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.

‘Making a Difference’ – WEA Parliamentary Event and Awards

This blog is a bit different. I’ve experimented with Storify software to make a narrative out of tweets. It’s my first attempt so it’s very much learning in public.

I’ve collated some tweets about the WEA’s ‘Making a Difference’ Parliamentary event last week to capture some of the comments that people made as the event unfolded. There’s a link at:

I’d be grateful if anyone has any hints and tips about using Storify or any comments on it.

Twitter is still a foreign language to many people so the Storify’s introduction has a link to a site that explains twitter symbols and acronyms.

(The WEA runs social media courses if you want to find out more. You can find regional contact details at if you’re interested in a course about twitter or other new media. There are many online resources for independent learning too.)

The WEA Awards Ceremony followed the Parliamentary event. It was an inspiring and emotional event.

The winners were:

Olive Cordell Skills for Life Tutor

  • Laraine Clark

Olive Cordell Skills for life Student

  • Luzayadio Mputo

WEA Volunteer

  • David Dennehy

WEA Student – Joint Award

  • Alec Buchanan
  • Julie Harrison

WEA Learning Group

  • Tammy Spriggs, Lisa Harrington and Janine Ginno

Diversity in Practice

  • Tandrusti

WEA Campaign

  • Why Vote?

Contribution to Sustainability

  • Women’s groups at Clovelly

WEA Tutor

  • Janet Henson

Innovative Partnership

  • WEA and Horizons

Innovative Branch and WEA South West

  • Activ8 for Carers

Special Recognition: Education

  • Sahira Tariq

Special Recognition: Support services and WEA Eastern

  • Kathryn Coles

Special Recognition: Long service

  • John Hurst

WEA Scotland

  • Bathgate Once More

WEA North East

  • Elizabeth Langdown

WEA North West

  • Ties to the Past

WEA Yorkshire and Humber

  • Beth Deakin

WEA East Midlands

  • Learning into Leadership on the Internet

WEA West Midlands

  • Shiyalini Mohan

WEA Eastern

  • Kathryn Coles

WEA London

  • Mike Bradley

WEA South West

  • Activ8 for Carers

WEA Southern

  • Adler Mosaicists

WEA Ambassador

  • Nigel Todd

There’s a wonderful booklet outlining their stories. It should be available soon at