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

7  Community learning initiatives

I think the engagement of parents into the learning of their children and the engagement of their own learning can have knock-on effects into their aspirations for themselves and for their children. [Andrew Sharp, Headteacher, Robin Hood primary school][102]

69. The Education Act of 1944 raised the school leaving age to 15, and in 1972, it was raised from 15 to 16. In September 2013, the education leaving age was raised to 17, and from September 2015 it will rise to 18, which includes provision for 16-year-olds to go to college or to become an apprentice, as alternatives to attending school. However, even though the education leaving age has increased over the past 70 years, there is still a high proportion of adults who find English and maths difficult. Many older adults find the idea of returning to classroom-based learning daunting, and instead find less formal approaches more appealing. As NIACE wrote, "Adults returning to learning and with poor experiences of school often find community-based provision less intimidating when taking their first steps. In addition there is room in literacy and numeracy provision for trained volunteers to assist learning".[103]

70. We received evidence from many organisations that work with adults, improving their reading, writing and or maths within the community: Read and Grow[104]; Got to Read[105]; Ruskin Readers Adult Literacy Club[106]; Forest Read Easy Deal[107], and Reading Force[108] to name but a few. Judith Norrington, from City and Guilds, spoke of adults learning through other activities, such as gardening or sports:

    We have got a research report called Roots to Work looking at people working in the community in small green spaces, growing plants, and building their whole range of skills, including literacy and numeracy. We have got examples of people doing work through sport. There is a college that has used snooker as a way of helping adults and young people to learn. There are lots of examples, but the important point you have raised is how universal they are and also how much opportunity there is for that innovation to be able to work creatively.[109]

71. One such example of community learning is the Out There project, delivered through St Vincent College and funded by Hampshire Learning:

    The Out There project provides short, first-step courses, covering a wider range of subjects to adult learners to support their lifelong learning journey. Some learners are able to go straight into English and maths courses to develop these skills, but for many, the barriers and lack of confidence that have grown over many years mean that they often need to start with a hobby/leisure interest course before progressing onto further learning.[110]

When giving evidence, the principal of St Vincent College, Di Lloyd, described a typical course, which involves buying and selling on eBay:

    In buying and selling on eBay, first they have to be able to use the computer—I suppose that is the starting point—but there is numeracy involved there in the bidding process on eBay and so forth. It is not too difficult to bring in some very basic numeracy and literacy. That might be the point where some real difficulties are diagnosed as well.[111]

72. Di Lloyd went on to say the Out There project was subject to the short-term nature of BIS funding, which leads to uncertainty over the courses and for the staff:

    Our Out There project is subject to bid funding. We had funding for the first three years of that project, but then, although the project was clearly successful, we had to re-bid for funding. We are employing people on fixed-term contracts because we are not sure whether the funding is going to come through for the following year. It is very difficult to make sure that we get the right people—the good, well-qualified staff who are able to teach on the courses that we are offering, particularly on the literacy and numeracy qualifications—and are able to offer to our community a continuity of those courses going forward.[112]

This point was supported by Jez Langhorn, Senior Vice President, Chief People Officer at McDonald's:

    For McDonald's, we are very pleased with the support that we are getting. Our education programmes go back over five years. I would just echo the point about continuity. We have an annual agreement with the Skills Funding Agency, who have been very supportive, as has BIS, but that is only an annual contract now, so McDonald's takes on a proportion of risk with the teams that we dedicate to this and the contracts we have with suppliers etc. That has not been a problem so far, but it is something that we perhaps consider is a long-term outlook on that support going further.[113]

When asked about the insecure nature of adult courses, and short-term contracts for staff, Matthew Hancock MP responded:

    Within the adult skills budget, we tend to base next year's allocation to an individual provider on what they have delivered this year, and then […] if they under-deliver we recoup the money and if somebody over-delivers then they ask for a growth case, and if the growth case provides good value for money then we fund it. […] I would not want to give very long contracts, because where there is under-delivery or poor-quality delivery I want to be able to tackle that. If Ofsted come in to any provider and say, "You are inadequate", then we want to come in and be pretty tough on them. It is true that we hold providers to account for what they spend, and it is right that we do that, because it is public money.[114]

73. The Skills Funding Agency's bidding process means that demonstrably successful providers of courses have to go through the process of rebidding, which leads to insecurity of both the learners and staff providing those courses. BIS needs to re-examine this arrangement, to ensure that there is continuity for both providers with a proven record of success, and recipients of the adult learning courses. Schools do not have this insecurity; neither should providers of adult courses.

Family-learning initiatives

74. Family-learning initiatives are an important subsection of community-learning initiatives, and they focus on any learning activity that involved both children and adult family members, where learning outcomes are intended for both and result in a culture of learning in the family.[115] The BBC's written evidence highlighted the fact that there is a direct correlation between low grades achieved by pupils and low family income and parental educational levels:

    Over 100,000 16-year olds failed to achieve above an F grade in GCSE maths last year. There is a strong correlation between low maths and literacy skills and low family income, low parental educational achievement, poor mental and physical health and poor overall educational attainment.[116]

75. Booktrust runs reading and writing projects, literary prizes and reading campaigns. Through its children's reading programmes it helps to "engage adults in informal learning with their children in the home, which builds parental confidence and interest in learning for themselves".[117] Booktrust highlighted the positive benefits of family-learning initiatives:

    Recent research that we have conducted indicates how attitudes to reading are passed on through the generations. The research found that adults with more positive attitudes to reading grew up in homes where they were encouraged to read by their parents. In turn, those adults who were encouraged to read as children go on to be more likely to read with their own children. […] Booktrust believes that there should be increased investment in family learning and the development of a family learning plan to address intergenerational cycles of illiteracy. Developing whole family approaches to tackling literacy could give children the best start in life and support informal adult learning.[118]

76. As a result of our inquiry being publicised on Martin Lewis's Money Saving Expert website, we received evidence from an organisation called Everyday Maths, which runs workshops to empower parents into understanding their own use of maths in their life in order to help their children with their maths, and whose research is supported by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation:

    Our workshops empower parents to draw on their uses of mathematics in everyday life. For example, parents use mathematical thinking when travelling, walking in the park, planning activities, shopping, cooking, or watching a football match, but are not always aware of these as examples of mathematical thinking, or as opportunities to share mathematics with their children. Once parents find the maths in their everyday lives they are then invited to explore how the mathematics can be shared creatively with their children.[119]

77. David Hughes, from NIACE, explained that family learning schemes have proved to be successful in raising adults' and children's skills, but that support for such schemes is patchy:

    It is very unsupported, really; it is very ad hoc. Family learning practitioners—teachers—are not well supported. Their continuous professional development is not well supported. It is not funded in every area. Lots of schools do get involved in it. Lots of local authorities do it, but perhaps not in partnership with schools. It is very patchy. We are doing a lot of work on trying to make it more comprehensive and available everywhere. Where schools do get involved and where they bring the parents in support and engage the parents, the results are staggering. That gets the whole-school improvement. It is fantastic stuff.[120]

78. The positive aspects of family learning schemes was illustrated by the audio-visual evidence submitted by the Robin Hood School, in Nottingham. Joyce Keller described the variety of adult courses on offer, including English and numeracy skills—helping parents to help their children with their work, but also to develop their own skills—family science, a fashion course, CV writing, help with dealing with debt, and "tiny tots" (a parent/pupil shared cooking course). She said the courses were available and free to all parents, with a crèche on offer, to ensure that "every parent is free to learn".[121] Andrew Sharp explained the positive effects of the scheme for both parents and children:

    There is increased parental participation and engagement with the school, so things like parents' evenings and open evenings are better attended. There is an open-door policy, where parents don't feel afraid to come in and ask questions of their child's learning. In terms of other impacts, attendance has improved by 3% and we're now above 95% when we were around 92%, so that's always good. Our number of persistent absentees—that's children who are coming to school less than 85% of the time—are far less now. Also our attainment of pupils right across the school, including our outcomes for Key Stage 2, have gone above national average and we are now rated as a good school, whereas when I started we were satisfactory, in danger of going into being inadequate.[122]

79. When asked about what BIS could do, in partnership with the Department for Education, to support more family learning, the Minister replied that funding was "at reasonably early stages" and they were looking at the results. He went on to say that "on the basis of what works, we will move money towards what works".[123] After being asked for further clarification, he said: "the thing that we need to study is how effective it is. I have not got a specific timescale to hand". However, the Government's own written evidence stated that "Community Learning provides flexible, non-formal and usually unaccredited but structured courses, based on national objectives". Of the 4,000 learners who had taken part in community learning, 71% felt their quality of life had improved, 82% felt more confident in their abilities, 51% felt they had a better understanding of what they wanted to do in life, and 68% felt they had more opportunities.[124]

80. Family learning provision must be at the heart of schools and community centres, so that learning is rooted within communities, especially those that are disadvantaged. However, the evidence we received, including that from the Government, showed that despite overwhelming support for family-learning schemes, they are hampered by a lack of long-term, consistent funding. We recommend that the Government must commit to the long-term funding of family-learning schemes, and must set out in its response how this funding will be provided.

102   Robin Hood (ALE 90) extract Back

103   NIACE (ALE 33) para 27 Back

104   Linda Curtis, from the Read & Grow initiative, gave oral evidence on 11 February 2014 Back

105   Got to read (ALE 15)  Back

106   Ruskin Adult Literacy Club (ALE 66) Back

107   Forest Read Easy Deal (ALE 63) Back

108   Reading Force (ALE 86) Back

109   Q10 Back

110   St Vincent College (ALE 032) page 2 Back

111   Q74 Back

112   Q64 Back

113   Q64 Back

114   Q225 Back

115   NIACE, Family Learning Works, October 2013 Back

116   BBC written evidence (ALE 43) para 14 Back

117   Booktrust (ALE 26) para 3 Back

118   Booktrust (ALE 26) para 3 and para 6 Back

119   Dr Tim Jay, Dr Jo Rose, Dr Ben Simmons, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol (ALE 65) extract Back

120   Q10 Back

121   Robin Hood (ALE 90) extract Back

122   Robin Hood (ALE 90) extract Back

123   Q229 Back

124   Department for Business Innovation and Skills (ALE 36) para 4.6 Back

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Prepared 8 September 2014