The English Learning and Skills Sector (LSS) contains a highly diverse range of learners and covers all aspects of post-16 learning with the exception of higher education. In the research on which this paper is based we are concerned with the effects of policy on three types of learners – unemployed adults attempting to improve their basic skills in community learning settings, younger learners on Level 1 and 2 courses in further education colleges and employees in basic skills provision in the workplace. What is distinctive about all three groups is that they have historically failed in, or been failed by, compulsory education. What is interesting is that they are constructed as 'problem learners' in learning and skills sector policy documents. We use data from 194 learner interviews, conducted during 2004/5, in 24 learning sites in London and the North East of England, to argue that government policy assumptions about these learners may only be 'half right'. We argue that such assumptions might be leading to half-right policy based on incomplete understandings or surface views of learner needs that are more politically constructed than real. We suggest that policy makers should focus more on systemic problems in the learning and skills sector and less on problematising groups of learners
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