The outlook in 2011
Posted by Abigail Moss
As we start another year there‘s a lot of uncertainty for those working in schools or any other area of the public sector. What is very definite is that the reality of cuts will be felt by all professionals supporting literacy, and delivering the best outcomes for all children will be more challenging now than ever.
However, schools, libraries, children’s centres and other settings have dedicated, passionate and resourceful workforces with the ability to adapt to the challenges they face. With this in mind the National Literacy Trust is launching a number of new initiatives that respond to some of the changes and opportunities ahead.
Schools have been one of the coalition government’s key targets for reform. The most talked about changes include a movement towards academies and free schools, carrying with them significant shifts to budgets and governance. As the number of academies grows more schools will leave local authority control and gain greater control over budgets. A key challenge for all schools will be how best to target finances to improve the life chances of the poorest children. As the National Strategies come to an end the Government will begin signing recommendations from the recent Schools White Paper into law, including the new reading checks for six-year-olds and the introduction of the Pupil Premium for disadvantaged children. There will be a greater need than ever to learn from each other.
The National Literacy Trust is adapting the way we work to respond to this new landscape. Our new Schools Network will support professionals to improve attitudes to literacy and attainment across the whole school and we are making our tried and tested motivational resources available to all schools for the first time. We will also be offering inset training across the UK, conducting a major action research project with partner schools and launching a new professional development service for consultants and other leaders in literacy.
75% of a child’s brain is developed by the age of three. When a child gets to school age, only 15% of their time is spent there. So it makes sense that we continue to support their influencers at home and to work alongside the other influences in their lives. But budgets are set to become significantly tighter, both for families and for the services that support them. The Government has saved Sure Start centres from some of the more excessive cuts, but many services that work with children’s centres face more severe reductions. The removal of ring fencing from local authority budgets may also mean that money is redirected elsewhere. Our new early years network will support those working with children under five to raise the profile of language and literacy in their setting, and we will continue to work directly alongside children and families.
The new localism agenda and Big Society means that central government is taking a step back and allowing communities and local authorities to decide their own priorities and to work on solutions without centrally mandated targets. This means that a large amount of policy is still in development but it also paves the way for local areas to put a real value on literacy support as a way of improving lives and life chances. The learning from the past two years of our government-funded Partners in Literacy project across 21 local areas has enabled us to design a new programme of support for all local authorities.
In 2011 we will undertake a major project assessing the role of literacy in the Big Society and launch our own community-based initiative, learning from ground-breaking activity happening across our partner authorities and based on our belief that the best outcomes are achieved when people are put in touch with people. In the words of Malcolm Gladwell, "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. These people are all around us yet we often fail to give them proper credit for the role they play in our lives."
There is no doubt that 2011 will be a hugely challenging year for those working in the literacy sector. Budget restraints will add to an already difficult time as many practitioners move to new ways of working. However, there are also some real opportunities to be grasped so that, once financial and other realities have been absorbed, literacy and life chances in the UK can continue to improve.
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