Adult Literacies in Scotland 2020: Strategic guidance

Adult Literacies in Scotland 2020: Strategic guidance


The importance of literacies for employability and work, financial capability, families, health and well-being

With our new knowledge from SSAL 2009, plus information and advice from adult literacies stakeholders and national and international research, we recognise that not only does literacies development benefit the individual learner, but it can also make a positive difference to families, our economy and society as a whole. In this guidance we draw attention to certain aspects of literacies, focusing on the themes of literacies for employability and work, literacies and financial capability, literacies and families, and literacies and health. We also draw particular attention to literacies learning for particular groups: offenders and ex-offenders, and learners whose first language is not English.

Literacies, employability and work

There is a strong correlation between literacies capabilities and income. SSAL 2009 shows that 14% of people with an income of less than £9,500 scored at the lowest level of skills. This was in marked contrast to nearly 50% of the people scoring at the highest levels of quantitative literacy 16, who reported an income of more than £29,501 per year.

Also, a considerably higher proportion of people who are unemployed and receiving state benefits, such as housing benefit or jobseekers allowance, were more likely to score at lower levels.

Literacies capabilities are fundamental to working life and for supporting people into, or back into, the labour market. They help employees develop vocational and wider employability skills and contribute to national economic success. Evidence from a range of sources suggests that employers value higher literacy skills such as the ability to communicate clearly verbally and in writing. Improving adults' literacies capabilities is crucial to securing a competitive economy with more highly skilled and better paid jobs and higher productivity.

Additionally, the benefits of workers improving their literacies capabilities may include increases in productivity and efficiency, reductions in costs, improved staff loyalty and flexibility, lower wastage rates and reduced absenteeism. Employees who undertake literacies learning in the workplace gain confidence in their abilities so that they can sustain existing employment, apply for promotion, take up further learning opportunities/qualifications and participate in workplace activities.

It is important that the Scottish Government, community planning partnerships ( CPPs), employers, representative bodies, unions, the third/voluntary sector, learning providers and others work closely together to promote the positive benefits of literacies learning for and within the workplace.

Literacies and financial capability

Literacies capabilities underpin financial capability: the skills, knowledge and motivation to make the most of financial services and products such as bank accounts, insurance and loans are essential. Financial capability work 17 embedded in literacies support can help adults develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to manage their money effectively through everyday financial activities, such as reading and understanding written and numerical information and filling in forms. Many of the individuals and groups for whom financial capability can have a significant impact may also be those in need of literacies support. At the same time, money provides a context which is relevant to adults' lives, making their learning relevant and rooted in real, everyday contexts. Financial issues faced by consumers are becoming increasingly complex. Poor skills can make it difficult to keep track of day-to-day finances, to know where to go for advice when problems occur and how to cope with debt. It can also increase the chances of falling victim to fraud and penalties.

Literacies and family

A child's parent or carer has a central role to play in early learning. Research shows that adults who have a higher level of education tend not only to become productive citizens with enhanced social and economic capacity, but their children are more likely to be successful in school. Also many adults with the lowest levels of literacies reported that, as children, they received little support or encouragement in relation to education 18.

Family learning is an investment in Scotland's future, as it contributes to equality of opportunity by changing learning patterns within families. Working with the family together rather than with the child or the adult separately can often make a greater impact on the literacies development of both child and parent or carer. This can be achieved by combining early childhood interventions and early parenting strategies with adult literacies work. Parents and carers who develop their own literacies often gain the confidence and skills to help their children with reading, writing and numbers.

Literacies and health and well-being

Making sense of complex health environments and information can be challenging for us all; however, poor "health literacy" 19 affects a large part of the population. This could include elderly people, people from minority ethnic communities, those in lower socio-economic groups, people living with long-term conditions and disabilities, and people with lower educational attainment. The impacts of low health literacy on individuals can include greater risk of hospitalisation, higher emergency admissions, and more medication and treatment errors. It can also reduce a person's ability to manage their own and their children's health and wellbeing. Complex health information can also be challenging for some health care staff, who may have to deal with dosage, report writing and communicating with patients in a variety of ways.

SSAL 2009 shows that adults with lower literacies capabilities are also more likely to have health problems, including problems with sight, speech, hearing and learning, as well as other disabilities or health problems lasting more than six months.

The 26.7% of Scots who face "occasional challenges" are likely to manage reasonably well in familiar environments, and may have developed sophisticated coping strategies for daily living. However, they may face challenges in new situations, such as when they have unanticipated contact with the health service or when given a new diagnosis. This could result in confusion and lack of understanding which could present serious risks to personal safety and ability to protect and manage their health.

In New Light on Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Scotland (2008) 20, Parsons and Bynner report that adults with low literacies levels are more likely to smoke, consume more units of alcohol and be more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

Literacies improvement and health goals have a better chance of success when pursued together. Partnerships between the health and adult education fields have great potential to make a difference. The Scottish Government's planned Health Literacies Framework seeks to improve health and wellbeing outcomes through increased awareness among health professionals; making stronger links between literacies and health and well-being and improving healthcare workers' own literacy and numeracy capabilities.

Offenders and ex-offenders

The literacies development of offenders, both in custody and in the community, and of adults in the justice system, needs particular attention. Their literacies needs are disproportionately higher than the rest of the adult population. Supporting and encouraging offenders and ex-offenders to improve their literacies capabilities can have a profound impact on their ability to re-integrate into society and their families, and also improve the likelihood of their becoming economically active.

Literacies workers in prisons, and those working in colleges and communities, need to join forces to maximise the learning opportunities available to offenders and ex-offenders and help facilitate the transition process so that learners can continue with their literacies, and other learning, on return to their communities. The introduction of the Community Payback Order will also provide the opportunity to identify and assess offenders in the community to address literacies needs.

The Scottish Government recently published Offender Learning: Options for Improvement21 which details the plans to progress offender learning in Scotland. Literacies is a particular focus for this work and we have asked all agencies - in particular the Scottish Prison Service - to ensure that a specific emphasis and targeted resource is placed on identifying and addressing the learning needs of individuals within the justice system.

Adults whose first language is not English

It is important to recognise that literacies learning is not solely concerned with meeting the needs of monolingual speakers of English. Some adults whose first language is not English may have reading, writing and number difficulties very similar to those encountered by 'traditional' literacies learners, due to limited schooling in their first language or because they come from a mainly oral culture.

It is important to support people whose first language is not English to become full and active citizens. These adults can make an important contribution to the economic success of Scotland, but to do so they must be able to read, write, speak and understand English. In 2007, the Scottish Government published The Adult ESOL Strategy for Scotland22 for supporting the development of the English skills of speakers of other languages.

Accreditation of learning

Scottish Qualifications Authority's Core Skill units provide an excellent opportunity for adult learners to gain national recognition through qualifications for the skills they have developed. The revised Core Skill Units, including the introduction of bite size Units in Communication and Numeracy at lower levels, offer a more flexible approach to assessment, particularly suited to the social practice approach to adult literacies.

The use of Core Skill units and the new literacy and numeracy units with adult learners brings a range of benefits. They can allow learners to develop and evidence their skills in a wide range of contexts, increase confidence and motivation, provide a focus for learning, help to identify skill gaps, improve and enhance a learner's CV, provide evidence to employers and others (including the learner) of their skills and of their commitment to learning.

As part of Curriculum for Excellence 23, new units in Literacy at SCQF24 levels 3, 4 and 5 will be available from 2013/14 for learners in all settings. They will focus on the skills of reading, writing, talking and listening.

Working collaboratively and productively

No one sector or organisation alone can achieve our vision. Organisations need to work together, share resources and make learning journeys as streamlined as possible.

It is not the job of government to prescribe how strategic guidance of this nature is implemented at local level. However, we would encourage community planning partnerships to take a lead role in forming, driving and evaluating partnership activity. Membership of partnerships should include representation from all learning providers across CPP areas, together with representation from others such as voluntary organisations, businesses, health, libraries and social work. Many intermediary organisations, such as Jobcentre Plus, Citizen Advice Bureaux, drug rehabilitation centres, criminal justice, social work services and homeless accommodation providers have an important role to play as they are often already in contact with adults who may benefit from literacies support.

Local and national policy makers should consider the importance and benefits of literacies when forming new policies. They should outline the positive impact literacies development can have in enabling individuals to progress and participate in society. They should also encourage their stakeholders to address literacies issues with their client groups, either through direct provision, or referring to appropriate support.

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