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Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training
12/07/2021
Adult literacy and its importance

OLDFIELD, Ms Jenni, Private capacity [by audio link]

[12:33]

CHAIR: We will now move to our final witness for the morning session. We have your submission, Ms Oldfield, in front of us. Welcome. Would you mind just stating the capacity in which you're appearing before us today?

Ms Oldfield : Sure. Hello, everybody. Today I appear before you as an individual, as an adult literacy practitioner who has been around the adult literacy space for some 30 years or more.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. We were particularly interested in your observation about the need to update and to develop a pre level 1 element to the framework for vocational education. Could you go right to that point for us in your introductory remarks? But first I just remind you that you're not giving evidence under oath, but they're legal proceedings of the parliament that have the same respect as those before the House. False and misleading evidence obviously is a serious matter and potentially contempt of parliament. So I want to go right to that important point that you made in this submission after you heard some earlier roundtables. I want to ask about whether you can see any impediments to adding in this pre level 1, why it hasn't occurred already, but secondly, what the benefit is of incorporating this into the document. The third part of this question is whether as a nation Australia is adequately quantifying literacy and numeracy skills in those that are at level 1 or below and whether that's a major omission for the country. Obviously, is it a case of what we don't measure we don't know about?

Ms Oldfield : Look, I think there's perhaps a little bit of a misunderstanding here. My submission to the inquiry was really about a document or a framework that we work with as practitioners called the Australian Core Skills Framework. I guess my submission was really to reiterate the importance of having a really useful document like that, and in the submission that I did say that in 2017 we developed a pre level 1. So that's already developed, and that was developed to describe the skills of learners that were turning up in our programs across the country for which the current document at that time, the red book, the lower levels in that framework weren't low enough to describe the levels of those learners. So the pre level 1 was developed then, and then more recently last year the Digital Literacy Skills Framework was also developed, obviously to meet the emerging needs for digital literacy skills in our community and in workplaces. So the point that I was trying to make in my submission was that we have a really useful framework that sits in three different places and is really quite cumbersome to use as a practitioner and that our work could be streamlined or made easier, if you like, if those three documents were amalgamated into one framework so that we have a complete framework to work with the six skills that it describes: learning, reading, writing, oral communication, numeracy and digital literacy.

CHAIR: Yes, that's exactly what I was referring to, the ACSF. My question was is this just a theoretical requirement to bring documents together, or for those that are necessarily using on it a regular basis does it overly matter that it hasn't been incorporated, that it sits separately? So I was asking for the practical effect of their not having been merged, those documents. The second part of it is it still concerns me that outcome reports at secondary school level appear to halve secondary students into those seeking a tertiary entrance score and then just an amorphous list, competency based, of whether someone has a skill-based level 2 or level 3. But we've lost the numeracy and the advanced literacy data from that cohort, which in many cases is half of our school-leavers. So the question to you was: by incorporating these two documents, as you've described, and further fleshing out a pre level 1, are we going to better understand and create incentives to improve literacy and numeracy in the bottom half of secondary school-leavers? Because at the moment all I can see is what proportion of them have a skill-based traineeship at level 2 or 3, and that doesn't tell me how good their literacy and numeracy are.

Ms Oldfield : I think the problem with these documents sitting outside the main document is a lot of practitioners don't know about them. When they refer to adult literacy skills they're often left out, so I think there are a lot of benefits in bringing this document together to reinforce it as a suite of skills we work with across the board and also to just reinforce it provides us with a language to be able to talk about those skills. If we don't know about it, then we're having conversations that are hard for each other to understand, so I think that's really important.

CHAIR: And I think your point is reasonable.

Ms HAMMOND: Thank you very much for your submission about the ACSF needing updating. Sorry, we've all had a little bit of trouble actually hearing you. I think that the sound has been a bit low from your end, so apologies if we're going back over ground that you just covered with Dr Laming. So you made this submission after seeing the first hearing. What were your concerns with some of the evidence in the first hearing or some of the statements?

Ms Oldfield : I was just concerned that there was a little bit of misinformation. I think at one point they said that the framework was actually developed by ACER, and it wasn't; it has been developed by a group of adult literacy specialists who were led by Philippa McLean from Escalier McLean. I guess the other thing to say is that we actually have a lot of data across the country now that's based on the ACSF, and a lot of that data is more current than the PIAC data, which is often referred to in the adult literacy space. That PIAC data was collected in 2014-15, so it's six, seven years old now. The data that we had through assessments made against the ACSF is potentially a lot more current, and you could draw a lot of information out of them, a lot more correct data.

Ms HAMMOND: So who has that ACSF data?

Ms Oldfield : Well, it's generated through assessments that are done for programs such as SEE and the SEE program, or in most states now RTOs have to do a pretraining LLN assessment before students are enrolled in programs. Usually that's against the ACSF or often it's against the ACSF, so the data actually sits in lots of different places.

Ms HAMMOND: Yes, we need to commission somebody to research it. But that would be data relating to people, if I'm understanding correctly, who are going into VET programs. Is that correct?

Ms Oldfield : VET programs and SEE programs; AMEP as well.

Ms HAMMOND: So a well-developed research proposal and dedicated research might be able to get access to some of that data, because I do think that that's—and you might have seen some of this morning's witnesses talking about the need for more up-to-date and more robust evidence across the country both of the scale of the problem and the types of problems and also of specific cohorts so that we can design programs. Do you have any thoughts on program design? Is there one program or is it, as has been suggested to us and which I'm very inclined to believe, that it's a multifarious approach, that there are different programs which are needed?

Ms Oldfield : Look, I think there are different programs that are needed. I should make it clear that I work in the adult space, so some of Dr Laming's questions earlier were about the high school sector, which is not my forte. But in the adult space I do think that we need programs for people in the community. A lot of my work is around the VET sector, so it's around supporting learners through their training for specific vocational qualifications. Then there are all sorts that would benefit from different types of training—Indigenous people.

Ms HAMMOND: Have you come across some really good community-based programs?

Ms Oldfield : My colleague Phillipa McClean couldn't be here today, because she's working on a Literacy for life program which is with Indigenous people. She's in Queensland at the moment. I think that's had some degree of success. A lot of my work has been situated within vocational education and training, so having the literacy teacher support, the vocational trainer, in the same space can work really well. There are tonnes of them. I worked for a long time in corrections, so some effort in that space I think is really important and tapped into a real need. But I think it is really important that a lot of this work is based on a framework like the ACSF so that we can understand how so we can make some judgements about where people's skills gaps are, and if we can understand their real skills gaps, we know where to target the training to meet the particular need that they might have, whether it's about a particular job or whether it's about community participation. There's just one more point that I would really like to make. The Commonwealth a few years ago invested a lot of money in the Foundation Skills Assessment Tool, or FSAT. There were some great assessment tasks developed through that program, and along the way, I don't know, the project sort of fell apart. The outcome of that project or the assessment tasks sort of disappeared, and they were never made public. I know that there are some really good resources just sitting there, and it would be helpful for practitioners if they could be made publicly available because that would help with valid and reliable assessment that we can base all sorts of things around, planning for how to fill the gaps in data.

Ms HAMMOND: So do you know who ran that FSAT?

Ms Oldfield : It was run through the Commonwealth education and training department, whatever it was called at the time, and ACER had the contract to develop that tool with a number of other literacy specialists. But then I think the money ran out and there wasn't time to trial everything to the degree that ACER wanted them trialled to, and so things just seemed to disappear. But it got a long way down the track, and there were lots of really useful assessment tasks that would be really helpful to the field.

Ms HAMMOND: Okay, that will be something that we look into. Thank you very much for raising that.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your contributions today and to all of our witnesses for the morning. That has been really useful. We will now follow up with all the transcripts of that session and make sure that they're sent through to you, Ms Oldfield. We will also allow you to make any clarifications if you need to, and any additional information can be provided in next seven days as well. So thank you very much, everyone. We will now take a break. Thank you, everyone, for your participation so far.

Committee suspended from 12:47 to 13:29