Making the implicit explicit: literacy in the Children’s Plan The Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) has stated that it wants England to be the best place in the world to grow up in. To achieve this they have worked with other government departments, advisory panels and the Time to Talk consultation to create a unified policy for all children aged 0-19. The outcome is the Children’s Plan; rooted in the five strands of Every Child Matters, the Children’s Plan sets out the Government’s strategy for improving the lives of children and young people over the next ten years. The Children’s Plan is also written using a positive concept of childhood, aiming to prevent children falling behind rather than tackling problems that have already arisen. This outlook is both significant and welcome, as too often media and policy documents revert to a deficit-model of childhood preferring to concentrate on young people’s shortcomings rather than their potential. The Children’s Plan contains very few explicit references to literacy. The National Literacy Trust (NLT) believes that the challenge for the lifetime of the Children’s Plan is not only to deliver on the few explicit promises regarding literacy, but to realise the implicit references to literacy and help foster a reading culture. A culture that will have far wider benefits for children and young people than just school attainment. Most of the explicit references to literacy relate to the affirmation that English is one of the two core subjects for all school pupils. This involves ensuring schools both facilitate success and also provide extensive support networks for pupils at risk of falling behind. As part of this drive the Every Child A Reader scheme will be rolled out nationally with the aim of helping 30,000 pupils who struggle with the fundamentals of reading. This will be complemented by an Every Child A Writer programme, which will provide a similar support network for children who struggle with writing. The NLT welcomes the roll out of Every Child A Reader, and looks forward to the details of Every Child A Writer. Alongside this traditional view of literacy and its place in schools the Children’s Plan should also provide the opportunity to draw literacy out of the classroom and realise its wider benefits. As the Children’s Plan is rooted in the framework laid down by Every Child Matters it has the same five outcomes: be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being. Literacy can be relevant to all of these five outcomes and this relevance needs to be embedded in the delivery of the Children’s Plan. The enjoy and achieve outcome of Every Child Matters stresses that fun as well as attainment is vital to childhood. Often children read more than their teachers, parents, or even they, sometimes realise, and much of this reading is for pleasure. A recent study by the NLT showed that even amongst children who consider themselves to be non-readers, readership of magazines, graphic novels and particularly websites is high.1 A significant proportion of this online reading is made up of blogs and other social networking and the link between websites and young peoples’ social lives is an indicator of the vital role literacy plays in children and young peoples’ lives. 1 National Literacy Trust (2008) Young People’s Self Perception as Readers The Children’s Plan also builds on a statement made by the Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, Ed Balls, that by 2010 every school will provide some kind of extended service. If the wider benefits of literacy are to be realised during the delivery of the Children’s Plan then the extended school setting will be essential, as it presents very practical opportunities for a reading culture to be developed and fostered. However, there are significant challenges associated with the extended schools model. Recent studies have shown that children in English schools have a relatively negative attitude towards school and literacy, and do not read as much as their international counterparts.2 This is particularly prevalent amongst lower achieving children, those that the Children’s Plan particularly seeks to engage. Therefore it is essential that the extended school model provides something genuinely different to the school curriculum. This can be achieved in two ways; through practical ideas and also through partnerships with other local service providers.3 The priority for any practical solutions should be to provide an environment that facilitates reading without placing pressure on children. Ideas could be as simple as placing newspapers, comic books and other reading materials in a book corner or school library so that there is a wider choice of reading material, a choice that matches what children already say they are reading. Extended schools will also need to work with a range of other services such as libraries and youth centres. This will provide settings that are both physically removed from school, and also present further opportunities for interactive learning. Reading groups, author visits and other schemes are already available in libraries and close links between these and extended schools will provide huge benefits. Along with other service providers families will also be a central partner for extended schools, as they provide the majority of a child’s informal education. A recent Fatherhood Institute survey found that 67 percent of people agree that dads should be encouraged to spend more time in school reading with their child,4 and the Children’s Plan seeks to build on these attitudes by extending the family literacy, language and numeracy programme. Involving parents has already proved effective in a number of local schemes. In Rochdale the ‘literacy changes lives’ programme has seen the borough raise literacy standards with a focus on the family. Commenting in the National Literacy Trust magazine Family Reading Matters, Terry Piggott, executive director at Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, says it is crucial to understand that success isn’t about ‘having a programme that families have to fit into, but one that follows their interests and needs’. This is the major challenge facing the delivery of the family literacy programme; remaining flexible enough to suit the needs of those it is designed to help, rather than imposing a traditional teaching model on children and adults who have found such models difficult. 2 NfER (2007) Progress in International Reading Literacy Study: readers and reading national report for England 2006 3 For information and ideas see the Family Reading Campaign website: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/familyreading/index.html 4 Dex, S. & Ward, K. (2007) Parental care and employment in early childhood The DCSF describes the Children’s Plan as an aspirational action plan, not a delivery plan. It is therefore vital that as the plan moves from aspiration to delivery, through its numerous public service agreements, the Government’s commitment to literacy is not lost. The NLT believes that this commitment relies not only on the realisation of explicit literacy policies and targets, but also the more subtle, implicit, literacy opportunities.
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