English Hubs and the Importance of Reading Skills

The significance of reading and phonics in the development and education of a child cannot be overstated. In this blog, we consider the importance of reading skills and explore the contributions that English Hubs can make.

Reading skills are the fundamental building blocks of a rounded education; they open up a world of discovery. In young children, the increased use of vocabulary improves their ability to communicate and to understand the world. Learning to read accelerates this process of growth. In short, learning to read soon transforms into reading to learn.

This is firmly recognised by Ofsted, which states within its School inspection handbook that: “During all inspections of infant, junior, primary and lower-middle schools, inspectors must focus on how well pupils are taught to read as a main inspection activity.”

The critical years are in Reception and Year 1, when children have their first experience of structured education, and it is for these year groups that additional support was launched in the form of English Hubs. The Department for Education (DfE) stresses the importance of these Hubs, which “promote a love of reading and help schools provide excellent teaching in phonics and early language".


What is an English Hub?

Initially launched by the DfE in September 2018, 34 English Hubs have now been established to offer support to local schools, academies, and free schools to further improve the teaching of phonics, early language and reading in Reception and Year 1.

The Hubs are located at existing schools, chosen through a competitive process to establish those with excellent standards of phonics teaching. Each English Hub school identifies specialist literacy teachers to receive additional training in early language education.

English Hubs work as support centres for up to 170 local primary schools, building a network of excellent phonics teaching in every region.

Promoting a love of reading, the Hubs help schools provide excellent teaching in phonics and early language. They focus on supporting the children with slowest progress in Reception and Year 1 and ensure every child is successful, regardless of background, needs or abilities.

Each English Hub has a Hub lead and five Literacy Specialists. Services offered can include:

  • Showcase events in teaching phonics, language and a love of reading
  • Support to develop an action plan
  • A reading audit in eligible schools
  • Funding for training and resources
  • Six days of support from a Literacy Specialist

The scheme is overseen by The English Hubs Council, which comprises of leading phonics experts and headteachers, to provide a strategic overview of the English Hubs programme. The support offered by English Hubs is mostly free and is funded by the DfE.


Resources and training

The English Hubs programme is advocated by the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity dedicated to giving disadvantaged children the literacy skills they need to succeed. Offering tailored training and support to schools, the Trust aims to develop a love of reading and to improve early language development and vocabulary teaching.

This comes in the form of guides and structured training courses for Hub schools, which includes a Reading for Pleasure CPD (Continuous Professional Development) programme. Content explores the link between a love of reading and attainment, as well as helping schools to drive an improved reading culture.

The Trust declares, “embedding a love of reading in your classroom can be transformative to your pupils' academic success.”

Its research and policy guide asserts that the focus area for schools should be:

  1. Early literacy: including reading and phonics in nursery and reception
  2. Reading: encompassing reading comprehension, critical literacy and reading for enjoyment
  3. Writing: creating a school writing culture, writing for pleasure, and a writing curriculum to develop skills to support the writing process
  4. Oracy: developing oral skills and the role of high-quality classroom talk in developing children's thinking and learning
  5. Literacy leadership: insight and evidence for leaders working to drive change and embed a whole-school approach to literacy


Why engage with an English Hub?

In an interview with the Times Education Supplement (TES), Hannah Abu-Ghaida, the English Hub Lead for the Knowledge Schools Trust, makes a compelling argument for utilising the Hubs.

“It’s very much a two-pronged approach,she says. “Theres the financial injection that schools currently need to boost early reading and phonics – and phonics is the starting point. But there is also the advice [delivered] in that school-to-school support way, so rather than it be from an inspector, its more like its coming from a colleague.

The remit of the Hubs is to pass on best practice by engaging with schools either on site or at their location and even offering funding to schools to achieve this, such as to buy new books or paying for them to visit for a half-day best practice training course.

The financial incentive comes in the form of direct funding of up to £6,000, available to schools as a full funding grant, or £3,000 as matched funding. This can be used to help with new books or decodable readers that pupils can take home.

More importantly, the Hubs offer valuable expertise and experience in this vital aspect of education provision. Abu-Ghaida says, Feedback from schools who engage with us is very favourable. Colleagues tell us that it is so reassuring to be given advice and support from fellow (non-judgemental) teachers who have expertise in the current understanding of what makes for excellent provision.


How to access the Hubs

Schools can self-refer or be referred by an NLE (National Leader of Education) or a local authority. You can find your nearest hub location on the English Hub website.


Interested in learning more about the future of teaching English in secondary schools? Join us at this autumn's insightful forum to join with colleagues across the sector, and get updates on the curriculum, assessments and pedagogy for English.

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