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Manchester High School for Girls

The Importance of Whole School Literacy

Josey Taylor, Head of English, discusses the importance of whole school literacy.

Whenever I attend a training session on improving literacy, colleagues from other schools regard me with surprise; “why are you here?” they ask. “Surely you don’t have a problem with literacy at your school?” It is true; we don’t have a ‘problem’ with poor literacy in our school, but this doesn’t mean we should be complacent.

The Education Endowment Foundation suggests that literacy is “the key to academic success across the curriculum”. Current research suggests children who enjoy reading and writing are happier with their lives and are three times more likely to have good mental wellbeing than children who don’t. So what can we do to improve literacy?

At MHSG, we employ a myriad of strategies to help students improve their literacy, from the more traditional methods of decoding complex texts, such as prediction and questioning, to modelling and group work in order to increase students’ confidence when writing independently.

A less obvious method of improving literacy is oracy - a subject I am passionate about. Talk really does matter, and not just the chitter-chatter of informal speech (although that can be useful when problem solving too!) but the modelling and practice of high quality speech as a way of preparing students for writing and reading.

Of course, parents and caregivers have a role in this too. You may think your child is too old to be read to (although I must say I still enjoy hearing others read aloud) but being a reading role model can have a significant impact on your child’s literacy. As the author Robert McFarlane suggests, “…every hour spent reading is an hour spent learning to write”. Sharing a news article, both online or in print, can open up a great debate about current affairs and can be an effective way of introducing your child to new vocabulary.

Encouraging your child to write regularly - and for pleasure - is also important; encourage them to keep a diary, enter a competition, or write an article for the school magazine. Children enjoy having an audience – so give them one!

Literacy affects everything, from your chance of employment and level of future income, to your mental health, so it is in everyone’s interest to work together to help children improve.