The national literacy challenge: our priorities under the Coalition Government
Posted by Jonathan Douglas
Following the election pundits tried to detect a systematic approach to the new Government’s education policy. It soon became apparent that partly due to the nature of coalition it would be more pragmatic than systematic.
The strongest indication of the Government’s commitment to literacy has been the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that there will be a new universal reading test at six. This is linked to the Conservative commitment to strengthen the use of synthetic phonics for the teaching of reading.
Beyond this announcement there are many uncertainties about how the Government will impact on literacy. Many of these uncertainties will be decided in the autumn’s Spending Review, other issues are the subject of specific policy reviews. Over the next few months the National Literacy Trust will focus its campaigning on informing the policy discussion on these issues so that the Coalition’s policy promotes a fairer society through increased literacy.
We will therefore be focusing on:
Early years provision. We want to see policy that enriches the home learning environment, particularly of the most disadvantaged families: libraries and Bookstart are vital. The review of the Early Years Foundation Stage needs to support the strengthening of early literacy skills. The commitment to taking Sure Start back to its roots as a socially targeted intervention needs to embed language and learning support and understand the relationship between community-based solutions and social capital.
The use of early interventions is being reviewed by a group chaired by Graham Allen. This is an important opportunity to restate the significance of early literacy interventions. This is central to the thinking of the National Literacy Trust. The foundation of all our work in this area is our Talk To Your Baby campaign.
The role of the family and the wider community in supporting literacy. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has been renamed the Department for Education. This is a positive statement of the new Government’s commitment to its role of supporting schools. At the same time the Government is developing its understanding of Big Society, creating an understanding of how public policy needs to be seen in the context of an active civil society. A Big Society approach to literacy sees how schools, colleges and settings work in partnership with families, communities and charities such as the National Literacy Trust to raise literacy standards.
What the strategic shape and role of local authorities will be. We know that local services are the most effective agencies in improving the skills of the one in six in the UK who currently have low levels of literacy. This means that literacy needs to be the business of not just education but health and housing and those services that have a strong relationship with those facing exclusion, where literacy levels tend to be lowest. Our Partners in Literacy programme is working with 21 local authorities to embed this approach. The Government’s commitment to strengthening and freeing up services at local and community level offers a new way of addressing this challenge.
Over the next few months through research, publications, lobbying meetings and party conference fringe events we will be trying to influence the Government’s thinking as it formulates its policy and determines its spending priorities in these areas.
Last week we met with Graham Stuart, the new chair of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee. His commitment to literacy and his understanding of the value of “holistic” approaches was encouraging.
If you support the work of the National Literacy Trust then your engagement with this campaiging work over the next few months will be vital. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, pledge your support for our campaigning and take part in the discussion about how the nation needs to maintain a focus through new policy and in a new economic environment with the national literacy challenge.
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