Back to school and focussing on literacy and digital support this International Literacy Day
International Literacy Day is an annual awareness day which highlights the importance of literacy across the world, a moment to raise awareness of just how important literacy is and to encourage children and adults to develop their literacy skills, which will help them prosper in all aspects of their lives. This year, International Literacy Day is celebrated under the theme Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide.
As we all know too well, the pandemic and recent, multiple school closures have disrupted the learning of children, young people and adults on a huge scale and highlighted inequalities in access to vital literacy and learning support.
This is the second ‘back to school’ moment in the UK since the pandemic hit the UK in March 2020. Last September, we were all concerned how the school closures of 2020 would impact on children and young people. Then in December, schools were closed yet again through to the end of the spring term. Even when we all got back to school, upticks in COVID-19 infections meant many schools struggled to function normally in the final weeks of the summer term. What has been the impact on those children and young people? Unfortunately, all predictions around an ever-widening attainment gap between children from low-income backgrounds and their more affluent peers came true.
The National Literacy Trust recently set up an ‘observatory’ of research to bring together all evidence on how the pandemic impacted children and young people in the communities we focus on as a charity - areas with significant levels of low literacy; communities who looked to their local schools for support at the most challenging of times. Teachers in these schools offered not just ongoing care and teaching for vulnerable children on site but also turned their schools into foodbanks and welfare centres and aimed to support the mental and physical health of their families and school community.
It is poignant to note, in light of this year’s International Literacy Day theme around narrowing the digital divide, that much of the research shows that, during the lockdowns, children who had good access to digital devices, physical supplies like books and paper and confident and available parents experienced less of a negative effect on their learning during school closures. The pandemic disproportionately affected the learning of many children from low-income homes who often did not have access to these. So schools and teachers stepped in and stepped up, sorting out devices, delivering books and learning resources by hand and accommodating many more vulnerable children in school at the same time as delivering online lessons to those at home.
At the National Literacy Trust, we have long been advocates of the affordances of digital technology and its democratising potential, at the same time as recognising and aiming to lessen the digital divide through our programmes. Teachers also undertook unprecedented accelerated learning in order to maximise the use of technology for online teaching and learning and there is a great deal that will remain in teachers’ armouries as they return to the classroom this September. Last year, National Literacy Trust’s programmes were delivered virtually, by necessity, but this year they will continue to be delivered in a blended format of virtual and in person because so many teachers have fed back to us about the benefits of the virtual elements.
So, this International Literacy Day, what digital supporting resources are available to teachers?
To support teachers, we have created an Education Recovery area on our website at literacytrust.org.uk/education-recovery.
This offers both free and paid-for training for teachers, targeted literacy interventions and a wide range of programmes and teaching resources to equip teachers with the best strategies and tools for enabling children and young people to build on the literacy skills they have and to move forward from recent challenges. Thanks to the generous funding of our partners who recognise the impact of the pandemic on many children and young people’s literacy skills, the majority of our programmes and initiatives are fully funded and free to eligible schools.
Programmes such as Words for Work, which works with schools and businesses to support children and young people from Key Stage 1 to post 16 to develop their literacy skills, raise aspirations and challenge stereotypes, pivoted very successfully online as soon as lockdown hit, taking children on virtual office tours, hosting online inspiring panel events and offering digital, remote internship opportunities and more. Now restrictions have lifted, we are looking towards more in person support but retaining elements such as our virtual internships. Going virtual has meant we have been able to involve more young people from more areas of the country who would never normally be able to access these opportunities. And it’s been easier for teachers.
We know that teachers want to deliver a holistic, broad and creative recovery curriculum and develop their pupils' confidence and motivation around reading, writing and communication, as well as their skills. Every academic year we deliver at least 50 different programmes across the country to more than 6,000 schools. The National Literacy Trust’s highly engaging, fully-funded and evaluated programmes motivate children and young people in all aspects of literacy. They bring the power of role models such as celebrities, footballers, authors and influencers into the classroom and provide memorable experiences that inspire pupils to engage with reading and writing. All of them have a digital element alongside an in-person element and use audio books, ebooks, podcasts, video, virtual panels and live-streamed author events. You can find out more about the ones with spaces still available on our Education Recovery area.
Although restrictions have been eased, it is unlikely to be an easy autumn term or an easier academic year. We will soon be adding a teacher wellbeing area to our Education Recovery space and we will continue to provide the best quality resources such as fun reading challenges, book lists, lesson plans and schemes of work to help teachers, librarians and practitioners with planning and teaching.
There has never been a more important time to recognise the power of literacy after such an unprecedented and unstable time for schools and their students. We know that low literacy levels can hold a person back at every stage of their life, and moments like International Literacy Day help bring the issue to the forefront as well as the great and tireless work being done (and constantly adapted) to support literacy levels, so that everyone has a fair chance to succeed in life.
Everyone here at the National Literacy Trust would like to wish all school staff good luck for the new academic year, enjoy being back together again!
Fiona Evans is Director of School Programmes at the National Literacy Trust and a member of the executive management team. Fiona is responsible for the charity’s innovative school programmes, which are run in early years settings, primary schools and secondary schools, to help children from the UK’s most disadvantaged communities develop the reading, writing and language and communication skills they need to succeed in life. Fiona has been in literacy education for over 25 years, as a teacher, teacher trainer, literacy consultant for local authority and third sector organisations, and as part of national government-funded campaigns.