Why Fathers should encourage their kids to read

books_blue_photography_pink_abstract_hd-wallpaper-1879901COMET Auckland manager for literacy and family learning Alison Sutton spoke to Stuff.co.nz about the gender gap in literacy and oracy, and how we can help combat it this Father’s Day and Tuesday’s International Literacy Day.

In Auckland primary schools, 81% girls are reading at or above the standard level for their age, compared to 72.6% of boys who are reading at the same level.

These figures are significantly lower down in South Auckland areas captured by Auckland Council’s The Southern Initiative programme, with only 58.9% of boys reading at or above the standard for their age.

“Those figures are really worrying, because the gaps in literacy between girls and boys widen as young people go through their education journey,” said Alison.

As these boys grow into adulthood, this can result in a lack of the basic literacy skills needed for adults to do their jobs, said Alison, and can have a negative impact on their children’s reading.

“We need to build the literacy levels of parents and caregivers so that our young people can get the best start in school, and adults can thrive in their work,” she said.

There’s a call for an increased focus on literacy for boys and men across the country, so in keeping with the Father’s Day and International Literacy Day theme, COMET Auckland is encouraging fathers and father-figures to spend more time talking, reading and singing with their kids.

If you’re interested in reading the full article click here, or if you want to know more about oracy programme Talking Matters, click here.


Learning literacy outside

I had never thought about  outdoor learning as a medium for supporting literacy learning until I met an expert from Scotland the other day on the plane.

Juliet Robertson described how universal elements of children’s play outside – adventures, making trails, small scene setting (creating little words), taking on fantasy roles) – were all things that helped children learn what stories mean and how stories are constructed. She described how Scottish schools are taking children to their nearest urban space and making letters with sticks and leaves – and the rich oral language that comes with it.

If you are interested, here are some idea.

Scotland has an national play strategy – what a wonderful idea.

Early Words Together

Early words together is a flagship programme for the National Literacy Trust, now adopted by local authorities across the country. It’s a volunteer-led peer tutoring programme where parents run short training sessions for other parents, modelling how to develop early learning and oracy, in preparation for school. It’s often delivered in Children’s Centres that focus on vulnerable families. The ideal is six sessions for groups of parents who each get 1:1 support from a volunteer while they play/work with their child. A trained teacher and EWT facilitator supervises.

???????????????????????????????????????I took part in one EWT session  and talked about EWT in many of my meetings across England. It’s clear that there is a strong evidence base and the material available for centres and for parents is high quality.  An important part of EWT is building the capacity of centre staff to  work with families and there’s a whole support structure for professional development and support.  At the session I attended, the volunteers  love talking and playing to the kids and it was easy to see how they were building in vocab enrichment and how they  encouraged children  to participate and guided their play.  Volunteers build up skills and can progress towards qualifications.

Coordination is essential.   Sustaining a peer-support programme is  a big challenge?????????????????????????????. A lot of time and energy has to go into attracting and retaining volunteers. The intention is to draw volunteers from among the vulnerable families, but regular attendance then becomes an issue- because their issues aren’t so different from other families (transport, sick kids, family responsibilities).  If volunteers don’t turn up, centre staff have to step in, which has staff and funding implications.

And just from one session I can see the challenge of getting the volunteers to be explicit about what they are modelling to the adults and why. It’s like embedded literacy. The best practice makes the intention and purpose explicit.

Whatever it takes – cross-sector action in Leicester

Leicester has committed to a ten-year programme to raise children’s reading levels, through Whatever it takes. The strategic board of WIT includes representatives from a union, adult literacy, community education, as well as schools.  Last year, their results were the second most improved in the UK, so stakeholders are pleased with their collaborative action.

I met Ellen Lee, the energetic programme leader toward the end of their week-long Authors Week. Fifty children from each participating schools came to autho??????????????????????????????????????????r-led workshops to promote a love of reading (and writing). That equated to more than 5,200 children over the week- a marathon effort.

Interestingly, Whatever it takes is co-chaired by a strategic lead from both the primary and secondary sectors, full-time positions that are funded by the schools themselves.

Early aims included: providing inspirational work outside the classroom to promote reading; supporting schools to take a whole-school strategic approach to reading; and quality staff professional development. School clusters meet twice a year to discuss specific local needs. Targets have  included supporting reluctant readers, ESOL and boys.  Students are surveyed annually about attitudes to reading (as well as what and how much they read) and the percentage of students reading for pleasure is tracking up.

Some students don’t transition well to high school, particularly with low reading ability play. A new initiative is identifying about 300 10-11 year olds who are significantly below reading standard during their last year of primary school. They will be offered support through the end of their school year, through the summer and into the second term of their first year at high school.  Interventions include synthetics phonics coaching, an inspirational day out and being matched with a older buddy from their new high school.

Given our own statistics – 24% of students leaving primary school below the NZ reading standard – and our summer reading slump, a focused programme of support across that all important summer of transition is worth exploring.


The Learning Auckland Leadership Table met for the second time on February 26. The Table endorsed continuing membership in Strive Together, the network of 53 cities in the USA working to create effective ‘cradle to career’ education and skills pathways for all young people.  Membership of Strive enables Learning Auckland to draw on experienced collective impact initiatives focused on education change.

Table members reported back on ‘100 conversations in 100 days’, conversations each of them had with families, young people, educators and community leaders about what people believed to be the urgent issues for Auckland to address.

There were some powerful conversations that showed the lack of coherence in parts of system, and the enthusiasm and passion many people have for ensuring all young people succeed.  Over the next few months, we will use those conversations as the springboard for action.

On the basis of these conversations, plus the data and their own knowledge and experience, the Leadership Table identified early oral language (oracy) and school readiness as their first focus area for action towards Learning Auckland’s wider goals.

Early oral language underpins success in literacy – and oral communication is a fundamental life skill.  A focus on oracy and school readiness brings together families, early learning, health, child development, family-facing services and parent education.

Over the next few months we will be bringing together a cross-sector action group to plan and drive a systems response to support early oral language development for Auckland’s children and their families.

To learn more about Learning Auckland or the oracy work, please contact Alison Sutton Alison.Sutton@cometauckland.org.nz

For the full March 2015 newsletter, please click here.


We all know that children are more likely to thrive in education when their parents support them and understand how the education system works. Parent engagement

As long-term advocates for family learning, the COMET Auckland team were delighted to see that many of the themes in our submission and in the submissions of our stakeholders to the Select Committee were reflected in the resulting report. You can read our full submission by clicking here and you can access the Parliamentary inquiry report here. That’s why we were pleased to see that a recent Select Committee inquiry report recommended cross-sector initiatives to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s learning. Policy changes needed if we are to promote and value family learning.

Whānau Ara Mua, Parents as First Teachers, Reading Together, and HIPPY are proven examples of family learning where parents are encouraged, supported and given the skills to support and engage with their kids’ learning.  What we need now is for programmes to connect up and to scale up to meet the need across Auckland.

For the full November newsletter, please click here.