The government's media literacy strategy: what do schools need to know?

14 Jul 2021
Tackling fake news: do children have the critical literacy skills they need to survive and thrive…

Today, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched its long-awaited media literacy strategy. One of its key objectives is to ensure children and young people are safe and savvy online, including increasing their skills and confidence to critically navigate the news and spot misinformation.

This is understandably a huge area of concern for teachers and parents. Our research shows:

  • Only 2% of children have the skills they need to identify misinformation*
  • Half of teachers (53.5%) believe that the national curriculum does not equip children with the literacy skills they need to identify fake news*
  • 2 in 5 parents (39%) never watch, listen to or read news with their child at home**

These figures are stark. This is why we, alongside other like-minded organisations, founded the News Literacy Network in 2018 with the aim to empower and equip news consumers of all ages with the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to engage critically with news and current affairs.

"We can’t ignore what’s going on in the wider world, so we have to address news stories and encourage the children to develop their own balanced views on a range of issues. News, and the political arguments that surround it, is part of all of our lives and it’s our obligation as educators to make sure that children engage with the news in a safe and expertly guided way."

Louise Smith, CEO of Warrington Primary Academy Trust

We must ensure that children and young people have all the skills they need to be effective readers and writers in the 21st century. Many schools are already teaching the skills required by making explicit links to media literacy in subjects like citizenship, English, history and media studies, but teaching media literacy is still not a statutory requirement.

The good news is that progress can be made very quickly. Our evaluation of the NewsWise programme, developed in 2018 by the Guardian Foundation, the National Literacy Trust and the PSHE Association, found that primary school pupils who took part in the programme had increased interest in the news (increasing from 36.7% to 75.5%) and were twice as likely to say they would check whether news came from a person or organisation they trusted (increasing from 29.0% to 61.1%) after a news literacy workshop and 15 lesson unit of work.

With education increasingly positioned as the answer to children and young people’s media literacy, we are asking headteachers to tackle this challenge head on and make it part of their education recovery plans. But you don’t need to do it alone. The members of the News Literacy Network provide a range of programmes, teacher training offers, resources and dedicated news articles for every education setting from primary to post-16.

Here are three things headteachers can do today:

The News Literacy Network have come together to support schools in navigating what the media literacy strategy means for them.

The News Literacy Network is a collective of 24 organisations who deliver news literacy education projects in the UK and overseas. It is a cross-sector group with expertise in the media, education and research. The purpose of the network is to:

  • establish best practice for news literacy projects
  • explore new and innovative ways to collaborate
  • share learning with each other
  • provide a clear overview for educators and the public of the UK news literacy offer
  • jointly campaign for news literacy to be embedded in the national curricula of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Find out more about the News Literacy Network at https://literacytrust.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/all-party-parliamentary-group-literacy/fakenews/newsliteracy/.

Fay Lant is Head of Schools Programmes at the National Literacy Trust. She chairs the News Literacy Network and is on the advisory panel for Ofcom’s Making Sense of Media network.

*National Literacy Trust (2018), Fake News and Critical Literacy https://literacytrust.org.uk/research-services/research-reports/fake-news-and-critical-literacy-final-report/

**National Literacy Trust (2019), Family News Literacy https://literacytrust.org.uk/research-services/research-reports/family-news-literacy-report/