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Back to the future?: functional literacy and the new skills agenda

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper

Publication date2011
Number of pages18
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This paper discusses the re-introduction of the concept of functional literacy into policy in England, using Levine’s (1982) critique of the term as a starting point. We describe some of the different ways the term ‘functional literacy’ has been interpreted in the UK, the USA and Canada since its first international appearance and trace the development of the new policy in England. We offer a critical reading of two key policy documents to show how Levine’s criticisms remain pertinent in the contemporary context. The ambiguity of the term ‘functional literacy’ allows it to pull competing definitions of literacy into alignment, which accounts for its appeal to policy makers. Like Levine, we find evidence that this ambiguity enables slippage from a broad vision of literacy to a narrow, vocationally-focused one. Our analysis of contemporary English policy documents shows how a narrowed conceptualisation of literacy is likely to result in impoverished pedagogy.