Recently a charity coalition, the National Literacy Forum, has released the Vision for Literacy 2025. It has been presented to Parliament and maps out the actions that need to be implemented across the UK to ensure that we take positive steps towards becoming a “literate nation”. But why all the fuss? Why is literacy suddenly so important?
Well, for starters, we shouldn’t confuse literacy with English – as in, the study of the English language. Being literate is much more than this.
The NLT research from 2014 entitled “Literacy Changes Lives” does a fantastic job of explaining why confidence in literacy is so much more than “what we used to call English”.
“Low literacy is associated with poverty, and may be a driver of broader inequalities in the UK. Those with low literacy are more likely to be in routine work, receive working age benefits, live in disadvantaged housing conditions and more deprived areas and experience homelessness. Women with low literacy are more likely to experience homelessness than men.”
Want to put a price on it?
“Low literacy is positively related with better earnings: those with functional literacy skills earn on average 16% more than those with lower literacy skills. At the level of the minimum wage (£6.31) this equates to £1.01 more per hour. This is particularly significant for women. Higher literacy is associated with higher earnings at an increasing rate.”
Don’t care for money?
“Those with lower literacy and lower qualifications are more likely to have poor health and are more likely to smoke, drink heavily and be obese.”
It’s pretty clear. Being able to read and write confidently changes peoples lives, on an individual and national scale. The Vision for Literacy 2025 sets out the problem:
“The UK’s literacy gap undermines our economic competitiveness and sustainability. It creates obstacles to fairness across society. It is at the heart of economic and cultural inequalities and is creating a divided society. We cannot afford to allow this to continue. We must act now.
“The challenge is intergenerational and closely linked to poverty. Up to 40% of the adult population in the UK’s most deprived wards lack the literacy skills expected of an 11-year-old.”
So what does this plan recommend?
Here’s the meat of it:
“1: Early Years: Government should create a cross-departmental Early Years Minister to drive forward an integrated education, health, welfare and business approach to early years policy.
2: Schools: Government should invest in new support for teachers, school leaders and governors. This should include the creation of a Royal College of Teachers.
3: Reading for enjoyment: Government should instruct Ofsted to examine a reading for pleasure strategy in every school inspection.
4: The role of business in education: Government should encourage the creation of Local Brokers to build links between schools and local business community, to support young people’s literacy and employability skills.”
For the UK’s children and future? It’s great news. A clearer focus on reading for enjoyment couldn’t be more important. A new Early Years Minister! Consideration of school library provision! (n.b. school libraries not mandatory, yet prison libraries are!) The future is bright!
For teachers and schools? There are probably two ways to look at this. We can feel vindicated and empowered in our position of responsibility, that we are on the front line of literacy, the footsoldiers of education. That the things we know are right are being brought to government.
But this also means we can expect the spotlight to be turning more towards literacy, and the methods by which we are teaching it. How are we going to carry out these recommendations? It could sound like another load of policy and paperwork, with the bulk of the work being done by us. Another thing for Ofsted to look for (Recommendation 3), another plate to keep spinning.Note the point in Recommendation 2 that we should be given access to “evidence of effectiveness of approaches, resources and interventions.” It will be interesting to see how that takes effect.
Smart Stories are fully supportive of value of literacy, but we also know how hard teachers work, and how full the day is. The daily battles to engage children who struggle with seeing literacy as purposeful. The pressure of policy change.
This definitely feels like a step in the right direction, so long as teachers and schools are invested in and supported (as #2 says), and not just left to carry out these important recommendations on their own.
Read more here.
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