With International Literacy Day coming up on 8 September there is no better time to reflect on what is one of the main building blocks of any education system. But I would argue that literacy is often defined in terms that are too narrow to offer the maximum possible benefit to young people.
Literacy should not be restricted to the classroom - after all, learning does not happen in a cultural vacuum. Rather, it must be supported by a framework of other activities that allow those hours in the classroom to make sense.
I am the chair of the charity Filmclub, and with our partner organisations Film Education and First Light we challenge pupils to experience diverse worlds. Equally, they learn about the arc of a storyline, the interaction between characters and different styles of vocabulary. There's the opportunity to discuss and review films - more than 6,000 reviews by schoolchildren are sent in to Filmclub's website each week - and this gives young people a palpable sense of why literacy, and the capacity to express oneself, are important.
Around 76 per cent of Filmclub's members say it has helped them with their English. Then there is anecdotal evidence: tales of pupils who were once uninterested in literature finding their confidence and with it their critical voice. Teachers, too, are seeing the value of offering a different angle on learning.
A carefully curated catalogue of films enables teachers to tailor what they show to their classes - you might choose Whip It, Persepolis or Juno (pictured above) for a class of 15-year-olds but opt for something like How to Train Your Dragon or Up for a group of eight-year-olds. The topic of literacy can be framed in many different ways, from the charming animation of Eleanor's Secret to the powerful homage to the value of expressing oneself through the written word that is The Diary of Anne Frank.
Cultural opportunities like the ones offered by Filmclub are often seen as easy targets when it comes to budget cuts and curriculum shake-ups, but to cut pupils' access to these windows on the world would be to greatly reduce their life opportunities.
It is vital that we do not view programmes that expand pupils' horizons as optional extras. The scaffolding these extracurricular activities provide is vital to curricular success.
Lord Michael Bichard has spent his career in the public sector, working in local and central government. He received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 1999 and served as permanent secretary for education and employment.
Visit Filmclub's profile on the TES Resources website.
Guide pupils' viewing of Juno with stevencallow's worksheet.
IN THE FORUMS
Teachers are discussing film certificates. Would you use trailers for 15- or 18-certificate films in the classroom?
Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources049.