Chris Solbe

Bringing Learning to Life

UK secondary pupils face several barriers on their own literacy journey, both at home and in school. Our survey pinpoints the key challenges to literacy that have been identified by over 200 teachers and heads. 

Literacy is the precious fuel that drives everyone’s personal learning journey – from early years through to secondary school, higher education and beyond.

literacy is the precious fuel that drives everyone's personal learning journey

Without question, literacy is the key enabler to professional, economic and social advancement that transcends other sources of inequality. Without it, our ability to enjoy the benefits of modern society – from accessing healthcare to civic and cultural engagement – is hugely compromised.  Just as importantly, it plays a pivotal role in defining our self-image and confidence as individuals.

Launched by UNESCO in 1965, International Literacy Day is an annual celebration of the written word’s unique power to inform, educate and entertain. Just as importantly, it also serves as a stark reminder that over 780 million adults around the world lack basic literacy skills.

Closer to home, poor literacy remains a formidable obstacle that prevents many young people from realising their full potential at school and in the workplace. But what’s holding Britain’s youngsters back in 2017? And what can we do to take the handbrake off?  
Texthelper with books

At Texthelp, we’ve consistently highlighted the crucial role that literacy plays in every child’s personal journey from school to the workplace and beyond.  And it’s prompted our own enquiry to establish the enablers – and the barriers – for improving literacy in Britain’s secondary schools.

Conducted with support from Education Technology and Teach Secondary, our survey polled more than 220 classroom teachers, principals and heads about attitudes to supporting literacy in schools across the UK.

The responses present a clear picture. While teachers recognise the overwhelming importance of literacy in every student’s learning journey, it’s evident that the resources aren’t always in place to give teachers, students and parents/guardians the support they need.

It’s no surprise that there is a clear correlation between literacy and successful learning strategies. Over three quarters of teachers confirmed that below-average literacy levels had a significant impact on their pupils’ ability to absorb and benefit from lesson content, spanning English as well as other subjects. Similarly, teachers acknowledged the contribution played by literacy in their students’ overall learning experience and development.

Against this backdrop, however, there’s often a disconnect between teachers’ desire to support pupil literacy and the support that schools are willing or able provide.
Just over a third of respondents felt that schools did not provide adequate support to advance students’ literacy. Frequently cited pain-points included a lack of staff training, inadequate time to embed literacy in classroom curricula and insufficient investment in support materials. Of equal concern, many teachers signalled a lack of understanding at senior/management level on how to advance literacy.
And while respondents made it clear that providing adequate resourcing is an urgent priority for schools, what happens in the classroom is only part of a bigger picture. The quality of a pupil’s home life - and support given by parents or guardians – was consistently pinpointed by teachers as the dominant factor determining a child’s literacy development.

It’s evident that teachers in 2017 champion the overwhelming importance of literacy, just as much as they acknowledge the hurdles facing secondary pupils in school and at home. What’s more, it is clear that the very nature of literacy is evolving.
over 780 million adults around the world lack basic literacy skills

Today’s digital natives have been fluent in using the web, mobile communications and social media since a young age. And today, the definition of ‘literacy’ has expanded to embrace the ability to evaluate and contextualise information and resources accessed over the internet.

So doesn’t it make sense to reexamine decades-old educational strategies? Technology itself cannot improve literacy. But surely it’s time to reach out to pupils via the medium they feel instantly comfortable with. With the right tools, we can empower young people to write their own literacy success story… rather than leaving them reliant on a lack of vision and resourcing that so often conspires to hold them back.


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