Community-focused provision in adult literacy, numeracy and language: an exploratory study
This was a six-month study which investigated community-focused provision for
the teaching of adult literacy, numeracy and language, a form of provision that
may complement traditional provision and that may be particularly useful for reaching
priority groups of learners identified in the Skills for Life strategy. The study's
aim was to add to relevant previous research by conducting case studies of providers
After an initial consultation period that established if the concept of community-focused
provision was meaningful, case studies were selected on the basis of their answers
to a set of screening questions identifying them as likely to be taking a community
focused approach and so as to be representative of different kinds of providers
in different parts of
- It was found that the providers studied did all believe that their provision was distinctive in a way that was captured by the concept of community focused provision.
- Community-focused providers understood their work in relation to three main issues: vision, development and delivery. The third of these could be understood further in terms of a holistic view of learning, concern about learning situations, quality, integrating basic skills without making them too apparent, and achievement and progression.
- Funding emerged as absolutely critical for community-focused provision and in particular, the funding of development work. Core, long-term funding for community-focused provision was often identified as being difficult to obtain. Areas not covered by other funding streams concerned with regeneration, appeared to suffer and there were gaps in provision according to level of need and whether an area qualified for a particular type of funding.
- The general conclusion of the project is that community-focused provision is an appropriate and reasonably robust concept for understanding one way of meeting the needs of adult literacy, numeracy or ESOL learners. Issues that may be helpful for understanding community-focused provision have been identified.
- A systematic literature search was carried out and identified over 70 studies or reports that had a bearing on community-focused provision of adult literacy, numeracy and language. The search strategy combined four courses of action to gather relevant literature and to evaluate its relevance and relative significance to the literature review and research project.
- In order to realise community-focused provision, development work was vital. In practical terms, development meant staff whose job included going beyond the organisation, networking with community groups and organisations, talking to people who might be interested in attending provision, putting on taster courses that reflected their interests, and ensuring that provision continued to meet those interests but also challenged learners to move on. The more that learners were hard-to-reach, the more necessary was development.
Background and rationale of research
The starting point for the study was that community focused provision is under-conceptualised,
under researched and possibly insufficiently appreciated in the current policy
context. The study therefore aimed to add to current understanding by searching
for, and building on, relevant previous research and then conducting case studies
of providers in
Main elements of research
The study was collaborative, carried out by a project team in which two University
researchers worked with three practitioner-researchers whose immediate experience
included national policy analysis, direction of a large-scale literacy partnership
and LEA planning of adult and community education. All members of the team had
professional experience of community or family literacy and four of the five had
worked as basic skills tutors. The study began by consulting agencies and individuals
A sample of 11 providers was then chosen for case studies on the basis of their answers to a set of screening questions identifying them as likely to be taking a community-focused approach and so as to be representative of different kinds of providers (LEAs, voluntary organisations, partnerships) in different parts of England (North, Midlands, South, South East, South West). The research team visited providers, interviewed the relevant director or strategic manager, interviewed a related provider in the area, interviewed at least one learner and, where possible, conducted brief observations of provision.
A data archive of some 50,000 words was prepared. Analysis was carried out by examining data for themes and issues that had been expected on the basis of the initial conceptualisation of community-focused provision. In addition, several issues and themes that had not been expected were noted and incorporated into a revised understanding. The coding scheme for data analysis was developed and revised collaboratively by the team and applied to all the case studies. Codes were organised into four clusters for purposes of reporting.
Peter Hannon and Kate Pahl
Viv Bird, Carol Taylor and Carrie Birch
References and further reading
Bird, V. and Pahl, K. (1994) Parent Literacy in a Community Setting. Research and Practice in Adult Literacy, 24, 6-15.
Davies, P., Bird, V.,
Grief, S and
Grief, S., Murphy, H., Bhupinder, N. and Taylor, C. (2002) Opening up a new world: a good practice guide for delivering basic skills and
ESOL in the local community.
McGivney, V. (2000) Recovering outreach: Concepts, issues and practices.
Tett, L. (2002) Community Education, Lifelong Learning and Social Inclusion.
Contact for further information:
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The full report is available in PDF format from NRDC's website here.
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