The Great Literacy Debate: A Critical Response to the Literacy Strategy and Framework for English

The Great Literacy Debate: A Critical Response to the Literacy Strategy and Framework for English

The Great Literacy Debate: A Critical Response to the Literacy Strategy and Framework for English

The Great Literacy Debate: A Critical Response to the Literacy Strategy and Framework for English


The nature of literacy is an issue of global debate. When the National Literacy Strategy [NLS] was introduced into UK schools it was arguably the most ambitious educational reform programme in the world, and the controversy necessarily intensified. How can the impact of such reforms be assessed?

In its ten year history the NLS affected every primary and secondary teacher in the country and, therefore, every child. The initiative provoked a widespread recognition of the importance of literacy for all children and attracted the attention of many other governments. This book is the first definitive and objective review and evaluation of the impact of these literacy reforms. With contributions from the most respected experts on literacy and English from the UK and from across the world, this unprecedented critical examination explores:

  • How teaching policy and practice were impacted by the reforms
  • How the NLS came into being, how it was operated, what it did and did not achieve
  • What we can learn from its successes and failures
  • The most important aspects of the reforms, from policing grammar to the impact of 'The Literacy Game' and 'informed prescription' on teaching.

Whether you are a policy maker or classroom teacher, this book is an invaluable resource to anyone concerned about literacy. It provides readers from around the world with a genuine and evidence-based perspective on this immense initiative, lucidly evaluating the lessons learned from both its ambitions and its failures.


There is only one agreement about the nature of literacy and that is that there is no exact agreement about what it is. There are many definitions that have much in common and so some differences are subtle but others are deep and ideological, hence literacy engenders debate and so the raison d’être for the title of this volume. Debates can, sometimes, be concluded, but the debate about literacy shows no signs of abating. When something as vast and important as a National Literacy Strategy (NLS) comes along, affecting every child and every teacher in England, then the debate necessarily intensifies. This is a global debate. In some countries the debate is at a different stage as governments struggle to resource even the ‘simpler’ forms of literacy. But in countries more comparable to England such as the USA, Australia, New Zealand and many other European countries, the debate takes on a more complex and highly politicised dimension.

This book does not take on the task of producing a history of literacy; there are other sources that cover that territory, although they in themselves do not agree on what the history of literacy has been (see Street, 1984; Barton, 1994; Holme, 2004). The focus of this book is to review and evaluate the importance of the NLS between 1997 and 2010 and to offer some perspective, from a range of researchers, on what we may learn from how the NLS came into being, how it was operated and what it did and did not achieve. Certainly one specific reference point in the genesis of this book was the publication of Stannard and Huxford’s The Literacy Game in 2007. Its title is a homage to Michael Barber’s The Learning Game (1996), written when he was the most influential adviser on education to New Labour whilst still in opposition and then when the National Literacy Strategy was created. For some of the authors in this volume the connotation of the term ‘game’ as applied to something so serious and fundamental as literacy, conveys in itself a sense of gimmickry and populism. This is not po-faced academic solemnity; one of the deepest flaws in the NLS was its oversimplification of literacy and the teaching of literacy, and its attempt to make political capital from implying that teachers had been at fault for a number of years and that the NLS was coming to ‘save’ them.

The idea of some kind of national focus on literacy was in fact conceived by the Conservative government in its last two years and they had set up a Literacy . . .

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