Words on the train 

I’m on a fast train to Glasgow, a quick visit to see  a kiwi nephew and family.   In just 20 mins we were out of London and into the smooth pastures of English countryside. Soft light, stunningly green fields – England looks so mellow.

In hopeful anticipation of working,  I booked a table seat in the ‘quiet’ carriage, But sitting facing other people in an area specifically designated for people not to talk is a pretty weird choice for me. Silence is not my natural state.

It’s ironic that in the women’s toilets at Euston Station there is an ad for tubetalkers.com aimed at encouraging people to talk to others during boring train commutes. People sign up and wear a lapel badge to show they are willing to converse with strangers.  I could do with one of those in this silent carriage.

Talking is so natural to so many of us, it can be challenging to recognise how difficult some people  find it to talk to others outside their social circle.  The lower the literacy and education skills someone  has, the smaller their social identity and community, observed a staff member at the National Literacy Trust yesterday. Family,  people in the street, a few friends and perhaps a local school, or church or sports club – that’s their social sphere. Community campaigns to raise literacy have to take that social scale into account.  And increasing people’ confidence to talk with people they don’t know, including on trains. But not in the quiet carriage.


Auckland-Council-logoAuckland Council’s Long Term Plan, which sets out key areas of expenditure and focus for the next ten years, is currently out for consultation.

We encourage you to have your say on the issues that affect education and learning in the city.

One of these issues is the proposal to dramatically reduce COMET Auckland’s funding, which means we are at risk of losing 43% of our budget.  We are concerned that this would compromise the quality of service we provide, and could ultimately threaten our existence altogether.

If you wish to make a submission to Auckland Council in support of retaining full funding for our work, you can access background information and suggested messages here. We also have these key points and statements summarised in a one page document, which you can access here.

Submissions can be made via email or by taking a survey on the council website. For social media users, Auckland Council is also taking submissions via Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #LTP2015 and by tagging @AklCouncilSubmissions close at 4:00pm on 16 March 2015.

There is also an opportunity to chat with board members about local proposals and issues in the budget. A list of ‘Have Your Say’ events can be accessed here.

For more information on the Auckland Council’s long term plan, please click here.

For the full March 2015 newsletter, please click here.

The National Literacy Trust 

Today was Commonwealth Day. I know this because the Director of the National Literacy Trust, where I spent the day, was off to meet the Queen at a Service of Thanksgiving.  The purpose of the Commonwealth is to promore cooperation and collaboration – I certainly  benefitted from collabation today.

The National Literacy Trust, is a 20 year old charity dedicated to transforming lives through literacy.  Major  work strands include  literacy in the community, working with schools and policy and advocacy work. Creating literacy  action hubs in high need communities, drawing in multiple partners and drawing on detailed data to focus the work will be a major driver of the organisation’s work for the next decade.   The hubs bring together early learning, schools and family learning. More on hubs next week after I visit Middlesbrough.

Using sport-focused literacy to engage boys emerged out of a Boys Reading Commission. A partnership with rugby league is emerging to encourage families participation in early learning in NZ -but nothing specifically about boys’ reading to my knowledge.

It will be interesting to see what comes of the multi-agency 10 year literacy vision developed during the 2014 election campaign. One of the four recommendations was  the creation of an Early Years Minister to drive an integrated health, education, welfare and business approach to early learning and early years policy.  I wonder if that has attracted much political attention.

A key platform for the Trust has been making the connections explict between intergenerational poverty and intergenerational low literacy and I am coming home with some powerful messages about that.

The final strand of conversations centred around Early Words Together, a programme designed to raise the confidence of parents to support literacy learning at home. Hopefully next week I’ll get to see a training session in action.

As you can see from the photo, I have come away with a lot of reading to do!  I have had a great day.  My thanks to the Trust staff who were very generous with their time today.

On the bus

A crisp and sunny start to my first work day, visiting the National Literacy Trust.  A 15 minute walk, then two buses. The buses I get in Auckland are certainly not packed  with children like the double decker buses in Brixton.

There was plenty of digital literacy in evidence and a bit of numeracy  – reading on phones and tablets, and people checking balances and paying bills on line. A couple of kids across the isle were asking each other times table questions. Behind me, a couple of kids were writing in notebooks, talking to their mother about their work.   There were even a couple of library books in sight and one person reading the  Times.  

Yet hardly anyone spoke to anyone else on the bus – the conversations were all taking place at a distance. 

And there was a young mum with three beautiful boys, two smart in their school uniforms and one toddler. It took half an hour in rush hour traffic to get to the Vauxhall station. Mum spoke once to one of the school-aged children but not at all to the toddler, who grizzled and screamed the whole trip. The older children didn’t speak to their little brother either. His frustration was evident to the whole bus – he was very loud.  No one reacted, said anything, tried to engage him.   It was a relief to get off and get to work.


Many thanks to all of you who completed our survey1stakeholder survey in December.  We have found the results affirming and
valuable in reflecting on our work.

The aim of the survey was to gauge how COMET Auckland’s value is perceived by our core audiences and project partners.

Almost two thirds of respondents said that COMET Auckland is driving successful education and skills outcomes in Auckland, and over half stated that COMET’s positioning as an independent, cross-sector organisation is highly important in advocating the specific education and skills needed in Auckland.

According to the survey respondents:

  • 93.33%     said that improving education and skills outcomes to enable Auckland to become the world’s most liveable city is very or highly important
  • 83.33%     said having an independent, cross-sector organisation advocating for the particular needs of Auckland and supporting coherence in education and skills is very or highly important
  • 81.36%     said COMET Auckland fulfils an important function
  • 55.56%     of Public Sector / Central Government respondents said COMET fulfils a unique function in Auckland’s education and skills landscape, in a way that no other organisation does.

Among the responses, the following anonymous comments stood out:

“COMET has played a key role in fostering the financial literacy programmes in the Tamaki area and, through this, contributed to a growing recognition of the possibility of change amongst the financial wellbeing of the Pasifika community. We provided a better service through working with budgeting and family focused groups in our local area”.

COMET “pulled together major organisations in South Auckland to collaborate on education in Tamaki Makaurau… Inspired learning by bringing together specialised Māori in their field to present and discuss issues that relate to many of us”.

“COMET is great at doing research / collating data so that arguments can be presented to Auckland Council / funding agencies etc. that are based on sound information and not just anecdotal / emotional responses… It’s an important role.”

Thank you to all of those who participated in our survey. Your input has been invaluable and an important reference to COMET Auckland, at a time when we need to demonstrate our contribution to the city’s education and skills sector more than ever.

For more information on our recent survey, or for ways to support COMET Auckland, please contact our Chief Executive Susan Warren at susan.warren@cometauckland.org.nz

For the full March 2015 newsletter, please click here.

Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship – Day 1

It’s a gorgeous day in London – crisp, sunny and spring buds everywhere. Magic place to be.

I am spending a couple of weeks in England at the start of my Fellowship. One strand of my interest is how communities are coming together to raise literacy achievement – for children and for adults. A particular new interest is oracy – the oral language we all need to thrive and survive.

Day 1: I got off NZ2 and onto the tube at Heathrow. A young couple got on at the next stop with a three year old in a pushchair. We travelled for half an hour. Her parents never looked at her or spoke to her the entire time. And she never said a word. She didn’t call out to them, didn’t ask a question. She sat there bored and silent.

It was a poignant illustration of one of the things I am interested to find out more about – why more children seem to be starting school  without enough spoken language.  How common would that silence be on the train or bus in Auckland?


We are thrilled to see Alison Sutton, our Strategic Analyst at COMET Auckland, being recognised for her skill and passion for literacy. She has recently been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship, which will see her go overseas and gain new insights on issues of importance to Auckland’s social and economic wellbeing.

Alison is one of 15 who have been awarded the Fellowship for 2015, the 50th year of the Fellowship.  She will spend a month in the USA and England in early 2015, observing how communities are collaborating to increase literacy for adults and children.

We know Alison will bring back many ideas and connections to inform our work to support literacy across Auckland. Well done!

For the full November newsletter, please click here.