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Adult Learning, Basic Skills and Literacy

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Development work in this area includes seminars, workshops, short courses and supported research-in-practice opportunities for tutors and students in Adult Basic Education.

We are part of the national network Research and Practice in Adult Literacy (RaPAL) which exists to promote research in this area, and to develop participatory and accessible models of research. RaPAL is a membership organisation. We publish a bulletin three times a year and other occasional publications including a bibliography on "New Views of Literacy".

CSET co-ordinates the Workplace Basic Skills Training Network, which links training organisations. We work closely with other members of the Lancaster Literacy Research Group, who include staff and students in the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Continuing Education.

For more details of these networks visit our website

1. Literacy in the Community
David Barton & Mary Hamilton

This two year ethnographic study has investigated the uses of reading and writing in the everyday life of a local community, looking at practices in homes and community groups and their interface with school, work and official organisations. We carried out participant observation, a wide range of interviews and 14 case studies of individual households.

Publications and reports

A book describing the results of this project will be published early in 1998:

Local Literacies: A Study of Reading and Writing in One Community.

Barton, D. & Hamilton, M. Routledge, London, 1988.

Other publications and reports associated with the project are:

i) Histories and Horoscopes: The Ethnographer as Fortuneteller,

To appear in a forthcoming issue of Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 1998.

ii) Public and Private Identities in the Local Community in Lancaster,

Mary Hamilton & David Barton

iii) Roles, Networks and Values in Everyday Writing.

David Barton and Sarah D Padmore (1991), in David Barton & Ros Ivanic (Eds) Writing in the Community, Sage, 1991.

iv) Guiding Lights

Sarah Padmore, in Mary Hamilton, David Barton, & Roz Ivanic (Eds) Worlds of Literacy, 1994

v) Literacy beyond Schooling

Roz Ivanic and Mary Hamilton, in Emerging Partnerships in Language and Literacy, Multilingual Matters, David Wray (ed) 1990.

Funded by Economic and Social Research Council. 1989-1991.

2. Written Communication Barriers and Long-term Unemployment
Mary Hamilton & Paul Davies

In this study we carried out in-depth interviews with 100 long-term unemployed people around the UK to identify problems with reading and writing that they experienced during the process of searching and applying for jobs. The interviews highlighted the strategies people use for coping with such difficulties, their attitudes towards employment services and training programmes, and the report recommends action that could be taken by the Employment Service to better meet the needs of this group.

Publications and reports:

i) Written Communication Barriers and Long-term Unemployment.

Mary Hamilton & Paul Davies

Final Report to the Employment Service, March 1990

Supplementary Report, March 1991.

ii) Literacy and Long-Term Unemployment: Options for adult Guidance, Support and Training,

Mary Hamilton & Paul Davies, in British Journal of Education and Work, 1993 Vol. 6 No. 2 pp 5-19.

Funded by The Employment Service, 1989-1991

3. Developing Literacy and Adult Basic Education in the Workplace: An Investigation of Employer Attitudes and Practices
Fiona Frank & Mary Hamilton

This project investigated developments in basic education in the workplace, by means of a general review of the national and international context, case studies of programmes within companies and a survey of employers in the North West of England. A variety of research methods were used in this project: observation, interviews, questionnaires and telephone interviews. In addition residential writing and video-making weekends brought together students from different workplaces to compare and document their experiences.

Publications and reports:

i) Not Just a Number: The Role of Basic Skills Programmes in the Changing workplace.

Fiona Frank & Mary Hamilton. Final Report to the Leverhulme Trust, June 1993.

ii) Not Just a Number: Writings about Workplace Learning,

Fiona Frank (ed). CSET, Lancaster University and LAWTEC, 1992

iii) Not Just a Number: Adult Basic Education at Work. (Video)

Fiona Frank and Katherine Jones (eds) CSET, Lancaster University, 1993.

iv) Kind Hearts or Cool Business? Attitudes to Basic Skills Programmes Among Smaller Employers in the North West of England.

Fiona Frank & Mary Hamilton. In Forrester, K. (Ed). Developing a Learning Workforce (Conference proceedings). Leeds University, Leeds, 1993. .

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust 1991-1993.

4. Progression routes and workplace basic skills programmes : a follow-up study
Fiona Frank

This project examined the learning journeys followed between 1991 and 1996 by some of the students on the original workplace Basic Skills Training case studies in the above project.

Publications and Reports:

i) Like a Cork Flying Out of a Bottle

Fiona Frank. CSET, Lancaster University, 1996

ii) Workplace Strategies for Lifelong Learning: what next after a workplace basic skills training programme?

Fiona Frank. In 4th International Conference on Learning and Research in Working Life - 1-4 July 1996, Steyr, Austria. Conference Proceedings, TUC Upper Austria, 1997.

Funded by Lancaster University and the DfEE, 1995/96

5. Open Learning in Adult Basic Education.

A two-year collaborative Project between Wendy Moss and Chris O'Mahony, Goldsmiths College London and Sue Bergin, Mary Hamilton and David Barton, Literacy Research Group, Lancaster.

The Open Learning project has involved students, teachers and organisers in Adult Basic Education to explore: how people make choices about the places and ways they learn; what helps or blocks learning in ABE; what makes learning 'open' or 'closed'; how specially funded Open Learning Centres offer different ways of learning from the more established ABE programmes.

We carried out a national questionnaire survey of Open Learning Centres and established ABE programmes and chose six case study sites to work with in depth, using student and staff interviews, observation and discussion groups. Staff conferences and a residential writing weekend for students involved in the research were an integral part of the project.

Publications and Reports:

i) Ways of Learning (a book of student writing):

The Open Learning Project. Available from CSET.

ii) Learning Difficulties and the Power of Labelling

Sue Bergin and A. Johnson. FE Staff College, Blagdon Mendip Papers Series, No. MP071, 1994.

iii) Who's at the Centre? Open Learning in Adult Basic Education.

Sue Bergin and Mary Hamilton. In Thorpe, M. & Gudgeon, D., (Eds). Open learning at the Centre. Longman, 1994.

iv) The Challenge of Linking Research and Practice: Ways of Learning in

Adult Basic Education

Mary Hamilton and Wendy Moss (1995)

Funded by the Universities Funding Council, 1991-1993.

6. Collaborative Ethnography
David Barton & Mary Hamilton

This was a nine month project exploring methodological issues which arose in the earlier Literacy in the Community Project. The main aims were, firstly, to examine how we worked together as a team of researchers and to make the processes of analysis more explicit; and secondly to develop new ways of involving informants in the interpretation of data.

Publications and reports:

i) Data from the Collaborative Ethnography Project: A Working Paper

David Barton, Mary Hamilton & Sarah Padmore.

ii) Final Report to the ESRC

David Barton & Mary Hamilton. March 1992.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Nov. 1991- Aug. 1992.

7. Older Adults and Numeracy.
Alex Withnall & Keith Percy (Adult and Continuing Education) and Mary Hamilton, (CSET).

The main objectives of this research were to explore what numerical skills older adults most commonly use in everyday life; to see whether different periods of retirement demand new skills be acquired; to identify any areas of difficulty and to recommend how adult education could facilitate learning opportunities for older adults in this area. This was an ongoing interview study carried out with a sample of older adults and with agencies that provide services to them.

Funded by the Universities Funding Council 1992 -1994.

8. Workplace Basic Skills Training Network
Fiona Frank

A network of professionals in Workplace Basic Skills delivery, co-ordinated by CSET. Network activities include a regular bulletin, workshops and seminars and the development and delivery of Tutor Training. Publications put together under the auspices of the Network include:

i) Certificate in Workplace Basic Skills Training for ABE tutors.

Fiona Frank & Chris Holland (Eds). NIACE, Leicester, to be published in 1988

ii) The Politics of Workplace Literacy.

Fiona Frank & Chris Holland. In Fitzpatrick, S and Mace, J (eds) Lifelong Literacies, papers from RaPAL's 1996 conference. Gatehouse Books, Manchester, 1997.

iii) Literacy and the New Work Order: an annotated, analytical literature review.

Chris Holland with Fiona Frank and Tony Cooke. NIACE, Leicester, to be published in 1998.

iv) Workplace Literacy: not just for the bottom line.

Fiona Frank. In Basic Skills for the 21st Century. Bilston College, to be published in 1998

9. ALPHA97: Literacy, Adult Basic Education and Institutional Environments
Mary Hamilton

Alpha97 is an international action research project sponsored by the Quebec Ministry of Education and the UNESCO Institute for Education, Hamburg. It is part of a series of action research projects that take place every two years. Members of the Research and Practice in Adult Literacy group (RaPAL) have contributed to earlier projects by carrying out collaborative research and writing articles. In March 1996 a planning seminar was arranged between participants representing Canada, USA, Mexico, Belgium, France, Portugal and Hungary. Two linked seminars for Eastern European participants took place, and the final plenary meeting took place in Budapest in September 1996 to present the results of the research. The UK project has involved interviews with a range of people working in community-based literacy projects to identify with them the aspects of current policy in ABE that support what they do, or which make it difficult to achieve their aims in literacy work.

This project has offered the chance to strengthen links with practitioners, policy-makers and researchers in adult basic education internationally; the opportunity to hear about recent developments in adult literacy work, and to reflect in a new way on developments in the UK. The final aim of the project was to make recommendations which were presented at the UNESCO International Adult Education Conference in Hamburg in July 1997.

Two related projects have developed from Alpha97: one is a consultancy with an EU funded community literacy project in Northern Ireland. The second is a consultancy with the U.S. based National Centre for the Study of Learning and Literacy, which will result in a paper to be published in their Review of Learning and Literacy (with Juliet Merrifield, CCE, University of Sussex.

Publications and Reports

I) Keeping Alive Alternative Visions

Hamilton, M. In J.P. Hautecoeur (ed) ALPHA97: Literacy and Insitutional Environments, UNESCO Institute for Education, Hamburg and Culture Concepts, Toronto, 1997.

10. Exploring Public Images of Literacy
Mary Hamilton and Rachel Rimmershaw

For some time members of the Literacy Research Group at Lancaster have been collecting visual images of literacy from a range of cultures as part of our ethnographic studies of literacy practices. We have also been developing a critique of public images of literacy put over by the media and government agencies. An article reporting on the results of the first stage of our ethnographic work has been published:

Photographing Literacy Practices

David Barton, Roz Ivanic, Fiona Ormerod, Sarah Padmore, S. Pardoe and Rachel Rimmershaw. In Changing English. Vol. 1 No. 1. (1993)

Our current study analyses a corpus of newspaper photographs of literacy practices using software packages designed to assist in the analysis of qualitative data (NUDIST and INSPIRATION). We have a dual interest in this project, 1) to explore methodological issues around the analysis of visual data and 2) to examine the ways in which literacy practices are portrayed visually in the media. Through this project we will develop and trial a theoretical framework for the analysis of such data which we will subsequently use in further research addressing issues of the use, analysis and interpretation of visual data in cross-disciplinary social research. This project is associated with the activities of a new research group at Lancaster, the Issues in Image-Based Research Group. This group has so far organised a one-day conference in October 1995, and a symposium and Special Interest Group at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference in September 1996.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation June - September 1996, currently applying for further funding.

11. Good Practice in Employee Development Schemes
Fiona Frank

A consultancy project assisting two organisations in the SOLOTEC area of South London to increase participation in their Employee Development schemes by employees with basic skills difficulties.

A project report will be published in 1998.