Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group

Judith Rose

‘How did teaching adult literacy to people with learning difficulties become ‘special’?’

An exploration of the relationship between adult literacy education and the development of education for adults with learning difficulties in England, 1970-2010

Judith Rose, PhD student at Institute of Education, UCL

The relationship between adult literacy education and the development of education for adults with global, or non-specific, learning difficulties and disabilities was an important part of adult literacy education which practitioners often managed without specific training or policy direction.

This research looks into:
 The origins and legacy of the adult literacy campaign of the 1970s
 Changing attitudes to education for people with global, or non-specific, learning difficulties
 The discourse of adult literacy education from empowerment to functional skills
 The impact of legislation, funding mechanisms and policy on the relationship (from Warnock Report, 1978, to Skills for Life, 2001).
 The experience of practitioners and students in the field.

Methods used:
 An oral history element: I have interviewed practitioners who worked during the period, and tried to capture something of the student experience by talking to adults with learning difficulties who have experience of literacy classes.
 Archive search: I am currently researching the archives of ALRA, ALBSU and BSA to clarify the role of these agencies. Other sources might be NIACE, LSC, Skill and the Changing Faces archive at Lancaster University.
 Literature Review: I have mined relevant literature, particularly Mary Hamilton and Yvonne Hillier’s Changing Faces of Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Language (2006) and Being, Having and Doing: theories of learning and adults with learning difficulties (2006) by Lesley Dee with C DeVecchi, L Florian and S Cochran.

Theoretical background:
 Donald Schõn’s concept of ‘the reflective practitioner’ (1983) emphasises the expertise lodged in practice.
 Stephen J Ball’s idea of a ‘policy cycle’ (2006) shows how tangled the nature of policy in education can be, and why it might be confusing to the practitioner ‘on the ground’.
 Pierre Bourdieu’s work on varieties of capital (1986 and passim) offers insights into the ways that adult literacy students, and adults with learning difficulties are positioned in society.
 NLS: The work of David Barton, Mary Hamilton, Brian Street and others under the banner of New Literacy Studies has a huge influence on my approach to this topic. It gives a perspective which values all learners and touches on areas which are especially significant to this subject such as language, agency, identity and assessment.

This workshop will briefly present the rationale to this PhD study, the research methods and findings so far, based on the outline above, before opening it up and asking the participants to comment on the subject, to discuss the methods and data, and to consider the implications of this study and similar investigations. A timeline will be distributed to participants.

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