The Primary Conference 2021: Literacy by stealth


How can we harness the power of culture to support literacy, overcome barriers between school and home and raise attainment in primary schools?

Over the past 20 years the National Literacy Trust has pioneered innovative approaches, forming partnerships with an exciting range of organisations to find new ways to engage children in reading, writing and spoken language.

The inaugural National Literacy Trust primary conference will showcase some of this work, as well as provide a platform to discuss the importance of popular culture in young people’s literacy development in 2021.

Evidence shows that sport, culture and technology can enrich children’s lives, providing valuable social capital while improving vocabulary and nurturing creativity and empathy. This is in line with the most recent Ofsted EIF which recommends that leaders construct a curriculum which gives "all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged and those with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) or high needs, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life".

Our research and programme evaluations found:

  • After taking part in the Premier League Reading Stars 10-week programme, pupils’ reading improved by an average of 6 months
  • 97% of teachers agree that pupils’ skills in thinking critically about news stories increased and 89.9% say they are now more confident in supporting pupils’ news literacy.
  • Memorable experiences such as cultural visits can elevate writing quality: 4 in 5 (81%) of students taking part in our Young City Poets project felt they were better at writing as a result, and two-thirds (66%) liked writing more. Almost all teachers (16 out of 17) said the project helped their students think more creatively.
  • Our research shows that engagement with audiobooks can benefit children’s reading skills and enjoyment, as well as their mental wellbeing and emotional intelligence. During the first lockdown, more than half (52.4%) of children said listening to audiobooks increased their interest in reading and 2 in 5 (42.6%) said it made them more interested in writing. Boys were particularly likely to listen to audiobooks during this period.
  • Video games can provide young people with a route into reading and promote creativity and empathy. 4 in 5 (79.4%) young people who play video games read materials relating to video games once a month, while 2 in 3 (65.0%) say playing video games helps them imagine being someone else.

At the inaugural National Literacy Trust primary conference, leading academics, writers and practitioners will present on the impact that accessible cultural and recreational activities can have on the lives of primary aged children and how these can be channeled to raise literacy levels.

Conference structure and cost of attendance

Day 1: Tuesday 9 March

  • 4:00pm - 5:00pm: Welcome event: How can we harness the power of popular culture to support children's literacy?
    Panel discussion, chaired by Chief Executive Jonathan Douglas, with representatives from the world of popular culture, sport and technology discussing the ways in which their fields of expertise can enrich children’s literacy learning. Speakers included:
  • Ian Livingstone is a fantasy author and co-founder of Games Workshop. He is a key figure in the gaming industry and influential in ICT education policy.
  • Jackie Marsh is Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield. Jackie has a particular interest in young children’s digital literacy practices in homes, communities and early years settings.
  • 5:15pm - 6:00pm: Never too old to play!
    This panel discussion, chaired by Director of Schools Programmes Fiona Evans, will explore how play and playing can help support language development and storytelling throughout primary school. Speakers included:
  • Clare Daniels is National Innovation Manager at The Football Association, a progression of her academic focus on the role of play and movement in learning and cognitive development

Day 2: Wednesday 10 March

  • 4:00pm - 5:00pm: World building, character development and narrative immersion: how video games can support literacy.
    This panel discussion, chaired by Irene Picton and Tim Judge, will explore the potential of video games to foster story immersion, enrich vocabulary and improve writing quality. Speakers included:
  • Sally Bushell is Professor of Romantic and Victorian Literature at Lancaster University. Sally led on the creation of Litcraft, a resource that uses Minecraft builds of literary worlds to re-engage reluctant readers with reading for pleasure.
  • Tom Dore is head of Education for the British Esports Association. He is also still a teacher and has over 15 years experience working across state, independent and alternative provision schools.
  • Constance Steinkuehler Squire is professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. Her work has focussed on the potential for video games to enhance learning, and she believes that “when [young people] get hold of games that are fun and beautiful, amazing things happen.”
  • Shahneila Saeed is Programme Director at Ukie 's Digital Schoolhouse, a programme which bridges the gap between academia and industry, to ensure pupils are aptly equipped for the future digital economy.
  • 5:15 - 6:00pm: How comics and graphic novels can inspire young people and provide an access route into reading, writing and drawing.
    Experts from the world of comics and graphic novels will discuss the power of the genre to engage reluctant readers and help children channel their creativity and visual literacy skills. This panel discussion will be chaired by Hannah Berry. Hannah is an award-winning comics creator, cartoonist, writer and illustrator, and the author of three graphic novels. She is the 2019-21 UK Comics Laureate and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
  • Mike Stirling is head of Beano Studios Scotland, and previously Editor-in-Chief of The Beano Comic. Mike champions the role that Beano and other comics can play in children's reading journeys.
  • Rhiannon Griffiths is Co-Founder and Director of Comics Youth, as well as being a freelance corporate fundraiser, marketer and public health professional.
  • Clare D'Netto is Head Teacher at Manor Junior School in Barking, and she has successfully utilized graphic novels to engage readers.

Day 3: Thursday 11 March

  • 4:00pm - 5:00pm: Football, role models, and teamwork: utilizing the power of sport to support literacy.
    A panel discussion, led by Programme Manager Jim Sells, featuring key representatives from the world of Premier League football to discuss the role of sport in nurturing creativity and empathy. Speakers included:
  • Tom Palmer is a reluctant reader turned bestselling author, who has written largely - though not exclusively - sports themed books aimed at engaging reluctant readers, having penned the hugely popular Roy of the Rovers series. He is a champion of children's literacy and has visited 150 schools across the UK to inspire 30,000 children's reading and writing.
  • Emma Lowry is Education Manager at Leicester City in the Community, which harnesses the power of sport to inspire children and young people to reach their full potential.
  • Ross McKinley is Schools Programme Manager at the Premier League Charitable Fund.
  • Minaz Shaffi is Leicester NEU's Young Educators' organiser, and also a teacher at Shaftesbury Junior School
  • 5:00pm - 5:45pm: Critical Literacy – how news and world events shape young people’s literacy, make better writers and build cultural capital.
    Fay Lant, Young Writers Programme Manager, will explore the importance of critical literacy and its impact on children’s reading, writing, confidence and wellbeing with a panel of media and literacy experts.

Day 4: Friday 12 March

  • 4:00pm - 5:00pm: Listen up! Using audio to support literacy in the classroom
    For children who struggle to decode words, audiobooks and podcasts provide a great alternative to books - children can still be immersed in a narrative, while building vocabulary and improving comprehension. Emily Best, our Research Manager, will explore the research around audiobooks and podcasts and examine their practical application in the classroom. Speakers included:
  • Lucas Maxwell is a librarian at Glenthorne High School in South London, having also worked for five years in the public library system in Canada as a Teen Services Librarian. In his role, Lucas uses audiobooks, recorded readings and virtual author visits to instil a love of reading in students.
  • Frank Serafini is Professor of Literacy Education at Arizona State University. Frank has written extensively on multimodal literacy, including Audiobooks and Literacy: An Educator's Guide to Utilizing Audiobooks in the Classroom.
  • Carla Herbertson is Head of International Audio Content at Zebralution. Carla has also worked as an audio producer at the BBC, and is a member of a group of business leaders working in partnership with the National Literacy Trust to tackle low literacy levels in the UK.
  • 5:00pm - 5:45pm: How giving young people memorable experiences and cultural visits can inspire and improve their writing.
    Angus Woodhams, Senior Project Manager of Young Writers, will explore the evidence around the use of memorable experiences to elevate writing quality at KS2. Speakers included:
  • Shannen Johnson is the Learning and Engagement Officer at The Peace Museum, Bradford. She manages and delivers a series of peace themed workshops for Key Stages 1-3, and has also undertaken research into museum learning and how it can be used to approach sensitive histories.
  • Beth Crosland is Senior Programme Manager at the Museum of London, and currently leads on Culture Mile Learning, a coalition of organizations whose aim is to develop children's creative, communication and organizational skills through cultural visits and digital resources.
  • Margaret Boateng is Deputy Head at Holmleigh Primary School and has been an enthusiastic participant of Young City Poets for five years

Day 5: Saturday 13 March

  • 11:00am - 11:45am: Closing keynote and inaugural National Literacy Trust Innovation Awards
    We will round off the conference with a celebration of primary literacy, featuring case studies from schools who have done amazing and inspiring extra-curricular work to raise literacy levels in their schools. This session will be chaired by Karl Nova, the hip hop artist, author and poet. Karl's debut poetry collection, Rhythm and Poetry, won the Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award in 2018.


  • Those with full membership of the National Literacy Trust: £65. One booking extends to all school colleagues
  • Non-members: £75

Non-members who attend will be entitled to a 10% discount on membership.

For more information or to receive your National Literacy Trust membership conference attendance discount code, contact