There is almost unanimous agreement among teachers of the importance of promoting literacy across all subjects, but teachers need more support to enable them to fulfil the literacy requirements of the new National Curriculum, according to our new research.
For the first study of its kind, Teachers and Literacy: Their Perceptions, Understanding, Confidence and Awareness, the National Literacy Trust surveyed 2,326 teachers, teaching assistants, literacy coordinators, heads of department or faculty who teach a variety of subjects, headteachers and school librarians asking them about their perceptions and confidence around teaching literacy.
The publication of our research coincides with Education Secretary Nicky Morgan's announcement of a package of measures aimed at reducing under achievement in schools. These include setting up a National Teaching Service to share expertise and ensuring every primary school child masters the basics of literacy.
As increased emphasis is placed on embedding literacy throughout the National Curriculum, it is really encouraging to see that almost all the teaching staff (95.3%) across subject areas said it is their job to teach and promote literacy. Pupils can only benefit from being able to develop their literacy skills in every class because good literacy can transform their life chances, particularly for the most disadvantaged children.
For a long time the National Literacy Trust has called for literacy to be a fundamental aspect of all subjects and the current National Curriculum is making bold steps towards achieving this. However, while fully supportive of promoting literacy, a quarter of teachers (23.9%) said they do not feel confident in doing so and half (51.7%) said they lack the knowledge to teach the literacy set out in the new National Curriculum which was introduced in September 2014. This includes requirements for teachers of all subjects to develop pupils' spoken language, promote reading for enjoyment and emphasise accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation in written work.
Any new way of working takes time to establish itself and some apprehension among teachers is to be expected, especially considering how the education landscape has shifted in recent times. Many experienced teachers are not equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to confidently teach literacy in their subject. Teachers who trained some years ago did not cover literacy because they were not required to teach it. However, many maths and science teachers are already teaching literacy although they may not realise it as they are taking a variety of approaches.
There is a clear need for literacy to be embedded in continued professional development plans to equip teachers with the knowledge and confidence that our research shows they feel they lack to meet the literacy requirements set out in the National Curriculum. This should be a priority for the new Royal College of Teachers, which is currently being set up and will be responsible for accrediting standards of evidence-based practice in continued professional development.
We must harness teachers' enthusiasm and support them in gaining more confidence in their own abilities because they know more than they think about improving their pupils' literacy.
The National Literacy Trust is a national charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK. Our research and analysis make us the leading authority on literacy. We run projects in the poorest communities, campaign to make literacy a priority for politicians and parents, and support schools. To find out more, visit: www.literacytrust.org.uk