Teaching pupils to love reading: expert insights from an English Hub lead

Danni Cooke has been the Ilsham English Hub Lead since its inception in 2018 and is also a Specialist Leader of Education in Early Years at the Learning Academy Partnership. She talks about her work at the Hub and how it’s helping children across the South West with their reading.

I was delighted to be made Lead of the Ilsham English Hub in 2018, because I’m passionate about working together with colleagues to create fluent and confident readers, as well as to inspire pupils to love reading, as I’m confident everyone can.

Funded by the Department for Education, the 34 English Hubs across England were selected for their expertise in teaching reading and to support schools in their surrounding area. Our three main priorities as a hub are: to share expertise in ensuring all pupils make speedy progress in phonics and reading; to promote a love of reading; and to develop pupils’ understanding and use of spoken language.

Our English Hub is located in Torquay and works with schools throughout a lot of the South West region. We support schools to help get all children teaching reading regardless of their background, needs or abilities. Our work has been especially pertinent over this strange year and we have helped schools to get and keep their children reading despite the massive challenges the pandemic has thrown at them.

We provide different layers of support to the region, from intensively supporting partner schools by giving them specialist support from one of the English Hub Literacy Specialists to inviting new schools to find out the work of the hub through showcase events to disseminating CPD to schools throughout the region. This year we have adapted our delivery and taken the majority of the programme and our CPD online, which has also meant we have a greater reach in particular to those schools that are in a tricky location and are often very isolated.

We provide free CPD to schools around our main hub aims and have run a number of masterclasses each half term, delving deeper into an aspect of one of our main Hub aims such as ‘The stages of learning to read’ or ‘Focusing on the lowest 20%’. These master classes have been run by me and they look at current research and give participants practical take away ideas. These classes help schools consider their next steps and refine and develop their practice and whole school expertise of reading. We also offer schools personalised audits to look more closely at their provision and what they should be doing, as well as providing them with funding to make these next steps a reality and ensure reading is at the heart of school life.

We all know that reading changes lives and we also acknowledge that for some children the journey into reading can be trickier. These are the children that make us re-evaluate what we are doing within our schools; if we get it right for the children who face the most challenges then we can get it right for all children. Our philosophy has always been ‘for every child’ and we work with schools to strive so that every child reaches their full potential. We work with schools to look at how we can break down barriers and ensure every child achieves whilst looking at how we are developing lifelong readers and storytellers.

We want children who want to read, rather than just being told to read. We want to create lifelong and everyday readers, who cultivate a rich diet of stories, poetry, songs, and information texts. The material we give children to read themselves is matched to their needs to empower them to know they can rather than to struggle and feel like giving up. Creating a ‘I can’ culture and changing mindsets of ceilings on children’s reading abilities paves the way for making the ‘yellow brick road’ to independent reading a reality.

We believe it is important for everyone to hear, discuss and understand the same key messages and our CPD this year has also included external speakers to disseminate key research and strategies on how we are all singing from that same hymn sheet and how together we are building teams of experts within schools rather than the reliance of a single staff member being the font of all knowledge. The free external CPD has included experts in their fields such as James Clements, Professor Teresa Cremin, Michael Rosen and Gill Jones from Ofsted. Throughout the year we also run cluster groups of support for reading leaders as well as a research-based Teachers as Readers Group in association with the Open University and UKLA which meet 6 times over the year.

We have refined our CPD each half term according to the needs of the schools that we support, and we have had hundreds of participants attend our different events. We firmly believe in impact rather than just a dollop of CPD so we know that we will make a difference. We have built strong relationships with schools and they know they can come to us for support, questions and to problem solve together.

The English Hubs’ work shows that learning to read does not need to be hard. Whatever validated programme you follow underneath it all is the fundamentals of phonics and the key foundations that all children must achieve in order to succeed. Understanding aspects such as the stages of blending to read and how to develop children’s reading fluency are important to ensure there isn’t cognitive overload.

The wellbeing of staff is vital too. This year has been difficult for schools and knowing they have support every step on the journey gives them reassurance and confidence. Funding for schools has enabled many schools to make changes they haven’t been able to before.

Research has shown us that learning to read is absolutely essential to ensure that we open the world to our children. Without the ability to read independently then this amazing curriculum we are developing is not accessible to our children. Right from an early age, children want to be able to do things themselves, we need to consider how do we know the process of learning to read, the journey and the steps needed and how do we ensure that children make age-appropriate progress through this no matter what obstacles are thrown in their way.

I truly believe it is imperative we get this right, to change life chances and, as Rita Pierson says, every child deserves a champion, the one person who will never give up on them. We are in this vocation for a reason.

We can make a difference and the English Hubs initiative is a fantastic opportunity for schools up and down the country to work together to ensure that every child has the best possible future and reading is the key to this.

The South West has shown this year we will not let the pandemic be the reason our children do not have a successful future. Reading is the start of that future and this year is not a single story of loss and underachievement. It is a story of hope, of passion, determination, and teamwork and of hubs and schools working together for a brighter future for every child.
Once we get those children reading, we are going to keep them reading and they are going to love reading!

Advice panel:

  • If you haven’t already, get in touch with your local English Hub, start the relationship so that together every school in the country can work together to close these barriers.
  • Put staff training and CPD at the heart of improving reading in schools, purchase matched resources and look at what books staff have to support the reading journey that are carefully matched to every child’s need.
  • Schools need to make their staff, children, parents and other stakeholders aware of their yellow brick road, their route to teaching every child to read so together we ensure no child is left behind. Every child has their own next systematic step that is getting closer to the reading gate where the world of opportunities is available.
Teaching pupils to love reading: expert insights from an English Hub lead