible, the clients and tutors are there to help others, and we are not embarrassed to do so. I can now complete forms, and my hope for the future is to help people in the care sector.[99]

65. Anna Page, from St Mungo's Broadway, told us about the benefits of embedding the teaching of literacy and numeracy within vocational training courses:

    We have basic skills tutors. We both train up the staff working on those vocational courses and will have literacy tutors who go and work with clients in those courses to help them with their book work that they need to complete for work they are doing for the vocational course. In bricklaying, it might be about working out which quantities people might need to measure to make up the cement, or in the music studio about writing lyrics for a song that they might have composed. It is very much about finding something that is relevant to people and working there.[100]

66. St Mungo's, Crisis and Homeless Links produced a report which was critical of the Work Programme. As part of that report it established a pilot programme, STRIVE ('Skills, Training, Innovation, Employment'), which became operational in April 2014. It is being delivered by St Mungo's Broadway and Crisis and is supported by around £450,000 of funding from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Communities and Local Government, with co-operation from the North London Jobcentre Plus district.

67. STRIVE will help at least 50 people who are or recently have been homeless each year. Funding is confirmed for two years, and it is envisaged that STRIVE will run for three years but this cannot be confirmed until after next year's General Election. STRIVE will enable participants to develop literacy, numeracy and IT skills needed to take full advantage of more mainstream skills and employment training. It will also support participants to develop self-confidence and motivation needed to enter and sustain employment. The Minister, Matthew Hancock, was a supporter of the pilot:

    The idea is to deliver English, maths and IT skills, but tailored to people who are homeless. The goal is to have smaller class sizes and a modular structure, because then if people miss a session it is easier to come in and out of. The aim of it is to be more attractive to people who are homeless and to be able to be delivered in a way that works for them.[101]

68. We recognise the fact that homeless people face huge challenges, and welcome the STRIVE pilot, proposed by St Mungo's Broadway and Crisis, and funded by the Government. This is a long-term project which should not be hindered by the political timetable of elections. We look to all three major political parties to commit publicly to the STRIVE programme so that long-term planning can take place beyond the 2015 General Election. Furthermore, if the pilot is shown to be successful, we recommend that the pilot is adopted nationwide. In its response, the Government should give an indication of how the pilot is progressing, and the timescale for extending the scheme to other parts of the country, as there is a clear need for adult literacy and numeracy schemes in homeless hostels throughout the country.

91   Q49 Back

92   Leicester Prison transcript (ALE 83) extract Back

93   Q495 Back

94   Alastair Fruish (ALE 85) extract Back

95   The National Careers Service provides information and advice on learning, training and work opportunities Back

96   Q104 Back

97   Q78 Back

98   Q259 (Grade 3 means 'requires improvement' and Grade 4 means 'inadequate') Back

99   St Mungo's Broadway transcript (ALE 80) extract Back

100   Q102 Back

101   Q257 Back

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Prepared 8 September 2014