Could a focus on literacy training for secondary school teachers help break down barriers to higher education? Gina Wilson’s experience suggests so…
In 2018, Northumbria University was awarded government funding to develop a ‘widening participation’ English project. The widening participation agenda in higher education has been in place for decades, and aims to address discrepancies in the take-up of higher education opportunities between different under-represented groups of students.
Students from disadvantaged backgrounds, lower income households, and other under-represented groups may face barriers to entry to higher education. Northumbria University decided to use some of its funding allocation to support the development of literacy in secondary schools with high levels of disadvantage, in partnership with the National Literacy Trust, who were asked to deliver a 3-day CPD course, which would focus on English language skills development in reading, writing and oracy all the way across the secondary curriculum.
We felt that by targeting mastery of English in KS3, this would help to alleviate the impact low levels of literacy are having currently, and improve life chances for our students – a challenging and daunting task, if not exactly a new one. Schools in the North East of England were invited to take part and offered four places each on the course – for the head of English and three other subject/department heads.
In addition to the CPD, as the project co-ordinator, I worked with heads of English to support mastery of English within the KS3 curriculum. The project was launched on October 16th, 2018.
Support and resources
Our CPD sessions were delivered by Catharine, a talented, spirited and passionate devotee of literacy development, who combined deep learning with practical suggestions for the classroom in a seamless way. Resources were provided by the National Literacy Trust, alongside its website, which offers the option to create a free log in to enable you to see all the most relevant news, research, programmes and resources; most certainly an Aladdin’s cave for the classroom teacher! There is also an easy-to-use resources page which pulls in all resources from across the website and filters them by phase, topic, age etc., and there is an enhanced members’ section with resources updated regularly, unlimited access for all school staff, a personalised dashboard, and key word searches to help you find what you need.
Feedback from participants has been consistently excellent, as their understanding that literacy across the curriculum is more than ‘Word of the Week’ or ‘Drop Everything and Read’ (although these are great strategies as part of a wider programme) has developed and informed their thinking. Some have actually gone back to basics, reviewed policy with senior teams and redelivered to staff, whilst others have used school data to inform a specific approach in reading, writing or oracy and thereby begun to improve practice. The course has left participants in no doubt that literacy across the curriculum requires clear, dedicated leadership and cannot be left to chance and random interventions… there have certainly been some meetings with senior teams about this. To date, the impact is not measurable in terms of outcomes (although changing practice is), but there has certainly been a renaissance in the participating schools, and literacy is more than ever on their agendas.
As with all training, there are hiccups. OFSTED visits, changes in staff and illness all contributed to changing attendance at the training, however, there was a core of participants who attended all sessions, and those who couldn’t make it were replaced by other school staff. As course coordinator, I have visited all but one of the schools to see how the training is being implemented and to support further development of mastery.
Great strides have been made in the leadership and implementation of literacy across the curriculum in all the participating schools this year. I intend to make more visits to schools next term and then Northumbria University and the National Literacy Trust will be co-hosting a conference in early September so that schools can share their journey and inspire others. Watch this space!
About the author
Gina Wilson is a course coordinator on behalf of the University of Northumbria.
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