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Lambeth’s adult learning service is helping adult learners with poor literacy to improve their reading by bringing books to life.

One way to teach reading for those struggling with literacy skills is offer lots of short courses that build up units bit by bit into a qualification. One such course, offered by Lambeth Council in South London as part of its adult learning services, is helping to bring books to life using story sacks. This approach uses a large cloth bag (a story sack) containing a favourite book with supporting materials that stimulate language activities – a recognised way to improve literacy as they bring books to life. The course, accredited by OCN London, is part of a suite of courses designed to improve literacy for adults and sometimes their children as well. This is all part of the Council’s scheme to help people who struggle with reading and other life skills.

“Some of our learners are very isolated and this is a way to help them get out the house and learn useful skills to connect with others and maybe find work too,“ says Alex Bousoulengas, Family Learning Manager at Lambeth Council. “If you tell people there’s an exam they tend to recoil in horror and fear. But soon as you say, ‘Don’t worry! There’s no exam,’ they relax and get more out of the course.”

There may not be an official exam but the courses are all assessed rigorously by OCN London. But this is done through observation and assessing individual pieces of work. Lambeth Council runs lots of small learning units like this which build to an accreditation at the end. Learners have a portfolio of practical work and assessments. “The good thing about OCN London is that people can take a number of units, some only lasting six weeks, and then gradually add more and more. It feels less daunting than starting on a two-year course. It’s all about breaking it down into manageable chunks so it’s achievable. We find OCN London very flexible and perfectly suited to the needs of our learners,” adds Alex.

The Council has been running courses leading to OCN London qualifications since 2011 for around 200 learners a year. take the courses. There are courses in peer support, volunteering and training people to be parent champions, as well as story sacks courses.. “This gets people back into the community - not just into work but out of the house into their neighbourhoods. It also boosts people’s confidence and is good for the wellbeing of their children,” says Alex. Mainly of the Council’s learners have either never worked or been out of work a long time due to having children which is why it’s important that courses are combined with confidence building.

The Council also runs courses in developing skills for working with children which combines two units, one in developing skills for listening to children and another in developing personal confidence and self esteem. “We find those units really useful because when we’ve spoken to employers they tell us that what they’re looking for are people who are able to communicate with children. The courses include practical demonstration assessments where learners have to get down to the child’s level and make real contact. They find that as well as developing their vocational skills it also benefits their relationship with their own children.” says Alex. One learner even used story sacks at an interview for a teacher assistant job. She got the job.

“It’s important for our learners to feel a sense of achievement and that’s how a certificate that’s nationally recognised helps them. It’s one thing to get our learners onto a programme, the next is to keep them there. A certificate that work towards gradually and at their own pace is a huge incentive.”