I am privileged to work with a dedicated and devoted group of inspiring colleagues who share my passion in developing effective, meaningful and dynamic approaches to teaching primary literacy and language. I feel honoured to be teaching enthusiastic and eager trainees, who truly want to make a difference to children’s experiences of literacy in the primary classroom.
The lack of ethnic representation in children’s picture books, as well as children’s authors, is one of the biggest challenges we are facing in the UK literacy community. Having worked in an inner London primary school, and now educating trainees who will go on to teach in ethnically diverse communities, it is shocking that a large percentage of children in these schools are unlikely to see themselves represented positively in the literature that they are being offered. For example, in 2017 only 1% of all books published featured a BAME main character (CLPE, 2017). With no, or very limited reflection of themselves we are failing to provide children with the emotional connection that all readers need and rightfully deserve in order to engage with a book and make meaning from it. However, there is good news. Thanks to the utterly superb research that the likes of organisations such as CLPE (2017, 2019) and Booktrust (2019) have funded and published, it feels like the landscape for ethnic representation within UK literature is starting to change. In their recently published research CLPE (2019), found that there was a small, yet noticeable rise in BAME characters moving from 4% in 2017, to 7% in 2018. Although there is still a huge way to go, by opening up conversations, dialogues and discussions regarding this matter, we can all help top raise the profile of this highly contentious and important issue within the literacy community.
I joined UKLA as an undergraduate student. I was inspired and blown away by the lectures and workshops from the English team whilst at University where the ideas, concepts, theories and views that we were learning about mirrored my own values. However, I struggled to see these values being celebrated whilst on school placement so I joined UKLA. I knew that during my NQT year I did not want to feel isolated or alone with my views and approaches to teaching literacy. Membership to UKLA enabled me to develop confidence in my own pedagogy, inspired me to take a risk within my literacy teaching, encouraged me to think outside the box and provided me with endless ideas that I felt confident enough to try out in the class.
I became a Regional Rep in 2017 and have been pleasantly surprised at the way in which my role has come into natural fruition. At first it felt a little daunting to hold a position of responsibility within such a prestigious and internationally renowned organisation. I spent the first few months wondering how I could possibly make an impact. But like any journey, small steps were needed to start me off. I was very fortunate to be in a region with three more experienced reps who were able to support me.
Regional reps have two key roles. The first is to keep in regular contact with members within our region. Each term we aim to send a regional newsletter updating them on forthcoming events, while also sharing research, ideas and resources that we have found useful. We also work in collaboration to organise larger events such as talks, workshops and conferences for our members. For example, the Surrey and Kent region is very excited to be hosting a series of Literacy and Language Talks at the University of Greenwich, kick starting with David Reedy on Thursday 28 November. We will then be on countdown for the UKLA’s National Conference, which is focused on Writing for Pleasure and will be held at Canterbury Christchurch. It is set to be a stunning event with guest speaker David Almond on Saturday 28 March 2020. The second element of our role is to make a difference to the profile of UKLA by increasing membership, aiming to spread our message into schools and educational settings up and down the country.
I became regional rep coordinator in July 2019, and have very big boots to fill as my predecessor, Roger McDonald did a sterling job! In this new role, I shall be working more closely with the other regions and it is my hope that together we can create a strategic and coherent plan for the development of regional reps. As coordinator I hope to continue to grow the wonderfully supportive community that has already been sculpted among the reps, where we can meet and network with like-minded people, share ideas and resources and continue to learn for ourselves, as well as those that we teach. Working together to think of new and innovative ways in which we can increase membership within our regions is also high on the agenda. At a wider level, I am looking forward to representing the regional reps at various committees, continuing to share their viewpoints and celebrate the excellent work that is going on up and down the country.
The benefits of being a regional rep are endless. If you want to collaborate with primary and secondary teachers who share the same passion for literacy as you on a regional, national and international level, share research-informed pedagogy, experiment with new ideas and practices, whilst confirming the values and beliefs about literacy, language and communication that prompted you to be a teacher, then you would be the ideal person to become a regional rep. Once signed up to being a regional rep there is plenty of support to get you started. In addition, every rep gets sent the latest copy of UKLA published titles to use in their line of work, whilst promoting the benefits of UKLA membership. We are a wonderfully friendly bunch and would be delighted to welcome anyone seeking out a new challenge this academic year.
Katharine Vallely is the English subject lead for the BA and PGCE programmes in the School of Education at the University of Greenwich, and the UKLA regional rep co-ordinator.
UKLA is currently looking for regional reps based in the Northumberland and Oxford regions. If you are a member of the UKLA and would like to consider becoming a regional rep, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org