Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Skills Lecture


This chapter takes as its focus the areas of literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy. There are core skills areas which have been identified as being of relevance not only as competencies in their own right, and in the supporting of other school-based learning, but as being vocationally-relevant too. The first section of the chapter introduces and examines each of these three skillsets in detail, outlining their relevance to learners and to wider contexts, such as young people's abilities to enter successfully into adult and working life after leaving education. The second section deals with the relationship between these areas and core and functional skills; the extent to which they are skills for life, and have been supported as such with developing series of key and functional skills qualifications in addition to compulsory education to GCSE level.

The third part of the chapter discusses ways in which core skills might be usefully embedded into curricula, with a focus on creatively integrating literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy into subject-based teaching. The fourth and final aspect covered in this chapter revisits and builds up a theme developed through the chapter; the need to deliver a vocationally-capable workforce, and the roles and responsibilities of government and education in addressing the needs of business.

Reflective elements act as prompts throughout the chapter for you to consider your own experience, your teaching practice, and your setting in respect of their literacy, numeracy, and digital skills provision. Some ideas introduced in this chapter are further explored in the scenario which follows the conclusion; here, the idea of embedding of core skills into the wider curriculum is reinforced and further exemplified.

Learning objectives for this chapter

By the end of this chapter, we would like you:

  • To be able to define literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy with respect to their place in supporting wider education and economic productivity
  • To have considered the centrality of these three skills areas to learning and to engaging with contemporary society after schooling has ended
  • To have creatively engaged with approaches to integrating core and curriculum skills, knowledge, and capabilities
  • To have considered the nature of the role of compulsory education in preparing young people for work

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What are literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy?


Literacy is to some extent a contested concept, with varying definitions competing to fully encapsulate the term. At its most straightforward, literacy refers to the ability to read and write, though some organisations see literacy in broader terms. The National Literacy Trust, for example, defines literacy in these terms: "[W]e believe literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen well. A literate person is able to communicate effectively with other and to understand written information" (Cambridge Assessment, 2013, p. 8).

There is a functional aspect to literacy which sets it aside from related subjects such as English. Definitions of functional literacy focus on the levels of competence in reading and writing which a person might need to fully cope with adult life. Such utilitarian definitions tend to be associated with level-based assessment and testing, and with associated concepts such as basic skills.

Literacy in the contexts which this chapter understands it is not associated with being literate in the sense of being a person of letters, being engaged in academic and philosophical discourse, or in the appreciation and study of literature. Though there are connections to be made, the focus in this chapter is on literacy as a headline term summarising a suite of communication-based skills and competencies, rather than the more aesthetic considerations mentioned above. Literacy here is conceived in the terms understood by organisations such as the National Literacy Trust.

The National Literacy Trust notes that there are several reasons why good literacy skills are beneficial to individuals. Such reasons include (National Literacy Trust, 2016):

  • Higher self esteem
  • Better health
  • Better employment prospects
  • Higher wages

Being literate means that people are more able to access goods and services, are less reliant on others for support, and are better equipped to lead full adult lives.

Research by the charity underlines the fact that there are direct links to be made between being functionally literate and being able to make positive impacts in respect of:

  • Economic wellbeing
  • Having aspirations
  • Stable and engaged family life
  • Health, and access to health services
  • Cultural and civic engagement

For children, of course, the development of literacy skills is a central component of their education, not only in English, but for all other subject areas. Children who struggle with reading, writing, and with oral communication are automatically at a disadvantage across all subjects. Some children will benefit from a positive and stimulating home life, and will be taught to read and to write at least in part by their parents and other family members, and will be brought up in homes where reading is supported, and where access to books is plentiful. However, not all children have such comparative advantages in life, and there may be a requirement for schools to develop children from their first engagements with the compulsory education system so that they can be encouraged to catch up on their reading and writing levels so that they might be able to access education at a level equivalent to that of their peers.

For many children, English may not be their first language, or might not be the first language used in their domestic settings. It might be that children raised in such contexts have English communication skills that are at least as - if not more - developed than adults in their homes, and that therefore educational support may not be easily found. Alternatively, if English is used rarely at home, then though the child may be at least competent in their first language, that English-based skills should be developed so that the child can not only access their wider education, but also play a full part in the life of the school.

Throughout early years and primary education (Key Stages 1 and 2) there is a focus on the development of literacy competencies, not least so that learners are fully able to engage with the challenges of subject-based education in their transfer to secondary school at age 11. The National Curriculum aims to ensure that all pupils (Department for Education, 2013, p. 3):

  • Read easily, fluently and with good understanding
  • Develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information
  • Acquire a wide vocabulary, an understanding of grammar and knowledge of linguistic conventions for reading, writing, and spoken language
  • Appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage
  • Write clearly, accurately, and coherently, adapting their language and style in and for a range of contexts, purposes, and audiences
  • Use discussion in order to learn; they should be able to elaborate and explain clearly their understanding and ideas
  • Are competent in the arts of speaking and listening, making formal presentations, demonstrating to others, and participating in debate

National curriculum documentation outlines the levels of ability to be achieved by learners at each Key Stage. Though there is an end-point of achievement at GCSE in compulsory education terms, there are also other considerations which mean that, for some learners at least, alternative approaches to developing their literacy standards, as they relate to life and basic skills, may be appropriate. Such considerations form part of the investigation in later sections of the chapter.


Numeracy refers to the ability to use mathematics in everyday life. We use maths-related skills perhaps more often than we realise, and those without a sufficient grasp of numeracy-related skills can be at a great disadvantage, both in respect of generalised life skills, and in the job market.

Being numerate means that young people become more independent, as they have both the underpinning ability and the confidence to use numbers and straightforward calculations in their everyday lives. This might include in work contexts, in professional money management and in domestic financial checking, in being able to navigate the world through reading timetables and signage, being able to estimate sizes, amounts and distance, in understanding dosage information and recipe instructions, and in passing on these kinds of life skills to others in turn, not least our own children. Numeracy is an important aspect of engagement with the wider world, of communicating with others, of everyday problem-solving, and of being self-sufficient and not reliant on others for navigating the world.

Being functionally numerate includes being able to demonstrate a range of competencies which have a relationship to mathematics (National Numeracy, 2016):

  • Interpreting plans, maps, charts and diagrams
  • Processing information accurately
  • Solving problems and puzzles
  • Checking answers
  • Ready reckoning
  • Understanding and explaining situations
  • Decision-making based on logical thinking and reasoning

Where numeracy may differ from mathematics is the focus on skills and competencies which are directly related to the use of numbers and related problem-solving in life contexts, as opposed to being asked abstract questions.

The charity National Numeracy conceptualises five aspects of numeracy. These five are (National Numeracy, 2015):

  • Being numerate: incorporating problem solving, reasoning, and decision-making
  • Numbers: being confident with straightforward number handling, including fractions and decimals in real-world contexts
  • Handling information: understanding straightforward graphs and charts, and different presentations of numerical data
  • Shape, space, measure: being able to use straightforward measures for space, volume, distance, time, weight, and everyday problem-solving using such measures.
  • Operations and calculations: straightforward mathematics (addition and subtraction, multiplying and dividing, the effective use of calculators)

This covers a lot of ground, but numeracy is important to young people of all levels of their education. Numeracy supports working across the school curriculum, and is a relevant and necessary life skill. As with literacy rates, international studies suggest that there is a societal issue with levels of numeracy in the UK, with an estimated 9 million adults of working age with low numeracy skills (Fino, 2016) There are three times more low-skilled people in the age group 16-19 than comparator nations; younger generations are at a disadvantage compared not only to their international peers but to older generations, who have been seen to have greater levels of numeric abilities (Fino, 2016).

Furthermore, low numeracy skills levels are not just a problem at the level of the individual in respect of their life skills and their employability, but that a lack of such basic skills impact negatively upon business productivity, on social inclusion, and on questions of equity and citizenship.

Digital literacy

Digital literacy may be defined as "the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning, and working in a digital society" (JISC, 2015). Learners need support with many aspects of their digital activity, and it is important that those needs are addressed, not merely for their present and future academic development, but for life skills and work-related competence for the future as well. There are, therefore, multiple drivers to develop pupils' digital literacy competencies; those which are study-related, those which are work-related, and those which are relevant to conducting oneself appropriately in a digitally-enabled society.

The digital world is fast-evolving, and though the schoolchildren of today have grown up in a world where the internet and digital communications and entertainment have been ever-present, that does not mean that competencies with digital media can be assumed. Home use and access to the internet and to digital communication more generally can vary widely, and the kinds of competencies which may be useful in the home may be quite different to those demanded by formal education, by vocational learning, and by the worlds of working and of adult life more generally. There is, then, a need for these competencies to be learned and taught.

In addition, there are modes of engagement with digital environments, and in online activity and communication, which may represent hazards to children; there is a need also to teach and learn responsible and safe use of the internet and online communications, as well as to teach subject-specific and software-related skills. Risk areas might include access to sexual exploitation, access to pornography, access to violent imagery, the potential for being targeted for political and religious-motivated extremism, as well as fraud, cyber-crime, hate-crimes, self-harm and suicide ideation, and online harassment and bullying. As the diversity and scope of digital hardware, applications, and software develops, so do the potential dangers. Education represents a way to combat the pervasiveness of such potential harm, as well as to teach responsible and productive online activity and digital engagement (Palmer, 2015).

On a more positive note, there are demands for young people to have a greater array of digital skills from industry leaders. Computer programming competencies are sought by businesses, and there are projected shortfalls in entrants into employment markets with the requisite digital skillset (Denholm, 2016).

Seven elements of digital literacy have been identified (JISC, 2014). Not all will apply to all levels of learning, though they are a useful summary of the range of digital literacies as they relate to education. The seven literacies are:

  • ICT literacy: the ability to use information and communications technologies in a range of contexts, as well as to adapt to changing technology, and to adopt new ways of working, communicating and creating in digitally-enabled environments.
  • Learning skills: the ability to study and to learn effectively in both formal and informal technologically-enabled contexts.
  • Digital scholarship: for students to be competent to participate in emerging academic, research, and professional contexts which are digitally-mediated
  • Information literacy: the abilities to find, to understand, to interpret, to evaluate, to manage, and to share information digitally.
  • Media literacy: the abilities to engage with and create academically and professionally-competent communications in a range of digital media contexts.
  • Communications and collaboration: the ability to engage with digital networks for learning and research
  • Career and identity management: the ability to manage and present oneself competently and professionally in online contexts such as social media, and the associated ability to manage one's reputation digitally.

In the compulsory sector, only some of these competencies will be actively engaged; in particular ICT literacy, learning skills, information literacy, and aspects of career and identity management are the most likely to be engaged with.


To what extent do you consider yourself to be functionally literate, numerate, and/or digitally literate?

How did you come by these competencies? Formal or informal education, being self-taught, support from family in your early years? What advantages (or disadvantages) might you have experienced compared to others in developing these skills areas?

How do literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills play a part in your everyday life? How would you cope without each of these skillsets?

Why are these considered 'core skills'?

Though, for many learners, GCSE qualifications will be an important destination at the end of their compulsory education, and will act as a bridge to accessing further education, not all learners will necessarily be able to evidence their competencies in literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy at GCSE. However, such skills are considered essential, not only for the individual in the present, but also for their future ability to contribute in society and to cope effectively with the world of work and with wider adult responsibilities.

Multiple sets of initiatives have been established to develop learners' core competencies; this section outlines core skills and functional skills qualifications, and their underpinning rationales, as well as their relationship to wider qualifications frameworks. The section below on the prioritising of such skills gives more detail on the reasons why these subject areas are considered as core. For the moment, though, it is sufficient to note that there is agreement across education, from trades unions, from basic skills charities and agencies, and from employers of large and small businesses, as well as from the government and through academic researching to the topic that these skills underpin employability.

Changes to post-16 education funding brought in during 2014 mean that further education learners who have not yet achieved a good (A*-C) grade in GCSE English and Mathematics are expected to retake those qualifications and resit examinations; previously, it had been possible to continue into further education without those GCSEs, and without being required to retake. This is part of a wider set of measures designed to boost learners' core qualifications. GCSEs have been in use since the mid-1980s, and are a well-understood and valued qualification, and so have been used for their appreciation by employers and wider society. Revisions to GCSE syllabuses announced at the same time indicated that qualifications being studied from 2015 onwards (for first examination in 2017) would be more vocationally-relevant, feature more contextualised examples, and be focused towards giving employers confidence that the possession of a GCSE means that the applicant is genuinely able to perform in real-world - and employment-related - contexts (HM Government, 2014).

Other approaches have been variously termed 'basic skills', 'key skills', 'core skills' and 'functional skills'. Basic skills is an approach to literacy and numeracy which tends to be used when discussing the development of reading, writing and number skills in an adult learning context; as such, it falls somewhat outside the remit of this chapter.

Key skills qualifications were designed in the late 1990s to address not only perceived underperformance by learners in respect of their communications, numeracy, and work-relevant transferable skills, but also to support further education students in gaining qualifications and work-relevant skills. Now discontinued, there were six key skills identified, each of which could be studied at incremental levels up to a level equating that of GCSE. These vocationally-oriented qualifications were:

  • Communication (literacy)
  • Application of number (numeracy)
  • Information and communication technology (digital literacy)
  • Working with others
  • Improving own learning
  • Problem solving

The first three were considered core key skills, with the second offered as wider key skills. Work was competency based, designed around the building of portfolios which evidenced achievement against set criteria, and which contextualised learning to vocational study and work experience. Though key skills have since been discontinued as a set of qualifications, their legacy continues in English and Scottish vocational frameworks, which this section now explores.

Core Skills

In Scotland, five core skills have been identified which are considered by employers and others to be central to working and living in the contemporary world (Scottish Qualifications Authority, 2016). The five are:

  • Communication: communication skills (two components - oral and written communication) are seen as underpinning all social, cultural, interpersonal, and economic activity
  • Numeracy: there are two components to the qualification; using graphical information, and using number
  • Information and Communication Technology: contextualises ICT skills to work and home productivity contexts, with two components: accessing information, and providing/creating information
  • Working With Others: this qualification develops co-operative and teamworking skills in two aspects: working co-operatively with others, and reviewing co-operative contribution
  • Problem Solving: this qualification develops competencies to manage problems and issues in social, personal, occupational, and in vocational contexts. There are three aspects to this qualification: critical thinking, planning and organising, and reviewing and evaluating

The core skills qualifications may be studied at a range of levels, so that attainment may be accurately rewarded, and that the qualifications achieved can be referenced across to other qualifications, up to level 6, an A level/Scottish Higher equivalent in Scotland.

Functional Skills

In England, the term functional skills is now used to describe the core vocational skills offered as part of the UK government's response to "employers' concerns that young people and adults are not achieving a firm enough grounding in the basics" (For Skills, 2016, para. 1). Functional skills apply to learners from Key Stage 4 (age 14 and upwards, up to 19). The intention is that functional skills development partners other vocational and/or academic learning as relevant throughout learning to the end of compulsory education. In Wales, the comparator skills are known as Essential Skills.

There are three functional skills: English, Mathematics, and ICT. Again, there is a focus on the vocational aspects of communication, on numeracy, and on working in the digital world. A range of pathways exist for the qualifications, depending on the level of the learner, and the nature of the course of study that they are undertaking. There is not necessarily a direct correlation between functional skills qualifications and syllabuses and those of the equivalent GCSE; there is an expectation that to some extent these will be taken as additional course rather than the learner being directed towards an either/or option.

At level 2 (GCSE equivalent), the following competence-based functional skills expectations exist (Department for Education, 2009):

  • English: ability to write effectively, structure sentences and punctuate accurately; contextualised to job applications / persuasive communications such as work-relevant presentations
  • Mathematics: ability to use a range of data types and techniques so that problems may be solved, and that the accuracy of solutions may be checked; contextualised to pricing materials or foreign currency conversions, for example
  • ICT: ability to manage and retrieve information, use a variety of ICT applications, use ICT safely and securely; examples include creating a mailing list in a spreadsheet program, or digitally producing an event flyer

Throughout, the core expectation is in the transferability of skills and competencies from the subject-based and academic study of school more directly towards the kinds of end uses of knowledge and experience which might be expected in vocational contexts. The intention throughout is to better prepare young people for working, and for having the ability to be productive and communicative in practical vocational contexts.


What does the existence of core/functional skills qualifications tell you about the effectiveness of the compulsory education system to develop learners' abilities in terms of English, maths ability and in their use of ICT?

Is it the role of education to prepare young people for work? What are the pros and the cons of such an argument?

To what extent have you experienced vocational forms of education? How straightforward is it to teach vocational skills in a non-vocational context?

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What can be done to embed these skills throughout age groups and subjects?

The kinds of initiatives and qualification frameworks alluded to in the previous section show that, particularly from the ages of 14 and over, throughout GCSE level study at Key Stage 4 and into further education, and also into the more directly vocational alternatives which learners may move into either at Key Stage 4 or on a move from school to college at 16, there is a keen focus to develop core skills.

That this is needed to be done, though, might indicate to some that there has been a failing in the system. If learners are not functionally competent at 14 in the basics of communicating in English, in everyday maths, and in the kinds of straightforward electronic communication and creation which might be expected of someone with functional computer skills, then issues might be said to exist. In part, functional/core skills qualifications exist to better support those learners who are underperforming, who do not engage with academic study, or who will not achieve at GCSE level. Such qualifications offer something of an alternative, as well as awarding attainment at levels preceding GCSE in the qualifications framework, such as Entry Level qualifications.

One way to approach this is to consider ways of embedding vocationally-appropriate skills and competencies into classroom learning across all age groups and in all subjects. This should be done with care and discretion; children are good at spotting opportunism and awkward relationships between teacher input and the kinds of activities which they are asked to complete to embed and exemplify their learning progress. However, an inventory of schemes of work and lesson plans will suggest opportunities throughout the subjects we teach, at the levels being taught, where core skills can be successfully integrated in terms of teaching, and evidenced in respect of learner ability levels.

Some subjects will suggest natural fits; science and technology topic areas will use numeracy frequently, and humanities subjects will involve aspects of communications and literacy competencies. ICT may be engaged with no matter what the subject. Going beyond these straightforward associations, however, there is perhaps a need to make more oblique connections, and to make those less-apparent links clear so that learners can appreciate them for themselves. Examples might be the use of numeracy concepts such as measurement and area in craft and design working, or English skills in writing up science reports. To some extent, the core skills which learners use to help support their subject-based learning will tend to become invisible, as the learner is focusing on the product rather than on their learning process. So, draw attention to the learners' core skills as they are being used to work to subject-oriented ends; core skills can in this way be developed alongside subject knowledge.

Subject-based teaching can also be used to develop core skills. It is perhaps easy to dismiss a lack of engagement with straightforward maths or English ability if the subject area does not specify it to be used to a certain standard, but there should be appropriate and even standards applied across subjects with respect of literacy, numeracy and ICT ability and performance. This might mean, for example, checking spelling and grammar in subjects outside English, or not looking past a learner struggling with internet searching in a history-based session. Furthermore, core skills can be contextualised through attention to detail in the devising of activities and assessments; where appropriate, vocationally-relevant case studies and scenarios can be introduced, for example. At young ages, or in contexts where a vocational aspect to learner activity would not be appropriate, then there may be opportunities to address non-vocational but nevertheless real-world situations. Learning is best achieved when there is a connection to the worlds in which the learner inhabits, so that the topic and their expression is not abstract, but makes sense and expands on the learners' existing concepts (Petty, 2009).

Mapping core/functional skills syllabus direction over that of the subject-base activities may assist is identifying areas where there is direct crossover; if the learner is undertaking portfolio-based core/functional skills assessment, then there is the potential for the learner not to have to replicate work artificially, because they are naturally generating evidence of their competence in their other studies.

There are, then, several ways in which core skills may be incorporated into other learning, and where opportunities to engage simultaneously with the subject being studied and with the contextual skills being articulated by the learner. It is the transferability of these skills from formal education to adult life which is being sought here, and if learners can appreciate their existing abilities, as well as have them channelled and provoked towards their development while at the same time enjoying their education, then multiple outcomes are being addressed simultaneously.


Look at your subject, and the levels at which you may teach that subject, from a core skills perspective. To what extent are your learners generating evidence of their competence with core skills?

Are there assessments or classroom activities which would be used in a developmental way to enhance learner abilities with their core/functional skills?

Are there vocational or other real-world examples, situations, or contexts which you could incorporate into your input and into the work that learners are expected to do?

Does the classroom environment reflect the usefulness of literacy, numeracy, and ICT competence to both learning and to wider life, including to work-related contexts? Can you do more to make those links firmer for learners?

Why is promoting these skills such a high priority for the government / educational establishments / employers?

This chapter has already established, in general terms, a widely-held belief that formal education does not always prepare young people adequately for the world of work, and that there remains a core skills issue in respect of young adults' abilities in communication, number working, and in information technology usage in a digitised world. This section expands on this, by exploring governmental and other reports into the skills gap issue, so that the full nature and extent of core skills as a priority can be more fully appreciated.

A 2015 review of essential skills provision in England noted the contexts in which the review was undertaken; the commitment to have learners achieve GCSEs in English and Maths at grade C or above, and to develop literacy and numeracy more generally (Education and Training Foundation, 2015). In 2013/14, a third of pupils did not gain at least a C in both English and mathematics GCSEs. Employers consistently demand new recruits with effective maths and English skills, with half surveyed being concerned at young people's English language abilities, and a quarter of employers having concerns with both; only 11% of employers had no concerns about young people's core skills levels (Education and Training Foundation, 2015).

The kinds of competencies which employers have voiced concerns about include speaking and listening skills, comprehension of instructions and of work documentation, in appropriate email communication, and in the use of business English to communicate professionally with colleagues and with others in the supply chain. Furthermore, other studies have shown that there are quantifiable impacts on businesses in terms of their operations. Poor core skills abilities mean that there are additional costs associated in recruiting and retaining suitably-able employees, in working efficiency terms, in accidents and wastage levels in production, in the time taken to fulfil orders, and in additional training costs generated by a need to contribute to employee skills in-house (BIS, 2016).

The perception of a mismatch between qualifications on exiting compulsory education and in fitness for work leads to credibility issues for the education sector and for government; key and basic skills have been in place for decades, yet there remains a perception of a problem of the vocational competence of many entrants to the workplace. Employers' organisation the Confederation of British Industry has found in successive reports into the subject area that there is widespread dissatisfaction not only with the vocationally-relevant abilities of school leavers, but also in their attitude to work, their levels of investment in the tasks school leavers are being asked to do, and with a lack of awareness of the complexities and responsibilities of adult life (Cassidy, 2014). That there are economic aspects to the question of core skills seems not to be in doubt. What may be questioned, though, is the level of fit between the educational system, the needs of employers, and the role of government in articulating what might be different sets of aims and outcomes between education and industry.

Though the function of compulsory education may not be to produce fully-formed individuals ready to fit seamlessly into economic productivity, there nevertheless needs to be a closer integration between education and the wider contexts in which it exists. Part of that means being equipped to support learners to be active, engaged, skilled, and competent members of society, which means being able to be economically active.

Vocationally-relevant skills and experience are an aspect of such outcomes, as are the underpinning core and functional skills which can enable and support such outcomes being achieved. As in many other elements of formal education, then, there is a balancing act to be achieved at the level of central government and in the individual practitioner's classroom. To deliver an education which is, along with being subject-oriented, ambitious for its learners, and engaging, is also supportive of core skills which are not only a necessary underpinning for everyday life, but also support he ability of young people to be economically productive remain important challenges for educators and administrators alike.


As an educator, to what extent is your responsibility to the subject and your learners' achievement in that subject at that level, or to the wider student and their future? Are there competing demands to be serviced; how might they be fairly addressed?

Do schools have a responsibility to produce learners ready for work?

Does industry have a responsibility to engage further with schools to promote links between the two?

What is the role of government here? How might business calls for better-able entrants into work be addressed? Is there anything that could be doing that is not already being worked towards? Are there current initiatives or examples which you are aware of, which you believe are ineffective and should be abandoned?

What core skills did you have when you left school? What would you have liked to have experienced in school to prepare you for life afterwards that you did not?


The three sets of core/functional skills outlined in this chapter are central to our experience of education as learners, as they represent not only specific learning but as gateways to other - subject-based - educational experiences. Such skillsets have use values in our home lives, in our leisure time, in work and in being creative and engaged citizens. Part of this is also in ensuring that learners do not study in the abstract, but can make real and meaningful connections to relevant external contexts. This not only helps make learning real, but helps prepare young people for life beyond school and college.

A focus on the central skills of numeracy, literacy and digital literacy, then is only appropriate, and more than that, necessary. However, as this chapter has indicated, there are ongoing efforts to successfully bridge the gap between school and work, between study and ability to apply learning to wider contexts, and to successfully ensure that our young have the competencies and the confidence to engage with work, as well as be able to navigate and communicate appropriately and effectively as adults.


Now we have completed this chapter you should:

  • To be able to define literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy with respect to their place in supporting wider education and economic productivity
  • To have considered the centrality of these three skills areas to learning and to engaging with contemporary society after schooling has ended
  • To have creatively engaged with approaches to integrating core and curriculum skills, knowledge, and capabilities
  • To have considered the nature of the role of compulsory education in preparing young people for work


BIS (2016) Impact of poor basic literacy and numeracy on employers. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

Cambridge Assessment (2013) What is literacy? Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

Cassidy, S. (2014) School leavers lack basic work skills, CBI warns. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

Denholm, A. (2016) Call for schools to address Scotland's digital skills gap. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

Department for Education (2009) Functional skills. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

Department for Education (2013) English programmes of study: Key stages 1 and 2 national curriculum in England. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

Education and Training Foundation (2015) Making maths and English work for all: the review of what employers and learners need from the maths and English qualifications taken by young people and adults. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

Fino, J. (2016) English lack numeracy skills. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

For Skills (2016) What are functional skills? Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

HM Government (2014) 16 to 19 study programmes revised English and maths condition of funding. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

JISC (2015) Developing students' digital literacy. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

Lifelong Learning UK (2007) Inclusive learning approaches for literacy, language, numeracy and ICT. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

National Literacy Trust (2016) FAQs. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).

National Numeracy (2016a) The essentials of numeracy for all. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

National Numeracy (2016b) What is numeracy? Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

Palmer, T. (2015) Digital dangers: the impact of technology on the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young people in partnership. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

Petty, G. (2009) Evidence-based teaching: a practical approach. 2nd edn. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.

Scottish Qualifications Authority (2016) Core skills. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2016).



As part of a training day exercise, you are asked to consider creative ways in which literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy could be combined in project work for at least one out-of-school activity for your learners to be involved in.


Several options might come to mind, each of which not only contextualises core skills to vocationally-relevant contexts, but which use literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy in creative ways in the achievement of those contextual outcomes. These include a school play, organising a trip or visit to an external site, and the organisation of an inter-school sports tournament. Though each offer similar potential, you decide to itemise ways in which core skills might be integrated into learner involvement with a school play.

Chosen option: mounting a school theatrical production

The organising of a school play, Christmas production, or similar event produces multiple opportunities for learners to be engaged in activities and roles which can contextualise and make vocationally-relevant such skills. Some examples are given below:


Preparing scripts, the writing of promotional copy and advertising materials for the play, contacting potential sponsors, publicising the event through prepared flyers and posters.

Writing and editing a programme to be sold at the event. Devising and writing, editing and producing learning resources based on an aspect of the production, such as note for further reading about the play or an aspect of its own writing.

Discussions around choosing a text to produce, organising and compiling minutes for cast and crew meetings, devising call sheets. Acting as a prompt for rehearsals and performance.


Working out seating arrangements, the pricing of tickets, and the costs involved with mounting a production. Managing the budgets for costumes, props, publicity, and marketing.

Photocopying of scripts. Distribution of schedules for performances and rehearsals. Booking of space for performance and rehearsals alike. Estimating schedules.

Measuring and designing for set construction. Estimation of materials needs, and requisition of materials. Timing of the event, and of lighting and sound effects cues.

Budgeting, pricing, and selling of refreshments and tickets on the night of the event. Cash-handling and accounting during and post-event.

Digital literacy

Creating an online presence for the production: a website, social media feeds, monitoring these accounts and an email address for the event.

Designing flyers, posters, and promotional material. Soliciting quotes for materials by email, and communicating professionally with outside organisations.

Recording rehearsals and the production for costume continuity and other purposes. Digital editing of final performances for sale as a DVD/download.

Integration of digital elements such as projection and of virtual sets into the staging of the performance. Operating effects and lighting cues.

Maintaining records securely for data protection purposes.

Basic accounting through use of spreadsheet software.

The above represent examples only; there is the potential for cross-pollination between the skills areas, as multiple skills will be engaged simultaneously in many of the operations indicated above.

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