The Reading Writing Hotline celebrates 30 years!

The Reading Writing Hotline celebrates 30 years!

Langi Taisia (Literacy student) and Vanessa Iles manager of the Hotline at the 25th celebration

Langi Taisia (Literacy student) and Vanessa Iles manager of the Hotline at the 25th celebration

This year the Hotline team celebrates 30 years of supporting adults to improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills (LND). It’s a remarkable achievement and we will be celebrating at a special event in early April. We are delighted to be joined by Brendan O’Connor, the Federal Minister for Skills and Training, and Steve Whan, the NSW Minister for Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education.

The Hotline was originally established as a telephone support line for the 1994 ABC adult literacy TV series The Reading Writing Roadshow.

The Hotline has always been fully funded by the Australian Government and hosted by TAFE NSW. During its 30 years the Hotline has provided a national referral and advisory service for adults who want to improve their LND skills. As part of this work, we map literacy provision across Australia, keeping track of almost 1,600 LND providers.

But the Hotline is more than a referral service.

Our callers and providers also help us to identify and respond to gaps in LND provision and resources. For example, callers in locations where there are no classes available, ask us for workbooks. Libraries ask us for learning resources to assist volunteer literacy tutors. Community, industry and government agencies request materials to promote the use of plain English. In response the Hotline aims to develop a range of materials all freely available on our website.

Why has the Hotline continued when many other literacy organisations have folded? Part of the explanation is the simplicity of accessing the Hotline by ringing a free anonymous and now iconic phone number. It is also the expertise at the end of the telephone line.  Experienced and highly qualified teachers staff the Hotline and build a trusted environment for unconfident callers.

Another factor in the Hotline’s longevity has been its ability to adapt, respond and innovate in changing environments. For example, it has expanded the ways potential learners and people in the field can contact the Hotline through the website. In the last year the website received over 66,000 visits.

The Hotline has also expanded its role to provide information and advice on adult literacy to a wider range of stakeholders including employers, industry groups, government policy makers, NGOs and community organisations.  The Hotline‘s data from callers represents one of the most important and unique sources of insights into what we know about adult literacy in Australia. It is an opportunity to hear directly from the voices of people who experience LND gaps.

In addition to collecting caller data, the Hotline produces research, often in collaboration with other agencies.  Examples include Helping Clients Fill in Forms Report produced in partnership with NCOSS and most recently a survey Uncovering Adult Literacy and Numeracy Needs in Australia: A Comprehensive National Study 2023 with the participation of LND providers, libraries and community agencies.

As one of the few national centres of adult literacy and numeracy expertise, the Hotline also plays an important and often hidden role in connecting the LND field and broader stakeholders. For example, libraries who are interested in setting up an adult literacy tutor program often ring the Hotline asking for contacts of other libraries who are running similar programs.

Over the past 30 years stakeholders and partners have become central to  the work of the Hotline. For example, we partnered with a regional TAFE college running an Aboriginal Writing Program to publish students’ stories and now distribute these booklets free to other Hotline callers.

The Hotline’s Steering Committee with its comprehensive representation across states and territories provides a key national forum dedicated to adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy. It sits alongside the Australian Council of Adult Literacy as the only two national forums in Australia. Both these forums play a critical role in identifying issues such as the current crisis in the literacy and numeracy teaching workforce.

So, a big thank you from the Hotline to our previous and current teachers, to the Hotline heroes who advocated both internally and externally for our continuation, to our partners, to the Commonwealth Government and TAFE NSW for your continuing support. And a very special thank you to the people who call us – your courage to take that first step to ring us is inspiring.