Ignored, precarious, and under-resourced: learning provision for homeless adults

This blog post is written by Dr Katy Jones.  This article was originally prepared for the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE), and can be found here

Homeless adults are often excluded from education provision. As a result, many third sector organisations operating in the UK homelessness sector have developed their own education, training and employment (ETE) support. However, little is known about what this looks like in practice, or the factors shaping it.

Focusing on literacy and numeracy learning, my doctoral research explored the educational opportunities available across Greater Manchester’s homelessness sector. Based on the accounts of 27 homelessness practitioners drawn from 12 different organisations, the research focused on an often-ignored area of adult education provision. It also highlights it’s often precarious and under-resourced nature.

Learning provision for homeless adults – what does it look like?

In most cases support is available on an impromptu basis, centred on helping service users to compensate for poor literacy and/or numeracy skills where difficulties arise (support to read and fill in forms is common). However, there are also a range of activities through which service users are supported to develop their literacy and numeracy (alongside other) skills. These include learning ‘on-the-job’ through volunteering and working in social enterprises; working towards accredited qualifications; reading groups and creative writing activities; and the provision of more formalised and structured courses. Learning options are flexible and tailored, with a mix of one-to-one support and small class sizes to suit individual learner needs. Efforts are made to link learning opportunities to service users’ goals and interests. Activities are also flexible, allowing for learners to dip in and out of provision.

Support exists on a precarious footing

Whilst there are some great examples of educational provision in the homelessness sector, in most instances it exists on a precarious footing. Learning opportunities are often short-term and ad hoc. In the absence of long-term funding, provision is often dependent on the time, skills and expertise of volunteers, or the availability of outreach from local colleges and training providers. Interviewees explained that a reliance on volunteer support could undermine the consistency of provision.

‘Providing that one-to-one support requires a real kind of commitment from people which is difficult to guarantee… the last thing we want is those people having yet another bad experience of education’

Furthermore, whilst several had hosted adult educators in their settings, this option had recently been withdrawn due to funding cuts.

‘We used to have the [adult education provider] in. They used to regularly do stuff at [the organisation]. I’m going back several years…particularly literacy classes…but all that funding’s gone’

Beyond the rhetoric – a plea to policy-makers

Successive governments have identified homeless adults as a key ‘target’ group for literacy and numeracy provision. The Skills for Life Strategy identified homeless people as a group in need of improving their basic skills, and as a result homelessness organisations were sites of related provision. More recently, the government funded STRIVE (Skills, Training, Innovation and Employment), a small scale ‘pre-employment’ programme pilot, providing opportunities for homeless people to build confidence and develop basic IT, maths and English skills.  At the pilot’s inception, the then Skills and Enterprise Minister, Matthew Hancock MP, said:

It is wrong that until now excellent education projects led by [Homelessness charities] have been denied government funding – today we are putting that right. There is no doubt that charities like St Mungo’s Broadway and Crisis are the best placed to reach those in need of help, but we are backing them in this vital task.

Yet the amount of statutory funding for learning and skills flowing into homelessness agencies is minimal. Only three percent of English accommodation projects and seven per cent of day centres report receiving any ‘employment and education’ funding. Beyond STRIVE pilots, the current government’s commitment to this agenda is unclear. Four years after the pilot’s inception, no further statements have been made.

My research has demonstrated that there is clearly a role for homelessness organisations in enabling homeless adults to participate in learning, however the potential for this is not being realised. Whilst the homelessness sector appears committed to providing learning opportunities, if policymakers are serious about supporting homeless adults in this way, they need to move beyond rhetoric and invest in long-term and appropriate provision.

Dr Katy Jones is a Research Fellow in the Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford, United Kingdom. She has recently been awarded a PhD in Educational Research from Lancaster University. Contact: k.e.jonessalford.ac.uk


How far does media coverage of international large-scale assessment help hold governments to account for their education commitments? Posting on UNESCO’s World Education Blog by Mary Hamilton

UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report blog: World Education has just published a blog by Mary Hamilton, Associate Director of the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre and Co-Director of the Lab for International Assessment Studies.

A key rationale for carrying out international comparative surveys of skills such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is that the findings can positively influence policy and therefore educational outcomes. Such claims implicate the media as part of a chain of influence. The argument runs that the media publicise the findings, which influence public opinion and in turn this puts pressure on politicians to respond. The media can also compare past successes, failures and improvements through a running commentary on trends in the test scores.

However, the impact of media on educational policy is assumed but not widely researched. My colleagues and I have followed media coverage of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) in France, Japan and the United Kingdom as well as in Greece, New Zealand, Singapore and Slovenia, which took part in the second wave of (PIAAC-2).

Head over the World Education Blog to read the remainder of the story.


Academic publishing practices in universities in England

Members of the ESRC-funded ‘Dynamics of Knowledge Creation: Academics’ writing practices in the contemporary university workplace’, research project team have posted here before about different aspects of the project. The project set out to investigate how academics’ writing practices across three disciplines were changing in response to wider changes in higher education.

One of the latest outputs from the project is an article called Hobson’s choice: the effects of research evaluation on academics’ writing practices in England, which is available via open access here. As the name suggests, the article examines the influence of research evaluation policies, namely the REF, and institutions’ interpretations of this on academics’ writing practices across three disciplines.

One of the key findings reported in this article is that academics’ ability to succeed in their career is closely tied to their ability to meet quantitative and qualitative targets driven by research evaluation systems. For example, early career academics on probation are often required to produce a specified number of scholarly publications within a certain period. Academics often talked about these requirements in terms that echoed the nomenclature of the REF, saying, for instance, “I have to publish two papers at three-star”. Similarly, one head of department told us that the minimum requirement for academics in her department was to publish “one good publication a year”. She explained that this meant a single-authored paper in a good journal. This obviously may constrain the type of collaborations academics feel free to enter into since sole-authored papers are preferred. It also promotes the notion that journal articles are valued over and above, say, monographs. This was a point of contention for many of the historians we interviewed, since it clashes with their traditional view of the scholarly monograph as the gold standard for publication.

Another finding discussed in the Hobson’s choice article is that the effects of research evaluation regimes were unevenly distributed across institutions and age groups. Academics in research-intensive universities experienced extreme pressure to maintain a high level of performance year-in, year-out, with little acknowledgement by institutions of the learning curve that is part and parcel of writing for publication. Those in teaching-focused institutions, on the other hand, were under less immediate pressure because research was often not made a priority. However, one effect of this is that career mobility for academics at these institutions may be curtailed since they are not enabled to fully participate in the scholarly activity that would allow them to move to higher-ranking, research-intensive universities. This is a particular issue for younger academics who may start their careers in less research-intensive institutions with the hope of establishing a research trajectory over time.

The full article can be found here without the need for institutional log in or payment.

by Sharon McCulloch, Lancaster University

Multimodal literacy and assessment – call for papers for special issue of Language and Education

This is posted on behalf of our affiliate member, Dr Lynde Tan, Western Sydney University:

Call for Papers: Language and Education

Special Issue on “Dialogic Inquiry in Multimodal Literacy Education:  Joining the Dots between Assessment and Literacy Curriculum”

In the field of literacy education, there has been a shift in defining literacy as a monolithic term to a pluralistic one. Education research is replete with propositions for multiple literacies. The key tenor of the argument is that different domains of life privilege different literacies and they are politically and culturally influenced. Calling attention to the social, cultural and linguistic diversities, literacy researchers continue to emphasize multiple forms of literacy associated with semiotic modes found in the multiplicity of communication channels and media. The social outcomes of literacy learning are the central thrust of the ongoing debates that justify reforms in literacy curricula. The rallying call for 21st century skills to be embedded in curricula is intensified as heavier emphasis is placed on producing workers, citizens and community members who are able to respond to the rapidly changing working, public and private lives in a technological and globalised world.

While reforms in literacy curricula are taking shape progressively all over the world, less is observed in assessment. As the notion of literacy expands, we need to review how literacies are being assessed. Emerging conceptualizations of literacies raise questions about the lacuna – How do educational authorities reform curricula and assessment in tandem? How do schools cope with assessing 21st century skills when outcome-based curricula tend to foreground assessment of skills that are easier and more convenient to measure? What are the proven ways for implementing multimodal assessments across curriculum? Are there compelling evidence that standardised testing is fulfilling the promise of education to help every child meets his or her potential?

We acknowledge the need to better understand how literacies can be and should be assessed. This special issue intends to examine ways of assessing multiple literacies that are relevant to the 21st century contexts. We are looking for articles that explore ways of assessing literacies that are responsive to, but not limited to, multimodal and digital learning environments.

We welcome contributions that are related but not limited to the following topics:


  • Multimodal assessments across content areas
  • Assessing new and /or digital literacies, including 21st century skills
  • Assessment literacies as part of teacher professional knowledge, practice and engagement
  • Challenges and issues in assessing multimodal literacies


Contributions should be based on empirical studies that represent an international perspective. Please send an expression of interest to the Guest Editors with a 500-word abstract in a Microsoft Word.doc attachment, outlining the content of the proposed paper.

The Guest Editors will review abstracts and invite authors to submit full papers, approximately 6000 words, for this special issue. Invited authors are advised to comply with the journal’s instructions for authors. Each full paper submitted will be peer blind reviewed by at least one expert in the field.


Important Due Dates

Submission of abstract:  31 January 2018

Submission of proposal to journal editors: 15 March 2018

Notification of proposal acceptance by the journal editors: 30 April 2018 (To be confirmed by journal editors)

Notification of paper acceptance to authors/Paper review agreement: 15 May 2018

Submission of full papers: 31 July 2018

Blind reviews to authors: 15 September 2018

Revised manuscript due: 31 October 2018

Expected publication: 2020 (To be confirmed by journal editors)


Special Issue Guest Editors

Lynde Tan

Email: lynde.tan@westernsydney.edu.au

Website: https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/staff_profiles/uws_profiles/doctor_lynde_tan3


Katina Zammit

Email: k.zammit@westernsydney.edu.au

Website: https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/staff_profiles/uws_profiles/doctor_katina_zammit2


Jacqueline D’Warte

Email: J.D’Warte@westernsydney.edu.au

Website: https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/staff_profiles/uws_profiles/doctor_jacqueline_dwarte2









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.