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Evaluation of the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy (ALN) Strategy - Research Findings

DescriptionThe report evaluates the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy (ALN) Strategy through a survey of a sample of literacy and numeracy learners and ALN tutors within 9 geographical areas in Scotland.
ISBN0 7559 2988 8
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateMarch 20, 2006


    Lyn Tett and Vivien Edwards, University of Edinburgh,
    Stuart Hall, Kathy Maclachlan, Graham Thorpe and Linda Garside, University of Glasgow

    ISBN 0 7559 2988 8 (Web only publication)

    This document is also available in pdf format (124k)

    Effective literacy and numeracy skills, knowledge and understanding equip people to fulfil their potential and are fundamental to improving Scotland's economy, health and well-being. This research analyses the impact of participation in adult literacy and numeracy ( ALN) provision on learners and tutors from nine areas of Scotland. It details: the barriers and pathways into learning; learners' and tutors' perceptions of the quality of learning and support they received; the outcomes and impact of the ALN strategy on individual learners; the implications for wider social and economic activities.

    Main Findings

    • The clearest pathway into provision that existing learners identified was better local and national publicity that is directed at changing the negative public image of ALN and reducing the stigma attached to being an ALN learner.
    • Learners' perceptions of the quality of learning and teaching they received were very positive with an over 90% satisfaction rate in respect of the learning environment, the quality of the tuition, and the social environment.
    • Tutors were equally positive about the impact of the ALN strategy on whom, how and what they taught but were concerned about provision for guidance and support and the lack of staff development for part-time and volunteer tutors.
    • The quality of guidance and support received by learners was weak at entry to and during the learning process particularly in respect of learners' lack of awareness of their Individual Learning Plan ( ILP).
    • Increased self-confidence was the most dominant outcome of engagement in ALN learning reported on by the respondents and this acted as a key to opening up opportunities in learners' personal, family, public, education and working lives.
    • Engaging in learning enhances social capital through increasing social and economic activity leading to wider benefits for the individual, their community and society.


    A key recommendation of the Scottish Executive's strategy for adult literacy and numeracy ( ALN) strategy for Scotland published in 2001 in Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Scotland ( ALNIS), was that the quality of ALN services should be improved across the country. It also recommended a learner-centred approach to the provision of ALN. In the light of these two recommendations a key way of judging the quality of provision was by ascertaining the views of participating learners.

    Research Aims

    The overall aim of the research was to evaluate the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy ( ALN) Strategy. The two objectives were:

    • To provide an assessment of the quality of the programmes that learners had participated in.
    • To contribute to an understanding of the impact that participating in programmes had on individuals' lives and any wider social benefits.


    Face-to-face interviews using a questionnaire were conducted with 613 learners in their place of tuition. Interviews took place between September 2003 and April 2004. A mixture of closed and open questions were used to enable the views of learners to be captured. Open questions were analysed for 200 of the learner sample in order to explore in-depth processes and events that influenced changes in learners' lives. After an interval of around one year, learners were re-contacted and re-interviewed. These interviews took place between September 2004 and April 2005. Three hundred and ninety three learners were interviewed a second time representing 64% of the original sample. The focus of this interview was mainly on changes since the first interview but an additional question elicited an overall reflection on learners' ALN experience. The impact of participation in ALN was assessed through an analysis of learners' perceptions of the provision they participated in and its impact on their lives. Assessment of the provision's quality was based on the 'Literacies in the Community: Resources for Practitioners and Managers' (2000) evaluation benchmarks.

    The sample of seventy-eight tutors was selected from different centres from those in which the learners' sample was based but in the same ALN Partnership areas. This avoided the replies from learners being influenced by the participation of their tutors. Telephone interviews took place between April and September 2004. The questionnaire was based on the same benchmarks as those used for the learners, in order to assess the quality of tuition provided against the framework. It also provided the opportunity for tutors to reflect on: the learning programme itself, planning, resources, staffing and management within the organisation, their own professional development, partnership working, and the impact of the strategy on themselves, their organisation and learners alike.

    Pathways and Barriers

    Research shows (e.g. OECD, 2000) that adults with low literacy and numeracy skills do not necessarily seek tuition so the research asked what had motivated learners to start their programme. Most learners desired self-improvement and the development of their ALN skills so that they could engage in a range of activities. The next stage in engaging in provision was enrolling on a programme. Most learners were encouraged to do this 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 on 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 were very helpful, felt that they were made welcome and important and found the information they were given useful. The factors that would make joining programmes easier broadly clustered into better publicity and the process of joining the course. Publicity, learners suggested, should change public perceptions about the image of ALN learning in order to make it more positive. Learners were veryy appreciative of the 'Big Plus' media campaign particularly as it had used 'real' learners talking about their own difficulties. When joining the course learners emphasised the importance of the first point of contact being knowledgeable, friendly, welcoming and not patronising. Pre-course guidance was perceived as important and those learners that had met tutors and other students before they started their course found it very helpful.

    Learning and Teaching

    Learners were asked to give their views on what they had been learning, how it had been taught and what they thought of the staff. Overall responses were very positive with more than 90% satisfaction on the majority of indicators in both rounds of interviews. These included: the learning environment including the timing and location of the course, the cost, the facilities (crèche, transport, café, rooms) and the learning resources that were available. The factors that contributed to a good experience of teaching and learning including what was learnt and the way it was learnt, the tutor, the pace of the learning and the number of hours of tuition available each week. Finally, the social nature of the learning including the other students and the social opportunities to meet other people was highly regarded. There were statistically significant decreases in some aspects of their experience between the first and second rounds of interviews that were experienced differentially by particular groups of learners. Learners attending FE provision were less likely to enjoy their course, female learners were less likely to find staff encouraging, older learners were more dissatisfied with their tutors and younger ones were more likely to report that they did not get enough feedback. These slight increases in negativity may be due to learners raising their expectations of learning, teaching and the curriculum over time. On the other hand, the quality of guidance and support was weak at entry to and during the learning process particularly in respect of learners' awareness of the Individual Learning Plan ( ILP). The ILP sets out in detail the learning outcomes, the learning necessary to achieve them and the sequence that learners and tutors should follow towards their achievement.

    Tutors' perceptions of the ALN strategy were that it had impacted positively in increasing: the number and range of learners participating in ALN; tutors' approaches to teaching and learning; funding and resources; the local and national profile of ALN. Improvements could be made in: fostering links with, and encouraging transfer to, other learning opportunities; guidance and support; exit pathways; communication with learners by management; access to good quality and appropriate staff development and support for part-time staff and volunteers.

    Outcomes and Impact

    There is extensive research that demonstrates the link between low literacy and numeracy skills and low socio-economic status. Given these negative indicators any positive changes for learners will contribute towards enabling them to fulfil their potential. The dominant outcome that impacted on individual learners was increased self-confidence. Respondents reported that increased self confidence was experienced as a growth in abilities, feeling better about one-self generally and in relation to others. Increased self-confidence acted as a key to opening up a wide range of other changes resulting from the confidence to learn, the confidence in learning, and the confidence in life that develops through learning. This growth in self-confidence as a result of an increased ability to learn, led learners to seek better jobs or gain wage increases. A high proportion of respondents showed how positive experiences of learning built up confidence to apply for new jobs or progress in their existing job. Fewer respondents were unemployed as learning gave them the confidence to take more control of their lives and enhanced perceptions of their future employment prospects and earnings. Those who had failed in school gained confidence, particularly from successful learning that they had not previously experienced. Learners felt empowered to take advantage of opportunities, were more relaxed with strangers, said what they thought and took on more active roles in their communities. Esteem developed through learning also appeared to have positive effects upon psychological health. Learners were more able to look outwards through having a future to aspire towards. This potentially meant that they were better able to cope with ill-health and other types of adversity.

    Wider social benefits and economic activity

    Engaging in learning enhances social capital and this increases economic and social activity leading to wider benefits for the individual, their community and society. The effect of education in raising people's sights is experienced more widely as a positive influence on the cultural norms that encourage others to do the same. Learning is dynamic because benefits gained in one domain, such as education, impact on other domains, such as family and community. Many people detailed the variety of ways in which their participation in ALN had helped them to do a better job as a parent, and had improved relationships generally within their families. The benefits included more confidence in their own ability as a parent; an improved capacity to communicate within the family; greater understanding or patience; more practical skills, for example in being able to use a computer. These positive changes in attitudes to education and family life are likely to result in benefits for the wider family and community as well as the individual concerned. These findings illustrate the impact that participation in ALN has on wider social and economic activity and show the importance of providing good quality teaching to enable ALN learners to progress and sustain their learning.


    These are based on the key areas of teaching and learning that require improvement based on the ALN quality framework benchmarks.

    • More and better publicity that will make the image of ALN more positive would encourage more learners to participate. This publicity should build on the success of the 'Big Plus' campaign.
    • More resources, which would enable programmes to be more flexible in terms of their timing, location and content.
    • Better guidance and support for learners: tutors need to have more training on using the ILP with learners.
    • Better exit guidance from tutors and more opportunities for moving learners on to other provision: Tutors need more training in providing guidance and ALN Partnerships need to provide a greater range of learning opportunities.
    • Greater access to good quality and appropriate staff development and support for part-time staff and volunteer tutors

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    The report "Evaluation of the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy ( ALN) Strategy", which is summarised in this research findings, is a web only document and available on the Social Research website at: www.scotland.gov.uk/socialresearch

    This document (and other Research Findings and Reports) and information about social research in the Scottish Executive may be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/socialresearch

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