Adult Literacies in Scotland 2020: Strategic guidance

Adult Literacies in Scotland 2020: Strategic guidance


Policy context

The Scottish Government is committed to creating a smarter, wealthier, healthier, greener and fairer Scotland, with opportunities for all to flourish, through increased sustainable economic growth. Central to this Purpose 4 is the refreshed skills strategy Skills for Scotland: Accelerating the Recovery and Increasing Sustainable Economic Growth5. This strategy reaffirms that "improving levels of adult literacy and numeracy is crucial to securing a competitive economy, promoting education and lifelong learning, and tackling ill-health and improving well-being."

Improving educational outcomes for all young people remains a priority for the Scottish Government and Curriculum for Excellence6 has been implemented across Scotland to raise standards, improve knowledge and develop skills to help all young people to take their place in a modern society and economy. Curriculum for Excellence entitles every child and young person from ages 3-18 to the opportunity to develop their skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work, with a continuous focus on literacy and numeracy, wherever the learning takes place. Young people in their Senior Phase of education - broadly those aged 15-18 - may learn in a range of settings including in school or college; in the community (through youth literacies and youth work); through a training provider; through a volunteering organisation; in employment; or a combination of these. Whatever the setting, their entitlement to continued development of their literacy and numeracy skills must be fulfilled, and it is the responsibility of every provider to support them.

This entitlement to a continuous focus on literacy and numeracy is echoed in the Scottish Government's Literacy Action Plan. This plan provides a strategic commitment to improving standards of literacy across the continuum of learning. It also ensures there is better co-ordination and partnership across Government and its partners, to focus on learner priorities and encourage collaborative working.

Additionally, adult literacies work is aligned with the social practice principles that underpin community learning and development ( CLD) as outlined in Working and Learning Together to Build Stronger Communities7. Building on this, the Joint statement on community learning and development, including adult literacy and numeracy ( ALN)8, by the Scottish Government and COSLA, prompts those developing Single Outcome Agreements to maximise the contribution CLD makes to achieving outcomes and ultimately making the most of its potential to play a part in transforming the lives of all Scotland's people.

Refreshing our policy

In 2001 the Scottish Executive's Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Scotland ( ALNIS) report 9 made 21 recommendations for building a world-class adult literacy and numeracy service for Scotland. This strategy has been internationally celebrated for its learner-centred, social practice approach. Indeed, there has been considerable success in the implementation of ALNIS, particularly in the collaborative working between local and national organisations and across sectors to provide a diverse delivery landscape in which learners can achieve their personal goals, make positive changes in their lives and progress into new opportunities. The national 'development engine' (formerly Learning Connections, now part of the Communities Team of Learning and Teaching Scotland) continues to work with service providers/deliverers, to improve practice, share knowledge, embed a curriculum framework 10 for adult literacies and raise awareness of literacies and reduce stigma. Since 2001 over 200,000 adults have accessed literacies learning opportunities across Scotland and across a range of settings - local authority, voluntary, college, prison and workplace.

Ten years after the publication of ALNIS, we live in a different world. Public services are adapting to reduced funding; the relationship between national and local government has fundamentally changed since the introduction of the Concordat 11 in 2007; the world is technologically different; and we have improved knowledge about literacies levels among Scotland's working age adults. We also have a clearer picture of the literacies work and interventions which need to happen across the lifewide and lifelong stages of learning, and the connections between these through the Literacy Action Plan. It is now time to reflect and build on the achievements of ALNIS, to re-affirm the core elements that have contributed to progress so far, and to challenge ourselves to achieve more, often with fewer resources.

We have updated and enhanced our knowledge of the literacies levels of our working age population. The findings in the Scottish Survey of Adult Literacies 2009 ( SSAL 2009) 12 underline the importance of adult literacies to the Scottish Government's central Purpose, and to a range of National Outcomes in the National Performance Framework 13. It is also recognised in the current National Indicator which aims to: 'Reduce the number of working age people with severe literacy and numeracy problems'. 14

In 2010, the Scottish Government convened a short life National Strategic Advisory Group 15 to identify priorities to support adults with literacies needs. Together with the Scottish Government, this group developed the actions set out in this guidance document, which are structured around four overarching outcomes of - improved access to learning opportunities, high quality learning and teaching, improved infrastructure and evidence of impact.

The Scottish Government strongly encourages local partnerships, sectors and organisations to create their own adult literacies action plans based on this guidance and to share their commitments with local and national partners.

Understanding literacies in Scotland

Literacies development extends beyond the acquisition of the skills of reading, writing and using numbers. It is most successfully taught using a "social practice" approach. This model of delivery emphasises the importance of a learner-centred approach and personal curriculum. The focus is on how the learner will use the skills, knowledge and understanding of reading, writing and numbers in their everyday lives: with their families, at work, gaining qualifications to progress towards a job, or a better job, and in their communities. However, the social practice approach is about more than contextualising learning to make it more relevant; it is about learners developing capabilities in making decisions, solving problems and expressing ideas and critical opinions about the world.

We may all face further challenges over the next ten years, some which we can anticipate, and some which we cannot. Technology advances at such a pace that it is a constant challenge to predict what skills will be required in the future. Adult literacies providers must ensure their services are adaptable as the use of literacies change and evolve. Online and blended learning should continue to be developed in order to reach more learners, offer alternative modes of learning and provide the learner with increased opportunities to access learning outwith face-to-face tuition. This is particularly important for people living and working in remote and rural areas, shift workers and those who may face other physical or time barriers.

The level of literacies need among the working-age population in Scotland

The key findings of SSAL 2009 are that:

  • 73.3% of the Scottish working age population have a level of literacies that is recognised internationally as appropriate for a contemporary society;
  • around one quarter of the Scottish population (26.7%) may face occasional challenges and constrained opportunities due to their literacies difficulties, but will generally cope with their day-to-day lives; and
  • within this quarter of the population, 3.6% (one person in 28) face serious challenges in their literacies practices.

SSAL 2009 identifies that one of the key factors linked to lower literacies capabilities is poverty, with adults living in the 15% of the most deprived areas in Scotland being more likely to have literacies capabilities at the lower end of the scale. It is important that organisations keep this in mind when they are planning engagement strategies to reach prospective learners.

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