Literacy Education 2018

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Literacy Education 2018

A Centre of Excellence for Literacy Teaching, to set up ‘English hubs” to help raise literacy standards in schools.


At the end of 2017, the government launched their new social mobility action plan entitled “Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential”. Part of the plan is a new Centre of Excellence for Literacy Teaching, which is to set up ‘English hubs’ – thirty-five in total, which feels a little scanty – across the country to help raise literacy standards in schools.


At the launch of the initiative, Education Secretary Justine Greening said, “Our ambition is that no community will be left behind on education. Today’s literacy investment will help make sure that not just most, but every child arrives at school with the vocabulary levels they need to learn.”


This comes at a time when concern is growing about falling standards in basic literacy skills at primary level. Delegates at an annual NUT conference in Brighton heard from a primary school teacher who described children picking up a book in her class and trying to “swipe left”. She found that disturbing, she said. Understandably.


However, perhaps the reduction of the choice – to ‘books good, screens bad’ – is short-sighted.


Delegates in Brighton pointed out that, in some parts of society and in the world of food banks, regular book purchases were becoming a luxury many families couldn’t afford. And at the same time, library services were continuing to receive a “shocking hammering”. For close on a decade now, libraries have been closing up and down the country and critics worry that this is robbing particularly the vulnerable – low-income families, old people, children, even the homeless – of a valuable resource.


However, there’s something else: Recent surveys have concluded that many children still don’t read for pleasure at home. And numerous studies have found that reading regularly for pleasure is instrumental in helping children to develop rich vocabularies – arguably leading to improved exam outcomes.

As a matter of fact, do we really need studies to tell us that recreational reading and literature – of just about any kind – is recognised as a passport to enlarged horizons? The conclusion must be that literacy programmes need to address motivation as well as skills.

Now, reading for pleasure is first and foremost self-directed reading of self-chosen material that the child does without particular intent. And the hope is that he/she will achieve enough satisfaction from it to want to do it again.

So – does it have to be a book?

The National Literacy Trust has found that “one in 11 (9.4%) children and young people said they do not have a book of their own at home, rising to one in eight (13.1%) children from disadvantaged backgrounds” (Nov/Dec 2016). NLT research has also established that e-books have a positive impact, not only on reading skills but also on motivation among students, “particularly for boys and those who began the project as less engaged readers“ (Dec 2015).


A tes blog (‘Why reading for pleasure doesn’t have to be about books’) cites research by Professor Teresa Cremin and Dr Natalia Kucirkova which has looked at the value reading online can add to a child’s learning (‘Digital books supporting reading for pleasure’, publ. July 2016 on DigiLitEY).


There is a wealth of online reading material and apps particularly for developing reading skills, but proper evaluation of it is fairly recent. The criteria for evaluation were adopted from an Open University project and related research which identified “key features of digital books that support children’s reading for pleasure”.


The project discovered that EY teachers were often ‘digitally blind’ in that they saw digital media in children’s homes as distractions rather than as contributing factors to the child’s literacy development. The solution was to help teachers develop their knowledge of children’s everyday literacy practices so that home and school input could be unified.


Textual diversity in school is one key factor; the other, clearly, is up-skilling teachers. Perhaps the headteacher of an award-winning school in Renfrewshire, Scotland, (tes blog “National literacy award for primary where most teachers study children’s literature at MA-level”) has also hit on a bright idea: Jacqueline McBurnie said her school “scrapped the ‘drudgery’ of the traditional book review in favour of pupils exchanging their thoughts at reading cafes over a juice and a biscuit”.