Literacy as product: how private tuition provider websites are pitching literacy to parents.

Year: 2017

Author: Briant, Elizabeth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports on a study that considers how private literacy tutoring (PLT) providers are constructing literacy as 'product' and 'service'. Controversy and crisis around the shape and scope of literacy education and students' literacy capabilities have been embedded in public discourse for several decades now and receive persistent attention from policymakers and media (Gannon & Sawyer, 2015; Green, Hodgens, & Luke, 1997; Snyder, 2008). The perceived crisis stems in part from the complex and situated nature of the object of literacy. Driscoll (2013) argues that there are "several competing definitions of literacy at work in the contemporary educational field, each of which is influenced by social, cultural, political and economic value" (p.261). Consequently, over time literacy has taken many forms in schools and curriculum content has been underpinned by varying notions of what counts as literacy, reflecting the changing dominance of coexisting priorities and ideologies. The booming PLT industry has added an extra dimension to the struggles over literacy education. This is an industry that works through marketing to parents.

Parents' choice to use PLT has been made more thinkable by cultures of accountability and standardisation in mainstream schooling, as well as the literacy crisis rhetoric (Sriprakash, Proctor, & Hu, 2016). Interestingly, in such a climate, PLT providers are largely unregulated, with optional registration with a tutoring peak body. While some private tutors are themselves registered teachers, presumably pointing to a professional understanding of the complexities around literacy, many tutors are not as highly qualified; many tutors are undergraduate university students or from fields outside of education. Given the inconsistencies in the literacy expertise of PLT providers, it is of interest to understand how their discursive space is being mobilised to construct and pitch literacy to parents.

This study looked at how PLT might be constructing their products and services in accord with 1) the motivations and concerns of potential parent clients; and 2) the public discourse around literacy. Content analysis was conducted on the websites of 24 of PLT providers operating in Australia. The websites were systematically scanned for representations of literacy as constructed by the providers, and pitched to parents. Data were analysed using the Four Resources Model (Freebody & Luke, 1990) to consider how particular literacy practices are foregrounded and marginalised by PLT providers. The discussion relates the dominant literacy practices traced on the websites to a broader context about the impact of education market players on the shape of literacy education.