Literacy for all?

Anita Kerwin-Nye discusses inclusion and what it means for literacy campaigns. The Driver Youth Trust’s Through the Looking Glass report launches next week, March 23rd.

How we support and include children with special educational needs is a key focus of notdeadfish’s work and it is why we launched Is Inclusion Over and the DrawnIn campaign.  It is why we choose to work with so many clients who work in this space.

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As a parent of children with significant challenges– including one whose struggle with reading leaves her exhausted at the end of every school day – how we support children with literacy difficulties is a key professional and personal theme.

Some years ago when running The Communication Trust and working with I CAN, I was struck by a conversation with the CEO of a major literacy organisation about their approach to support children with SEND – with conditions like dyslexia or development language disorder. This was an organisation looking at literacy for all, and their response to my questions left me perplexed: they said, “We are not an SEND organisation”.

At the time the principles and practice of inclusion were not as under threat as many fear they are today. It was a time of relative plenty, pre-Austerity, a time when Every Child Mattered. To stress, this was a credible organisation doing great work in encouraging parent/child reading; in battling for books for all; in schemes to develop a love of literature. Wonderful work that provided a solid platform for the development of reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Perhaps this should have been a red flag. And as I reflect now, maybe I should have been a little less perplexed and a little more probing, because the risks of presenting a national strategy for literacy for all without considering children with significant impairments is that it is a pre-cursor to saying those children don’t matter. It makes them less visible. It suggests that funding and attention should be spent on those children who can catch up with relatively easy approaches rather than those who might need specialist help.

As I CAN looks at Bercow Review 10 Years On perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face is protecting the principle of inclusion and ensuring the protection of valuable specialist services such as Speech and Language Therapists and dyslexia teachers.  These things were at risk ten years ago but they are potentially in an existential crisis today.

This is why we are so pleased to be supporting Driver Youth Trust’s new report Through the Looking Glass, to be launched at an event next Thursday at the RSA. This research examines the recent reports on literacy that inform the education agenda and asks – is universal provision what it seems? Through the Looking Glass considers what we mean by literacy, by being ‘disadvantaged’ and asks where those learners with SEND fit into the picture.

Making the invisible visible was a key theme at the recent Whole School SEND Conference and – in an era when parents and young people with dyslexia or DLD or autism or other invisible impairments can feel like some people believe that they are ‘making it up’ – it is more important than ever to ensure that policy doesn’t hide these learners.

Just as every teacher is a teacher of SEND, every literacy organisation is an organisation for children with SEND and every literacy policy needs to specifically and explicitly address the needs of those who struggle most, as well as those who just need support to catch-up.