About maryh

Mary Hamilton is Professor of Adult Learning and Literacy in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University. She is Associate Director of the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre Co-director of the Centre for Technology Enhanced learning and a founder member of the Research and Practice in Adult Literacy group.

Black History Month: Voices from the Changing Faces Project

As part of Black History Month at Lancaster University, the University Library has put together an exhibition of some of the items stored in the Changing Faces archive held here at Lancaster. The exhibition focuses especially on accounts written by black adults of their experiences in the second part of last century of living, working and learning in the UK. There are sections of reflections on the homelands that some people had left, how they were received in the UK and their hopes and ambitions as British citizens.

The Changing Faces project contains a wide range of writing by adult learners and is a unique and special resource of firsthand accounts from ordinary people who accessed adult education between 1970-2000. 

Those of us who were involved in putting the archive together are really proud that it can make a contribution to Black History month and hope this will encourage more people to explore the documents and interviews in the archive. We also want to acknowledge the important role and continuing support of the archivist, Liz Fawcett, who put together this exhibition. The exhibition runs to the end of October and is highly recommended for a visit if you are on campus during this time.

You can find out more about the archive and and browse the catalogue at 



Tribute to Brian Street from Lancaster

Brian was a dear friend and supportive colleague to members of the Literacy Research Centre at Lancaster, going right back to an early seminar here in 1983 where we were building bridges between literacy theory, research and the practice of adult literacy in the UK.

He took part in many key events we organised in Lancaster, including the ‘Worlds of Literacy’ conference in 2000 and ‘Worlds of Literacy revisited’ in 2014. His convivial presence at these events and his steady support in what was, at the beginning, a fragile new movement, was very important to us. Along with so many other areas of literacy research and action, Brian’s work on academic literacies was an inspiration to us. Thanks partly to him, academic literacies became established as an important field in the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre. As editor of the Benjamins series ‘Studies in written language and literacy’ he encouraged and helped Roz to publish Writing and Identity in 1998, which was the springboard for much of our academic literacies research in the years since then. Roz Ivanic says “Thank you, Brian, for those meticulous editorial comments in your much-loved jiggly handwriting.”

He was always ready to discuss ideas with us and as one person recalls “his gentle and friendly manner with everyone, no matter the state of their knowledge and experience, always made me feel part of his discussions.”

Though he held strongly to the principles of critical, rigorous scholarship he wanted his ideas to enter the worlds of literacy policy and practice and he participated with great energy and good humour, in conferences, research and policy forums around the world, patiently articulating the theory of literacy as social practice and searching for ways to apply it.

Brian was a true internationalist and as President of the the British Association for Literacy in Development (BALID) he fostered thoughtful critique and interaction across an incredible diversity of adult literacies teaching and learning, research and other practices across the globe. He worked hard to connect this wider vision to literacy in the UK as well, through his work with the Research and Practice in Adult Literacies group (RaPAL), as a member of its editorial board and writing for its journal.

For many of our students, Brian’s work was key to the theoretical underpinnings of undergraduate study, professional development courses and research degrees. He fundamentally shaped the understanding of a generation of scholars and practitioners in school and adult literacies. His capacity to return the local to its rightful place in educational discourse shifted many people’s worldview and his words are a powerful legacy.

We miss him sorely and his influence will continue for many years to come.


Lancaster ESRC Seminar on The Politics of Reception – Media, Policy, Public Knowledge and Opinion,

This seminar focused on the ways that findings from international assessments enter into media and public discourse in participating countries, how these are articulated within existing national preoccupations and the implications of these interventions for policy.  Literacy is a key component of these assessments and cross-language issues in producing and disseminating the tests figure strongly in them. The scope and frequency of the surveys are increasing and they are arguably one of the most powerful drivers of policy and understanding about literacy internationally.

The information below is a summary of the issues we covered in this event. More detail about the themes of the seminar, the speakers and the seminar series in general can be found on the Lab website here.  

data journalism

The seminar took place at Lancaster on April 20/21st 2016 and was the 5th in a series funded by the ESRC and organized by the Laboratory of International Assessment exploring ‘The potentials, politics and practices of international assessments’.  

We identified 3 themes to help organize the sequence of the seminar presentations

  • Mobilising individual countries to participate in international surveys
  • Managing the Public Release of findings from international assessments
  • Researching and intervening in how the findings are reported and interpreted in the media

A big theme emerged about whose responsibility it is to ensure findings are not misinterpreted or misrepresented to the public. What responsibility lies, for example, with the testing agencies, the media or the policy advocates.  Another important theme, referred to in comments in the final session and discussed by Brenda Tay-Lim from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, is that none of the stakeholder groups are homogeneous – there are important differences in perceptions and motivations among the testing agencies, within the media (e.g. journalists with specialist orientations to employment or education); and there are different publics and audiences.

It is important to look at assessment strategies and issues across different educational sectors including school, adult LLL and HE. Sarah Richardson’s analysis of the AHELO initiative, for example, shows that it is important to look at failed or contested programmes as well as those that become successful.

In his keynote, Oren Pitzmony-Levy showed that public discourse and public opinion are different concepts and that public opinion doesn’t necessarily directly reflect exposure to information. We need better ways of researching and tracking changes in public opinion over time.

Aspa Baroutsis presented evidence from the media coverage of PISA in Australia that politicians are sensitive to the way ILSAs are presented – but it is still an open question as to whether such coverage actually affects policy outcomes. How can we design good research to investigate this?

Megan Knight and Petra Javrh highlighted that journalists have different priorities and constraints from academics, advocates and policy-makers and this raises issues about the importance of training or otherwise preparing the media to deal with the release of findings from ILSAs. The issue of time and timing is particularly significant as mentioned in the comments below.

Cormac O’Keeffe opened a window onto a different kind of training – workshops to help researchers interrogate the data produced which are being actively developed by testing agencies including the IEA. To what extent are such training opportunities, the software and the interactive databases offered by the agencies more open, transparent and democratic and how far are they a way of influencing and controlling interpretation at another level than via press releases and presentations.

Future media research could focus on the different semiotic resources and possibilities for communicating findings through the print and digital media: visualizations, use of social media, film and so on.

Finally, Heinz-Dieter Meyer’s contribution drew attention to the possibilities of activist intervention in the policy process and left us with the question of what kinds of intervention and coalitions are most effective?

In a related activity, I am also tracking the release of the findings from the 2nd round of the OECD’s adult skills survey PIAAC, which will take place during the week following June 28th .

If you are interested in joining in this study, details of how to do so are here





Gender and Literacy Blog

Educational discourse in England has moved away from the term “adult literacy” which is now referred to as “functional skills.”  However, the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE) is one place where discussion about adult literacies and learning is alive and well. For International Women’s Day earlier this month, David Mallows from the NRDC in London collected blog posts about gender and literacy. These can be accessed from the EPALE site, including this one by LRC member Vicky Duckworth  and they are well worth the read.



Literacy in the News 2: Ukraine: Document Reveals UK Stance On Crisis


A document detailing the UK’s position on the Ukraine crisis has been seen being taken into Downing Street.

It was photographed as an official went into Downing Street for a meeting of the National Security Council as the crisis deepened.

Sky’s Jason Farrell said: “It looks like some kind of a briefing document that’s being taken into the meeting…….”It does give away some of Britain’s position towards Russia.

Farrell added: “It is extremely embarrassing that the points of discussion have come out in this way.”

A man holding papers