Middlesbrough is a North Yorkshire town of about 300,000 people with high unemployment and low literacy achievement. It’s one of three towns where the National Literacy Trust is backing literacy hubs as part of their long term strategy to raise literacy levels.
The Middlesbrough Literacy Hub’s intention is to join up early learning and school readiness initiatives with whole school literacy action around reading (the same aspiration as Whatever it takes in Leicester and that is driving the Read On Get On campaign). Hubs use the National Trust ‘offers’ which include: Early Words Together (a short course on oracy and early learning offered by targeted early learning centres for vulnerable parents) and school literacy networks and targeted professional development.
One major point of difference in Middlesbrough is the link with health and housing. One project will be promoting reading to the parents of premature babies, who sometimes struggle to communicate with their very small and often very unwell babies. Another focuses on increasing reading for children admitted to hospital. Housing project officers are being trained to recognise families where literacy may be an issue – a client who regularly ‘forgot my glasses’ or houses with no books or a few books unused on high shelves – to direct support to them.
A ‘Turning Pages’ forum of school leaders, adult educators and the library initially shaped the Hub. Recently, a new strategic steering group has formed to drive the work, council officials responsible for public health and the care and well-being of 0-19 year olds. A new evaluation process across the three pilot hubs identified the need for this more strategic approach. At this point there is no school leadership at the table, which may well be a risk.
Another new workstream is putting on a Careers Convention to showcase to 11-12 year olds the employment opportunities at nearby Teesport, the third largest port in the UK.. Many of the organisations collaborating with the Hub did not know of the scope of diverse and skilled employment available at the port. There are similarities with our Southern Initiative; local employment opportunities, yet high unemployment because locals don’t have the right skills for the jobs.
The challenges and opportunities for this Hub are are so similar to ours in Auckland that it’s worth tracking to see what happens. Things to watch out for in our work.
- A recent paper on the links and implications of low literacy and poor health is worth reading and I am coming home to explore how we might make better literacy links with Health Promoting Schools and the Healthy Families initiatives .
- Clear branding (i saw the Literacy Hub, the Reading Campaign and Turning Pages) but perhaps the public don’t notice or don’t care.
- The heavy demands made on the skills, energy and commitment of staff leading collaborative work. Its hard. And the need for a serious champion.
- Constantly thinking of connections and sustainability. At present the project lead’s combined roles in Council of Hub and Literacy Lead provide the connection between early learning interventions and the schooling projects, but a more sustainable strategy is probably needed.