The recent BBC 1 programme, ‘Jay Blades: Learning to read again at 51’ , shed light on the state of adult literacy in the UK by focusing on why the Repair Shop presenter is one of millions of UK adults who find the act of reading ‘pure pain’.
Statistics show that eight million adults in the UK have difficulty reading, while one in 10 working adults in the Leicestershire region have the reading skills of a seven-year-old. These sobering statistics have led to calls for more adults to be given the chance to read again.
In addition to adult literacy issues, the UK also sits in the bottom half of the OECD numeracy skills rankings, alongside the US, France and Italy, according to the National Numeracy charity. About half of all adults have the numeracy level expected by the end of primary school and only a fifth are functionally numerate — measured as the equivalent of a GCSE grade 4 (C) or above.
So how is Leicester College working to equip adult learners with basic skills in English and maths?
According to Tessa White, a Programme Area Manager who heads up the Skills for Life programme, these stats shed light on a common issue and when set in the national context, the picture is even more bleak where between one and four adults has skills below the expected level.
Tessa, alongside Lucy Pates and their team manage courses for adults in English and maths and every year, they see up to 1,500 and 2,000 adults who enrol at Leicester College. One of the challenges that adult students face is taking that first step. “Most people,” Tessa explained, “will feel nervous and apprehensive about starting something new, but this is compounded by a sense of embarrassment which is apparent the first time they come to meet us.”
Balancing work, school and family
“To overcome this issue, we have an individual conversation with every single person that comes in. We find out what they already know, what they would like to do and the best type of learning for them. It is hard for adults of course, because many of them will be juggling priorities such as work, childcare, caring responsibilities and so forth. They have to be brave, take that first step and find time to fit their studies in their day-to-day lives. My team and I are very aware of how they feel and we do our best to support our students to ensure they are successful.
“We have a very experienced and supportive team. Our classes are small and it is an adult learning environment which is very different to the conventional classroom that dates back to the time when they were students. In addition, adult students tend to support each other because they can understand each other and the circumstances which encouraged them to head back to school.
“Many adult students may have undiagnosed dyslexia and as a result, they struggle. They just haven’t had access to the tools and strategies that can be employed to help them develop and improve.”
She added: “We have a diverse range of students with different backgrounds, who have taken different routes into the College and have different reasons for going back to school. Some students come, just knowing they want to improve although they haven’t got a clear goal or route, while others have got a clear plan to improve their English and maths. We help students like these enrol in a vocational or a higher education course and then we’ll progress onto our further education access courses to help these adults move on to higher education.”
Updating skill sets
“Some students are already working – in some organisations like the NHS for example, if you want to progress up the band, you need to have your Level 2 qualifications in English and maths. This will improve your prospects for a promotion.
“With the Covid-19 pandemic, adults who have been homeschooling their children have recognised the gaps in their own knowledge while supporting their children. This has been the trigger which helped them identify the need to improve their skills, so there are lots of different stories and our staff work really hard with our students to help them achieve and progress.”
Tessa summed up and said: “In trying to understanding why adults are motivated to return to learning, we should consider the student’s context, which encompasses the multi-faceted functional, social and emotional reasons why individuals make the choices they do.”
Leicester College is now offering range of free English and maths courses for adults. These start at entry level, through Level 1 and to GCSE. Further information on these courses can be found here.