Left on the shelf?
Richard Finnigan uncovers the reasons why a potentially stimulating and useful set of teaching and learning materials is not being used
Most tutors are familiar with those resources at the dusty end of the resources cupboard - the ones that look impressive but somehow you don't get round to looking at...
Learning for Living (published by the DfES in March 2006) is a set of materials for use with adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities who are improving their literacy, language and numeracy skills. The materials, developed by a consortium led by NIACE, consist of eight A4 booklets - nearly 1,300 pages in total. They help practitioners to implement personcentred approaches, promote family learning, and support bilingual learners or those in employment. The materials also include continuing professional development modules on CD-ROM.
How are the materials being used?
Researchers at the University of Nottingham have carried out research with providers known to have the materials to find out:
■ how extensively they were used
■ if providers were encountering problems using them.
Providers who were using the materials said:
■ they aid teaching and learning by more closely matching practice with learners' needs. This increased learner enjoyment, commitment and motivation, and encouraged progression
■ teaching had broadened to include 'soft' social skills and confidence
■ learners were more involved in the planning and reviewing of targets and teaching processes.
However, early in the evaluation, it became apparent that the question was not so much 'How extensively are the materials being used? but 'Are they being used at all?' Mostly, they seemed to be at the dusty end of the cupboard. From our sample of 62, just 26 per cent were using the materials to some extent, 43 per cent were not using them at all, and 31 per cent professed to have no knowledge of them.
Why are the materials not being used?
■ Time: lack of time to read and study the materials, to work with individual learners, and to liaise with other agencies to implement the approaches
■ Training: a need for training in the use of the materials
■ ICT: lack of access to computers and the internet
■ ICT knowledge: some staff lacked the skills, for example, to produce PowerPoint person-centred plans
■ Divided attention: more pressing concerns - inspections, internal restructuring
■ Leadership: no one to take a lead in using the materials
■ Inertia: a reluctance to change existing ways
■ Changes in provision: changes in courses or learners made the materials less relevant.
What have we learned?
We believe it is essential to promote new materials and to stage easily accessible staff development events that encourage practitioners to use them. Ordering the materials should be straightforward and training in their use should be embedded in teacher training programmes.
Richard Finnigan is Research Associate in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham
The materials can be downloaded free from the QIA website www.qia.org.uk Select 'Excellence Gateway' and 'Areas of Work'. To order hard copies, contact QIA 0870 1620 632.
A tempting suite
The Learning for Living suite of guidance documents was developed over 30 months and tested in consultation with more than 300 practitioners and more than 2,000 learners in 86 pathfinder sites. The documents were launched at a series of events across England. The end-of-project report produced for the funder, the DfES, recommended, that a well-publicised programme of staff training and development activities should be offered to all sectors - local authorities, FE colleges, specialist colleges, offender educators, work-based learning and voluntary and community providers.
Many features of the Skills for Life Improvement Programme (SfLIP) are drawing on the Learning for Living documents. However, the SfLIP is a huge programme, offering a wide range of training and development, and it may be that busy specialist teachers are not sufficiently aware of these opportunities. This would help to explain why the valuable insights and ideas that these guidance documents contain have not been more widely shared.
Jan Eldred is NIACE's Associate Director for LLN