Sara Wernham looks at the Renewed Primary Framework for Literacy and discovers how it will affect teachersIntroduction

From September 2007, all primary schools in the UK are working to the Renewed Primary Framework for Literacy. According to the government, ‘the renewal of the Primary Framework for Literacy (and mathematics) offers everyone involved in teaching children aged from 3 to 11 an opportunity to continue the progress made in raising standards by embedding the principles of both Every Child Matters: Change for Children (2004) and Excellence and Enjoyment: Learning and Teaching in the Primary Years into practice’. Changes in the structure and content of objectives, along with core guidance, are significant, and schools and settings are ‘encouraged’ to understand the changes and to ‘move towards’ implementation rather than to rely upon the original Framework. Developments in the teaching of early reading have been incorporated as a consequence of both research and the findings of the independent review of the teaching of early reading – the Rose Report. The government has stated that the Renewed Frameworks (for literacy and mathematics) build on the previous strategies and that teachers should not have to spend weeks on re-planning lessons. However, many of you will be discovering that in reality this is not the case. While there is crossover between the Renewed Framework and the previous National Literacy Strategy, the time-consuming challenge for teachers will be finding where the crossover is and then using existing materials alongside new materials (if possible). Like most other teachers I received a copy of the Renewed Primary Framework for Literacy last year. I flicked through the documentation and put it on the shelf, waiting for the training that we were assured would come over the course of the next year.

Training Our professional development day in January of this year was supposed to be the first training day for the renewed frameworks and all schools in our area had to attend one of the sessions. This was it, we were off.

Unfortunately the advisory teachers giving the training seemed to have done the same thing – put the stuff on the shelf and not looked at it. Supposedly they had received training already, which they were going to pass on, down to us at the classroom level. The training session was so bad it is the only course I have ever attended where teachers actually walked out, and believe you me I have sat through some drivel masquerading as training in the past. No more training has been forthcoming and now it is too late! The advisers seem to be unsure about what is new in the framework and what has changed or been replaced from the old one. For example, I have been assured that the old ‘searchlight strategies’ for reading are all still in there, embedded in the text, and that we should still be teaching with them. When I said I understood that they had been replaced by the recommendations in the Rose Report and the ‘simple view’ of reading, I was then assured that I was right they have been. However, both statements cannot be correct and many advisers seem to be carrying on giving exactly the same advice they did before the renewed framework came out. As per usual, it seems that training to support new initiatives from the government is patchy (to say the least) and teachers are essentially expected to work everything out for themselves.

Documentation As ever, the documentation that the government has produced is overly complex, and has come out in several stages. The book we were all given way back last year only had part of the framework in. Other bits were going to be available online only – eventually – and the bit reflecting the findings of the Rose Report (‘Letters and Sounds’ as it turned out to be called) was only published half way through the summer term (2007).

The ‘Letters and Sounds’ documentation is itself something of a challenge to digest and Teaching & Learning will be examining this document and synthetic phonics in more detail in a future issue.

Assessment and planning

According to the government, assessment and planning was going to be easy as there was an online tool that teachers could all access and use. Now, as we all know, this government has an appalling track record with new software and, true to form, this one is no different. It is called the interactive planning tool (see the article on this on page 25 of this issue) and it is little more than a glorified ‘copy and paste’ tool that offers less functionality than Microsoft Word. First no one could get it, then it didn’t work properly, and the problems it still has mean that most comments I’m hearing (and seeing on various website message boards) about it are ‘I can’t get on to it’ or ‘Don’t use it, it’s quicker to do your own’.

So what’s in the Renewed Literacy Framework?

For literacy the government has condensed what the children need to know into 12 strands.

  1. Speaking
  2. Listening and responding
  3. Group discussion and interaction
  4. Drama
  5. Word recognition
  6. Word structure and spelling
  7. Understanding and interpreting texts
  8. Engaging with and responding to texts
  9. Creating and shaping texts
  10. Text structure and organisation
  11. Sentence structure and punctuation
  12. Presentation

Four of the strands are concerned with speaking and listening, three with reading and five with writing. All the literacy is supposed to be taught through these 12 strands. Just to help further (!), when ‘Letters and Sounds’, concerned with the teaching of reading and spelling, was finally published, the advice in it was set out across six phases. These phases run across the strands, the year groups and the objectives, apparently. Also, while the renewed framework advocates everything is taught through the 12 strands, delivered via the units it recommends (more on them later), ‘Letters and Sounds’ recommends that the teaching in it is done in ‘discrete daily sessions of around 20 minutes’. One of the first things I realised when initially reading the renewed framework was that, although a much slimmer document than the previous one, it really is even smaller, as all the objectives are repeated. They are presented once by strand, and then again by year. Unless you are in the Reception Year, which has disappeared in a puff of smoke! The renewed framework goes straight from the Early Years to Year 1. I kept thinking I’d missed it, or had a page missing, but, no, the first and very important year of a child’s statutory school life does not warrant its own section. Personally I find this very strange, and I’m not alone. The objectives from the renewed framework have been further re-arranged so they are ‘clustered’ into three major themes:

  • narrative (and plays and playscripts)
  • non-fiction
  • poetry

These ‘themes’, (or ‘blocks’ as they are also referred to), have been divided into units. The units are made up of a ‘cluster of related objectives’. So for example, in Year 1, there are four units for narrative, five for non-fiction, and three for poetry. Each unit has a heading, and a recommended time scale. So for Year 1 – Narrative – Unit 1 it is ‘Stories with familiar settings’, which should take four weeks or two x two weeks.
Finding the framework OK, still with it so far? Next I looked for these units to see what was in them. Search through document… can’t find anything else about them. Check with head and literacy coordinators… no, they haven’t got a copy of them either, as apparently they have to be accessed through (doom-laden music!) the ‘electronic framework’. Again, according to the DCSF, ‘the structure of the electronic version of the Primary Framework for literacy and mathematics aims to provide practitioners with ready access to a broad range of appropriate guidance and resources to support planning and greater personalisation to ensure that the needs of all children are met.’ With a sense of dread I dutifully turned on the computer and went to the DfES (now DCSF) website. To access specific objectives you have to log into the website, select the year you want, then block (narrative, non-fiction or poetry), then the specific unit. You are then offered some teaching sequences or phases. In addition to the information offered for each unit, there is a raft of progression papers, guidance papers and information relating to the use of ICT (all offered as pdfs that have to be printed or downloaded). To gather all the information you need, you end up clicking through link after link on the website – resulting in the detail of the framework becoming something of a moveable feast. You never really know where it will end – and it is also quite possible to forget where you started! I trawled through what seemed like hundreds of pages and could not find the units. Eventually – eureka! I found them. Then several hours, a couple of ink cartridges and a small wood of paper later, I possessed copies of all the units needed for one year group. Hooray! However, I could not face reading them all, so stored them safely for when I felt strong enough to face this task. The fact that the Renewed Frameworks for Literacy and Mathematics are only fully available via a website-based electronic version is laughable. Who has hours and hours to spend trawling through website-based materials? Access to such information should not be based on a website connection and teachers should not have to print everything out for themselves. The information should be supplied in printed format, ready to run with.

In conclusion… When looking over the original document and the objectives in it, we were not too concerned about the effect it would have on our planning and teaching. We are a reasonably good school, with conscientious teachers who have planned carefully and kept our eyes on the latest developments and research. There was nothing unexpected in the objectives in the renewed framework. We would cope as usual by checking that our planning met all the objectives and add in anything that might have been missing.

However, having seen and read through all these units, our hearts sank. It was obvious we would once again be asked to rewrite all our perfectly good planning and schemes of work to fit in with this.

Despite the lovely little sentence in the document that reads, ‘It is for teachers and practitioners to decide to what extent this guidance is used’, there is little question that the pressure will be on teachers to use it. Teachers in every primary school, in every year group will be rewriting their plans, regardless of whether they need to, and regardless of how effective their old ones may have been. Yet again we say, hopefully this will be the last time, They can’t change it all yet again, can they? Personally I wouldn’t put one penny of my hard-earned cash on it!