Allatt, Gwyneth (2018) What Does It Mean to Be Literate? How Literacy Is Currently Perceived by Adult Literacy Teachers, Learners and Policy-Makers in England. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This study considers the ways in which literacy is defined and understood within current policy for adult literacy education in England. It also explores the perceptions of teachers of adult literacy and their learners about what it means to be literate at the present time.

In order to access the view of literacy on which current policy-making is based I undertook Critical Discourse Analysis of policy documents, and comparison with analyses of earlier policies found that this view has changed little over time. A similar functional and instrumental viewpoint, which understands literacy as a fixed set of skills based on the use of printed texts and focused on economic and employment outcomes, was found to that identified in previous education policy. Telephone and face-to-face interviews with seventeen literacy practitioners, followed by discussions with two groups of literacy learners, found that a much broader view of literacy exists in practice, however. Teachers’ and learners’ perceptions, while acknowledging the role of literacy in employability and economic success, also identify personal well-being, confidence and self-esteem, benefits for family life, social and community participation amongst the key aspects of being literate. Meanwhile, literacy itself encompasses, not just the reading, writing, speaking and listening abilities required to function in everyday life and at work, but also digital skills, numeracy, creative writing and reading for pleasure.

The research found that at times there are tensions between policy and practice, with teachers developing ways of working which allow them to meet the requirements of policy while still maintaining their own values, and those of their learners, in relation to literacy education.

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