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26TEN in 2020

How far we've come as a state towards better adult literacy and numeracy in Tasmania, and what we've learned.


Literacy is the key to our wellbeing and prosperity. It affects our quality of life and the ability to take part in work and in our communities. That's why improving literacy skills in adults in Tasmania is key to our future.

All Tasmanians deserve the ability to take advantage of the choices and opportunities offered in our state. For many, this means having the education and skills to fully participate in everyday life and work. Literacy enables people to read to their children, understand safety instructions at work, read maps and apply for jobs online.

In all Australian states and territories, a significant number of adults lack the literacy and numeracy skills they need to do these things.

What sets Tasmania apart is that we have responded with a unique, comprehensive and collaborative approach that began in 2010 with the Tasmanian Adult Literacy Action Plan, 2010-2015. The Plan invested in people and programs to raise understanding of adult literacy. It provided support and programs for people to improve adult literacy in their workplace and in their community.

This led to the introduction of 26TEN in 2012.

Then, building on what we had learned, in 2015 we launched the next phase, the 26TEN Strategy (2016-2025). All sides of politics supported the Strategy and recognised the importance of taking a long-term and collective approach if we were to make a difference.

Through the 26TEN Strategy, individuals, business, community groups and all levels of government work together to find solutions and build skills. And we are making a difference.

The Tasmanian Government has provided the resources to coordinate this statewide strategy. However, everyone involved has a critical role in both changing community attitudes and increasing literacy in adults.

This five-year progress report has allowed us to review the 26TEN Strategy. While there is much good progress, components of work still need to be undertaken. Some aspects of our program require further investment and implementation based on learnings from our work to date. This review provides that advice.

Our thanks go to all who have helped along the way thus far... to individuals, businesses, community organisations, industry groups, and all tiers of government in Tasmania.

Of greatest importance are the adults who have taken on the 26TEN challenge to improve their skills. You've been brave, hardworking and an inspiration to us all. We hope you tell your story to encourage others to follow in your footsteps.

Improving literacy in Tasmania is the most important thing we can do for our future - socially and economically - and our efforts must continue for many years to come.

Siobhan Gaskell,
Convenor of the 26TEN Coalition

Executive Summary

In October 2015, the 26TEN Tasmania: Tasmania's strategy for literacy and numeracy 2016-2025 (the 26TEN Strategy) was released. The 26TEN Strategy is a unique, long-term plan aimed at lifting adult literacy and numeracy across the state.

This 26TEN in 2020 report highlights key achievements made through the collective effort of business, community, government and individuals across Tasmania. It outlines what has been learned along the way, and discusses what needs to be implemented in the next five years of the Strategy.

This report shows that good progress has been made towards achieving the vision that all adult Tasmanians have the literacy and numeracy skills they need for work and life, and to meeting the three 26TEN goals. These are:

  1. Everyone knows about adult literacy and numeracy.
  2. Everyone is supported to improve their skills and to help others.
  3. Everyone communicates clearly.

Tackling an entrenched problem with a collective impact approach

The 26TEN Strategy sets a framework for action by the whole state, including business, community groups, government, education and training providers, and individuals. It takes a collective impact approach, recognising that entrenched problems cannot be solved by one person, organisation or sector, or by government alone. The state's approach through 26TEN recognises that real change happens when solutions are place-based, locally designed and collaborative.

By addressing adult literacy through a long-term, whole-of-state strategy, Tasmania is unique in Australia, leading the nation in providing adult literacy and numeracy support.

This approach has brought results. It has allowed all organisational and individual members of the rapidly growing 26TEN Network to contribute to 26TEN goals in their own way, making the contribution they are best placed to make. 26TEN communities have become an important part of this. Supporting a more long-term and local approach of place-based action will see this continue to develop in future.

Benefits to the state from investment in 26TEN

In 2018-19, independent research into the return on investment (ROI) of 26TEN was conducted by the Institute of Project Management. The Socio-Economic Impact of Tasmania's Investment in Adult Literacy and Numeracy report was the result. It used a sampling approach, looking at a fixed time period (2018-19) and two discrete elements of the broader 26TEN member efforts (the Libraries Tasmania adult literacy service and the contribution made by Network members through the 26TEN grants program). The ROI report demonstrated that in 2018-19:

  • For every dollar spent on 26TEN adult literacy, at least $5.20 of benefit was generated.
  • The value created by the 26TEN Strategy was worth at least $27.2 million.
  • Ninety per cent of adult learners surveyed reported that accessing support helped improve their opportunities for employment and education.
  • Over 90 per cent of adult learners surveyed said that their home life had improved and that they were more active in their communities.

Evidence from this research shows that 26TEN is highly regarded in the community. It is an effective campaign using a collective impact approach to improve individual and community wellbeing and help the state grow and prosper.

Since the launch of the 26TEN Strategy in 2015, Tasmania has achieved:

  • A substantial growth in membership of 26TEN across government, community, business organisations, and passionate individuals, reaching 95 per cent of its 10-year target in five years.
  • Better awareness of adult literacy, 26TEN and where to get help. A total of 2,484 people have taken part in 167 literacy awareness workshops. Between 2015 and 2020 there was:
    • A 7 percentage point increase in people knowing about 26TEN (see Figure 1).
    • A 15 percentage point increase in Tasmanians knowing to get help from a library or 26TEN (see Figure 3).
  • Positive support for adults to improve literacy through 55 employers and communities receiving over $2.3 million in 26TEN grants. As a result:
    • Eighty per cent of learners reported positive benefits in their life as well as work.
    • Businesses reported positive outcomes, such as increased compliance with safety regulations, fewer errors in paperwork and forms, and a more positive attitude among staff.
  • Easier conversations about literacy in the community as a result of the development of the 26TEN Chat tool , a step-by-step guide for Tasmanians to help them encourage those with low literacy to seek help. This tool is an Australian first.
  • Eighty-six member organisations committed to plain English, and 172 workshops were delivered to build the skills of 1,984 participants.
Increased 26TEN network to

members & supporters (95 per cent of 2025 target of 1,000 achieved)


of learners reported positive benefits in their life.


Number of member organisations committed to plain English (43 per cent of 2025 target of 200 achieved)


awarded through 55 employer and community grants

Building on what we have learned

The 26TEN team and the 26TEN Coalition constantly evaluate feedback from the broader 26TEN Network and results from 26TEN programs. They also monitor local and international research to ensure we continue to improve.

Our aspirational target over 10 years is a 10-point increase in the percentage of adult Tasmanians who have literacy and numeracy skills at or above OECD Level 3. To achieve this we need to:

  • Continue to reduce the stigma around low literacy. Recent consultation with the agricultural sector demonstrated that stigma remains high and that people continue to equate low literacy skills with a lack of intelligence. By challenging this myth and reducing the shame felt by those with low literacy, we will increase the number of people seeking help.
  • Extend the length of time and investment of 26TEN community grants. We know a longer-term, place-based approach will provide the opportunity to build trusting relationships in local communities and encourage more community members to help. This is where adult literacy and numeracy learners can learn best.
  • Improve coordination and sharing of information between all organisations that are supporting learners. This will help us better assess progress towards the population-wide target.
  • Continue to build Tasmania's adult literacy workforce, both paid and unpaid. Without those willing to help, we will not achieve our aspirational goal
  • Do further economic and social research. More detailed information about the impact of 26TEN programs on clients' lives will be useful, particularly in different sectors. It will help develop new delivery approaches that are specific to industry sectors and groups of learners.


The 26TEN Network

  1. Continue with the collective impact approach to the Network, and aim to double the number of member organisations by 2025.
  2. Implement an ambassadors program, which draws on high-profile influential people and former learners.
  3. Improve support to the 26TEN Network at the state and community level.
  4. Investigate ways to help individual supporters to support local initiatives in literacy.

Goal 1 - Everyone knows about literacy and numeracy

  1. Develop a marketing campaign based on: knowledge of effective national and international stigma-reduction campaigns; feedback from current and past learners on what induced them to act; and feedback and ideas from Network members.
  2. Continue a strong public communication campaign that promotes learner stories to give a human face to quantitative indicators and that targets key sectors and demographic groups.

Goal 2 - Everyone is supported to improve their skills and to help others

  1. Enable 26TEN communities to achieve sustainable change through long-term funding, moving to a local place-based approach over a greater number of years.
  2. As part of this approach, build and encourage a greater adult literacy and numeracy workforce by:
    • Continuing to support the Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy workforce development planning.
    • Continuing to offer periodic professional development opportunities to the literacy workforce.
    • Promoting the newly released TasTAFE online tutor training, which is available to anyone in the state.
    • Identifying ways to recruit and retain more literacy practitioners and volunteer tutors in regional and remote areas.
  3. Continue and build on the 26TEN employer grants program.
  4. Investigate how service providers can contribute to 26TEN reporting on literacy for the state.
  5. The Coalition determine research priorities for improving evaluation of 26TEN's effectiveness, starting with but not limited to the suggestions for further work from the ROI.

The 26TEN Network

  1. Strengthen support for 26TEN by encouraging all organisations and levels of government to nominate a plain English/literacy officer to drive cultural change.
  2. Continue to promote the use of plain English and clear communication.


26TEN's name comes from the 26 letters of the alphabet and the ten digits we use for counting. It grew out of the first plan to address adult literacy needs in Tasmania, the Tasmanian Adult Literacy Action Plan, 2010-2015. Since its creation in 2012, and with the support of all three major political parties, 26TEN began building a network. Its approach recognises that no single person, group or organisation can resolve the entrenched problem of low adult literacy.

Launched in October 2015 by the Minister for Education and Training, the Hon Jeremy Rockliff, 26TEN Tasmania: Tasmania's Strategy for adult literacy and numeracy 2016-2025 supported a new long-term campaign for all of Tasmania. This new 26TEN Strategy, and our action plans that underpin it, continues a framework for action to achieve the vision that all Tasmanians will have the literacy and numeracy skills they need for work and life.

26TEN is necessarily long term, as improvements, for individuals and for society, take time to show. In recognition of this, the first four years of annual reporting on progress under the Strategy shows priority given to engagement and awareness raising.


The definition of 'literacy' has changed over time. In the 26TEN Strategy and for the purposes of this report, we use this definition:

Literacy and numeracy are widely accepted to be more than being able to read, write and do maths. Having good literacy and numeracy means being able to apply these skills, often in a digital context, along with oral communication and creative thinking, to the demands of the modern world.

About the 26TEN in 2020 progress report

26TEN in 2020 assesses the progress made by Tasmania in tackling low adult literacy and numeracy midway through its 10-year Strategy. Over the past 12 months, the 26TEN Coalition, the 26TEN team and independent researchers contracted by 26TEN did this assessment. The report offers an overview of what Tasmania has achieved through 26TEN and looks at how we can achieve greater impact in the coming five years.

26TEN in 2020 is based on qualitative and quantitative research. It includes information collected from:

  • 26TEN's own statistics and stories.
  • Client usage data from Libraries Tasmania, a 26TEN member.
  • Commissioned independent research by the Institute of Project Management, Inspire Ag and EMRS (26TEN: The Socio-Economic Impact of Tasmania's Investment in Adult Literacy and Numeracy (the ROI); the Agricultural Language, Literacy and Numeracy in Tasmania Discussion Paper; 26TEN Community Research Report 2019).
  • Feedback from key grant recipients.
  • Academic articles.

An enquiry process was used to look in more detail at how we are progressing and to inform recommendations for the future. In February 2019, the 26TEN Coalition began by scanning and assessing existing activity and outcomes. It considered the governance framework, targets and indicators, and actions against the 26TEN Strategy's three goals. This process showed what was working well, what needed general business improvement and which areas of the Strategy required further evaluation.

26TEN's goals are interrelated, and some actions make a contribution to more than one goal. In particular, the grants program raises awareness, lifts skills and promotes plain English. However, to keep this report simple, we have limited cross referencing. For the same reason, this is not an exhaustive account of all activities since 2015 and should be read in conjunction with our annual reports.

Adult literacy and numeracy - a worldwide problem

Almost one in two Tasmanians (48.8 per cent) do not have the reading, writing and maths skills they need for daily life and work in the modern world. Low literacy is also an issue for adults in the rest of Australia and other countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)1. The most recent results from the 2011-12 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey, run by the OECD, show this clearly. Nationally, 44.4 per cent of Australians lack adequate skills. (Survey results are in Appendix A.)

1. Other OECD countries surveyed were Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (England), and United States.

The benefits of lifting adult literacy and numeracy

Good literacy and numeracy skills improve a person's quality of life. They make it more likely for someone to have a job, earn a good income, be in good health and be involved in the community. The children of parents who have the skills and confidence to read to them and help them learn will do better in school. Communities with higher literacy levels are more resilient and have higher per capita income. Businesses with more literate workforces are safer and more productive. (For further information on the benefits of improving adult literacy, see Appendix B.)

Tasmania's Strategy to lift adult literacy and numeracy skills

The 26TEN Strategy sets Tasmania apart from the rest of Australia. It is the only state to have a long-term plan, supported by all sides of politics, to engage the whole state in direct action to address the challenge. This includes communities, businesses, all levels of government, and individuals. We are all working together to shift attitudes and change behaviours, so that all Tasmanians develop the literacy skills they need for life and work.

A vision for Tasmania where we all have the skills we need

26TEN's vision is that all adult Tasmanians have the literacy and numeracy skills they need for work and life.

The vision is underpinned by three goals:

  1. Everyone knows about adult literacy and numeracy.
  2. Everyone is supported to improve their skills and to help others.
  3. Everyone communicates clearly.

Measuring progress

Success is measured through statistics and stories, quantitative and qualitative data.

26TEN's qualitative measure of success is the stories of personal change published on the 26TEN website and social media. The stories are about adult learners, volunteers, employers, businesses, trainers and literacy coordinators. These stories give a face to the statistics, to the people who doubted their ability to learn, but who have accepted help. They have gained the confidence and skills to be promoted at work, read to their children and take the right dose of medicine. And businesses have learned through experience the benefits that can come from increased literacy in their workforce, or from a better understanding of the literacy challenge faced by their clients.

The stories show, in a way that numbers alone never can, how improving literacy transforms lives, families, workplaces and communities. A selection of stories is presented on page 34.

Our three quantitative measures are:

  • The increase in number of 26TEN members and supporters.
  • The increase in percentage of adult Tasmanians with literacy and numeracy skills at or above OECD Level 3.
  • The increase in number of organisations committed to plain English.

The targets set for 26TEN are ambitious, aspirational targets, which cannot be reached through action by government alone, or by any one contributor to the collective effort.

Movement towards the crucial target of a population-wide increase in adult literacy and numeracy levels is expected to be slow, as it takes time for learners to improve their skills. The literature on evaluating outcomes from social programs acknowledges that measuring progress can be challenging because:

  • Time frames for individual change are often long and do not match funding cycle accountability (usually short).
  • Many organisations do not have the time or skills to engage in social programs and see them as taking away from their 'real job'.

As part of this in-depth look at how far we have come as a state, 26TEN commissioned the Institute for Project Management to undertake independent research on the economic and social impact of 26TEN in the state. This is the first research of this kind done in Tasmania on the economic value of literacy programs to the broader community.

The economic and social ROI report used a sampling approach. It looked at a fixed time period (2018-19) and two discrete elements of the broader 26TEN efforts (the Libraries Tasmania adult literacy service and the 26TEN grants program). It provides clear evidence of 26TEN's positive impact. It is worth noting that, as this is the first report of its kind for the state, further research is required to build on these initial positive findings of the impact of 26TEN in Tasmania.

For further discussion on this report, refer to Appendix C.

The 26TEN Network

Building a network

Why: Because widespread social problems can only be solved when many groups and organisations start to take action and change cultures.

How far we've come: As at March 2020, 26TEN has 949 members and supporters. There are 173 organisations working to improve literacy in Tasmania as members of 26TEN. Eight 26TEN communities have implemented community literacy plans. At least 776 individuals have signed up as 26TEN supporters to demonstrate their commitment to being part of the solution.

What we've learned: Building a collective approach takes time and works best when there is engagement at all levels, from the ground up. There is a high level of willingness among people across the state to participate. Our main constraint is the resources needed to support active participation.

With support from all sides of politics, 26TEN began building a network in 2012, taking the approach that no single person or organisation could resolve the entrenched problem of low adult literacy skills.

Subsequently, as 26TEN established its network, it recognised significant similarities between it and the 'collective impact model' described by Stanford University in 2012.

Collective impact is a model that addresses deeply entrenched problems in a multi-sectoral and cooperative way. It acknowledges that certain challenges affect people's lives in so many ways that a single, planned solution is rarely effective. Low literacy is one of these.

The collective impact approach is to work across a number of fronts, with employers, community groups, educational providers, and industry sectors. 26TEN has been effective in applying this approach to build the momentum of change to improve adult literacy and numeracy.

26TEN has been delivered through a network of organisational members and individual supporters, supported by the 26TEN Coalition and the 26TEN team. The common agenda of the 26TEN Network is to support those Tasmanians (the 1 in 2) in getting the literacy and numeracy support they need.

The 26TEN Coalition is a group of influential Tasmanians who give their time pro bono to encourage people and organisations to understand the challenge of low literacy and to take action. Members each represent a sector: health, state and local government, law, media, industry, education and training, or community services. They provide high-level direction and advocacy, and support the Minister.

The 26TEN team is a small group of four staff located within Libraries Tasmania in the Department of Education, which services the statewide 26TEN Network of members and supporters and the 26TEN Coalition. It supports the implementation of the action plans that underpin the Strategy and its goals.

26TEN members are organisations that have committed to one or more actions, such as raising awareness of literacy, building skills of their employees or people in their community, and improving the clarity of communication. Members include community groups, neighbourhood houses, non-government organisations, local councils, businesses, peak industry bodies, and a number of state government departments. A list of organisational members is at Appendix D.

26TEN supporters are individuals who join the Network to learn more about literacy, show their support and help in a range of ways.

26TEN communities are mainly geographical but sometimes interest-based groups of people and organisations who have committed to supporting adults in the community to improve their literacy skills. They are a local version of the broader collective network.

The grants program has been integral to building the 26TEN Network and has helped members to take action, such as upskilling their staff and making it easier for customers to access their services. The engagement of 26TEN communities taking grassroots action spreads the load of tackling the low literacy challenge and ensures the problem is tackled in many different ways.

Our flexible approach has allowed organisations to respond to opportunities as they emerge. An example is work done to engage the agricultural sector. This was not planned but took advantage of an opportunity that arose.

What we have learned

Research for this report has shown that 26TEN's collective model is building momentum. Through the Coalition members' leadership in their sectors, and the activism of members and supporters who spread the word, new members have been encouraged to join the Network. They in turn have applied for grants and taken action. Organisations have embedded the skills needed to improve literacy and to transform their culture into one that supports adult learning for staff and customers.

26TEN supports a business, community organisation or group of organisations to make the changes that they identify as most critical. This flexibility recognises diversity of needs and allows everyone to work towards the common goal of improving literacy in a way that works best for them. Over time these changes are cumulative, leading to a collective impact.

The collective impact model has been successful, resulting in contributions from a diverse and enthusiastic group of organisations and individuals.

The next five years

Building the collective further

It is important to continue to encourage this breadth of engagement and to support organisations to help in different ways. As the level of involvement has exceeded our expectations, it would be reasonable for 26TEN to raise the target for organisational membership for the rest of the Strategy to 2025.

Developing new sectors

One of the strengths of the Coalition is the diversity of its sectors. Adding new sectors will increase the Coalition's reach. Tasmanian industries experiencing growth or large workforces are most likely to become new sectors in the future, for example the agricultural sector and the aged care sector. 26TEN has made initial steps with both of these.


Most of 26TEN's emphasis to date has been on building the Network and supporting organisations to work with their staff and customers. There is scope in the next phase to encourage the individual supporters to take greater action by helping them to advocate more effectively for literacy development in their local communities or as plain English advocates. They may become informal ambassadors for the value of literacy to social and economic growth and communicating clearly.

A more formal 26TEN ambassador program, with strong and charismatic ambassadors, would also help encourage more people and organisations to join the Network by normalising the issue and increasing the focus on it.

Supporting the Network

The increasing size of the 26TEN Network means there has not always been the capacity in the 26TEN team to service and support the action plans of the member organisations to the fullest extent. It will be important for the next phase to consider carefully the best way to ensure that organisations and supporters remain active as the Network continues to grow.

Building local capacity

We have learned through our 26TEN communities that a localised approach has better results. We have also learned that communities can be at very different states of understanding about literacy and readiness to tackle it. 26TEN wants to meet communities where they are, and offer them the individualised support they need to increase their capacity to develop locally appropriate responses, rooted in local networks and supportive relationships. With this, communities begin to take action on their own behalf.

Goal 1 - Everyone knows about adult literacy and numeracy

Why: When everyone understands there are many reasons why a person's reading, writing and maths skills might not be as good as they like, it will be easier for people to ask for and find help.

Target: Increase the number of 26TEN members and supporters from 110 in 2015 to 1,000 in 2025.

How far we've come: As at March 2020, 26TEN has 949 members and supporters. This represents 95 per cent of the target. Take-up and engagement have been stronger than expected.

What we've learned: Stigma takes a long time to break down. We need to keep communicating in effective, broad-reaching ways so that everyone knows about adult literacy and numeracy.

This is the 26TEN goal against which Tasmania has made the most progress. Our statistics and stories show us that more people in Tasmania understand the significant challenge of low adult literacy and numeracy and are taking action to improve their own skills or to help others. 26TEN far exceeded its target of reporting one story per month because of the abundance of good news stories made available as a result of its impact across Tasmania.

By using 26TEN as a vehicle to talk about adult literacy, we are breaking down the barriers to people coming forward to ask for support and for people to encourage others to seek support. This involves significant cultural change that takes time but has considerable long-term benefits.


of membership target achieved


stories published


literacy awareness workshops delivered to 2,484 people

The 26TEN Network continues to grow

The growing 26TEN Network of organisational and individual members (Appendix D) is the clearest evidence of growing knowledge and engagement on adult literacy. Fostered by the Coalition and supported by the 26TEN team, the Network has grown from 110 in October 2015 to 949 in March 2020 and is diverse.

Each member of the Network is contributing to the collective effort in their own way. Organisational members have developed action plans setting out how they will contribute to 26TEN goals. Individual supporters have increased their awareness, acted as advocates, taken on the challenge of talking to people about how they can improve their skills, and contributed as volunteers.

Community awareness of 26TEN is increasing

EMRS (Enterprise Marketing and Research Services) conducts a regular survey of community awareness about adult literacy on behalf of 26TEN. Surveys in the first three years showed little progress, but the 2019 and 2020 surveys show awareness of 26TEN in the community trending upwards (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Seen, read or heard about 26TEN in the community (percentage of all respondents)

Source: EMRS Survey, 2020

The increase can be attributed to the successful Kudelka cartoon advertising on television and social media (see above), and the launch of the 26TEN Chat tool . The advertising grew out of market research and more effective communications planning by the 26TEN team. The Chat tool was a response to members seeking guidance on how to talk to people about the possibility of needing literacy support.

The 2020 survey also demonstrated consistent community views about the challenge represented by adult literacy and numeracy since 2015. Three-quarters of those surveyed thought literacy a problem for Tasmania and this figure has remained fairly constant since 26TEN's inception (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Perception of adult literacy and numeracy as a problem in Tasmania (percentage of all respondents)*

A significant increase in awareness by Tasmanians of getting help from a library or 26TEN was also recorded, increasing by 15 percentage points in 2020.

Figure 3: Who to go to for help with literacy and numeracy difficulties (percentage of all respondents)*

Coordinated communication

The strengthened network and increased community awareness are the result of a vigorous communication effort over the life of 26TEN. We have used workshops, events, paid advertising, media coverage and promotions as well as regular engagement with social media.

Regular literacy awareness workshops have been delivered consistently throughout the life of the Strategy. Over 2,400 people have participated in167 workshops since October 2015. We have used a train the trainer model: the 26TEN team has trained staff of organisational members, who have then run workshops in their own workplaces and communities. Libraries Tasmania's literacy workforce and many workers in the community sector have also delivered workshops around the state.

26TEN commissioned market research in 2016 into the best ways to reach its target groups. It identified specific groups - such as young men, small business owners, and mothers with young children - and analysed their media habits across television, radio, print media, online and social media. This research informed several new approaches, including an animation about adult literacy produced by Tasmanian cartoonist Jon Kudelka. The animation was first broadcast to over 150,000 people during the Royal Wedding in May 2018. It has been seen regularly since on YouTube and television in community service announcements, and in communications about the 26TEN Chat tool. The Kudelka animation has been effective and well received by broad audiences.

26TEN Week

Each year, around 26 October, we have run a '26TEN Week' to raise awareness and celebrate learner achievements. Themes have been maths in action (2015), digital literacy (2016), family literacy (2017), life changers (2018) and oral communication (2019).

Events supporting the 26TEN week theme have been useful opportunities to generate discussion, raise awareness and build new connections and partnerships. For example, in 2017, 26TEN focused on family literacy, encouraging parents to raise their skills so they can support their children's development. 26TEN and Network member Libraries Tasmania collaborated to arrange a visit from the Children's Laureate, Leigh Hobbs. He visited young readers and their families at libraries around the state and participated in a panel discussion titled 'Why is family literacy critical to raising literacy levels in Tasmania?', hosted by the ABC's Virginia Trioli. Both the tour and the panel session attracted significant media coverage, further stimulating awareness of literacy.

The Children's Laureate Leigh Hobbs (left), Bill Jarvis, Principal of Gagebrook Primary School, Sue Howard, then Manager 26TEN, Lesley Mackey, General Manager of the Smith Family, and Virginia Trioli, then co-host of ABC News Breakfast.

The 26TEN team has supported many of its members to organise local events, workshops, displays or morning teas to promote the value of adult literacy in the community and to reach new people. These events have helped encourage others to take action and promote literacy across the community, and helped to reduce stigma.

Some 26TEN members have used their core business activities to contribute to 26TEN goals during the week. For example, since 2017, Metro Tasmania has displayed a 26TEN poster in its buses. In 2019, counter staff at Service Tasmania distributed over 20,000 26TEN Chat cards to customers.

The Governor of Tasmania, Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Kate Warner AC, has been a strong and consistent supporter of 26TEN's goals, building on the support offered by her predecessor, Peter Underwood AC. The Governor has hosted a celebration of 26TEN Week at a reception at Government House each year since 2016. These celebrations have been used to congratulate literacy clients, tutors, 26TEN Network members, businesses and community members for their support of 26TEN throughout the year. This event is highly valued by invitees and many travel a significant distance to attend.

Awareness activities within sectors

The 26TEN Coalition has been effective in raising awareness in specific sectors. This work has been embedded in sectoral action plans of individual Coalition members, supported by the 26TEN team which has worked with a range of organisations to plan events.


In the media sector, journalists across the state have engaged with 26TEN, providing opportunities to build greater understanding of the literacy challenge. This has led to increasingly accurate and compassionate coverage on local radio, television and in print media.

The University of Tasmania (UTAS) has engaged in the 26TEN effort to promote literacy awareness in future journalists. For the past three years, the School of Creative Arts and Media at UTAS has staged a mock media event. After the event, students have written a news article highlighting the difficulties faced by Tasmanians with low literacy and numeracy. The prize-winning article has received coverage on the ABC or in the Mercury. Students completing this assessment have said that, in the future, they are more likely to cover literacy stories with a deeper understanding, helping to generate further awareness.


In the legal sector, 26TEN engagement led partnerships with a range of key legal organisations. Staff at the Magistrates Court have done literacy awareness training and sought to simplify some of its forms. Inmates in the prison system have been helped to improve their reading, writing and maths skills by literacy coordinators from 26TEN member Libraries Tasmania. Staff at the UTAS School of Law have completed 26TEN plain English training, incorporating literacy awareness, and copies of Communicate Clearly: A Guide to Plain English have been given to first year law students each year. This encourages them to think about the impact of low literacy in those parts of the community that come into contact with the justice sector. In 2017, 26TEN hosted a 'plain English and the law' event with the Hon Michael Kirby as keynote speaker.

While this focused on 26TEN's goal to encourage use of plain English, it was an effective way to engage with a broad cross-section of the legal community and provide them with an awareness of the challenge of low adult literacy.

26TEN Manager, Sue Costello, presenting a literacy awareness workshop at Burnie Courthouse. Workshops such as this are part of the legal sector's ongoing active engagement in 26TEN.

The Hon Michael Kirby addressing a 26TEN function on the use of plain English in the legal profession.


Health is the largest sector of the Network. Members include various state government health providers, as well as local pharmacies, major non-government organisations like the Cancer Council, and the peak body for GPs. A health literacy network has been established within 26TEN, sharing 26TEN's Facebook page and collaborating on events. The 26TEN Chat launch in February 2019 included cross-promotion of HeLLOTas!, TasCOSS's toolkit for health literacy. This is a quality improvement process assisting organisations to respond to community members by providing easily understandable information about treatment and where to get health care.

The health literacy network's logo.

The Department of Health is a key 26TEN member and recently released its Health Literacy Action Plan 2019-2024. It describes health literacy as a combination of individual skill and capacity to find and understand information, combined with the effort of health service providers to ensure that information is provided in plain English and can be easily found. It was launched at the Health Literacy Forum in Launceston on 29 October 2019. The plan sets out actions to improve health literacy in the population, within the health workforce and organisations, and to increase the number of collaborative ventures.

UTAS engagement with 26TEN has also been strong in the health area. UTAS' School of Medicine has embedded literacy awareness as part of the first year medical curriculum, with awareness workshops given by members of the 26TEN team.


Awareness of adult literacy in the education sector has grown steadily over the past four years through 26TEN action. This has been supported by targeted 26TEN communication, for example an information letter, literacy awareness brochures and posters sent to 155 government and independent schools in 2018. The Tasmanian Principals Association, Independent Schools Tasmania and Catholic Education Tasmania are now 26TEN member organisations, greatly increasing the reach in this sector. 26TEN has been present at Education Department conferences, and also had an information table at the national conference of the Australian Association of Government School Administrators in 2018.

26TEN has been active in promoting a family literacy perspective. During 26TEN week in 2017, the focus was on family literacy. Forty events were hosted across the state by 26TEN Network member organisations to promote family literacy. For example, at ptunarra Child and Family Centre in New Norfolk, about 50 children and their families from six schools read a story and then enjoyed activities focused on numeracy, such as measuring water with cups and spoons. Family literacy messaging has included a strong emphasis on the fact that, while adults can always improve their skills and 26TEN is there to help, less literate adults can still help children's development. Simply telling them stories using picture books and talking about what's going on around them on a daily basis helps children learn.


Over the life of 26TEN, it has become increasingly noticeable that significant literacy challenges exist in the agricultural sector. This is an important part of the Tasmanian economy and is expected to grow. Considering its potential as a new sector in the 26TEN Coalition, in 2019, 26TEN commissioned research by InspireAg to explore the impact of low adult literacy rates in the sector. The research confirmed that adult literacy is an issue in agriculture, but stigma surrounding it is still strong. Group discussions planned as part of the research failed, as so few people were prepared to discuss the subject in public. 26TEN experienced similar stigma issues when working with the building and construction sector.

InspireAg instead held one-on-one discussions, which revealed that many farmers had poor experiences at school. Previously, agriculture was considered an appropriate industry to steer non-academic children towards 'because you don't need to read or write to be a farmer'. (See Appendix E for more detail.) The report will guide 26TEN engagement in the agricultural sector in coming years.

National advocacy

Importantly, 26TEN has raised national awareness of the importance of adult literacy and numeracy, contributing to a broader discussion on lifting education and skill levels in Australia. The 26TEN Strategy is a highly regarded approach that others seek to emulate, and it helps to inform national policy.

Since 2015, Tasmania's significant contribution to this area has gained national and state recognition. Some examples are:

  • 26TEN team and Libraries Tasmania staff have presented on the Strategy at national and international conferences, including the Australian Council for Adult Literacy and National and State Libraries Australia.
  • The Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation at Yuendumu in the Northern Territory based its federally supported whole-of-community adult literacy program on 26TEN. They named the program Yuendumu 26TEN.
  • A story about Huon Valley construction company Duggans was featured on ABC Radio's current affairs program, AM. Duggans used a 26TEN grant to train employees to fill in forms and checklists online and to report in real time from the field. The training improved safety, productivity and engagement. The story formed part of a national push to highlight the importance of workplace literacy.
  • 26TEN has represented Tasmania on the national Reading Writing Hotline Steering Committee. Through this forum, 26TEN has participated on key national issues, such as Australia's inclusion in the next OECD PIAAC survey and providing advice to the Australian Government on the 2018-19 Budget Skills Package, Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow.
  • Tasmania was showcased nationally as having an effective literacy program on the SBS Insight television program about the everyday challenges faced by Australians who have low literacy and numeracy.

The next five years

Targeting stigma

This in-depth look at progress has shown that stigma remains a significant barrier preventing people from asking for help. Stigma is not the only barrier to adults taking action. Other factors include lack of confidence, and economic and social barriers, like being unable to afford childcare to attend a program or having trouble with transport. However, continued emphasis on reducing stigma will attract more learners to the services that can help them and aligns with 26TEN goals and targets.

During this review, people have contributed many ideas and suggestions about how best to reduce stigma. Varieties of ambassador programs, using either high-profile people who may appeal to certain groups, or former learners, have been suggested as possibilities. Undertaking new projects with existing or new partners, like key industry growth areas and arts organisations, may also work. The 26TEN report into literacy in the agriculture sector found there was substantial scope to promote the experiences of Tasmanian grant recipients, such as Houston's Farm, as a way of increasing awareness and breaking down stigma. If the sector is to meet the growth targets set by the government, reducing the stigma around asking for help will be essential.

Further research on current, effective stigma-reduction campaigns will help 26TEN gain a better understanding of why existing learners have chosen to face their fears. Those already taking steps to improve their skills are the best source of information about what has worked in the past, and we can use their knowledge to design future programs. This is an opportunity to seek out innovative ways to engage with people who know they need help but so far have not taken action.

Keep communicating

In addition to this new work, it will be important for 26TEN to continue its strong communications campaign to encourage action in specific groups and demographics.

Goal 2 - Everyone is supported to improve their skills and to help others

Why: To reap the many benefits of a literate society, we need to support Tasmanians to build their skills. We also need to ensure that we have a skilled paid and volunteer workforce to provide literacy and numeracy support.

Literacy target: The percentage of adults with literacy skills at/above OECD Level 3 rises from 49.8 per cent (2011) to 60 per cent by 2025, a 10 percentage point increase.

Numeracy target: The percentage of adults with numeracy skills at/above OECD Level 3 rises from 40.4 per cent (2011) to 50 per cent by 2025.

How far we've come: Evidence through our statistics and stories shows that many individuals have improved their skills and confidence.

What we've learned: It takes time for individuals to build their skills. We need to increase the opportunities for engagement so that more people can help others.

In 2011, the OECD found that 181,500 Tasmanian adults were below Level 3 in reading, and that 216,500 were below Level 3 in numeracy.

Changing these statistics across the population of our state will take time. This is the principal reason the 26TEN Strategy is long term and forward looking.

When the OECD repeats its survey in 2021-22, we will have access to updated statistics that may give us further information on the state's progress.

Measuring learner outcomes

26TEN is a network made up of members who promote literacy in their own ways. This means that while people are being helped, it is hard to obtain statewide data. However, some 26TEN members have data which demonstrates that, when Tasmanian adults access literacy support, their literacy skills improve.

Libraries Tasmania

Libraries Tasmania, a key 26TEN member, maps learner progress against the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF). Since 2009, Libraries Tasmania has helped 8,434 people to improve their literacy - 3,949 of these during the life of the current Strategy. Of these, nearly 15 per cent (580) have progressed one level higher on the ACSF, with many more making good progress within a level. This is clear evidence that the activities for learners are effective, contributing to the aspirational goal of a 10 percentage point improvement across the population. In addition, many learners have experienced different benefits, such as moving onto further study, gaining employment, beginning to volunteer and, most importantly, increased confidence.

This has been achieved through the Libraries Tasmania network of volunteer literacy tutors, who provide individual learners with free tailored instruction in support of their goals.


of adult learners say they have improved their quality of life

at least $5.20

is returned to Tasmania for every $1 invested by the Tasmanian Government, businesses, communities and individuals

Table 1: People accessing individual literacy support services through Libraries Tasmania (Source: Client engagement yearly reports)

Financial year Number One ACSF level achieved
2009-10 262 Not measured
2010-11 760 Not measured
2011-12 500 140
2012-13 988 193
2013-14 982 1581
2014-15 993 177
2015-16 1,037 173
2015-16 1,183 150
2017-18 1,119 147
2018-19 6102 100
Total 8,434 1,248

1. 2013-14 dip attributed to a large number of new learners who were below Level 1. At that low level, progress is much slower.
2. change of counting, with clients in short-course group programs no longer included in these figures.

The collection of data in the early years of the literacy service alerted coordinators to the fact learners beginning at a very low base take considerable time (often years) and support to make gains. Gaining a whole level in one year (and therefore showing progress towards the high-level goal in that period) would be unusual.

Secondly, gaining a whole level is the most complex level of achievement. Sole reliance on this indicator to measure progress disguised other positive outcomes gained from participation in the program. For example in 2014-15, 301 clients went on to formal studies and another 64 gained paid employment. Therefore, including the 177 learners who gained a level, a total of 542 learners (more than half) made significant progress on their journey to better literacy and numeracy.

The coordinators trialled different ways of measuring progress. One included self-reported measures of increased confidence. This showed that 95 per cent of former learners considered themselves more confident and positive as a result of their participation. A second project developed ways to measure progress within one level of the ACSF. This project involved literacy providers across the state, not only Libraries Tasmania, and was supported through 26TEN by experts involved in the development of the ACSF. In its first year of use in Libraries Tasmania in 2015-16, the finer-grained assessment tool showed that more learners made gains within a level (223) than were reported as gaining a whole level. This remained the case for all subsequent years. For 2015-16, 739 learners made some degree of progress, or about three-quarters of the total number.

When subsidiary indicators are also considered, the majority of learners have made a personally significant gain through either:

  • Gaining a whole level on the ACSF
  • Gaining a part level on the ACSF
  • Moving on to further study
  • Gaining employment
  • Starting to volunteer
  • Feeling more confident

Libraries Tasmania's approach clearly contributes to the creation of social and economic capital in Tasmania. The independent research on the economic and social impact of 26TEN in the state found that adults gained broader benefits from improving their literacy. The study reported that, in 2018-19, over 90 per cent of adults surveyed who accessed literacy support through Libraries Tasmania stated that:

  • Their opportunities for employment and further education had improved as their level of literacy improved.
  • Their quality of life had improved as a result of improved functional literacy.

26TEN tools to support learners

26TEN has made significant steps towards making it easier for people who want to improve their skills to find out where to get help through the:

  • 1300 00 2610 hotline
  • 26TEN Chat tool
  • 26TEN employer and community grants

The 26TEN phone number for people who seek help or who are referred has received on average over 200 calls a year since 2016. The initial partnership with Service Tasmania for taking these calls failed to provide the best possible service to clients, as operators did not have a deep understanding of adult literacy. Since 2018, 26TEN has partnered with the Reading Writing Hotline where calls are answered by trained literacy teachers. The significant benefit is that the teachers are knowledgeable about literacy issues and can refer callers to the most suitable of the 35 registered providers.

In 2019, the 26TEN Chat e-resource was launched to provide a step-by-step guide to help Tasmanians begin a conversation with someone they have noticed struggling with reading, writing or maths and refer them to help. The Chat was developed in response to feedback from members and supporters that guidance on how to tactfully raise the issue of low literacy with those in need would be helpful.

The Chat and supporting resources on the 26TEN website are being used in a number of organisations. For example, Centrelink has included it in their professional development training for all its service officers. Chigwell Child and Family Centre has also trained all its staff, and the Salvation Army intends to roll it out among its staff. Service Tasmania and Libraries Tasmania have included the 26TEN Chat in their induction for new staff.

26TEN grants program

A grants program has been an essential part of 26TEN from the beginning, with funding available to employers, communities and community organisations. The employer and community grants have been crucial in increasing the number of places where literacy support is available, and the number of ways it can be delivered (e.g. through workplaces and community houses). This is important because every adult learner needs to learn in a context that is meaningful to them. Over the past five years, 47 employers and eight community grants have been awarded, totalling over $2.3 million.

As 26TEN has progressed, we have learned from the outcomes of projects, and changes have been made to the grants programs. One important lesson in both programs has been that it takes time to make changes, in both attitudes and skill levels. As a result of a formal review of the grants in 2017, an organisation can now apply for up to three years' funding, subject to conditions. Generally, projects now run for two years. 26TEN maintains a register of Adult Literacy Support Officers who are available to assist with grant projects. An internal audit of the grants program carried out in 2018 identified some procedural improvements, which have been implemented.

$2.3million award to
8community grants

Employer grants

The 26TEN employer grants program supports employers and peak bodies to run projects to increase the literacy and numeracy skills of Tasmanian workers (paid and voluntary). Industries identified in the Department of State Growth's Ministerial Priorities for Training and Workforce Development 2018-21 are encouraged to apply. Projects can include improving any aspect of workplace communication, for example, to:

  • Improve the reading, writing and maths skills of employees so they can do their jobs better.
  • Train supervisors and managers to support their staff to build literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Introduce plain English writing as a component of wider literacy and numeracy training.

A further benefit from grants is cultural change. Over time, grant recipients such as Metro Tasmania, Huon Aquaculture and Houston's Farm have not only changed business practices by using plain language, for example, they have also changed attitudes. When local employers start talking about literacy, it makes it easier for others to talk about it. With conversation, people who might not have thought about literacy before are encouraged to talk about it with friends and family. With large local organisations working to reduce stigma around literacy, change becomes easier for others.

The workplace is a fertile and interesting location to build literacy and numeracy skills. Projects delivered under the 26TEN employer grants program are challenging because the needs of both the business and learner must be met on location. Times must be selected to suit the business operations, and the location and atmosphere of the training must encourage the learners to ask for help. Once a learner has the skills they need, they will use them repeatedly and will grow in confidence. Seemingly small achievements, like being able to complete a report on their own, save time and money for a business' bottom line. These projects require highly skilled literacy practitioners who are willing to work onsite. Along with 26TEN's Adult Literacy Support Officers, TasTAFE, and Work and Training (both registered training organisations and 26TEN members) have supported employers with literacy practitioners.

One of the benefits of the employer grants program is that it reaches learners while they are working rather than in class training. It is targeted specifically at their current job. As part of an Australian Industry Group case study, TasWater, an employer grant recipient, gained a 102 per cent return on the cost of training. (For further information on the benefits of improving adult literacy, see Appendix B.) This training focused on supporting workers without post-school qualifications to handle data entry on mobile devices. Training was delivered either one-on-one or in small groups.

Duggans, a civil construction firm based in the Huon, decided to move its operations online to stay competitive. It used a 26TEN grant to support their employees to make the changeover. Through the grant, Duggans made sure employees had the reading, writing and maths skills they needed, as well as the ability to use their new digital devices. The project was a success and surprised many of the employees in how it changed both their work and personal lives for the better. Some of the staff agreed to be interviewed, and their stories are available on the 26TEN website.

Governor Kate Warner visiting Houston's Farm, recipient of an employer business grant. Staff member Jade was one of the staff who participated.

Community grants

Important aspects of the 26TEN campaign have been achieved most effectively at the local level. Engaging adults in improving their skills, supporting others to do so, celebrating change and creating an environment where there is no shame in saying 'I'd like to learn to read better' is best done locally.

26TEN communities have been crucial to reaching the goals of the 26TEN Strategy and ensuring the depth and reach of the Network. Communities have been supported by grants of up to $50,000 to build projects around the three 26TEN goals, becoming a community where:

  • Everyone knows about 26TEN.
  • Literacy and numeracy are talked about openly and seen as valuable skills that can be learned or improved.
  • People can easily tap into programs and services to help them improve their literacy and numeracy.
  • Information is presented in ways that community members can readily understand.

Communities established with a community grant since 2015 are:

  • Derwent Valley (2015)
  • Huon Valley (2015)
  • Break O'Day (2016)
  • Glenorchy (2017)
  • Devonport (2017)
  • Bhutanese community in Launceston (2018)

They joined the first two 26TEN communities established in 2012-13:

  • Burnie
  • Circular Head

The Bhutanese community of Launceston

Joining in 2018, the Bhutanese community of Launceston became a 26TEN community. They partnered with the Migrant Resource Centre North to improve literacy among their 900 former refugees. As many people in the community are over 65, one of the key goals is to help them navigate the health system. But they also pursue other important areas, such as improving their English to help with job searching and supporting their children in local schools. The community holds language practice groups twice a week in 10-week blocks. The sessions are based on conversations about subjects of direct relevance, such as employment, further training, leisure and recreation, and understanding Australian social, political and economic contexts.

In 2017, 26TEN made smaller grants available. These seed funding 'Get Ready' grants are worth between $5,000 and $10,000. 26TEN introduced them after feedback and evidence from the earlier community grants showed literacy projects are complex and require time to establish. The smaller grant gives a community time to research and prepare for a larger application.

In 2018, 26TEN commissioned research on the perception of 26TEN within its 26TEN communities. Twenty-five per cent of those surveyed in 26TEN grant recipient communities had heard of 26TEN compared to 18 per cent in non-grant recipient communities at that time. Feedback from recipients of community grants showed that for cultural change 'to take', a longer investment period is required. Launceston City Mission reported that it is very hard to gain the trust of highly vulnerable people, and the end of a grant after two years cut short some promising beginnings. In its words, 'Clients feel abandoned. Green shoots wither and die.' The success of some clients began to attract new ones that the Mission was forced to turn away, knowing that the program was going to wind up.

Adult literacy and numeracy workforce development

Ensuring there are enough highly skilled literacy workers is crucial to increasing the number of Tasmanians with literacy and numeracy skills at or above OECD Level 3. 'Literacy workers' includes community mentors, volunteers, trained tutors and teachers.

TasTAFE, a key 26TEN member, is a major contributor to the Strategy. It delivers foundational skills courses statewide and administers online training of volunteer literacy tutors. Along with registered training providers such as Avidity Training and Development, TasTAFE has delivered many literacy and numeracy courses through its specialist practitioners, funded by 26TEN employer grants.

Libraries Tasmania, another notable 26TEN member, also invests heavily in workforce development. It has continued to expand its program of professional development for the large literacy workforce it employs.

26TEN has consistently supported the professional development of the adult literacy practitioner workforce, in partnership with members such as Libraries Tasmania and TasTAFE. Since 2016, it has provided professional development to 621 practitioners, by regularly inviting nationally recognised language, literacy and numeracy experts to teach. David Tout, Philippa Maclean, Jenni Oldfield and Anne Bayetto have delivered free workshops around the state.

Jenni Oldfield delivering a workshop in 2016.

26TEN also seeks to recognise the achievements of exemplary individual practitioners who make up the workforce. The stories section of the 26TEN website includes features on Deb Guntrip, winner of the 2019 Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Award at the Australian Training Awards, and Iona Johnson, literacy coordinator at Risdon Prison, who won a Department of Education Engaging our Adult Learners Award.

26TEN has identified that further development of the workforce is critical. The success of the Strategy is based on a broad definition of a workforce, including the significant effort of literacy volunteers. We do not currently know the number of all volunteer literacy tutors across the whole network, but we do know that Libraries Tasmania has trained 1,333 volunteers since 2010, of whom 277 are currently active. In recognition of this challenge, 26TEN is supporting the Tasmanian Council of Adult Literacy to develop a long-term plan for workforce development.

The 2011 OECD PIAAC results showed there were about 181,500 Tasmanians who could benefit from support with their literacy skills and 216,500 with their numeracy skills. Despite the significant numbers already supported through 26TEN and the almost 29,000 hours given by Libraries Tasmania volunteer literacy tutors in the last year alone, the effort required to help all Tasmanians in need exceeds the capacity of the current paid and volunteer workforce. In addition, the current paid workforce is ageing and there are limited training opportunities for those who want to enter the field.

In 2016, Libraries Tasmania surveyed current and previous literacy volunteers to gain a better understanding of why many had not continued with volunteering. The survey results showed that literacy tutoring was a demanding role that was not suited to everyone. Many volunteers found the reality of dealing with adult learners, who made very slow and difficult progress and were often facing a broad range of challenges in their lives, was not for them. Tutors also have lives of their own, and some left simply because their circumstances changed. The survey showed that many trained tutors had remained active supporters of 26TEN and continued to contribute in other ways.

The survey also showed that some volunteers had felt unsupported and not part of a wider effort. Libraries Tasmania responded by introducing statewide ongoing training, and a much more comprehensive approach to communication, which helped to make volunteers feel part of both Libraries Tasmania and 26TEN. The library also appointed a statewide volunteer coordinator. Recent feedback suggests these changes have improved the volunteer experience for many. It remains the case, however, that those who will continue as long-term literacy tutors are the individuals who have the right disposition and motivation for the role.

Finding the people the state needs to help others improve their reading and writing is essential to its success. Therefore, recruiting and retaining high-quality literacy volunteers will continue to be a high priority for 26TEN. Finding ways to increase the number of volunteers in regional and remote areas will also be important, as they are currently more concentrated in urban areas. For example, as a 26TEN Huon Valley community grant initiative, training was provided to trial establishing literacy mentors in each Huon Valley town. The trial had mixed results and showed that longer-term investment would be needed for literacy levels to rise.

The next five years

More time to build local 26TEN communities through a collaborative, placed-based approach:

  • It takes time to build a literacy-focused community and marshal resources for its growth. To change the situation where progress is cut short just as soon as it begins to take root, and to gain the most from scarce resources, a longer-term and collaborative approach to community engagement in literacy is needed. Our experience parallels international research findings about:
    • How stigma reduction and cultural change is a slow process.
    • The length of time it takes for learners starting from a low base to improve their skills.
    • How training options need to be local and from a perceived, trusted source.

Extending the length of time and investment of 26TEN community grants will improve the likelihood of meeting our aspirational goal. A longer-term, place-based approach will provide the opportunity to build trusting relationships in welcoming, accessible locations, where adult literacy and numeracy learners can learn best.

In addition to a long-term approach, it may also be important to be able to support communities where there is potential for major business and infrastructure investment. The 2019 Infrastructure Tasmania Project Pipeline report released by the Department of State Growth indicates a possible 265 major projects around the state over the next 10 years. In its current regional plan, Regional Development Australia (Tasmania) noted the impediment to regional growth presented by our low literacy levels. Similarly, the Tasmanian Agriskills Reference Panel noted the need for literacy improvement in its sector in 2016. Integrating literacy improvements in a long-term community-based approach would enable more locals to ultimately gain employment, either as employees or starting their own businesses.

Workforce development

Workforce development is the supply side of the literacy problem. Continuing to support the development of the paid and volunteer workforce will be crucial to meeting the Strategy's population-wide target. Being able to expand TasTAFE's online tutor training to business and community organisations will be critical to enabling 26TEN communities to meet local demand.

It will also remain crucial for 26TEN members already offering literacy support - Libraries Tasmania, TasTAFE and a handful of small registered training organisations - to continue to develop and offer their programs with an emphasis on flexibility and quality for learners.

Supporting employers

The employer grants have been one of the most successful components of the Strategy, delivering targeted training in the workplace and boosting productivity. This grant program should continue in its current form, subject to the ongoing process of incremental refinement.

Better data

The process of examining how far we've come as a state has shown that organisations collect and report data in different ways. Assessment of progress against Goal 2 currently relies on the OECD survey, which happens every 10 years. Using the 26TEN Strategy as a way to encourage literacy providers to share their data will make it easier to measure statewide progress in future. In the long term, new locally generated measures may be needed.

Future research

The return on investment (ROI) study commissioned as part of this review made a number of suggestions for future research. These included both quantitative and qualitative projects to understand more about the impact of intervention on literacy learners and their communities. For example, the study identified the value of looking at secondary economic benefits from program participation and suggested longitudinal studies of learners. As the ROI has demonstrated significant benefit arising from 26TEN, implementing some of these suggestions makes sound economic and social sense.

Goal 3 - Everyone communicates clearly

Why: By using plain English, we reduce the barriers to participation in society for people with low literacy.

Target: The number of organisations committed to plain English to rise from 10 in 2015 to 200 in 2025.

How far we've come: By March 2020, 86 member organisations had committed to plain English.

What we've learned: Organisations have readily recognised the benefits of using plain English, but cultural change takes time and effort such that everyone communicates clearly.

The International Plain Language Federation defines plain English in the following way:

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure and design are so clear that the intended audience can readily find what they need, understand what they find and use that information.

Tasmania has risen to the challenge of 26TEN's push for clear communication, with enthusiasm across a range of sectors. Since 2015, 1,984 Tasmanians, largely supported by their employers, have participated in 172 plain English workshops. Of the 173 member organisations of 26TEN, 86 committed to plain English in their action plans (see Appendix F). Member organisations have been able to receive free, tailored plain English workshops on request. To enable as many people as possible to access the training, workshops have also been offered to the public in different locations around the state.

Since February 2018, organisations such as UTAS, the Tasmanian Training Consortium, Relationships Australia, and the Department of State Growth have received a total of 1,715 copies of Communicate Clearly: A Guide to Plain English, in writing workshops.

26TEN has also triggered broad discussion on the importance of clear communication through several major events. These are usually run in May during plain English month. For example, in 2016 over 110 people attended a plain English panel breakfast to hear Neil James, Executive Director of the Plain English Foundation, Robin Banks, then Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, and Dr Tim Greenaway, then President of the Australian Medical Association (Tasmania), discuss the importance of clear communication for social justice.

1,984 participants at 172 plain English workshops
86 plain English action plans - (46 per cent of target achieved)

Ongoing improvement

Plain English might be easy to read, but it is not easy to write at first. It takes time, practice and commitment from an organisation for it to become normal. It requires both a change in the culture, and a change in its processes.

To help embed plain English in organisations where the workshops are delivered, 26TEN has developed tools to help. Checklists and guides are available on the 26TEN website, and hard copy resources are provided in workshops, supporting participants to continue developing their plain English skills back in their workplace.

The materials used in plain English training are regularly revised and updated, based on participant and trainer feedback. In May 2019, the third edition of the plain English workshop, co-designed with the trainers, was introduced.

26TEN has also tailored workshops for specific needs. For example, it became increasingly clear from learner stories (see 'Julie's story') that many parents with low literacy had difficulty understanding paperwork sent home from their children's school. From this, 26TEN identified the need to design workshops for teachers on report writing and newsletters in consultation with key staff in the Department of Education. Initial trials of centrally delivered training led to further development of a workshop that could be delivered onsite in schools, making it more accessible for busy teachers. The workshop contributes to teachers' professional development, and it has been run in Ulverstone, Woodbridge, Smithton, East Devonport, Brighton, New Norfolk, Burnie and the Department of Education's Professional Learning Institute.

26TEN maintains a register of plain English trainers and offers them regular professional development opportunities. Organisations also consult the register of Adult Literacy Support Officers when they seek to employ a trainer to help improve their literacy through writing documents in their workplaces, such as standard operating procedures and forms.

Workshop results

The 26TEN plain English workshops are having a positive influence in both government and business. The impact is broad, from keeping workplaces safer to encouraging participation in democratic processes.

Businesses have become part of the 26TEN effort by rewriting their documents. This is often a goal of employer grants. Rewriting procedure manuals and safety information in plain English is always identified as improving business productivity. For example, after shifting to redesigned digital forms, Duggans reported changes including:

  • Easier to find information
  • Easier to enter information
  • Short and concise sentences
  • Easy to read documents (font, size, spacing)
  • Correctly ordered content with clear numbering
  • Use of pictures to assist clarity
  • Immediate filing

Government is also working to make language clearer. Using plain English is a requirement of the State Government's Communication Policy, and agencies that are 26TEN members are using 26TEN guidelines to rewrite their documents. For example, both the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPAC) and Libraries Tasmania have made significant strides to change their culture over the last few years. In 2018, DPAC led a whole of government approach to briefing the incoming government to make sure all briefs were written in plain English. This involved consultation with Ministerial offices to design the new approach. Most of the government agencies moved from a traditional and lengthy briefing note format to a short slide doc with info graphics containing succinct information that was client focussed and easy to read. This meant that Ministers with multiple agencies reporting to them got their information in the same format. The participating agencies commented that it was a more efficient and effective writing process albeit challenging to write less and more clearly. Ministerial offices appreciated having all of their most relevant information 'at a glance' and the time it saved.

DPAC also designed the 'Getting to and through Cabinet' training course with a focus on the importance of clear communication and plain English in writing Cabinet Minutes and Briefings.

Service Tasmania has worked to simplify its personal identification application form. Libraries Tasmania is developing new room hire forms using plain English, and Metro Tasmania reworked its application forms for a green card. Business Tasmania's website was rewritten in plain English to help small business owners understand tax, legislation, insurance and social media. The Department of State Growth encourages submissions about development proposals to be written in plain English. This allows everyone to understand what other people think about important issues and contributes to democratic processes.

The Department of Health and Human Services is rewriting a large number of documents, such as information sheets that explain medical procedures. The Magistrates Court of Tasmania produced a simple guide to 40 common legal words. The link to it is prominently positioned on the Court website's front page. 26TEN guided Court staff on rewriting the forms for family violence and restraint orders.

An example of before and after signage by Metro Tasmania.

The next five years

While much has been achieved under Goal 3, more can be done to achieve our target of 200 organisations committed to plain English. This is an area where Government can truly lead by demonstration, driving cultural change and committing to plain English when communicating with citizens.

The effort would be given new impetus if each department were to nominate a plain English/literacy officer to be the point of contact for all literacy queries and requests for help with plain English. This person would be able to ensure that plain English was on the agenda for all new documents and provide support to staff members. They in turn could then take their knowledge into their particular sections, causing a ripple effect throughout all levels of government.

Tasmanian success stories

From the beginning, 26TEN committed to tracking the success of learners through stories. It recognised the power of stories to celebrate achievement, raise awareness and reduce stigma. It has been collecting stories and promoting them on its website, through the media and social media channels. There are currently 225 stories collected since 2015.

From around the state, the individual learner stories selected here illustrate key themes of personal growth, facing fears and the ability of people to change, learn and grow. They also illustrate how helping people to achieve their personal goals also makes for better and stronger communities. Stories from employers illustrate how addressing literacy is also good for businesses.

All the learners emphasised that the benefits they got far outweighed the fears they felt at the beginning of their learning journey. It takes great courage to admit that you need help. 26TEN learners show that it doesn't matter what your experience with learning has been in the past. The future can be better. As Jason said, 'My advice would be to have a go - it's been worth it!'

Learner stories

Julie - for family literacy

Julie's motivation for contacting 26TEN was not being able to understand notes sent home from school.

A friend told her about 26TEN. Julie was matched with Anne, her volunteer tutor. 'If I had a tutor like Anne back at school it really would have made a difference', said Julie. Julie's negative school experiences set her back in life, as she says she never would have believed that she was capable of learning to read.

Julie's persistence over three years with Anne has payoffs for her family. Her grandchildren now enjoy the experience of reading with her, and they have her example of setting a learning goal and committing to it. They are likely to have much more positive learning experiences in school than she did, because she can help them at home. Facing her fear, Julie has started to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.

Ian - participating in civic life

Ian's story demonstrates how addressing low literacy can improve civic life. We are lucky to live in a democracy, given that large numbers of the global population don't enjoy the same right to vote that we do. Yet, to exercise that right, you have to understand who and what you are voting for. Ian spent his whole life donkey voting because he couldn't read what candidates were promising. After working with his tutor, for the first time in his life, Ian cast a valid vote at the federal election in 2019.

Alisha - for improvement in self-confidence

From being a person who could barely leave her house, Alisha was able to tackle telling her story in public to an audience of future journalists. Alisha agreed to participate in 26TEN's mock media event at UTAS. She sat on the stage and answered questions about her learning journey, and then followed up with an on-air radio interview with Rick Goddard. Alisha's personal changes were so significant that Island Magazine did a feature article on her. In 2019, Alisha read aloud to a function at the State Library to celebrate Australian Reading Hour.

Successful learners, Kelly and Julie have shared their stories.

Kelly - entering the workforce

Kelly is a single mother with two children. Needing to provide for her family, she first got literacy support to get a driver's licence. Feeling encouraged by her first achievement, she started doing courses with the adult learning team at her local library.

Through gradual, cumulative successes, Kelly has completed a Certificate III in Community Services. From then she volunteered, which translated into paid work as a teacher's assistant. 'This time last year I never thought I would achieve what I have this year', she said. Her family sees and appreciates the difference in her, and she brings this positive and encouraging attitude to the children she supports at school.

Wayne - coping with new technology

Wayne had worked at a local council as a grader driver for 22 years when, as he said, there were no computers. His employer won a 26TEN grant to upskill its staff. After the training, Wayne could understand work emails and use the keyboard to respond. Wayne was able to improve his skills and keep up with the new demands of the workplace.

John - handling a short-term promotion

'John' had the basic skills he needed for his work. However, his stress levels were 'through the roof' when told he had to act as manager for eight weeks. 'John' wanted to take on the challenge, but worried his lack of skills would let the team down. John listed his main concerns as: sending texts to the work crew, reading texts, reading and drafting emails, and coping with forms. 'John' possessed a reasonable level of computer skills and was adept at using his phone. These helped him take advantage of features on his phone that he did not know about, like Speech to Text and Text to Speech. He successfully completed his acting role and intends to keep learning.

Bill - a family effort

Bill' had been injured at work and was unlikely to be able to return to his old position. However, his literacy was so poor it was unlikely he would find a new job. 'Bill' and his wife lived in a small country town and 'Bill' was acutely embarrassed that anyone might find out about his inability to read. His wife arranged for a secret visit from the literacy coordinator. 'Bill' had little hope of improvement but his love for his wife made him give it a try. The coordinator matched 'Bill' with a tutor who was prepared to meet his need for secrecy. The whole family, 'Bill', his wife and two children, sat down together to do their homework. Within a year, 'Bill' was able to read a whole book from cover to cover, for the first time in his life.

Employer stories

Huon Aquaculture

Huon Aquaculture provides an example of an employer building on the positive experience of a first grant. It decided to build a literacy workforce development framework across the entire business.

The company assesses new staff for their literacy skills. Staff that have literacy needs are supported to address immediate job-related skills, and then to have a learning development plan for their ongoing skill building. The first grant helped Huon Aquaculture to identify some specific needs for groups, such as supporting staff to pass the Master 5 Maritime Licence.

Based on learning from the first grant, they fine-tuned how they deliver training by opting for group training first. This allows lower skilled employees to check out the trainer first, and helps them to feel safer about asking for one-on-one support.

The company has redesigned its induction process. The documents have been rewritten into plain English, and broken up into phases. The first is before the employee starts, the second on their first day, and follow-up sessions at agreed intervals.

The company recognised that all its staff could have ideas that would make the company better. It got help from the Adult Literacy Officer to design an online idea box. It had to be usable on any device, be in plain English, and easy enough for anyone with low literacy to feel confident in using.

Collectively, these changes make talking about and improving literacy and numeracy a normal part of Huon Aquaculture's business operations. It helps staff with individual issues, contributes to a positive workplace culture and enhances the company's operations.


Nyrstar is a major employer in Hobart based on the Derwent River in Glenorchy. It has been refining zinc since 1916. With a 26TEN grant, Nyrstar:

  • Tested and benchmarked staff literacy and numeracy levels.
  • Redeveloped its Induction Booklet into plain English.
  • Redesigned an initial set of 20 standard procedures using plain English and helpful pictures.
  • Provided plain English training to 88 Nyrstar supervisors and line managers through 26TEN short course presentations.
  • Developed a standard procedure template and style guide.

Some of the visual cues developed for Nyrstar's plain English procedures.

To build on its previous work, Nyrstar has recently contacted 26TEN to discuss a future application to the employer grants program.

Flow-on benefits from workplace grants

In researching this report, we have heard many stories from the grants program about how staff take the benefits of their improved literacy into their personal lives.

After training in how to use iPads for work at Duggans, Scott, a crusher operator, was able to get online to buy a tractor to add to his collection of Massey Fergusons. Jade worked with a literacy trainer at Houston's Farm and gained both a promotion and the confidence to read to his daughter. Whether it's reading to their children and helping with homework, shopping online or continuing learning, the possibilities grow with new skills. These demonstrate the ripple effect that improved literacy has.


The 26TEN Strategy continues the work begun by the Action Plan in 2010. When the Strategy was launched in October 2015 by the Minister for Education and Training, the Hon Jeremy Rockliff, it established a 10-year planning framework.

This report considers the work that has been done to implement the Strategy and reports on its achievements at the halfway point. Based on a continual learning process, it also points the way to future work.

This report has found that 26TEN is leading other Australian states in a best practice approach to literacy. At the five year mark, it is close to achieving one goal and on track to meeting the second. It is well regarded in the community and its reach is continually spreading. Our learners uniformly tell us that the improving their literacy has changed their lives for the better. Independent economic analysis of the program clearly demonstrates value for money for the state.

Its model is effective, economic and timely, and is relatively low cost for the level of change it delivers. Yet, the report has also shown that the existing need, the high number of Tasmanians who need literacy support, requires further investment. To address a widespread and significant social problem, the short-term grant funding that governments usually deliver is not the right tool. Low literacy takes time to change because individual learners must confront their fear, shame or denial about needing help, and then spend the time to redress the gaps in their learning.

However, once the lack of skills has been redressed and more people can participate in the workforce, the social and economic return to Tasmania will continue to grow. Lifting literacy and numeracy will help Tasmania to grow, and support individuals to have better and happier lives. A confident, curious and engaged workforce and community is the best possible asset the state can have.

Recommendations - The next five years

We make the following recommendations for the next five years of the Strategy.

The 26TEN Network

  1. Continue with the collective impact approach to the Network, and aim to double the number of member organisations by 2025.
  2. Implement an ambassadors program, which draws on high-profile people and former learners.
  3. Improve support to the 26TEN Network at the state and community level.
  4. Investigate ways to help individual supporters to support local initiatives in literacy.

Goal 1 - Everyone knows about literacy and numeracy

  1. Develop a marketing campaign based on: knowledge of effective national and international stigma-reduction campaigns; feedback from current and past learners on what induced them to act; and feedback and ideas from Network members.
  2. Continue a strong public communication campaign that promotes learner stories to give a human face to quantitative indicators and that targets key sectors and demographic groups.

Goal 2 - Everyone is supported to improve their skills and to help others

  1. Enable 26TEN communities to achieve sustainable change through long-term funding, moving to a local place-based approach over a greater number of years.
  2. As part of this approach, build and encourage a greater adult literacy and numeracy workforce by:
    • Continuing to support the Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy workforce development planning.
    • Continuing to offer periodic professional development opportunities to the literacy workforce.
    • Promoting the newly released TasTAFE online tutor training available, which is available to anyone in the state.
    • Identifying ways to recruit and retain more literacy practitioners and volunteer tutors in regional and remote areas.
  3. Continue and build on the 26TEN employer grants program.
  4. Investigate how service providers can contribute to 26TEN reporting on literacy for the state.
  5. The Coalition determine research priorities for improving evaluation of 26TEN's effectiveness, starting with but not limited to the suggestions for further work from the ROI.

Goal 3 - Everyone communicates clearly

  1. Strengthen support for 26TEN by encouraging all organisations and levels of government to nominate a plain English/literacy officer to drive cultural change.
  2. Continue to promote the use of plain English and clear communication.

26TEN documents

Current Strategy

LINC Tasmania and the 26TEN Coalition, 26TEN Tasmania: Tasmania's strategy for adult literacy and numeracy 2016-2025, Tasmanian Government, Hobart, 2015.
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Action plans

26TEN Tasmania: Tasmania's strategy for adult literacy and numeracy 2016-2025, 26TEN Priorities 2018-2020.
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26TEN Tasmania: Tasmania's strategy for adult literacy and numeracy 2016-2025, 26TEN Priorities 2015-2017.
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Progress reports

26TEN Tasmania: Tasmania's strategy for adult literacy & numeracy 2016-2025, 2018 Progress Report.
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26TEN Tasmania: Tasmania's strategy for adult literacy & numeracy 2016-2025, 2017 Progress Report.
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26TEN Tasmania: Tasmania's strategy for adult literacy & numeracy 2016-2025, 2016 Progress Report.
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26TEN Tasmania, Communicate Clearly: A Guide to Plain English, 2016, 2nd ed.
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26TEN Tasmania, Organisation plain English checklist.
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26TEN Tasmania, Plain English checklist for forms and documents.
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26TEN Tasmania, Becoming a 26TEN community: Lifting adult literacy levels in Tasmania, Part 1, September 2014.
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26TEN Tasmania, Becoming a 26TEN community: Lifting adult literacy levels in Tasmania Toolbox, Part 2, n.d.
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Appendix A: Tasmanian and Australian literacy benchmarks 2011-12

Table A: Literacy and numeracy skill levels of persons aged 15-74, Tasmania and Australia (Source: OECD, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 2011-12)

Literacy 2011-12
Per cent
At level 2 or below 48.8
At level 3 or above 49.8
'000 Per cent
Below level 1 13.1 3.5
Level 1 43.9 11.8
Level 2 124.5 33.5
Level 3 133.5 35.9
Level 4/5 51.8 13.9
Missing 5.2 1.4
Total 372.1 100
Per cent
At level 2 or below 44.2
At level 3 or above 43.5
'000 Per cent
Below level 1
Level 1 2,361.1 14.1
Level 2 5,036.0 30.1
Level 3 6,339.0 37.9
Level 4/5 2,611.9 15.6
Missing 3,56.3 2.1
Total 16,704.4 100

Notes: The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) supplied LINC/Libraries Tasmania with separate Below Level 1 and Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy population numbers and percentages for Tasmania.

Numeracy 2011-12
Per cent
At level 2 or below 58.2
At level 3 or above 40.4
'000 Per cent
Below level 1 27.3 7.2
Level 1 63 17.1
Level 2 126.2 33.9
Level 3 108.7 29.2
Level 4/5 41.6 11.2
Missing 5.2 1.4
Total 372.1 100
Per cent
At level 2 or below 54.2
At level 3 or above 43.6
'000 Per cent
Below level 1
Level 1 3,631.5 21.7
Level 2 5,423.2 32.5
Level 3 5,231.5 31.3
Level 4/5 2,061.9 12.3
Missing 356.3 2.1
Total 16,704.4 100
Problem-solving in technology-rich environments (PSTRE) 2011-12
Per cent
At level 2 or below 74.2
At level 3 or above 24.4
'000 Per cent
Not classifie 112.1 30.1
Below level 1 48.3 13.0
Level 1 115.6 31.1
Level 2/3 90.8 24.4
Missing 5.2 1.4
Total 372.1 100
Per cent
At level 2 or below 69.9
At level 3 or above 28.0
'000 Per cent
Not classifie 4,186.9 25.1
Below level 1 2,232.2 13.4
Level 1 5,251.5 31.4
Level 2/3 4677.5 28.0
Missing 356.3 2.1
Total 16704.4 100

Not Classified = Includes people who had 'no computer experience', 'opted out of computer based assessment' and 'failed Information and Communication Technology Core' test.

ABS suggests that Level 2 or above in PSTRE is functional PSTRE, in the same way that Level 3 in literacy and numeracy is the level for functional literacy and numeracy. See http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4228.0Main+Features202011-12

Please treat the summed percentages (that is, at Level 1 or below) with caution. The ABS suggests that nearly all 'Not Classified' survey respondents are at the lowest levels of PSTRE but respondents may have opted out of the computer based tasks for reasons other than low digital skills.

For explanation of the levels and commentary please see http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4228.0Appendix202011-12?

Appendix B: The impact of low literacy

Globally and locally, poor literacy and numeracy is a significant problem, both for individuals in their daily life and for society in the long term. According to the UN, more than 750 million adults (two-thirds of whom are women) have low literacy2. Its widespread nature means that a single solution will not be effective.

In the late 1980s, nations, including Australia, undertook national literacy surveys and were shocked by the findings. Subsequent surveys by the ABS found little change. Tasmania had the worst scores in the country, although the margin between all states was narrow. Poor language, literacy and numeracy skills are therefore a widespread and entrenched social problem, requiring a long-term, holistic and properly funded government/community response. This reinforces how important it is to take a collective impact approach, building on the power of existing, already active organisations to reach a common goal.

According to the World Literacy Foundation, low literacy levels in the population create substantial economic and social costs. These include costs to health care, social security, disruption in schools, crime prosecution and rehabilitation, lost earnings and business productivity.

Former governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Saul Eslake, was reported in the Mercury in 2018 discussing the systemic impacts of low literacy. Lifetime earnings from work are lower, and therefore living standards are lower. People with low literacy are less likely to eat well and exercise enough and have a greater risk of being injured at work. Therefore health outcomes are worse. They are likely to be less confident and achieve less than they might. This is transmitted to their children, creating a hard-to-break cycle of discouragement3.

The health sector

Personal health impacts

People with low literacy are less likely to take preventive action for their health, like getting a flu shot, and are more likely to end up in Emergency. They may misunderstand consent forms and may not be able to read information about treatment options. Those with chronic diseases or mental illnesses may not be able to manage their condition well. For example, diabetics with low literacy have been shown to have worse blood sugar control and higher rates of damaged eyesight.

The Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015 found that people in the lowest socio-economic bracket (most often people with low literacy) have 1.5 times the rate of disease burden compared with the highest group4. Many chronic conditions can be prevented with appropriate education and support, but having good literacy is necessary to be able to understand the support available. US research has estimated that better health literacy could save the US economy between 7 and 17 per cent of personal health costs, or about USD 106 billion to USD 238 billion annually5.

2. UN Sustainable Development Goals, Goal No 4: Education. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/ In addition to this figure for adults, an estimated 617 million children are lagging behind in reading, writing and maths.

3. Saul Eslake, Learning to make the most of life, Mercury (Hobart), 17 April 2018, p14.

4. Johnson, Anne, Health literacy, Does it make a difference?, Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, Volume 31 Number 3, 39-45; Health Literacy Centre of Europe, Costs of low health literacy, 14 Nov 2015, http://healthliteracycentre.eu/costs-of-low-health-literacy/; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/health-conditions-disability-deaths/burden-of-disease/overview

5. Vernon, John et al, Low health literacy: Implications for national health policy, 2007. https://publichealth.gwu.edu/departments/healthpolicy/CHPR/downloads/LowHealthLiteracyReport10_4_07.pdf

Public health impacts

All these individual problems have significant implications for public health spending in the long term.6 The Australian Government has 'estimated that spending on health care by government as a percentage of GDP will nearly double by 2050.7 Another study estimated that health illiteracy would add an extra 3 - 5 per cent on national health budgets in the UK.8 In Australia, the five highest risks for preventable disease are tobacco use, overweight & obesity, all dietary risks, high blood pressure and high blood plasma glucose (including diabetes). Changing these behaviours would remove 38 per cent of the disease burden. While these are not directly related to low literacy, it is one of the factors preventing people from making changes. These figures demonstrate that addressing low literacy will make a valuable contribution to reducing healthcare budgets in the long term.

Work and business

Ability to work

There is widespread agreement from international research that low literacy affects employment prospects and wages negatively. Research in Ireland showed that 'Literacy difficulties were found to reduce an individual's earnings by 4.6 per cent. The wage discount associated with such difficulties was larger for females (6.3 per cent) than for male employees (4.3 per cent)'.9 While this amount may not seem high, when taken over a lifetime of earnings, the person with low literacy faces a significant shortfall. The estimates of wages shortfall vary widely according to country. Ireland's figure is at the low end, but the World Literacy Foundation estimates that the upper reach of wage disparity is 42 per cent.10 Lower earnings may reinforce a cycle of poor health, as people can delay visiting the doctor, dentist or filling a prescription because of concern over cost.11 As people with low literacy have lower job prospects, they are also more likely to need income support. With new skills and greater confidence, people are able to access more job opportunities, thus reducing the need for social security.

6. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has estimated that total national health expenditure has grown from $69 billion in 1996 to $180 billion in 2016-17. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/health-welfare-expenditure/health-expenditure-australia-2016-17/contents/data-visualisation

7. Australian Parliamentary Library, Briefing note on understanding the Australian Health Care System https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook44p/FundingHealthCare

8. Health Literacy Centre of Europe, Costs of low health literacy, 14 Nov 2015 http://healthliteracycentre.eu/costs-of-low-health-literacy/

9. Kelly, Elish et al, Literacy and numeracy difficulties in the workplace, Impact on earnings and training expenditure, Research series no 27, September 2012, National Adult Literacy Agency (Ireland), px.

10. Cree, Anthony; Kay, Andrew; Steward, June, The economic and social cost of illiteracy: a snapshot of illiteracy in a global context, World Literacy Foundation, 2012, p4 https://www.voced.edu.au/search/site/all_creators%3A%22Kay%2C%20Andrew%22

11. In 2016-17 in Australia, among people aged 15 and over, cost was stated as a reason why 4.1 per cent (663,000) of people who needed to see a GP did not see or delayed seeing a GP at least once, 8 per cent (2 million) of people who needed to see a dentist did not see or delayed seeing a dental professional at least once and 7.3 per cent (974,000) of people who needed a prescription medication avoided or delayed filling it. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/australias-health-2018-in-brief/contents/how-do-we-use-health-care

Business profitability

Low literacy affects business operations. For example, mistakes in processing orders or understanding instructions cost companies time. Low literacy frequently leads to wastage of materials. In the manufacturing sector, percentage point improvements in waste avoidance are desirable. Low literacy could result in avoidable workplace injuries and lost customers. In recommending how evaluation of workplace interventions should be assessed, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research suggested that improvements may be seen in:

  • Productivity and efficiency
  • Sales and profitability
  • Quality of products and services
  • Customer service and satisfaction
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Organisational learning and development
  • Organisational climate, culture and practices12

A recent five-year study of workplace literacy programs in New Zealand came to a similar conclusion.13

The overall cost of current low literacy levels to Australia has been estimated at $18.35 billion.14 In short, low literacy undermines the nation and the state's economic competitiveness and limits its ability to grow. Because of Tasmania's previous investment in 26TEN and its recognition as an excellent model, it is likely to be ahead of other states in addressing the impact on our state's economy.

Further gains could be made if it were possible to target training towards predicted growth areas, like sustainable energy and tourism. Business is likely to be supportive, given that its peak body demonstrated that literacy training provided highly acceptable returns on investment.15

There has been sufficient research to demonstrate that investing in improving literacy is a low risk strategy to boost economic growth through both increased profitability of enterprises and avoided costs in welfare and health.

In the workplace, 26TEN training provided through the grants program has been so well received that some training managers, when they move on to a new job, convince their subsequent employers to apply for a grant. Repeat business is always a good sign of effectiveness.

12. National Centre for Vocational Education Research, Social and economic benefits of improved adult literacy: Towards a better understanding, Support document, 2005.

13. Alkema, Anne, The workplace as a context for adult literacy and numeracy learning, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 2019, vol 63, no 1 p102-5.

14. Cree, Anthony; Kay, Andrew; Steward, June, as referenced before, p7.

15. Australian Industry Group, Investing in workforce literacy pays: Building employer commitment to workplace literacy and numeracy programs, August 2015, http://cdn.aigroup.com.au/Reports/2015/Ai_Group_Summary_Investigating_in_Workforce_Literacy.pdf accessed 11 October 2019.


The best predictor of employee performance is level of school qualification.

In 2019, Tasmania remained at the bottom of educational qualifications with 59.9 per cent of the population having a Certificate III, compared to the Australian average of 65.1 per cent. The 2018 NAPLAN results demonstrated that the more educated parents were, the higher the scores achieved by their children. In short, higher education levels in a family help children to do well at school, and then in the workplace.16 A recent report (2019) by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare found clear evidence that disadvantage is passed down through generations.17 This is why it is so vital to work with parents from the earliest moment, as any work they do to improve their literacy skills will be a help to their children. Our Child and Family Centres perform this vital role.

While Tasmania still has the lowest number of post-school qualifications, it has made substantial progress. In 2008 the levels were at 48.7 per cent, meaning there has been more than a 10 percentage point improvement in 10 years. This suggests that recent activities in adult learning are paying off, despite a clear recognition that change takes considerable long-term effort.

Law and justice - the legal sector

Low literacy affects the justice system in two main ways. Firstly, many people with good literacy can find legal documents intimidating and hard to understand. For people with low literacy, they are virtually impossible to read. This puts people who are already vulnerable under greater stress. It takes more time for court staff to explain to people what documents mean, which is inefficient.

Secondly, global research on the make-up of prisoner populations shows that rates of poor literacy are higher than among the free population. In Australia, one in three prisoners had only made it to year nine in school. In England, 50 per cent of prisoners are functionally illiterate. This is compared to 14 per cent of the free population. American research suggests that improving prisoners' education levels while in prison can lead to lower reoffending rates.18 Given that the Australian prison system cost nearly $11 billion to run in 2017-18, there is potentially a significant role for literacy in reducing these costs.19

Libraries Tasmania has literacy coordinators based in the prison system. This review surveyed a large number of literacy clients, including prisoners. All the prisoners said that the literacy support had been helpful to them. They singled out the reading program in which they record themselves reading a book and have it recorded on CD for their child. Other benefits included being able to read signs, having better spelling and feeling more confident.

16. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, School student engagement and welfare, September 2019 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/school-student-engagement-and-performance

17. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia's Welfare data insights, Australia's welfare series no. 14. Cat. no. AUS 226. Canberra, 2019, pxv, and 29-34 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/australias-welfare-2019-data-insights/contents/summary

18. Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, The health of Australia's Prisoners, 2018, Cat. no: PHE 246, May 2019 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/population-groups/prisoners/overview https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/jun/15/reading-for-freedom-life-changing-scheme-dreamt-up-by-prison-pen-pals-shannon-trust-action-for-equity-award Patterson, M. B. (2018). Incarcerated Adults with Low Skills: Findings from the 2014 PIAAC Prison Study.p6. Retrieved [21 October 2019] from PIAAC Gateway website: View Washington, DC. Erny, Brea, A Review of the Effect of Literacy Education on the Rehabilitation and Recidivism Rates of Formerly Incarcerated Criminals, M.Ed Thesis, State University of New York, 2013. Wise, Jenny, Harris, Bridget, Nickson, Ray, Boughton, Bob, & Beetson, Jack (2018) Impact of the 'Yes, I Can!' adult literacy campaign on interactions with the criminal justice system. Trends & issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, 562, pp. 1-16.

19. According to Productivity Commission data, the average net daily cost of providing corrective services per prisoner and per offender (excluding capital costs, payroll tax, prisoner transport and prisoner health expenditure) in 2017-18 was $223.38 per person per day. For non-custodial sentences, the cost is 23.25 per person per day. 41,867 people in 118 jails therefore cost $9,352,250.46 and 69,634 people on community correction orders cost $1,618,900.50. https://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2019/justice/corrective-services

Appendix C: The socio-economic impact of 26TEN

The independent companion document to this progress report, 26TEN: The Socio-Economic Impact of Tasmania's Investment in Adult Literacy and Numeracy, provides an analysis of the economic contribution of 26TEN to Tasmania. Using a cost-benefit methodology, this study estimated the economic, social and cultural capital that the Strategy has generated. The key findings are:

  • 26TEN generates a return on investment (ROI) of 5.2:1; that is, for every dollar invested at least $5.20 in benefits were returned to the Tasmanian community in 2018-19.
  • It creates about 90 jobs, two-thirds of which are full time (not all literacy jobs).
  • Business receives a productivity premium of (on average) $12,500 per person engaged in literacy improvement.
  • Individual learners also experience an economic boost, (on average) $5,600 per person.

The current findings confirm work done by the Australian Industry Group in 2015, which showed uniformly that literacy and numeracy training paid off for the companies that participated in the study.20[1] The incoming President of the Business Council of Australia was reported in the Australian saying that 'workforce skills are the number one priority for economic performance in the country'.21[2] These findings suggest that Tasmania's 26TEN model is at the cutting edge of practice.

The ROI study surveyed literacy coordinators, clients, volunteers and 26TEN member organisations, grant recipients, and members of the Coalition. The aim was to gain a fuller understanding of the program, expressed in a quantitative way to help make comparisons in the future, and also to draw out qualitative details from individuals. A total of 178 people from different stakeholder groups participated.

The study revealed some interesting demographics. More women enrol for support by a significant margin. Most participants are of working age but slightly more than half are not working. Seven per cent of learners are over the current retirement age and nearly 30 per cent said they were living with a disability.

The vast majority agreed that they found the help they had received to be beneficial, improving their work skills, helping in family life or enabling them to participate in their community more than before. In each area, two-thirds of respondents chose the highest category - that the program had helped 'a lot'.

On average, learners spent an extra 4.3 hours a week building on their skills outside of tutoring. Perhaps the most significant finding is that they had discovered their capacity to grow and change. Each goal they achieved left them thinking that they could do more. Participants' goals varied widely, from helping with umpiring at their sport clubs (numeracy) to enrolling at university.

20 [1] Australian Industry Group, Investing in Workforce Literacy Pays: Building employer commitment to workplace language literacy and numeracy programs, August 2015, http://cdn.aigroup.com.au/Reports/2015/Ai_Group_Report_Investing_in_Workforce_Literacy_Pays.pdf

21 [2] Australian, 18 October 2019.

Learners in the prison system also answered the survey. They unanimously indicated that participation in the program had helped them a lot and they all intended to stick with the program for as long as possible. The majority of them indicated that shame and embarrassment had prevented them from seeking help before they were imprisoned. Interestingly, though, 60 per cent of total respondents said they had not felt that getting help was hard. This may suggest that 26TEN's work to destigmatise literacy is having some positive effects.

The learners' answers corroborate those given by the literacy coordinators. According to them, many clients gain confidence when their literacy/numeracy skills improve, resulting in human, social and cultural capital benefits. There is evidence also of clients' overall wellbeing improving as a result of participating in 26TEN.

Volunteers also experienced benefit from their involvement. The majority of volunteers are retired people, and the most common response from them was that the work had provided a sense of purpose in retirement and pleasure at being able to share their knowledge with others.

With the time spent tutoring (on average 80 minutes per session) plus the time they spent in preparation, volunteers gave 29,000 hours to the program last year. The replacement cost of this labour is approximately $1.3 million dollars.

Appendix D: 26TEN Network data

Table D1: Total number of 26TEN members and supporters of 26TEN

Dec 2015 Dec 2016 Dec 2017 Dec 2018 Dec 2019 Mar 2020 2025 target Per cent target reached
26TEN network members and supporters 111 450 822 879 934 949* 1,000 95 per cent

*This figure comprises 173 organisations and 776 supporters

Table D2: Breakdown of 26TEN member organisations, March 2020

North North West South Total
Community 18 7 49 27
Government 5 3 27 35
Business 15 8 41 64
Total 38 18 117 173

Figure D1: Overview of 26TEN member organisations by industry sector, March 2020

Table D3: Member organisations by industry sector

Sector Name (alphabetical order)
Arts and culture Bury Kirkland Ferri
RPH Print Radio Tasmania
Story Island Project
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
Tasmanian Writers Centre
Wide Angle Tasmania
Aged care Aged & Community Services Tasmania
Corumbene Nursing Home
Emmerton Park
Tandara Lodge Community Care
Building and construction Duggans
Community Bagdad Online Access Centre
Bucaan Community House Inc.
Burnie Community House
CatholicCare Tasmania (Formerly Centacare)
Colony 47
Connect42 (formerly Chatter Matters)
Council on the Ageing
Cygnet Community Hub (Pflag Tasmania)
Derwent Valley Community Radio
Derwent Valley Online Access Centre
Derwent Valley Raft (Real Action Forward Thinking) Network
Dover Online Access Centre
Eat Well Tasmania
Fingal Valley Neighbourhood House
Geeveston Community Centre
Glenora Online Access Centre
Hobart City Mission
Launceston City Mission
Lilydale Online Access Centre
Maydena Community Association
Meander Valley Online Access Centre
Migrant Resource Centre Tasmania
Mission Australia
Neighbourhood Houses Tasmania
Northern Suburbs Community Centre
Ravenswood Neighbourhood House
Recovery Tas Pty Ltd
Relationships Australia
Royal Life Saving Tasmania
Rural Business Tasmania
Smith Family
Spring Bay Online Access Centre
Starting Point Neighbourhood House
St Helens Neighbourhood House
St Helens Online Access Centre
St Vincent de Paul
Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation
Uniting Care Tasmania
Volunteering Tasmania
YMCA Hobart
Disability EPIC Assist Burnie
Multicap Tasmania (Burnie)
Early eduction/childcare Break O'Day Child and Family Centre
Child and Family Centre Chigwell
Clarence Plains Child and Family Centre
Goodstart Early Learning
Outhouse Legends
Playgroup Tasmania
ptunarra Child and Family Centre
wayraparattee Child and Family Centre
Education Break O'Day Trade Training Centre
Catholic Education Tasmania
Centre for Legal Studies - UTAS
College of Health and Medicine - UTAS
Faculty of Law - UTAS
Independent Schools Tasmania
Industry Link Training
Keen Partners
Mojo Works
Peter Underwood Centre for Educational Attainment - UTAS
Seafood Training Tasmania
St Helens District High School
Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy
Tasmanian Principals Association
Tasmanian School Canteen Association
Training Services Tasmania
Employment services Advanced Personnel Management Employment Services
Avidity Training and Development
Business and Employment
CVGT Australia
Impact Communities
JobNet Tasmania
Salvation Army Employment Plus
Finance Commonwealth Bank, St Helens
Food growing and processing Fonterra
Harvest Moon
Houston's Farm
Huon Aquaculture
J Boag and Son
JBS Australia
Moon Lake Investments
Pub in the Paddock
Purple Possum Wholefoods
TasFoods Ltd
Forestry and mining Arbre Forest Industries Training & Careers Hub
Government Australian Bureau of Statistics
B4 Early Years Coalition (DOE)
Break O'Day Council
Cancer Screening and Control Services (DHS)
Circular Head Council
Consumer, Building & Occupational Services (DOJ)
Corrective Services - Community Corrections
Corrective Services - Tasmanian Prisons
Cradle Coast Authority
Department of Premier and Cabinet
Derwent Valley Council
Devonport City Council - Community Services
Face to Face Services (DHS)
Forest Practices Authority
Glenorchy City Council
Inland Fisheries Service
Huon Valley Council
Kingborough Council
Libraries Tasmania
Local Government Association of Tasmania
Magistrates Court
Metro Tasmania
National Disability Services
Oral Health Tasmania (DHS)
Public Health Services (DHS)
Roads, Department of State Growth
Service Tasmania
Skills Tasmania
West Tamar Council
Health Cancer Council Tasmania
Glenorchy Health Centre
Heart Foundation
New Norfolk Guardian Pharmacy
Primary Health Tasmania
Speech Pathology Tasmania
Speech Pathology Tasmania (separate action plan)
The Link Youth Health Service
Industry association Marine Directory.Net
Master Builders Association
Primary Employers Tasmania
Tasmanian Association of State School Organisations
Tasmanian Beekeepers Association
Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Tasmanian Council of Social Service
Tasmanian Hospitality Association
Tasmanian Transport Association
Law Launceston Community Legal Centre
Tierney Law
Manufacturing Bioflex Nutrition
Mitchell Plastic Welding
Nyrstar Hobart
Postal Dover Post Office
Geeveston Post Office
Mathinna Post Office
Real estate Surf Coast Realty
Retail/wholesale Bunnings (Glenorchy)
Mitre 10 (St Helens)
Statewide Independent Wholesalers
Vicinity Centres (Northgate)
Sport AFL Tasmania - North and North West
Glenorchy District Football Club
Tourism and hospitality Junction Motel and Function Centre
Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge
Seabreeze Café and Laundromat (now closed)
Wrest Point Casino
Transport and utilities L&S Doyle
Union Community and Public Sector Union
Unions Tasmania

Appendix E: Literacy issues in Tasmanian agriculture

In 2019, 26TEN commissioned research by InspireAg into adult literacy issues in the agricultural sector. The Agricultural Language, Literacy and Numeracy in Tasmania: Discussion Paper was based on one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders, current plans for the sector, ABS statistics and other reports. As well as the issues presented by low literacy, the study showed that significant change is required if the sector is to meet the challenges of:

  • An ageing workforce
  • The historically low level of qualifications
  • Needing to produce more food more efficiently
  • The risks associated with globalisation and climate change
  • Changing consumer trends

Many farmers reported negative experiences in their early schooling. In the past, agriculture was seen as a suitable way to employ people who did not mesh well with the formal school system. This has contributed to a poor image for the industry, and stigmatised those individuals needlessly when, actually, the problem was an inflexible education system.

Low literacy can affect farm operations in a number of ways. Examples cited included:

  • The inability to mix chemicals safely
  • Understanding application rates
  • Understanding product handling and packing
  • Understanding loan and insurance documents
  • Assessing the cost viability of options for farm development

Farmers are also likely to experience other issues identified in the body of this report, such as not being able to read to children or understand medical information.

Interviewees generally saw that an improvement to literacy would benefit individuals, communities and the industry more generally. They acknowledged there would be financial and social benefits and that these would help agriculture to adapt in a world of rapid change.

However, there was also widespread agreement that the stigma surrounding low literacy was still very high. There was no clear agreement on the best approach, except perhaps that addressing literacy directly was still too confronting. A subtle, sensitive and maybe 'side-on' approach is needed to gain trust before any substantial change will be seen.

Appendix F: Network members' commitment to plain English

Table F1: Summary of 26TEN members' plain English commitment

Baseline 2015 Mar 2020 2025 Target Per cent target reached
Number of member organisations who have committed to plain English on their 26TEN Action Plan 10 86 200 43%

Table F2: 26TEN member organisations committed to plain English

Sector Name (alphabetical order)
Arts and culture Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
Tasmanian Writers Centre
Wide Angle Tasmania
Building and construction Duggans
Aged care Aged & Community Services Tasmania (ACSA)
Corumbene Nursing Home
Community Bucaan Community House Inc.
CatholicCare Tasmania (Formerly Centacare)
Council on the Ageing
Cygnet Community Hub (Pflag Tasmania)
Hobart City Mission
Launceston City Mission
Maydena Community Association
Meander Valley Online Access Centre
Mission Australia
Relationships Australia
Royal Life Saving Tasmania
Rural Business Tasmania
Smith Family
Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation
Uniting Care Tasmania
Volunteering Tasmania
YMCA Hobart
Disability Possability
Early education/childcare Child and Family Centre Chigwell
Clarence Plains Child and Family Centre
Outhouse Legends
Playgroup Tasmania
ptunarra Child and Family Centre
wayraparattee Child and Family Centre
Education Centre for Legal Studies - UTAS
Faculty of Law - UTAS
Independent Schools Tasmania
Mojo Works
Seafood Training Tasmania
Starting Point Neighbourhood House
Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy
Tasmanian Principals Association TasTAFE
Employment services Avidity Training and Development
Impact Communities
Salvation Army Employment Plus
Food growing and processing Fonterra
Huon Aquaculture
Purple Possum Wholefoods
Government Australian Bureau of Statistics
B4 Early Years Coalition (DOE)
Circular Head Council
Consumer, Building & Occupational Services (DOJ)
Corrective Services
Cradle Coast Authority
Department of Premier and Cabinet
Glenorchy City Council
Huon Valley Council
Inland Fisheries Service
Kingborough Council
Libraries Tasmania
Local Government Association of Tasmania
Magistrates Court
Metro Tasmania
National Disability Services
Public Health Services (DHS)
Roads, Department of State Growth
Service Tasmania
Health Cancer Council Tasmania
Heart Foundation
Primary Health Tasmania
The Link Youth Health Services
Industry association Marine Directory.Net
Tasmanian Association of State School Organisations
Tasmanian Beekeepers Association
Tasmanian Hospitality Association
Law Launceston Community Legal Centre
Tierney Law
Manufacturing Incat
Mitchell Plastic Welding
Nyrstar Hobart
Retail/wholesale Bunnings Glenorchy
Vicinity Centres Northgate
Sport AFL Tasmania (North & North West)
Glenorchy District Football Club
Tourism and hospitality Junction Motel and Function Centre
Wrest Point Casino
Transport and utilities TasNetworks
Union Unions Tasmania