Will the new English Hubs and training centre support learners with literacy difficulties? DYT’s Policy and Public Affairs Executive, Dan Baynes looks at the improvements needed and the Hubs’ capacity to provide it. 

Despite progress made in improving literacy over the past 10 years, outcomes for learners with literacy difficulties have remained significantly below the national average – 12% of children still leave primary school unable to read at a secondary standard (Allen, 2018).

If not addressed, literacy difficulties:

  • Embed economic disadvantage – Children living in poverty face a much greater risk of falling behind – one in three (35%) do not have the age-appropriate language skills expected of a five-year-old.
  • Cost the economy – Failure to master basic literacy skills costs the public purse up to £2.5 billion every year.
  • Restrict academic attainment – Outcomes for those learners with literacy difficulties, have remained significantly below the national average.
  • Impact on behaviour & mental health – Research has linked reading difficulties to classroom discipline problems, bullying, depression and anxiety.

Damian Hinds has committed during his tenure as Education Secretary to make improving children’s literacy a “national mission.” This includes the creation of an expert panel and funding to boost early communication skills, as well as the flagship English Hubs.

In October 2018, it was announced that 34 primary schools will become “English Hubs.” This week we learnt that the training centre supporting these will be run by Ruth Miskin Training.

The centre will train the English Hub leaders and 180 literacy specialists in three main areas:

  • age-appropriate phonics provision
  • early language development
  • promoting a love of reading.

The importance of language and literacy

We welcome that ICAN will be associated with the training centre. Our recent position paper  set out the clear overlap between the 1.4 million young people identified with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and those who have a persistent difficulty in reading, writing, speaking and/or listening.

Ensuring that the English Hubs and literacy specialists have a clear understanding and knowledge of SLCN should help to spread best practice of early identification and ensure investment and resources can be made to support the most vulnerable learners with their literacy skills.

What needs to happen next?

DYT support the mission of the English Hubs and training centre, however, our concern is that their ability to support learners with severe literacy difficulties may be limited.

We have set out areas where we believe this is the case and the adaptations to the work and structure of the Hubs and training centre going forward:

  1. In November 2018, a written question revealed that the literacy specialists will not be required to hold specific qualifications in special educational needs.

The literacy specialists should receive specific training in literacy difficulties and special educational needs.

  1. In July 2018, Peter Kyle MP asked how the English Hubs would provide support for learners with dyslexia and other literacy needs, in response, Nick Gibb MP did not state that they would have a specific focus on dyslexia.

The Hubs must offer support on learners with dyslexia and literacy difficulties as part of their remit.  

  1. The announcement of the English Hubs made clear they are open to all schools, academies and free schools but not to centres for teacher training and teaching school alliances.

The deployment of literacy specialists should be joined up with centres for teacher training and teaching school alliances to ensure that trainees and newly qualified teachers receive their training on literacy.

  1. The announcement also made clear that the programme is only available to pupils in reception and Year 1.

The Hubs and training centre should extend across all age ranges, to support the continued development of best practice in literacy teaching in Key Stage 2 and beyond. For learners with literacy difficulties, these skills continue to be a challenge beyond the first years of their schooling.

Our research finds 5% of learners in mainstream education have a diagnosed SEN that will significantly impact their literacy skills. If the English Hubs and training centre do not address literacy difficulties the Department for Education will miss a golden opportunity to improve support for these pupils and help mitigate a root cause to many of our national problems.