Understanding literacy: social justice and inclusive practice

This module examines our understanding of inclusive practice by using literacy and assessment as examples of aspects of education which raise contemporary and historical concerns globally about social justice and equity. Using literacy difficulties and assessment practices as examples, it explores how learner agency is viewed and can be enabled. By examining predominant approaches to issues of social justice and learning from the perspective of the individual and the social, the module moves to consider a range of broader issues relating to social justice, such as setting, labelling and social difference.

This module not only gives insight into the key debates associated with literacy, assessment and inclusive practice, it also enables you to explore the issues that concern and interest you in relation to your own context and experience of engaging with learners. It will provide you with the tools to examine and research your own practice and conceptualisations, so you are better able to understand how to develop inclusive practice and support the learners with whom you work.


EE815 is a compulsory module in our:

EE815 is an optional module in our:

Excluded combinations

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. These qualifications allow most postgraduate modules to count towards them. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

Section 1: Problematising literacy for all
This section explores the global agenda for inclusion and literacy for all and within this context examines different ideas of a literate person and the social historical development of these ideas. You will consider the notions of ‘functional’ and ‘critical’, ‘the individual’ and ‘the social’ and how they are used specifically in relation to literacy and models of literacy, reflecting upon the implications for inclusive practice and educational practice generally. The section also examines the debates about reading, their social historical development and implications for inclusive practice, whilst introducing other emerging educational dilemmas – which are picked up later in the module – and their implications for literacy difficulties in learning and effective practice for all. At the end of this section is an activity week involving peer review and discussions on the module forums.

Section 2: Practice and Assessment: a technical or social construction?
This section analyses the theoretical perspectives which lie behind differing views of what it means to be literate and what these differences reveal about how the relationship between the individual and the social is understood. It demonstrates the dominance of systems of assessment that treat learners and their learning in isolation from their social worlds in which the possibilities for their learning are made available. You will explore literacy as an individual, social, and sociocultural attribute as it is understood and used within assessment. You will problematise these understandings and consider the implications for who is included and who excluded, and whose learning is recognised and valued. At the end of this section there will be an activity week which will enable you to engage in an assessment process that will form the basis for reflection and analysis in the first tutor-marked assignment.

Section 3: Problematising inclusive practice: technical or socially based literacy approaches?
This section examines contrasting approaches to learner engagement and literacy. In the first part you will examine dyslexia and our understanding of literacy as an individual difficulty, and the way in which policy and practice related to dyslexia emphasise a technocratic functional approach for both young and adult learners. In the second part you will explore the work of Paulo Freire, in which literacy is viewed as cultural practices. Freire prioritises the individual’s relationship in the social world in order to facilitate adult learners’ ability to take action to enhance their community and promote justice. You will consider implications for inclusive practice, exploring specific examples and relating these to your own developing reflections and actions. At the end of this section there is an opportunity to examine examples of practice as part of an activity week involving peer review and discussions on the module forums.

Section 4:  Rethinking literacy difficulties
This section considers how, across a range of countries and jurisdictions, individual learners are categorised according to background features such as ethnicity, gender and low socio-economic status. You will explore how, through the process of assessment and data analysis, features of literacy achievement become associated with groups. You will consider the implications of this in relation to who is assumed to be ‘deficient’ or, ‘at risk’ and for whom there will be targeted funding and policy interventions. You will consider your assumptions and beliefs about literacy difficulties in professional settings familiar to you. Through a series of ‘cases’ you will examine what different understandings suggest about social justice and inclusive practice and their impact upon practices that enable individual agency, resistance and engagement. At the end of this section you will explore examples of practice, including your own, in light of the discussions which have taken place in Sections 3 & 4.

Section 5: Researching inclusive practice
This section considers how different researchers approach the challenge of exploring the complex issues raised in the earlier sections. In light of the cases explored in Section 4, you will consider how these complex variables come together in researching understandings of family and the creation of identity within family. You will go on to explore how researchers take a stance in relation to researching inclusive practice and literacy (i.e. relating ontology, epistemology and methodology), making decisions about methodologies and posing research questions that reflect their specific stance. The section will also illustrate how researchers, having themselves ‘rethought’ their ideas about literacy, can produce data about learners and their learning that will inform a new approach to literacy and participatory pedagogy; and how research itself, if imaginatively designed, can itself prompt rethinking of old assumptions. The activity week at the end of this section will require you to explore your own shifting positions to inclusive practice and its research. 

Section 6: Investigating your own practice
The final section will lead you from considering others’ research to preparing a small-scale investigation of your own practice, or practice familiar to you, You will explore how you can conduct insider based research which seeks to investigate your own practice: both looking at developing your research proposal and exploring issues of ethics and reflexivity when researching complex social relationships of which you are part. You will reflect upon how you might translate your research into practice and also problematise your own insider based research. This section concludes by asking you to consider where you are now, reflecting on your developing understanding of literacy, social justice and inclusive practice and how your understanding has shifted through your study of this module.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. You and your tutor will primarily communicate with each other through email and tutorials. Tutorials are offered via online meeting rooms and support is also facilitated asynchronously in tutor group forums.

If you have a learning difficulty or disability that could impact on studying online please do speak with us and your tutor so that where possible reasonable adjustments can be made to facilitate your participation.

Working with other students

Peer interaction, collaboration and support are of great importance. While these are not formally assessed and there is no compulsory requirement for you to interact or collaborate with others in your tutor group, we strongly encourage a sharing of ideas and experiences with your peers through asynchronous forums. There may also be some activities that recommend working with other students as this is a critical way in which you can broaden your knowledge and understanding of children, young people and education across different contexts, and challenge your own and others’ ideas.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Course work includes

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Future availability

Understanding literacy: social justice and inclusive practice starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022, the last time we expect it to start. A replacement module, Social justice, equity and equality: inclusive practice for all (EE845), is planned for October 2023.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Entry requirements

    We’ve designed this Stage 2 module to follow the Stage 1 module Addressing inequality and difference in educational practice (EE814). You must have passed this or another Stage 1 module from the Masters in Education (F70).

    You should be prepared for study at postgraduate level and have the minimum of a bachelors degree (in any subject) from a UK University or an equivalent professional qualification. We warmly welcome applications from students who have an undergraduate degree level qualification from universities outside the UK and which is deemed equivalent to a UK higher education degree.

    You do not need to be employed in an educational setting to study this module. However, it is important that you have some experience of engaging or working with learners, children or young people as our pathway disciplines (Childhood & Youth Studies, Learning & Teaching, Inclusive Practice, Applied Linguistics, and Leadership and Management) are all explored through the lens of education. Therefore you will need to be able to apply your learning to an educational setting with which you are familiar: this could be as a parent/carer, a volunteer or a learner yourself.

    You need to be able to spend approximately 12-15 hours per week on studying for this module.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


    Start End Fee
    - - -

    No current presentation - see Future availability

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.

    Future availability

    Understanding literacy: social justice and inclusive practice starts once a year – in October.

    This page describes the module that will start in October 2022, the last time we expect it to start. A replacement module, Social justice, equity and equality: inclusive practice for all (EE845), is planned for October 2023.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    Ways to pay for this module

    We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

    That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    All study materials are provided on the module website. This includes the module study guide and activities, audio/video material and a range of tools to support your study, including real-time conferencing and online forums.

    Computing requirements

    You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).

    Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

    It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader (and where applicable: musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way). Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future. 

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.