My UK experience

In two fast-moving  weeks I went up England twice – London to Glasgow return and back up to  Leicester, then Barnsley in Yorkshire. I also crossed the country – up to Middlesbrough and  Teeside port on the east coast and across to the west, to Liverpool and the Mersey, on the  west. So much lovely countryside and so much history.

What had I hoped to learn? What’s the experience of UK towns and cities to join up literacy action, across families, early learning, schools and adults.  What stands out from these two weeks:

  • the powerful link between health and literacy that in NZ we have hardly begun to make. The National Literacy Trust, NIACE, the Middlesbrough Literacy Hub and The Reader Organisation are making that connection  and funding from health is enabling and driving a significant amount of literacy action.
  • the time it takes to build a shared language and programme of work; every organisation has to make some progress toward their own objectives while also working to the common goal. Getting to the common goal is hard, not helped by competitive systems that mean institutions want to hang onto their own learners.
  • The importance of planning for sustainability.  Partnerships are fragile when funding shifts. The most sustainable initiative seemed to be  ORIM, the framework for working with parents, because the framework has become embedded in teaching and learning practice by a whole raft of organisations. A major factor in that take up was adoption of the Aorim framework by a key national partner. 
  • The  research evidence on the importance of reading for pleasure that underpins work at the National Literacy Trust,  the Hubs, Whatever it takes and the Reader Organisation. Reading for Pleasure has  moved up my agenda
  • the need for strategic champions who understand and resource the coordination required to join things up and who stay around long enough to see results; this is not quick work. It’s taken nearly 20 years from the first project in one school to get substantial take up and policy change for ORIM.
    • how the adult and family learning landscape has changed and shrunk in recent years as a result of the skills agenda.  Its a harsher environment with on-going funding cuts. On the other hand, there is still space for innovations – The Literacy Hubs and the Reader Organisation are new models. 
    • How public transport makes literacy visible! There was so much time on buses and trains. House plans, health and safety training manuals, newspapers, books, e-readers, homework assignments, bill paying, newspapers.

Who did I see?  I’ve gained  strategic and operational level insights from the people who have been generous enough to meet with me:

    • Project  leads from  Leicester’s Whatever it takes and the Middlesbrough Literacy Hub, two organisations focusing on city-wide action that involves both early learning and schooling improvement
    • The service manager and family learning coordinator from Learn Barnsley, a local authority endevouring to operationalise family learning in a wider remit of adult education and skills
    • Senior staff and project development leads from NIACE (the National  Voice for Adult Learners) and the  National Literacy Trust,  national organisations supporting place-based literacy  and family learning
    • An academic at the University of Sheffield who has lead the development of a parent-focused framework for raising literacy  Sheffield REAL (raising early achievement)
    •  The development manager the Reader Organisation from a relatively new  and rapidly growing reading programme that is community focused, 
    • draws heavily on volunteers and is promoting reading for social inclusion and wellbeing.
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