Literacy and Numeracy: What MPs said

Adult literacy and numeracy had a much-needed moment in the Parliamentary spotlight last Thursday with a detailed debate. You can find background information and links to a video and transcript of the full discussion at:

Literacy and numeracy were also centre stage at the WEA’s biennial Conference, featuring in several sessions and in the presentation of the Olive Cordell Awards. Olive was a WEA community studies tutor who left a financial as well as an educational legacy to fund these awards, which her daughter Jane presented for the fifth year.

Jane handed Marie Leadbitter the Tutor of the Year Award for achievements in teaching Numeracy & Literacy and Sam Gowler the Learner of the Year Award for his progress in English and Maths. Sam’s story adds a very human dimension to the Parliamentary debate and Marie’s work shows how good teaching can help to solve the problems at the heart of the MPs’ discussion.

Sam Gowler

Sam Gowler

Sam decided to join two WEA courses in 2012 – one in English and one in maths – because he was tired of constant knock-backs. Since joining the courses Sam has worked tirelessly to learn the reading, writing and maths skills he needs so that he can improve his prospects of getting a job. These skills have made a big difference to his personal life as he now enjoys reading fiction, solving anagrams and taking part in quizzes. He has also trained for his Construction Skills (CS) card, using his improved skills to read and understand the necessary Health & Safety manuals. Now that he has achieved his CS card, together with his ever growing skills, expanding knowledge and increasing confidence, Sam is studying at his local college of Further Education and aims to move into work.

Sam’s courses at the Oasis Community Centre in Wisbech show that community partnership has a key role in supporting education. The WEA works alongside Community Centre staff and  the CP Learning Trust, so that adults learn the English and maths that are so important for all aspects of their lives. These partnerships are typical of collaborative working in neighbourhoods across the country and provide an essential support network for community learning.

Marie, who lives in Doncaster, is one of the community learning tutors who go the extra mile for and with their students. She first joined the WEA as a student to brush up on her computer skills and now she’s teaching maths in that same classroom. “I look at the chair I used to sit in and tell my students how far I’ve come.” She’s expert at supporting her students to succeed, no matter what barriers, they face and many of her students go on to volunteer in the classroom.

Marie is committed to continuing professional development, gaining numeracy and literacy subject specialisms, and is currently studying for her Level 4 Certificate in Quality Assurance and Higher Maths with the OU. She is passionate about education and a role model for her children. “I tell them ‘Aspire – study and enjoy your learning!”

We know the difference that good literacy and numeracy skills can make to people and we know that there’s a massive need for action. We have statistics and countless stories to show what works.

It’s encouraging that so many MPs understand how important this issue is. The big issue now will be what action follows the very welcome Parliamentary debate and what difference it will make to the millions of people who could have much better lives if they could improve their English and Maths skills.

Parliamentary Debate on Literacy and Numeracy

The Parliamentary Backbench Business Committee has decided that the backbench business for Thursday 10th October will include a debate on a motion about improving levels of adult literacy and numeracy. The Members in charge are Caroline Dineage, Gordon Birtwistle and Robin Walker.

The motion to be debated is:

“That this House: recognises that with 1 in 6 adults functionally illiterate, Britain’s skills gap is preventing this country from fully realising our economic potential; understands that improved literacy rates not only have economic benefits but also have positive effects on an individual’s self-confidence, aspirations and emotional health and well-being; notes that literacy rates for school leavers have shown little change in spite of initiatives introduced by successive Governments over recent decades; understands that the social stigma attached to illiteracy and innumeracy often prevents adults from seeking the help they need, which means that signposting illiterate and innumerate adults to further education colleges is not always the most effective course of action; recognises that literacy and numeracy programmes must be made easily accessible to the most hard-to-reach functionally illiterate and innumerate adults if valued progress is to be made; and calls on the Government to renew efforts to provide imaginative, targeted and accessible support to illiterate and innumerate adults.”

It’s worth reading the transcripts from the Committee’s meeting on 10th September where these items were discussed before deciding on this Thursday’s debate.

You can see the MPs’ informed comments and exchanges if you scroll down the page at

The WEA welcomes this debate very warmly and looks forward to the MPs’ further discussion and active support for these issues. We’ll be following the debate with great interest and will continue to campaign with others on the important matters of adult literacy and numeracy.

What would you add to the MPs’ debate?