In preparation for children going back to school following lockdown, our inaugural primary conference, Everyone back to school: literacy by stealth, offered teachers insights from a stellar line up of experts from education, sport, media, and video games who came together over five days to discuss the importance of popular culture in young people’s literacy development and provide innovative and classroom-ready activities and new ways of engaging children in reading, writing and spoken language.
We were delighted to welcome over 140 delegates to the conference this year. Here’s some of the highlights from the conference.
Day one began with our first panel of experts, chaired by our Chief Executive Jonathan Douglas, providing an overview of where we are in the primary education landscape and the role that popular culture can play generally and in recovery post-school closures.
Gaming giant Ian Livingstone highlighted the importance of skills in primary education. He said, “We want children to be work and world ready”. Jackie Marsh, Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield said, "There's never been a more important time to think about the link between school and home, [partly] because of mental health," brilliantly setting the tone for the rest of the conference.
Head Teacher and teaching school director Sonia Thompson said, “Kids do not leave culture at the school gate, it envelopes the space,” providing a timely reminder of the importance of inclusion. She also spoke about the urgent need for teachers to recognize the importance of multimodal education and its role in the recovery plan.
Cathy Burnett, Kate Cowan and Clare Daniels presented an urgent case for the role of play in education and mental and emotional wellbeing, chaired by our Director of School Programmes, Fiona Evans. Kate Cowan from UCL Institute of Education said, "Play is literacy and deserves our attention. It deserves our attention now more than ever," and Clare Daniels, National Innovation Manager at The Football Association, brought home the message: “There’s a social responsibility for schools to help everyone, especially the most vulnerable”.
Day two saw a panel of experts present on the power of video games in exploring a narrative and a call for esports to become further implemented into the curriculum.
Shahneila Saeed Head of Education at Ukie and Director of the Digital Schoolhouse, highlighted how “Every video game has a story behind it,” and Constance Steinkuehler, Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, reflected, “Interest is the engine. It’s the engine that makes the work happen”. This echoed Jackie Marsh’s point: "Once children's interests have been identified, it's possible to link them to all areas of the curriculum."
We then met an exciting cross-section of experts from the world of comics and graphic novels who discussed their role in harnessing children’s creativity and exploring complex emotions and issues.
Rhiannon Griffiths from Comics Youth said of the relationship between text and reader, “There’s power in literacy if you’re an outsider,” and chair, comics laureate Hannah Berry, pointed out, “The combination of words and pictures creates a third language.”
On day three, our Programme Manager Jim Sells and experts from the world of sport and education provided a compelling case for the role of sport in raising literacy levels. Minaz Shaffi, a teacher at Shaftesbury Junior School and Leicester NEU's Young Educators' organiser said, “Cultural capital should be relatable and exciting.”
We also heard from our Head of Schools Programmes Fay Lant and a team of media experts and teachers who explored the importance of critical literacy in children taking ownership of their writing and navigating the news.
Roz Porter Tibbey, Assistant Headteacher at Grafton Primary School, pointed out that her delivery of NewsWise to her pupils has taught them that “They have a duty to be fair and a duty to be truthful”.
On day four, we were joined by our Research Manager (and audiophile) Emily Best and a panel of experts to explore the importance of audiobooks and podcasts in teachers’ literacy toolkits and their practical application in the classroom.
The conversation discussed this in-depth and Frank Serafini, Professor of Literacy Education at Arizona State University said, “Books have to be within arm’s reach to be accessible” and Carla Herbertson Head of International Audio Content from Zebralution highlighted the role that businesses can have in tackling low literacy levels.
Our Senior Project Manager Angus Woodhams and a panel of experts from the culture and education sector explored the role of meaningful experiences in enhancing writing quality. Beth Crosland, Senior Programme Manager at the Museum of London explained, “Cultural experiences help children find their voice and express themselves.”
Assistant Headteacher at Holmleigh Primary School, Margaret Boateng, who has engaged with our Young City Poets programme for five years, said of her pupils’ experience that "Getting up and performing poetry gives children wings".
We closed our conference with a brilliant finale on Saturday morning, chaired by our Head of Schools Programmes Tim Judge.
We first heard from Gabrielle Warren Media Director at Start2Finish, a charity based in Canada who have used a holistic approach to breaking the cycle of child poverty which focuses on literacy and physical fitness. Gabrielle introduced the D20 programme, based on the daily physical activity requirement of Ontario schools of 20 minutes a day.
Whereas our research has suggested that reading can have a positive benefit on wellbeing, Gabrielle’s programme outline is based on evidence that physical wellbeing also impacts literacy.
Karl Nova, winner of the 2020 Ruth Rendell Award, hip hop artist and poet, provided a powerful account of his journey to being a hip hop artist, how he learned to “Re-contextualise the idea of being an artist and marry it with education”.
Mark Johnson Deputy Head and English Lead at Staples Road Primary School provided a brilliant account of his implementation of IPEELL across the school. His focus was on Space Oddity by David Bowie and how he and his pupils’ used it to explore inference, letter writing and more.
To wrap the conference up, we returned to Karl Nova who compared the act of reading and writing to breathing in and out: “You can’t have one without the other”.
We are so grateful to all of our wonderful speakers and hope that those who attended got a lot out of the brilliant discussions.