“We need to take back the narrative and assert our professional voice”

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To kick off the series this month, John-Mark Winstanley, Regional Representative for the East of England, tells us more about his ideas for placing literacy at the heart of the curriculum.

I’m currently Deputy Course Manager of the Primary PGCE at the Faculty of Education (University of Cambridge). Prior to this, I worked as an Assistant Headteacher and English leader in schools across Cambridgeshire. Outside of work, I love to travel and I have a slight obsession with Spanish language and culture.

The UKLA has always been my go-to place for sound advice and inspiration. I’ve been a member since 2010. I joined because I was in need of inspiration as an early career teacher who was passionate about literacy.

The English 4-11 magazine contains so many useful ideas and the book reviews are a great way of keeping up to date with the latest and greatest. It was (and still is!) a huge benefit of membership when I was in the classroom. The UKLA Minibooks have also been a great source of support and guidance – they’re so accessible and provide an evidence-informed approach, which can really make a difference to children’s literacy experiences. I also greatly appreciate the opportunity to be part of such a well-informed Association filled with people who have a principled understanding of what great teaching of literacy should look like.

We face a number of challenges in the literacy community. Within such a performative system, I fear that the real meaning and purpose of literacy is becoming lost. I am deeply concerned that, in some schools, the focus of the National Curriculum has resulted in a mechanistic approach to reading and writing. Based on conversations I’ve had with children and teachers in a number of schools, I worry that children are being taught to interact with texts on a really superficial level – they can identify different types of clauses and word types, but are not always able to articulate their emotional response as a reader. The same goes for writing – children are often given a long list of success criteria which state the different types of sentence structures they should include, but they can very rarely explain the audience, purpose or effect they wish to create.

If we want to solve this, we need to take back the narrative and assert our professional voice about what real literacy looks like. Organisations such as the UKLA are key to this!

There are opportunities as well as challenges. For example, I feel like the shift in narrative at an inspectorate level could be very positive for the literacy community. Whilst I recognise that this may seem to contradict the push towards a “broad and balanced curriculum”, I would argue that it is a real opportunity to place literacy – in its truest form – at the heart of the curriculum. The focus on English over the past few years has become too narrow. I would love to see schools using more and more high-quality children’s literature as a vehicle to explore different subject domains and to nurture pupils’ social, cultural and emotional literacy. I also welcome an increased focus on oracy, speaking and listening and am ever hopeful that children will be given increased opportunities to find and develop their own voice.

I am forever hopeful about the future of education. I work very closely with trainee teachers. To be surrounded by such enthusiastic and passionate individuals who are so excited to make a positive contribution to pupils’ lives is a real privilege. Twitter also provides me with hope for the future – there are so many wonderful teachers out there who are doing great things. They just need to make sure that they join UKLA!

I am excited about the DIALLS (Dialogue and Argumentation for Cultural Literacy Learning in Schools) project currently being led by Dr Fiona Maine at the Faculty of Education (University of Cambridge). Using wordless picturebooks, this project is working with children in schools across eight European countries to develop cultural literacy through dialogue. I think it will offer some fascinating food for thought for the literacy community at a time when tolerance, inclusion and empathy are needed more than ever.

I’m very much looking forward to the UKLA International Conference at Sheffield Hallam University from 12th-14th July 2019. This year will be my first UKLA International Conference and I’m excited to spend a weekend immersed in literacy. The programme is looking fantastic and I’m particularly looking forward to developing my knowledge of digital media and technology. Shamefully, I’ve always been a little bit afraid of using technology in the classroom, so it will be great to learn how to do this well from the likes of Lalitha Vasudevan, one of the Conference’s keynote speakers. Having attended a number of regional and national conferences, I am sure that Sheffield will be a really inspiring few days!

Get in touch! If you’d like to say thanks to your Regional Rep/s for the support they’ve offered you, nominate them to be featured as our Rep of the month. Please email [email protected] with their name and region and a short summary of their work and its impact.


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