Adult Literacy Organisers Forum 2012
A vision of Adult Literacy and Basic Core Skills Provision under the LETB Structures
The Forum was opened by Marie Griffin, CEO, Co. Dublin VEC. In welcoming everyone to the Forum she outlined the importance of the role played by Adult Literacy Organisers in Adult Education. She gave a brief history of the development of Adult Literacy and of Adult Basic Education in the VEC sector. Marie also gave a quick geography lesson on the layout of County Dublin VEC including the urban areas and the rural landscape in the hills overlooking Tallaght! The first keynote speaker in the afternoon was Caroline McCamley whose talk was entitled “Influencing change in a crowded space.” From talking to people on Thursday afternoon and evening this was a very well received presentation. Caroline looked at the sensitivities and challenges of change and how we can be effective lobbyists for change. She outlined some of the tactics and methods used in lobbying Government departments and, in particular, stressed the importance of being positive, persuasive and realistic. She cautioned against the dangers of being negative and coming to the table with a list of grievances and complaints. She spoke of the importance of building good working and relationships with Department officials. It was important to have a list of realistic priorities and to be persuasive as opposed to being dogmatic. Colin Cummins outlined the plan for the afternoon workshops. These would take place in a café style format. Participants could come and go as they pleased from workshop to workshop. There were six in total and there was a break for tea and coffee over the course of the afternoon workshop sessions. 1. Staff competencies and the role of the literacy tutor 2. Learner profiles: an exploration of the varying and complex needs of literacy students using the NFQ levels as a guide. 3. Initial learner recruitment, assessment and placement including the role of partnership. 4. Education outcomes and accreditation. 5. How literacy and ABE is delivered: the best current models of delivery and developing even better approaches. 6. Activating literacy at levels 1 and 2. There are probably sufficient notes taken from the workshops by the facilitators so this report will give a summary of the main themes emerging from the afternoon. First of all it was clear that the format worked quite well. Participants got an opportunity to attend all workshops and to contribute to the discussion verbally or to leave a note on the flipcharts
etc. The facilitators were excellent in all workshops and were well briefed and drew lots of ideas and debate from the participants. Having spoken to some facilitators, they did find the afternoon session quite long as they felt that they had gone over the same ideas a few times with different audiences. This may not have been the case with all workshops as not all were consulted about this. From observing and attending workshops, it was, however, sometimes difficult to get involved in a discussion when the debate was in full flow. Perhaps if there was a tighter time structure on the café style with people moving around every 15 or 20 minutes, this would have helped. This style of workshop also seemed to benefit the more confident and outgoing participant. Overall, the workshops were very productive and there was a sense that ALOs felt they were making progress and being heard. From talking to participants, the overall impression from the first day was very good. As stated, Caroline McCamley’s presentation was good and the format of the workshops worked well. There was also a very strong emphasis on the work of ALOs which was appreciated. The location and quality of the hotel was also good. The evening meal in the hotel was excellent.
Day 2 Tony McQuinn, the Chief Executive of the Citizens Information Board (CIB) gave an interesting and informative talk on Managing Change in the Citizens Information Board. He talked about the number of changes that the Board has been through (including name changes) since it first began. He became Chief Executive in August 2008 and has worked with the organisation for many years. The CIB has grown and developed to meet the changing needs of society. It now is also responsible for MABS since 2009. They have developed websites and publications that reflect the new needs of Irish society such as losingyourjob.ie and keepingyourhome.ie In 2011 47% of all queries received were in relation to social welfare. CIB began a process of review and restructuring from the strategy document ‘Pathways to Services’ which gave way to Pathfinder – an Organisational Review. The challenge was to produce a citizen centred service delivered in an efficient and innovative manner. Tony pointed out that the sort of change that they have undergone is reflective of the changes taking place in other parts of the public sector. He acknowledged that while change is challenging it is not necessarily a bad thing. It allows an opportunity to design a service that is most appropriate to the needs of the user and presents opportunities that may not otherwise have been there! Inez Bailey, Director of NALA introduced us to Models of International Best Practice. The European Guide outlines the effectiveness of strategies used to raise awareness of adult
learning and to motivate learners to participate in the same. She outlined 16 different initiatives that were models of international best practice from ‘International Adult Learners Week’ that is Europe-wide to ‘Songs that changed music’ – a Swedish initiative that inspires adults to use their musical skills. She was delighted that NALA featured as one of the initiatives for the TV programme ‘Written Off?’ The overriding themes were that learning is fun and that where there is creativity there is opportunity. Connectivity was the success factor. If we want to succeed as providers we need to think about how we work and the way we work. Delivery partnerships succeed – huge amounts can be achieved if people work together. There is always room for innovation and creativity in adult learning provision. Sean Conlon, Education Officer with the Co. Clare VEC introduced a discussion document produced by the IVEA and NALA on the Integration of language, literacy and numeracy on VEC FE courses. He stressed that international research shows that embedding literacy and numeracy into training programmes gives improved learning outcomes and that this has made its way into national policies. Integrating literacy in FET essentially means tutors adopting and adapting teaching and learning methods working in partnership with literacy staff. It requires a whole organisation approach and working through from recruitment to induction to progression. Literacy needs to be embedded in course design and requires a whole centre approach. The DES Operational Guidelines for Adult Literacy encourage an integrated service model. He acknowledged that we are working in an environment of uncertainty, change, transition and complexity but that we should try to stay focussed on the work and the real purpose and not get distracted by other events, demands and happenings in the environment. He referred to the book Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney and pointed out that with selfawareness, ingenuity, love and heroism we could see this transitional period through. In the meantime he urged us to keep calm and carry on! Good advice. Sheila Holland-Fox, ALO with Co. Galway VEC gave a presentation on feedback from the 6 workshops held on Thursday. The main points that emerged were: screening and assessment, referral protocols, suitable information systems, competent and appropriately trained staff, digital literacy, national strategies to inform the LETBs, integration of literacy, labour market activation, emphasis on involving the learner in the learning process and retention of non-accredited ‘engagement’ learning.
The panel for the question and answer session was Fiona Hartley, SOLAS Implementation Group and IVEA Adult Literacy Forum, Seamus Hempenstall, DES, Sean Conlon EO, Co. Clare VEC and Inez Bailey, Director of NALA The Q and A session mostly related to the feedback from the workshops. Panellists agreed with points raised and were congratulatory of ALOA’s work but urged the ALOA to think about the ones that were literacy specific – to inform provision accordingly (Inez). That national strategies impinge on what we do for example closure of STTCs but that provision for hard to serve learners will be very much part of LETBs for example Travellers (Sean). We have ‘internalised’ SOLAS now and the challenge for VECs is addressing the training sector.
For the ALOA it is what is the Literacy service going to offer it – Intra-agency support, what we can offer the programmes. We must not lose sight of what is different and special about our programmes. Management Information System (MIS) need to capture the qualitative and the quantitative information. People working at levels 1-3 are about being supported so that it becomes a case of employability for life not just employment for life (Fiona). Seamus Hempenstall said that the presentation hit every point for the design of SOLAS and stressed the importance of the Operational Guidelines for Adult Literacy. The session then opened to the floor. The general feedback was that this was a very successful ALO Forum and that tutors felt real buy-in and engagement as they had put the work in an advance and continued that work at the Forum.