Every Child Should leave school literate. Few would disagree. And through various roles it is a goal I have worked to support my entire career.
But meetings and events of the last week have reminded me of some of the challenges with the way that literacy is currently framed.
In the simplest sense literacy can be framed as reading, writing, speaking and listening. But in the media, in policy papers and in funding allocations it is – repeatedly – reading that gets the attention. The latest literacy hub funding proposals for example focus almost entirely on phonics and early language – the criteria for selection and activities mention reading repeatedly but never writing.
Similarly speaking and listening – oracy – has slipped of the policy agenda unless it is in the context of language development and vocabulary.
And across the piece an obsession with ‘catching up’ and getting everyone to the ‘same place’ means that those whose literacy skills will always need to be mediated through other approaches are left out of the mix. There are those who will always need additional support for one or all of the 4 aspects of literacy – whether this is AAC for those who need other approaches to speak; or BSL for those who are hearing impaired; or Makaton for those who need other approaches to support vocabulary development; approaches to help dyslexic learners who will always struggle to read quickly etc.
But events of the last week showed some hope.
As part of our consulting work we are supporting the Ministry of Stories and they are part of a fabulous network of organisations that are supporting creative writing using evidence based approaches. Hackney Pirates, First Story, Little Green Pig – all supporting literacy in the round with a particular focus on how children can use writing to create wonderful real world outputs.
We are supporting the Children’s Literacy Charity who are moving the narrative from literacy just for those who can catch up to literacy for all. They are combining their proven approach to supporting struggling readers with emerging discussions on the development of a pan sector inclusive literacy strategy.
Also this week we were delighted to have been represented at an event hosted by Lucy Powell MP in Parliament to consider the role of speaking and listening – oracy. The event – supported by Voice 21,English Speaking Union and LKMco – was one of the most exciting developments in this field we have seen for some time. We proposed some solutions – including an inclusive literacy strategy that takes into account disability (and it was great to hear inputs from young people with autism and the Defence Stammering Network) and the repurposing of TLIF and SSIF monies to include a greater explicit focus on speaking and listening at all ages. See more. Lucy Powell has proposed an APPG for Oracy and we are looking forward to next steps.
Lastly this week was the leaving do of the redoubtable Norbert Lieckfeldt the CEO of British Stammering Association. He is a friend but, in terms of supporting the agenda of speaking and listening for all, he is also the quiet hero. From helping form The Communication Trust to shaping the Bercow Review and leading BSA to support the 100,000 people for whom ‘speaking fluently’ is a challenge. His work is testament to the power of inclusive oracy approaches and power of speech and language therapists and educators working together and provides us with an great platform for next steps.
So yes – literacy for all. But really for all. And all of literacy.