Adult literacies learning in Dundee

Demonstrating the impact of adult literacy learning

Adult literacies learning in Dundee

Led by: Dundee City Council CLD service


Rather than looking at one particular strand of work, as we shall in other cases, here we consider the overall impact of the adult literacy learning services led by Dundee City Council. Systematic analysis has identified and put a value on the wide range of outcomes for learners’ lives that learning helps to deliver.


More than 3,000 people take part in the Council’s Adult Learning programmes every year. The Adult Learning section is part of the Council’s Community Learning and Development provision. It sits within the Communities and Policy Division of the Chief Executive’s Department and comprises 5 teams covering the city. They work with adults of all ages to encourage people to take the first steps back into learning, and build skills and confidence. Their aim is to improve people’s life chances through learning and personal development.[1] Their priorities include providing help with reading, writing, spelling and numbers.

Recent Scottish research[2] found that 27% of the working age population demonstrate a consistent weakness in their literacies skills. Another smaller group – 1 in 28 (3.6%) of the population – have very limited literacies capabilities. This group can have extreme difficulties in their home and work lives. The research indicates that all people with poor literacies skills tend to:

·         earn less

·         work in more routine occupations

·         be unemployed or economically inactive

·         live in deprived areas 

·         face health challenges

·         have lower educational attainment.


Actions taken

Literacies learning programmes are delivered city wide in over 20 different learning centres. Programmes are provided at times and venues across the City that make them accessible to all. In 2011-2012, 1,896 adults received support with literacy and numeracy.

Adult Literacies workers use a ‘social practice model’ which is centred on the learners. Its focus is to support people to take on the opportunities available to them, address their own personal issues and progress towards meeting their own goals. Learners set their own goals and targets and, in discussion with tutors, progress towards set targets.

Partnership and strategy

The service works alongside partners in Jobcentre Plus, Social Work, NHS, Skills Development Scotland and the Voluntary Sector to meet the needs of each adult.

Mark has written a book for children, having joined an Adult Learning writing group

A Literacies Partnership reports to a Discover Learning Partnership. This in turn reports to the Learning And Culture Strategic Group of the Dundee Partnership, which has adopted a Strategic Literacies Action Plan 2011 – 2014.

Evidence of impact

In 2012, the Council produced a Social Return on Investment analysis of its adult literacy programmes. Stakeholder organisations were interviewed. Open ended discussions were held, one to one, with 20 learners to identify the key areas of impact across different areas of life. This information was used to develop a survey in which 60 literacy learners took part – a 10% sample of all who had been in literacy learning for six months or more.

The analysis looked at the impacts of adult literacy learning on key areas of learners’ lives. It identified:

·         Improved literacy skills

·         Increases in confidence

·         Gaining qualifications

·         Moves into employment

·         Positive changes in mental wellbeing

·         Increased involvement in children’s learning

·         Improved social networks, and a reduction in isolation.

 These reports of impacts from learners and stakeholders can be supplemented by applying the results of research from elsewhere. For example:

 ·         Studies of learners with a history of mental health difficulties report participation has positive effects on mental health[3].

·         There are inks between literacies in adults and a reduction in chronic stress levels; achievement of qualifications consistently reduces the risk of adult depression[4].


Quotations from learners

My kids are still young. I am going to be able to help them for the next few years.

You think you are too old for education. But you are not.

It has really turned my life around.

I no longer have the same reliance on mental health services

You hold your head higher. I would tackle anything now.

I don’t have to depend on anyone in my family.

I’m looking forward to everything now in my life.

It’s great listening to the bairns reading and I know they are reading it right.

I wish the way I feel now, I could put it in a bottle, cork it,

and give it to teenagers that are struggling at school.

Source: Adult Learning service video

There is evidence of an increase in children’s cognitive ability where parents’ basic skills improve[5].

 The Social Return on Investment analysis uses financial proxies to value each outcome. The table below gives a considerably simplified summary of the results. All the total values quoted are for the impact on the 60 learners only and for a duration of one year. The overall conclusion was that for every pound invested there was a £7 return.

Adult Literacies Learning – Summary of Social Returns



Financial proxy

Value £


Total impact*

Social Return

Summary of activity in numbers

How would you describe the change?

What proxy would you use to value the change?

What is the value of the change?

Where did you get the information from?


Year 1

100 % (60) report increase in confidence

Increased Confidence

Value of  a confidence  building course                                           


Open college, Private sector company North Lanarkshire Council and East Renfrewshire Council



100% (60) report increase in skill level

Increased literacy levels

Costs of increased basic skills levels  per qualification


The Princes Trust (2007) ‘The cost of exclusion’ and other research



20  achieved core skills qualification    

Gained nationally recognised qualifications     

As above


As above



 84% (50) report improvements in mental wellbeing

Improved mental  wellbeing

Cost of Cognitive behaviour therapy to build psychological resilience and self-esteem


Research by McGivney (1997) Feinstein, L. and C. Hammond (2004) and others



 3  learners who moved into employment


The cost to the exchequer of someone being out of work per year (includes benefits and £3,000 lost tax revenue)


School of Economics and Financial Management – Professor Gregg                



35 learners report developing skills to look for work

Skills to look for work

The cost of contracting training and skill development for one year for 2 hours per week to get someone skilled to look for work 


UK Commission for Employment and Skills.



33  learners report improved social networks

Learners are more socially active

Expenditure on recreational and cultural services                    


Office for National Statistics (2008) ‘Living Costs and Food Survey’



20 parent/carer involvement in children’s learning

 Carers /parents involved in helping their children learn

Cost of additional teaching for  2.5 hours per week, based on one school year


Research showing that it takes up to 100 hours to increase one level.



* Before making the SROI calculation that estimates how much of this total can actually be attributed to the inputs (eliminating ‘deadweight’ etc.)

Source: summarised and adapted from SROI impact map. The full map can be found in the SROI Executive Summary at 

[1] For more information, see Dundee’s ‘Discover Learning’ website:

[2] Scottish Survey of Adult Literacies  2009

[3] McGivney V (1997) in Aldridge, F., Lavender, P. (2000), The Impact of Learning on Health, NIACE

[4] Feinstein, L. and Hammond, C. (2004) The contribution of adult learning to health and social capital, Oxford Review of Education, 30.2, 199-221. A version of the same research can be found at:

[5] De Coulon, A. Meschi, E and Vignoles, A. (2008) Parents’ Basic Skills and Children’s  Cognitive

Outcomes.  London.  Centre for the Economics of Education.


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