Is the Professionalisation of Adult Basic Skills Practice Possible, Desirable or Inevitable?

Carol Azumah Dennis


This paper explores the meaning and implications of a policy-driven professionalisation of adult basic skills practice. Written amidst competing theoretical conceptualisations of professionalism, the paper focuses on a particular policy moment in Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy (ALLN) practice in England:  Skills for Life. The paper argues that the possibility of implementation of this policy is limited. The policy is filtered through the fragmented nature of the field, the embeddedness of literacy and what this paper calls an 'anti-professional' stance of ALLN practice. For policy makers, professionalisation is desirable, and its impact is far-reaching. It enables control of a key aspect of the service sector implicated in the supply of flexi-workers required by a globalised economy. In discussing the inevitability of professionalisation the paper draws on a small-scale research project to locate a space for the professional imagination, a space in which ALLN practitioners express motivations at odds with policy imperatives and enact professionalisation in ways that arguably hijack the momentum and resource that the policy provides.

Full Text:



Albright, J and Luke, A (2008) Pierre Bourdieu and Literacy Education, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, London.

Avis, J, Bathmaker, A-M, and Parsons, J (2002) Communities of Practice and the Construction of Learners in Post-compulsory Education and Training, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, vol 54, no 1, pp 586-600.

Ball, SJ (2003) The Teacher's Soul and the Terrors of Performativity, Journal of Education Policy, vol 18, no 2, pp 215-28.

Barton, D (2007a) Literacy, Lives and Learning, Routledge, London.

Barton, D (2007b) Literacy: An introduction to the ecology of written language, 2nd edn, Blackwell, Malden, MA and Oxford.

Bathmaker, A-M (2001) Neither Dupes Nor Devils: Teachers' constructions of their changing role in further education', presented at 5th Annual Conference of the Learning and Skills Research Network, Robinson College, Cambridge.

Castleton, G (2001) The Role of Literacy in Peoples' Lives: A case study of its use amongst the homeless in Australia, in Crother, J, Hamilton, M and Tett, L, eds, Powerful Literacies, National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, Leicester, pp 56-68.

Clarke, J and Newman, J (2005) The Rise of the Citizen Consumer: Implications for public service professionals, Changing Teacher Roles, Identities and Professionalism, Seminar 5: What can be learnt from other professions? retrieved 19 Aug 2010 from

Coffield, F and Edward, S (2009) Rolling out 'Good', 'Best' and 'Excellent' Practice. What next? Perfect practice?, British Educational Research Journal, vol 35, no 3, pp 371-90.

Coffield, F, Edward, S, Finlay, I, Hodgson, A, Spours, K and Steer, R (2008) Improving learning, skills and inclusion: the impact of policy on post-compulsory education, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, London.

Crossan, B and Gallacher, J (2009) 'The boundaries are different out here': Learning relationships in community-based further education, in Edwards, R, Biesta, G and Thorpe, M eds, Rethinking contexts for learning and teaching: communities, activities and networks Routledge, Taylor & Francis, London, pp133 -46.

Crowther, J, Hamilton, M, and Tett, L (2001) Powerful Literacies, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, Leicester.

Dennis, CA (2009) Controlling the Imagination: How do teachers and managers of adult language, literacy and numeracy define, achieve and maintain quality?, unpublished doctoral thesis, Department of Continuing and Professional Education; Institute of Education, University of London, London.

DfEE (1999) Improving Literacy and Numeracy : A fresh start : the report of the working group chaired by Sir Claus Moser, Department for Education and Employment, London.

Edwards, R (1997) Changing Places?: Flexibility lifelong learning and a learning society (London: Routledge) 214p.

Edwards, R (2003) Ordering Subjects: Actor-networks and the intellectual technologies in lifelong learning, Studies in the Education of Adults, vol 35, no 1, pp 54-67.

Edwards, R and Usher, R (2008) Globalisation & Pedagogy: space, place and identity, 2nd edn, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, London.

Elliott, G (1996) Educational Management and the Crisis of Reform in Further Education, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, vol 48, no 1, pp 5-23.

Freire, P (1970) Cultural Action for Freedom, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Frost, N (2001) Professionalism, Change and the Politics of Lifelong Learning, Studies in Continuing Education, vol 23, no 1, pp 5-17.

Gleeson, D and James, D (2007) The Paradox of Professionalism in English Further Education: a TLC project perspective, Educational Review, vol 59, no 4, pp 451-67.

Goodrham, M (2005) Using Research to Enhance Professionaism in FE -What kinds of professionalism are available to FE practitioners, paper presented at the 6th Annual Conference of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme, Warwick.

Haggis, T (2009) Beyond 'Mutual Constitution': Looking at learning and context from the perspective of complexity theory, in Edwards, Richard, Biesta, Gert and Thorpe, Mary, eds, Rethinking Contexts for Learning and Teaching: Communities, activities and networks, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, London, pp 44-60.

Hamilton, M (2009) Putting Words in Their Mouths: The alignment of identities with system goals through the use of Individual Learning Plans, British Educational Research Journal, vol 35, no 2, pp 221-42.

Hamilton, M and Hillier, Y (2006) The Changing Face of Adult Literacy, Language and Numeracy 1970-2000: A critical history, Trentham Books, Stoke-on-Trent.

Harper, M and Jephcote, M (2010) Thematic Walkthrough in FE Literature on Professionalism and Professional Learning, Working Paper 11, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, University of Cardiff, Wales.

Hodgson, A and Spours, K (1999) New Labour's Educational Agenda: Issues and Policies for Education and Training from 14+, Kogan Page, London.

Hodgson, A, Edward, S and Gregson, M (2006) Riding the Waves of Policy in Adult and Community Learning in England: The case of basic skills, paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Warwick, Warwick.

Ivanic, R, Appleby, Y, Hodge, R., Tusting, K and Barton, D 2006) Linking Learning and Everyday Life, National Research and Development Centre, London.

Jacobson, E (2009) Community Building as an Instructional Goal in Japanese Adult Basic Education, Adult Basic Education & Literacy Journal, vol 3, no 3, pp 161-70.

James, D and Biesta, G (2007) Improving Learning Cultures in Further Education, Routledge Taylor & Francis, London.

Jameson, J and Hillier, Y (2008) 'Nothing will prevent me from doing a good job'. The professionalisation of part-time teaching staff in further and adult education, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, vol 13, no 1, pp 39-53.

Kelchtermans, G (2007) Macropolitics Caught up in Micropolitics: The case of the policy on quality control in Flanders (Belgium), Journal of Education Policy, vol 22, no 4, pp 471-91.

Leitch, S (2006) Prosperity for All in the Global Economy: World class skills: executive summary, Department for Education and Employment, London.

LLUK (2010), Lifelong Learning UK -Research and Workforce Data Collection, retrieved 19 Aug 2010 from

Morley, L (2003) Quality and Power in Higher Education, Open University Press, Berkshire.

Payne, J (2000) The Unbearable Lightness of Skill: The changing meaning of skill in UK policy discourses and some implications for education and training', Journal of Education Policy, vol 15, no 3, pp 353-69.

Peters, T and Austin, A (1985) A Passion for Excellence, Fontana/Collins, Glasgow.

Power, S (2008) The Imaginative Professional, in Cunnigham, B, ed, Exploring Professionalism, Bedford Way Papers, Institute of Education, pp1 44-60.

Randle, K and Brady, N (1997) Managerialism and Professionalism in the 'Cinderella Service', Journal of Vocational Education & Training, vol 49, no 1, pp 121-39.

Robson, J (1998) A Profession in Crisis: Status, culture and identity in the further education college, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, vol 50, no 4, pp 585-607.

Sardar, Z (2000) Professionals Who Lost their Virtue, New Statesman, retrieved 9 Aug 2010 from

Shain, F (1999) Changing Notions of Teacher Professionalism in the Further Education Sector, paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Shore, S and Zannettino, L (2002) Professional Development in Australian Adult Literacy and Numeracy Provision, in Shore, S ed, Lessons from the Past, Insights for the Future: what do we know about literacy and numeracy provision? ALNARC, South Australia.

Stronach, I (2002) Towards an Uncertain Politics of Professionalism: Teacher and nurse identities in flux, Journal of Education Policy, vol 17, no 1, p 109.

Tusting, K (2009) 'I am not a good" teacher; I don't do all their paperwork': Teacher resistance to accountability demands in the English Skills for Life strategy', Literacy & Numeracy Studies, vol 17, no 3, pp 6-26."

Wickert, R (2001) Politics, Activism and Processes of Policy Production: Adult literacy in Australia, in Lo Bianco, J and Wickert, R eds, Australian policy activism in language and literacy, Language Australia, Melbourne, pp 75-91.

Wilson, AL (2001) Professionalization: A politics of identity, New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education, vol 2001, no 91, pp 73-84.



Share this article: