CHAPTER FOUR: PATHWAYS INTO ALN
Motivation to Start the Programme
4.1 In the first interview learners were asked an open question about what had motivated them to start their programmes and the responses of the 200 qualitative sample respondents were analysed. They were asked why they had chosen their particular programmes, what differences they hoped the learning would make in their lives, what had prompted them to think seriously about ALN classes, and what their specific triggers to participation were.
4.2 Forty-one percent of all the respondents (of these 43% were women and 39% were men) had elected to learn for general self-improvement and the development of their reading, writing and maths skills. Some spoke of their skills 'needing strengthening', some talked of ' brushing up' maths or spelling, whereas others were motivated by the desire to ' keep [my] brain moving' or to 'better myself, do something with my life'. Twenty four percent (of these 27% were men and 23% were women) cited employment related reasons, to get into, to progress in work, or to access training programmes that required minimum levels of formal literacy and numeracy attainment. Supporting children's learning was mentioned by 18% of the respondents, two thirds of whom were women, and self esteem and confidence building featured as the fourth key motivational factor (15%).
4.3 In considering the differences they hoped the learning would make in their lives, over half (51%) spoke of increased self-confidence and self-esteem, for example; '[It'll] prove I'm capable of doing things for myself.' and 'I can get letters and read them without asking my husband'. Twenty four percent cited specific tasks that they sought mastery over, for example writing reports, reading the post or the job notice board, reading about art and sculpture, and dealing with money.
4.4 Learners were also asked what started them thinking seriously about doing ALN. The specific and more immediate triggers to participation related firstly to personal motivation (36%) for self, family and/or employment. A second trigger was the encouragement of family or friends (29%). A third trigger to participation was because of professional advice. This figured more prominently in women's, rather than men's, responses (of these 24% were women and 14% were men), and applied to both community and institutional settings. Only 7% of the sample cited life changes, - births, deaths, children's schooling, new partners and employment - as the learning triggers, and it is interesting to note that all of them were women.
Barriers to Entry
4.5 Previous barriers to learning were separated into 'personal' and 'provision' categories. Of the personal factors, 26% had simply not given ALN learning any real consideration in the past, 24%, mostly women, cited family circumstances, and both employment and low self-esteem were separately mentioned by 18% of respondents. Very few of the interviewees (18%) saw the provision itself as presenting a barrier to access. Of those who did, 67% of them talked about a lack of available information, and 28% cited lack of classes. It is possible however that this may relate more to their knowledge of what was available than to the actual provision of learning opportunities.
4.6 The learners were encouraged to enrol on their programme by a variety of people and events. The highest proportion was encouraged to start by unofficial people (family, friends, work-mates or casual acquaintances). This was followed by self-encouragement and then by people holding some position (doctors, social workers, job centre, youth club, employer). They received information of the programme from people at the centre that they enrolled at and the majority had no difficulty in starting their programme. Learners found the people that dealt with them very helpful, felt that they were made welcome and important, found the information they were given useful and, if they met a tutor before they started, got advice about what would be best for them.
4.7 Six hundred and thirteen learners participating in the first interview were asked if there were any particular factors that worried them or barriers to entry that they thought might put people off joining a programme. The LIC pack suggests that good practice would mean that ' access is prompt and easy. The programme is open to potential learners with needs and aspirations in any area of adult life. Perceived stigma attached to adult literacy and numeracy is challenged' (p12). Learners were therefore asked which, if any, of the factors identified in Table 4.1 had an effect. Two hundred and twenty-three learners said explicitly that there were no barriers and a further 15 did not answer this question. The table below is therefore based on 375 valid answers. Learners could pick more than one potential barrier.
Table 4.1: Barriers to entry
4.8 The most important barrier was about personal sensitivity such as the learners' age, lack of confidence, problems to do with meeting new people or how friends would react. The second most important barrier was a concern about ability, such as not being able to cope with learning or taking up education again and concerns about the learner's own ability. The fear that it might be like school again for people that had not enjoyed school and expected that their learning programme might use similar methods was the next most important barrier. Barriers that were within the control of learning providers such as the look of the building or staff being unwelcoming and the lack of facilities such as a crèche were much less significant. This finding is likely to be a reflection of the care that providers are taking in order to minimise barriers to participation in learning programmes.
Pathways into ALN
4.9 In the second interview learners were asked for suggestions that might make access to ALN provision easier for people, and the main barriers to learning that should be removed. Learners were asked to suggest which areas should be given the most priority. The results of the 211 learners that answered this question are shown in chart 4.1. As can be seen, learners prioritised publicity since they could not participate until they knew what was available. Once they knew what was available they wanted to meet someone to talk to about the course. They particularly valued individual contact that would focus on their needs and this was their preferred method for finding out about the courses on offer and getting detailed information about their chosen course.
Chart 4.1: What would make it easier to join learning programmes?
4.10 In considering the barriers that needed to be removed, 23% talked of the stigma they saw attached to ALN learning. Nineteen percent mentioned the accessibility of classes, and a further 19%, (all women) spoke of their perceptions of the nature of the classes. So although publicity and accessibility are evidently important factors, there still appears to be a significant need to alter public perceptions of what ALN learning is, and who it is targeted at.
4.11 Learners were also asked through an open question about their views of how joining programmes could be made easier. The responses of the qualitative sample of two hundred learners were analysed and they made suggestions that broadly clustered into policy and process issues, with increased publicity being mentioned by 55% of the sample.
4.12 Publicity included adverts through TV, radio and the internet, large posters and information leaflets. Learners responded very favourably to the national Big Plus adverts on TV, and several also mentioned the English Gremlins campaign, both of which were seen to encourage the motivation to learn. " The ad was the motivating factor. It hit the problem on the nail; what a person does to hide the problem, the excuses etc". Respondents also spoke of the importance of positive media representations of ALN learners. Many advocated the use of 'real' learners, of de-stigmatising ALN learners and learning, and " not labelling them as stupid" as one local radio station was perceived to have done.
4.13 In addition to these mass media outlets, just under 40 talked about the importance of local advertising/leaflets that could contain more programme specific information and that would make links with places or people they were already familiar with. They mentioned the availability of leaflets and posters in other agencies, other groups and courses, or places that people frequent such as job centres, post offices, health centres, shops and shopping centres (could supermarkets have adverts on their carrier bags?), and in local papers. Many respondents included details pertaining to such leaflets and suggested that:
- The language pitch must be right. 'The word numeracy was unfamiliar to me.'
- Local contact numbers should be prominent. 'Learn Direct is too indirect.'
- It should be clear that it's not like school and can be fun.
- The print should be bigger.
- They should say that the courses are free.
- They could be adapted and targeted to different age groups.
4.14 The second cluster of comments pertained to the processes of course selection and enrolment that "many are embarrassed about" and " some don't have the confidence to do." One learner remarked that " getting the information is the scary part". Nearly everyone who talked about these initial stages spoke of how vital it had been to them that the first point of contact was with someone who was knowledgeable, friendly, welcoming and not patronising. " It's important to get re-assurance and encouragement." "The first person you meet needs to be friendly and helpful." That " they welcome you when you arrive", and that " they don't put people off." Pre-course guidance was deemed to have been helpful, and several respondents advocated meeting the tutor or current/past students before enrolling, " to break down the barriers and give encouragement." Provision for adults with special needs was mentioned by several learners, including front line staff who could communicate in sign language.
4.15 Alongside these more structured promotional products and processes, word of mouth was seen to be a very powerful channel of recruitment. It may come from family and /or friends who have been ALN learners themselves, or from broader community networks.
4.16 Learners were mainly motivated to start their programmes by a desire for self-improvement and the development of their skills. The most important barrier to participation was about personal sensitivity such as the learners' age, lack of confidence, problems to do with meeting new people or how friends would react. The second most important barrier was a concern about ability, such as not being able to cope with learning or taking up education again. The fear that it might be like school again for people that had not enjoyed school and expected that their learning programme might use similar methods was the next most important barrier. Barriers that were within the control of learning providers such as the look of the building or staff being unwelcoming and the lack of facilities such as a crèche were much less significant. Learners were encouraged to enrol in their programme mainly by family and friends and they had very few difficulties in starting their programmes. Learners considered that better publicity, that used positive images of ALN learners, was the main factor that would make joining programmes easier. Such publicity should change public perceptions about the image of ALN learning in order to make it more positive. They also highlighted the importance of having as the first point of contact someone who was knowledgeable, welcoming and friendly.