Dr. Peter Lavender has had a distinguished career focused on the needs of marginalized and disadvantaged adults, working as a practitioner, policy officer, and key leader of the national non-government agency in adult learning in the UK, advising the government on literacy and disability issues in education for adults. No one has done more to further disabled adults’ learning opportunities in Britain.
Lavender’s early achievements in literacy lay in curriculum development. He fostered the use of learners’ voices in the design of reading and teaching materials and in recognizing that literacies are context specific. In his key role on Baroness Warnock’s Prince’s Advisory Committee on Health and Education, he broke ground in establishing links between health and education policy affecting adults with learning difficulties and disabilities. He subsequently led the work of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) in embedding literacy in the National Health Service University, which offered learning and development opportunities to the least qualified half of the NHS workforce in Britain. He played a significant and influential role in a national campaign for adult literacy and numeracy, chaired a major inquiry, and wrote its report, on English for Speakers of Other Languages, which changed public policy. He has steered the efforts nationally to secure a voice for learners in the design, delivery, and management of adult education programs, which has led to national training programs and helped secure the development of a successful European Basic Skills Network. In his decade at NIACE he oversaw its research programs and managed successive government-funded curriculum innovation initiatives in adult education.
Of Lavender’s major contributions to the field, it has been the transformation of opportunities for adults with learning difficulties and disabilities that is most impressive. Previously, provisions for adults with disabilities and learning difficulties were overwhelmingly organized in discrete programs, often under-resourced, taught by poorly qualified staff, and all too often of poor quality. He co-authored the Tomlinson Inquiry, Inclusive Learning, which argued that provision for all (able bodied and disabled alike) should result from an analysis of need and an exploration of what additional support might be needed to facilitate effective and successful learning. This study determined that it was the responsibility of institutions to adapt their practices to meet the needs of learners. Lavender used his role as deputy director of NIACE, and as chair of the Learning and Skills Council’s Equality and Diversity Committee, to ensure that the Tomlinson Inquiry was seen as a base for further developments. He followed this up in chairing successive national policy initiatives to implement its findings. In the decade and a half since its appearance, the report’s analysis has become recognized as the common sense of the sector and tens of thousands of disabled adults have benefited.
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