10 Dec 2019

English, Maths and ESOL Annual Conference 2019

No one left behind: the future for adult basic skills 


An overview of this sector event dedicated to adult literacy, numeracy and English language policy, practice and research held on the 4th of December 2019 at Westminster Kingsway College, London, and organised by the Learning and Work Institute, UCL Institute of Education, UCU, RaPAL and NATECLA.

Alex Stevenson, Head of English, Maths and ESOL at the Learning and Work Institute, chaired the conference, and began by outlining how in 1999 the Moser Report, 'A Fresh Start', broke new ground by highlighting the national challenge of poor adult literacy and numeracy skills, and setting out a series of recommendations to eradicate poor basic skills. Twenty years on, nine million adults still have low levels of basic skills, and despite the availability of free courses, participation in adult literacy and numeracy provision has declined by around 40% since 2011/12.

The expert panel went on to discuss the legacy of the Moser report, to identify opportunities to address the basic skills challenge in the current adult learning landscape, and to discuss the actions needed now to achieve Moser’s ambition to eradicate poor adult literacy and numeracy. 

A delegate perspective

Vicky Butterby, Project Support Officer at PD North, shares her key takeaways from the Conference:

"A key message for me was around the importance of collaborative working to support literacy and numeracy skills development. Also, maths, English and ESOL are all specialist areas, and we need to recognise this and invest in our practitioners in a way that reflects that.

The panel discussion brought home to me the fact that there is still much to do post Moser; there was a clear call to action for all of us to press for a greater presence for adult literacy and numeracy. 

One of the most powerful moments for me came at the end of the day, when three learners described their learning journeys. They talked about what had engaged them, and it made me appreciate how important it is for us to take a learner-centred approach. A really lovely example of this was when one of the learners, from Turkey, said how much she valued the fact that her name on her delegate badge had been spelt correctly, using Turkish lettering and accents. 

I attended the workshop on Learning to spell and read confidently: a social practices approach, led by Tricia Millar, Claire Collins and Sam Duncan. We experienced phonics approaches to literacy from a learner-centred perspective, with lots of engaging learner stories that showed us how these approaches can help learners to develop confidence in their spelling and feel empowered. There was an emphasis on phonics being part of a social practice approach to literacy, where literacy is seen as a social activity as well as a skill. As someone who has always struggled with spelling, I found these strategies really useful! I'm looking forward to trying out them out with learners." 

Tricia Millar, Claire Collins and Sam Duncan

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