The Centre for Literacy and Social Justice

Posted by rsl11 at Apr 08, 2021 10:29 AM |
A look back at the launch of the The Centre for Literacy and Social Justice on 17 Feb 2021, by Elizabeth Draper

The Centre for Literacy and Social Justice launch opened with a stirring address from the co-directors, Professor Teresa Cremin  and Natalie Kucirkova. They spoke of this invaluable space that has been created for exploring social justice in the context of literacy.  The intention is to enable potential rather than deficit discourses and engender dynamic ‘conversations’ focussing especially on the young. Reading for pleasure is a social justice issue. Racial injustice is confronted in literacy. Disrupting systems through social activism around literacy addresses inclusion. Two important strands were outlined  within the social justice framework  (defined here as: ‘fairness, equality, dignity, worth’): critical literacy and speech language communication. The importance of working in partnership with others was also highlighted, and by way of demonstration Professor Gemma Moss  (U.C.L./I.O.E.), the first keynote speaker, addressed:  Reimagining Literacy Education post-COVID. She spoke of the timeliness of this Centre (see slide 1)  and followed with a riveting account of a ‘rapid four- month turnaround  project’ conducted to look at the realities of child poverty in the UK and the impact on their education.

Slide 1
Slide 1

The research project entitled: “A duty of care and a duty to teach:  educational priorities in response to the Covid19 crisis.” , led by Professor Moss,  looked at first hand experience in schools during COVID. This pandemic has shifted priorities in education, particularly in areas of material deprivation and disadvantage. A serious imbalance now exists where the ‘duty to teach’ is relegated to second place and the ‘duty of care’ is the priority. Schools are inundated by the daily demands caused by acute and chronic welfare needs that place a greater burden on schools serving the ‘most disadvantaged’. Material poverty has a profound impact on children’s lives, including the impact of an ICT infrastructure that is inadequate with ‘blank spots’ in the country where wifi cannot reach; ‘Reading for pleasure’ is less likely to happen: ‘homes should have been flooded with books’. The long term educational outcomes are potentially very serious. The research found that the pace of delivery against which schools are measured ‘ escalates deficit talk and piles up jeopardy’ and thus the notion of ‘catch up’ suggests ‘those who fall behind are to blame’. This research is instructive in evidencing the need for a rethink (slide 2). Recovery ( non-linear, demanding creativity)  is what is needed, rather than ‘catch-up’(linear).

Slide 2
Slide 2

Professor Moss further outlined the major point shown in this research: it is the wellbeing of children and families that guides schools’ actions and there is a need to ‘reframe’ the discourse around ‘post-COVID gap talk’ in the light of this insight. This ‘catch up’ discourse necessarily places most pressure on those who have been most affected by COVID. Professor Moss continued to outline how this ‘catch up’ discourse ‘insists there is only one way to pace and sequence learning’ and research literature on learning disruption is ignored where: ’ what counts are care, curriculum and community, redesigned as context-specific responses, reworked over the longer term’. Her concluding slide (3) captures the approach and spirit needed to move things forward as we navigate the fall-out for those in education arising from this pandemic.

Slide 3
Slide 3

The second keynote speaker was Jonathan Douglas CEO of the National Literacy Trust whose contribution was entitled: “‘When I Can  Read My Title Clear’ : Literacy and Activism”. This was another spirited welcome to the opening of the Centre. Jonathan Douglas spoke on the need for literacy to be treated as a social justice issue, reinforcing the fact that for those who can read many worlds open up that are otherwise denied to those who can’t. The dynamic relationship between social justice and literacy is where literacy answers the imperative change that is needed for social justice to be more fundamentally and systemically realised. Douglas referred to a number of literacy initiatives over the decades , including the skills-focussed routes, the ‘top-down’ national strategy and then the realisation that all this is not working as imagined, the problems faced are multi-faceted, complex and locally specific. Nevertheless inroads have been made in the promotion of literacy, including those of ‘Reading for Change’, ‘Reading for Pleasure’ and in very recent times the new dynamic entering the ‘conversations’ through Windrush, Grenfell, the Black Lives Matter agenda. The title of Douglas’ talk comes from the first line of a hymn read by a slave. In ‘The History of Reading’ by Alberto Manguel, Manguel wrote of slaves who, if they were found to have learned to read, were given ’40 lashes’. Douglas points out that racial injustice is confronted in literacy. Douglas makes mention of Freire when he spoke of a two- strand approach in moving things forward: (1) Critical Theory: the importance of being ‘active participants in the reading process…to question, examine, dispute…’ . (2) Speech Language Communication : giving young people a voice to fulfil their ambitions and those of society. The challenge is : ‘how can we support the young with skills they think matter to them?’. He concluded with the rallying statement :’We are on a mission to change’ , and certainly this centre is testament to that .

What then followed was a lively debate involving other contributors: Rumena Aktar (librarian, Firs Primary Academy )Megan Dixon (Co-Principal, Director of Aspire Research School, Sandbach Academy), Marilyn Mottram( former HMI &deputy National Lead for English), Sonia Thompson (Head Teacher& Director of St Matthew’s Research School). Points that ignited excited discussion included the importance of :

  • ‘The positioning of libraries’: inclusive and locally based, in schools and communities; initiatives like book clubs, Children’s Literature Festivals ( Rochdale success in 2018); ‘Getting books in children’s hands’; ‘Give children the chance for a better tomorrow.’
  • Collaboration and the benefits for pedagogical understanding when schools work together.
  • Social and emotional aspects of learning and understanding the need to talk about feelings.
  • A ‘listening- pedagogy’ taught through modelling.
  • ‘Co-creating’ with young people.
  • ‘Asset -based’ approaches.
  • New kinds of partnerships have been produced by the pandemic that we need to hang on to and continue to build on. This involves local infrastructure and participation in community, there is a need to ‘recalibrate partnerships’ and build on support that’s out there to develop local initiatives.
  • Parent, teachers, libraries, communities ‘moving together’; community action that is ‘place-based’ , sustained and continues these ‘conversations’.
  • ‘Evaluating, responding to & creating communities’; shifting perceptions with positive, constructive action.

The Centre for Literacy and Social Justice is now launched and demonstrably defined by this inspiring  launch event as an important place and space for refreshing approaches to come together; for communities to come together and for change to be generated,  evidence to be  gathered to continue to show what is possible. Literacy is life-transforming in the agency and pleasure that it brings into children’s lives and is surely a right for every child.

- Elizabeth Draper

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