New hub aims to improve how reading skills are taught in primary schools

The finals of the Newham Spelling Bee taking place at Elmhurst Primary School.

The finals of the Newham Spelling Bee taking place at Elmhurst Primary School. - Credit: Archant

Reading is arguably the most important skill a child will learn during their time at school.

Yet the quality of teaching those in the earliest years of their education receive can vary between each educational establishment.

Now a network of English hubs will be set up in 32 schools across the country, aiming to ensure every school is teaching the essential skill of reading to the highest possible standard.

Three schools have been selected as hubs for the east of England and north east London region, including Elmhurst Primary School in Forest Gate, which would work with schools Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest, as well as those outside of London in the east of England.

The school, in Upton Park Road, will receive a share of £26.3million in funding to help spread best practice and teaching techniques.

It will involve providing workshops for teachers as well as intensive school-to-school support.

Clara Breakwell, Elmhurst’s literacy co-ordinator and English hub lead, explained that while the school found out they would become an English hub in the summer holidays, they were sworn to secrecy until the official announcement was made last week.

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“Schools with excellent results in their phonics screening and who are at least Good in their Ofsted were invited to apply,” she said.

“We’re already a maths hub and working with schools from seven boroughs, and we’re thinking it could have a similar reach.

“We could be involved with up to 200 schools.”

Clara said that five teachers would be trained up as literacy specialists, who would be able to be released for up to 20 days to go into schools and provide close support.

Some of those involved with the hub would be based at Elmhurst, with the possibility that others could be based at the three other Newham primary schools within the multi-academy trust it is part of – Nelson, Vicarage and Gallions.

Clara put Elmhurst’s success in phonics down to using a scheme known as Read Write Inc, and sticking to it rigidly.

“We don’t mix and match,” she said. “We stick to one scheme.

“Our teachers are fantastic and our teaching assistants are fantastic too.”

The announcement of the English hubs comes after the release of this year’s phonics assessment statistics.

This way of teaching sees children learn to read by sounding out letters and blending them together.

A phonics screening check was introduced in 2012 to ensure youngsters were meeting the expected standard, with 82pc of Year 1 pupils achieving the measure at the end of the last school year – up from 58pc when the checks were introduced.

The proportion of pupils meeting the standard in London was above the national average – 85pc – making it the best performing region in the country.

And of the boroughs, it was Newham - home to Elmhurst Primary School - that came out top in east London.

It joined three other boroughs – Hammersmith and Fulham, Wandsworth and Bromley – in seeing an 88pc success rate.

Havering and Redbridge both saw an 85pc success rate, with Tower Hamlets and Barking and Dagenham each seeing 82pc of pupils make the grade.

In all five east London boroughs, girls outperformed boys - a trend that was reflected across the country.

School standards minister Nick Gibb said: “Reading and writing are the foundations of education and once grasped can open up a world of literature and knowledge to young people.

“Our continued focus on raising standards means six-year-olds are reading better than ever before – and we are setting an international benchmark, with Australia looking to follow our lead on phonics.

“This is a huge achievement, improving the lives and education of hundreds of thousands of children but we remain determined to make sure that not just most children, but every single child is able to meet his or her potential.”

The introduction of the new English hubs is one more step on the way to achieving just that.