Letter to Minister re National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults and the May Budget

April 2012


Senator the Honourable Chris Evans

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research

Dear Minister,

National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults and the May Budget

I am writing as President of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL) to express ACAL members’ expectation that the upcoming Federal Budget will provide significant funding to address the strong interest and urgency expressed by a large number of stakeholders for policy renewal in adult literacy and numeracy, or what is now referred to as Foundation Skills. ACAL is the peak national organisation for adult literacy and numeracy professionals in Australia. Adult literacy and numeracy teaching and training practitioners, education managers, policy officers and analysts, teacher educators and researchers are among the professionals from the field nationally who participate in ACAL activities.

ACAL has been advocating for a policy renewal for some time, and we were pleased to see Government initiatives that led to the decision to introduce a new National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults. We took advantage of all the available opportunities to have input into the new Strategy, starting with participation in the NCVER sponsored Search Conference in September 2010, and we commissioned Dr Rosie Wickert, long time adult literacy policy analyst and scholar, to prepare a submission on behalf of ACAL (see attached).

We are pleased to read in the recent COAG National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development that the Commonwealth are committed to provide funding contributions to State and Territories to support their training systems; [and] to provide specific interventions and assistance to support … literacy and numeracy. We agree that support for adult literacy and numeracy are critical in achieving many of the reforms outlined in this Agreement, as well as in achieving other social and economic outcomes for Australians.  We therefore hope to see in the May Budget substantial funding attached to the National Foundation Skills Strategy for incentives and initiatives that will enable much needed renewal and strengthening in adult literacy and numeracy, including:

  • Increased funding for, and re-tendering for the provider of, the Reading Writing Hotline in order to restore its capacity to deliver the quality and scope of service that it delivered prior to 2010, and to extend its reach to both providers and potential learners currently not accessing the Hotline;

  • Continuation of the LLN Practitioner scholarship scheme to support a renewal of the ageing adult literacy and numeracy workforce;

  • Funding to establish and support a National Network (see attached ACAL submission to NFSS consultation) to engage leading professionals from the field to contribute to improving and supporting provision in the diverse range of settings and contexts in which literacy and numeracy learning occurs;

  • Facilitation of partnerships that will support more integrated approaches to literacy and numeracy learning in vocational courses, in workplaces and in community based services and initiatives, such as in community health programs; and

  • Targeted research funding to enable independent research and evaluation to create and disseminate knowledge that can continue to inform and improve policy and practice in adult literacy and numeracy.

We endorse COAG’s view that high quality, responsiveness, equity and efficiency are important goals of the national training reforms, and that resilience and flexibility are needed to effect these goals, including by the education and training workforce. Adult literacy and numeracy practitioners and provider organisations have always exercised flexibility in their practice – our learners have diverse needs, backgrounds and aspirations, and in order to ensure their success in learning, we respond to the learners’ individual needs with flexibility, empathy and creativity.

The resilience required on the part of adult literacy and numeracy professionals to work with diverse learners in a highly dynamic and complex social and policy environment comes from the practitioners’ strong commitment to equity and quality education, and the professional expertise they have developed through specialist teacher education, teaching and training experience and the support of a strong professional community. While many existing adult literacy and numeracy practitioners have had the benefit of specialist initial teacher education and a career in adult literacy and numeracy, many of these practitioners are retiring, and a strong investment in workforce renewal is needed to ensure that the sector can continue to provide the quality provision that currently characterises our field.

The Government has recently made substantial investments in the production of ‘products’ for the adult literacy and numeracy field – new VET qualifications in Training and Education, including ones with a focus on adult language, literacy and numeracy, a new Australian Core Skills Framework, and a new Foundation Skills Training Package. While these products are welcomed by many in the training sector, we emphasise that education  - both of adult literacy and numeracy learners and the ongoing professional development of adult literacy and numeracy practitioners – are communicative processes, and the delivery of products alone must not be seen as sufficient demonstration of commitment.

We do not believe that teaching and learning quality can be adequately measured by the quality of products that are used for the teaching and learning delivery – however superior these products may be. Many adult literacy and numeracy practitioners have observed how quality learning environments and experiences lead to important social capital outcomes as well as human capital outcomes, both of which are important for the issue of social inclusion identified in the COAG Agreement. We hope to see funding commitments in the May budget for initiatives that support the emergence of innovative approaches that enhance the quality of teaching that in turn will lead to the breadth of social and human capital outcomes that are connected to adult literacy and numeracy learning.

We hope you will give consideration to the following suggestions for high quality reform.

Restoring and indeed expanding the quality and scope of the Reading Writing Hotline, where the re-engagement with learning begins for many adult learners is a priority. Success in making the first inquiry about joining an adult education class can be an important first step in being ‘included’ in what is a complex training and education system. People become aware of their need for literacy and numeracy learning at different times and in a range of situations during their lifetime.

Literacy and numeracy learning is lifelong and lifewide. To cater for these diverse situations, investment is needed in the treacherous terrain of cross-sectoral partnerships between adult literacy and numeracy providers that go beyond VET and the workplaces to areas such as health, housing and other community services.

Effective approaches, and the impact of different approaches must be researched and evaluated independently using a range of appropriate research methodologies, and with the knowledge and insights from international as well as local research. We trust that the Minister shares our commitment to continually improve and inform the provision of literacy and numeracy with insights from research and independent evaluation, as well as to showcase and disseminate the achievements in a wider forum.

We look forward to seeing your commitment to renewal and strengthening of adult literacy and numeracy provision, and training and education more broadly in the May Budget.

Yours sincerely,

Geri Pancini



2012 National Year of Reading

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