The National Literacy Trust’s recent survey of teachers, called Teachers and Literacy: Their Perceptions, Understanding, Confidence and Awareness is the first study of its kind in the UK. We wanted to understand more about how teachers view their responsibility to support the development of literacy skills under the new national curriculum. While we had anecdotal evidence from meetings with members of our Network, we needed a bigger picture on a national scale.
2,326 teachers from 112 UK schools (24 primary and 88 secondary) took part in the survey in January/February 2015. 2,085 of the participants worked in secondary schools and only data relating to them is cited in this article.
Time to succeed
Teachers are positive when it comes to their role in supporting literacy through their lessons - 94.9% of participants said it was their job to teach and promote literacy. This highlights secondary teachers’ understanding of how literacy skills enable pupils to access the curriculum in all subjects. We know that reading for enjoyment by young people is linked to their attainment from the National Literacy Trust’s Annual Literacy Survey, so it is really encouraging to see that teachers are aware that literacy needs to permeate the life of the school beyond teaching and learning in the classroom.
Time however, remains a huge challenge. 51.7% of survey participants cited lack of time as a barrier to improving pupils’ literacy. Given that a large majority (83.2%) said that developing literacy skills is embedded in their regular classroom practice, it is likely that it is the beyond the classroom strategies for which teachers understandably struggle to find opportunities.
Senior leaders and literacy coordinators therefore need to find ways to enable teachers to do this easily and with minimal preparation. One of the strategies we are using in our Literacy for Life programme is reading aloud, where form tutors read to their group every day for about ten minutes and then discuss what has been read. This strategy is easy to introduce and doesn’t require a huge amount of resources – you need a book for each class (which can be used in a carousel) and prompt questions for the teacher (which could take the format of a handy bookmark). This activity is also the perfect opportunity to read books that aren’t normally taught as part of the curriculum. The National Literacy Trust Network resource Building Our Knowledge of Quality Children’s Literature: Resources for a staff meeting suggests a variety of places where schools can source quality texts. You can also ask your pupils to recommend books, and your librarian if your school has one.
Another finding of the research was that only just over half (52.9%) of participants said that they get helpful literacy CPD and support. This needs to be addressed because a 2013 report by Ofsted indicated that those secondary schools where all subject departments had received training in teaching literacy, as well as including literacy in all lessons, saw an improvement in outcomes across the subjects – so well thought out literacy training leads to better overall outcomes for pupils. Teachers are finding assessment without levels particularly challenging; only 39.3% of survey participants said they were confident or very confident in their understanding of assessment beyond levels, making this a key area for professional development.
Squeezed budgets and time pressures make it difficult to fund, source and find time for teachers to receive good quality CPD. This is in a context where we know that the most effective professional development takes place over at least two terms and where participants have the opportunity to try things they have learnt in their classroom and then reflect on their learning. Secondary school leaders need to find ways to incorporate this best practice approach to professional development for literacy, given its importance for attainment across the board, whilst balancing other demands.
The development of a College of Teaching and a standard for professional development is a really positive move that has the potential to support schools to source and provide strong, meaningful CPD for their teachers. The National Literacy Trust Network provides CPD materials that literacy leaders can use for in-house training sessions which they can then follow up in staff meetings.
It aims to build an evidence base about the attitudes, confidence, beliefs and perspectives on literacy of teachers in the UK by repeating this survey annually. To take part and find out more about the resources mentioned in this article, visit literacytrust.org.uk.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Gibbings is schools manager at the National Literacy Trust (literacytrust.org.uk)