Why launch the Shaping Brains Centre?
According to The Literacy Trust '16.4% of adults in England, or 7.1 million people, can be described as having 'very poor literacy skills.' They can understand short straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently, and obtain information from everyday sources, but reading information from unfamiliar sources, or on unfamiliar topics, could cause problems. This is also known as being functionally illiterate.'
This is also a global issue. Illiteracy costs the global economy more than $1 trillion (U.S. dollars) annually in direct costs alone (World Literacy Foundation, 2015). Low literacy presents a critical and persistent challenge around the world: Even in developed countries, it is estimated that approximately 20% of 15-year-olds do not attain a level of reading performance that allows them to participate effectively in life (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2016).
An early gap between good and poor readers typically persists or increases over time. This is a gap most never recover from during their school life and one which will take 40 years to eradicate at the current rate of change.
The Sutton Trust (2017) The Mobility Manifesto 2017
Despite a wide range of projects and schemes designed to address reading and spelling difficulties, most issues re not picked up early enough, intervention may be ineffective and slow paced.
At the Shaping Brains Centre we will show how to offer an early intervention in pre-school, send children to school with evaluation reports and follow up support, offer training to schools and volunteers, teach parents to read and write, and develop 'teacherless teaching' resources that enable high school age students and adults to learn to become functionally literate using technology.
Young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than children who were never read to, a 2019 study found. 'This 'million word gap' could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development.'
New research reveals that strong home literacy practices may actually reshape the brains of such children by creating new neural pathways for reading. 'Strong home literacy practices may help to create a detour for the brain's reading network, from the left hemisphere to the right, providing resiliency for young readers with a family history of dyslexia.
However the number of parents who CANNOT read to their children will factor into this.
At the Shaping Brains Centre we will tackle adult illiteracy from the perspective of teaching parents to read, in part so that they can read to their children, and so that they can best help their children when they attend school.
At the age of just five, children from the poorest backgrounds in England start school already 19 months behind their wealthier peers in terms of language and vocabulary.
 The Sutton Trust (2012) The Social Mobility Summit: Report of the Summit held at the Royal Society London 21-22 May 2012
At the Shaping Brains Centre we will will offer pre-school children opportunities to be be read to, even if parents cannot currently offer this at home themselves.
Although initiatives across the country are doing this remarkably well, there are elements that can be incorporated into these opportunities to also 'wire' children's brains to be able to map phonemes to graphemes - this underpins all reading and spelling activities. Children with poor phonemic awareness will struggle to learn to read and spell regardless of how many books are read to them, or how intelligent they may be.
Studies have shown this to be the case for at least a decade, and yet parents and teachers are persistently told that reading to children will help them learn to read. Those who are becoming aware of the importance of phonemic awareness often confuse this with phonological awareness, and break words into units other than phonemes with children, eg onset and rime or syllables. Clarity with regards to this is vital. At the Shaping Brains Centre we will offer visiting parents and teachers the opportunity to see this in action, and conduct longitudinal studies to evaluate the impact of these opportunities against the children's primary literacy achievement and attitudes to reading.
A study of 17,000 people from birth indicates that reading for pleasure improves not just literacy, but maths ability too. Reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, both in vocabulary, spelling, and mathematics. In fact, the impact was around four times greater than that of having a parent with a post-secondary degree.
At the Shaping Brains Centre the research on the focus of reading (and writing) for pleasure is as important to us as the strategies to teach students to become literate.
According to the 'Annual Literacy Survey 2019 aged 5 to 8: Setting the baseline' 30.0% of children say that they only read if they have to.
It is easy to understand that children who struggle with a task will avoid it. It is also known that many current approaches to teaching reading rely on 'levels', and 'reading groups' are still a feature in many classrooms. Students do not choose the books they read as the books are chosen for them based on their perceived 'level' or 'group'.
Many boys especially, decide early on that they do not want to read, and that reading is not pleasurable or rewarding.
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy’s Boys' Reading Commission was a joint venture with the National Literacy Trust from January to June 2012. Three out of four (76%) UK schools were concerned about boys’ underachievement in reading, yet there was no government strategy to address the issue. In 2011, an estimated 60,000 boys failed to reach the expected level in reading at age 11.
Despite acknowledging this problem almost a decade ago little has changed. At the Shaping Brains Centre this is an issue we will tackle; sharing strategies as action researchers to the public, who can observe and participate, and by publishing research in this specific area in order to inform public policy.
The Literacy Changes Lives: An advocacy resource report found that children born into communities with the most serious literacy challenges have some of the lowest life expectancies in England:
A boy born in Stockton Town Centre - which has some of the most serious literacy challenges in the country - has a life expectancy 26.1 years shorter than a boy born in North Oxford - which has some of the fewest literacy challenges.
A girl born in Queensgate, Burnley - which has some of the most serious literacy challenges in the country - has a life expectancy 20.9 years shorter than a girl born in Mayfield, Wealdon - which has some of the fewest literacy challenges.
What is more, these inequalities even exist within the same communities:
n Middlesbrough, a boy born in the ward of North Ormesby - which has some of the most serious literacy challenges in the country - has a life expectancy of 71.4 years, which is 11.6 years shorter than a boy born just 2 miles away in Marton East - which has some of the fewest literacy challenges in the country - who has a life expectancy of 83 years; the gap is 9.4 years for girls - 76.5 years vs 85.9 years .
Research estimates that if every child left primary school with the reading skills they need, our economy could be more than £32.1 billion bigger by 2025 Read On. Get On. (2014) How reading can help children escape poverty. Published by Save the Children on behalf of the Read. On. Get On. campaign
The Shaping Brains Centre will work with local schools to ensure that every primary school child in Dorset, who is capable of reading and spelling, has the skills they need to keep up with the demands of the high school curriculum, and to avoid the feelings of helplessness and shame associated with literacy difficulties.
This bears in mind that there are some who may not achieve the same learning outcomes as others due to intellectual impairment, but nevertheless should be given the opportunity to reach their potential.
Schools will be able to request that their 'at risk' students be part of the Shaping Brains 'High Literacy Before High School' project that will seek to not to 'achieve expected literacy levels' according to an education policy or curriculum, but actually raise expectations about what all students are capable of with different instruction and focus.
The findings from Ofsted’s Education, Children’s Services and Skills annual report found just 57 per cent of pupils in schools in the Dorset County Council (DCC) area met targets – putting the county in last place of the 15 local authority areas in the region.
Ofsted’s south west regional director Bradley Simmons said: “Dorset is an area of real worry for me.
Shaping Brains Centre team will work with others who have a shared interest in creating long term, sustainable change in the Dorset area.
Illiteracy is a huge problem around the world and has wide reaching negative consequences.
This is known, and there is more research about the teaching of reading than any other area of the taught curriculum.
Billions have been spent addressing it, with some improvement, but not quickly enough to positively effect the highest number of lives.
There have been widely cited research studies, for example almost two decades ago, the National Reading Panel reviewed more than 100,000 studies and arrived at recommendations for how students should receive daily, explicit, systematic phonics instruction in the early grades. While many ponder why teachers choose to ignore the evidence, it is our experience that this is quite simply not the case; most are aware of it, and most are teaching phonics in some form. To become confident, successful readers, children also need to compute their word recognition rapidly, and without having to always engage in translation back to phonemes - decoding individual words. Therefore, it is important to understand how children progress to fluency and comprehension, and also increase their understanding of word meaning - vocabulary knowledge. Reading comprehension clearly entails more than the identification of individual words: Children are not literate if they cannot understand text. The highest number of students are also unable to become good 'spellers' by learning words as whole words, isolated from 'real' reading and spelling activities, through the use of 'word walls' or spelling 'lists' etc - practices that are rife throughout primary school classrooms.
At the Shaping Brains Centre we will tackle teacher beliefs, but also address misconceptions regarding HOW to teach phonics, and spelling, in the early grades, and how to ensure that these skills benefit all learners within this crucial 'learning to read and spell' phase. We will work WITH teachers, and share research gathered in real classrooms, from these action researchers. We aim to create resources that can be accessed by Universities offering teacher training courses, as well as practising teachers.
While these are only some of the issues relating to literacy, other areas of interest at the Shaping Brains Centre will be teacher recruitment and retainment, which will very much focus on teacher mental health.
Reports show that teachers are entering and leaving the job at the same rate. The five-year retention rate has also dropped to 67.7 per cent for those who qualified in 2013, compared to 68.5 per cent in the previous year. In 2017 42,830 teachers left the profession. When compared to the number of pupils, this is especially worrying. The number of pupils in the school system as a whole rose by 0.8 per cent overall to 8,735,098 in 2018. So the number of extra pupils has outstripped the small rise in teachers. Figures in June 2019 show this has continued to rise.
"Lesson planning, marking, carrying out assessments, parents evenings - there was always something to do.
"I felt very much under pressure to move children on in their learning, to meet their targets," says Jake Rusby, who left teaching after three years.
"I was consumed by the work, I became quite anxious - it took over my life."
Jake's story is not uncommon.
Teachers are suffering from more severe psychological problems than at any point this century, experts have warned. In an alarming report they reveal the school workforce is being pushed to “breaking point”.
Education Support, a charity that gives mental health help to education professionals, predicts school standards will fall, and mental health problems in the classroom will multiply, if the government does not act quickly to offer teachers more support. “Overwork has become normalised. Education professionals don’t feel trusted,” said the charity’s Chief Executive, Sinéad Mc Brearty. “They are almost twice as anxious as the general population. That’s a measure of how harsh our accountability systems are and the way in which accountability in education is so reductive.'
At the Shaping Brains Centre we aim to support the new government Teacher Recruitment and Retention strategy and offer our 'local level' perspective in Dorset.
Emma Kell, author of 'How to Survive in Teaching' said she had felt constantly stressed while working a 70-hour week – and not just because of the workload. “It was the feeling of never being trusted, and my voice not being heard,” she said. Everything she did had to be turned into a set of data to prove it had been carried out. “I was being constantly monitored and told off. I had no professional control at all.”
This is an issue to be addressed by the government, as shown below, however we also aim to go above and beyond what is being offered to teachers, working with organisations to enable teachers to access more support and to ensure that there is enough funding to prioritise developing healthier workplaces and working practices.
On this page we have simply touched the surface with regards to literacy related issues, and how we intend to help tackle them in the Dorset area, working to support our local community.
As a Community Interest Not for Profit Company, The Shaping Brains Centre initially seeks to offer learning sessions to playgroups, parent and toddler groups, and other interested parties, in a play-based, book and language rich environment, not only to tackle some of these issues but also because there is a steady decline in early years services and provision within the UK. The charity Action for Children estimates that 1.8 million children used Sure Start centres in England in 2017-18 – down from 2.2 million four years earlier – a direct consequence, it says, of a 62% cut in council early years service spending since 2010.
'Save the Children' warned last year that a shortage of graduate teachers working in the early years sector also means many young children are at risk of falling behind before they start school. The charity reported that there are nearly 11,000 too few early years teachers working in nurseries across England. Shaping Brains will offer a range of opportunities for non qualified EY teachers already working within the EY sector to learn new skills.
Ofsted’s latest report, covering the period between 31 August and 31 December 2018, highlights that there has been another significant drop in the number of registered childminders in England, bringing the total number to 39,700 – which is a thousand less than last time. This latest childminder decline is the continuation of a downward trend, with a total drop of 17 per cent since 31 August 2015. PACEY has now commissioned a team of researchers at University of Plymouth to identify what is causing this decline and, in particular, why fewer people are choosing childminding as a career. At Shaping Brains we will offer the opportunity for those interested in setting up playgroups and also their own childminding business to learn new skills by getting involved in our own playgroups, and attending support workshops. Many who would be fantastic childminders are put off by the decision to end the childcare business grant for childminders and the continued registration delays at Ofsted. They also seek emotional support to offer quality provision, to market and sustain their new business, and to feel confident dealing with parents !
We will also immediately set to work developing and researching 'teacherless teaching tools', recruiting a Chief Technology Officer, who will lead projects, creating resources that enable Centre visitors to develop literacy skills without face to face sessions with tutors or teachers if they so wish. We have established links to license various resources already being used successfully around the world, which facilitate explicit learning without teachers.
The 'Technology Team' will maintain the web site and manage social media projects.
We will seek funds to appoint a Senior Research Executive in order to establish the Centre as a credible research and training centre from day 1, and to use data to measure success. This will include work relating to tracking and presenting student gains to the public so that they are best informed with about the use of this technology.
We already have the ideal candidate to lead the Centre as Director. She has a proven track record in the field of education, with a BEd Hons (Early Years) and Masters Degree in Special Educational Needs, with a focus on Behaviour Management, PSED, Counselling Skills and Dyslexia. As an experienced early years centre manager, running two successful nurseries in the UK for 8 years, and experience of working for the UK Government as an OFSTED Inspector, and involved with projects such as Sure Start she has a deep understanding of the issues facing the EY sector. She is currently mentoring over 600 teachers around the world online, within a private support group, with teachers reporting that she has 'changed the way they teach everything!' This passionate 'hands-on' educator will oversee the initial stages of fund raising to secure premises, resource appropriately, recruit staff, liaise with stake holders and initially manage day-to-day operations.
We also welcome someone to the Company Committee who has had a varied career working with the likes of Alan Sugar in an advertising and marketing capacity, currently spends much of her life focused on delivering hands-on workshops to promote 'Health and Well Being' in the workplace, and raising awareness about issues of personal interest to her such as Epilepsy Research. Despite living outside of the Dorset area she will take on an advisory role and use her experiences to bring fresh and innovative ideas to the table.
The long term aims of Shaping Brains CIC is to expand to other communities within the UK, and potentially worldwide!