Leading on literacy can be a thoroughly thankless task. It can often feel like you’re working incredibly hard to produce resources and strategies which colleagues at best ignore and at worst resent. Part of the problem is that we’re expending effort in the wrong place and trying to persuade teachers to do the wrong things. Frustratingly, there’s very little guidance about how best to spend your precious time and it can be hard to find clear information on what approaches are likely to be most successful.

My advice is to minimise the amount of time spent on apostrophe worksheets and spelling posters. It’s not that these things are unhelpful, rather that they are superficial attempts to solve a problem that’s much more deeply rooted. The vast majority of literacy difficulties trace their roots back to problems with reading.

Here are three pieces of information that might transform our approach to literacy if they were more widely understood:

  1. About a fifth of students arrive at secondary school unable to read well enough to access an academic curriculum.
  2. It’s not their fault.
  3. We can do something about it.

There’s little point focussing on getting children to read for pleasure if they can’t read well enough to enjoy doing it, and there’s no chance that labelling a child as ‘low ability’ because they haven’t learned to read will result in their learning how to read. If a child leaves school unable to read, it is the school’s fault. This might sound harsh, but the good news is, we’re not powerless. We can do something about students’ literacy difficulties. And because we can, we should.

This June I’m running a series of one day course on leading literacy with Teachology UK that will focus on the following areas:

Is what we’re doing working?

  • Identifying and monitoring and supporting struggling readers.
  • How can we assess the impact of our approach?
  • How can we ensure all teachers get behind the literacy agenda?
  • How to support staff members in developing their own literacy.

Exploring best bets

  • Reading: strategies to support struggling readers and building a reading culture
  • Writing: teaching methods to improve written expression
  • Vocabulary building: strategies to help students master the vocabulary of academic success
  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar: techniques to raise standards
  • Speaking: strategies to improve verbal communication
  • Feedback and assessment frameworks: ensure an effective consistent approach across the school.

If you’re interested, you can find out more about the course here. I’ll be in Bristol on 13th June, London on 14th June and Manchester on the 15th June. I hope to see you there.