Next step - How do I become ... A literacy co-ordinator?

27th March 2009 at 00:00
If you have a way with words and care about raising standards of English, then this could be the position for you

Good with words? Know your colon from your comma? Like nothing better than snuggling up with a good book? If you think you can pass on your enthusiasm for language to other people, then you'd probably make a great literacy co-ordinator.

The job covers three basic principles of literacy: speaking and listening; reading; and writing. It's about expanding vocabulary, exploring the way we use words and sentences, de-mystifying grammar, encouraging reading and developing writing styles. It can mean anything from word games and spelling competitions to interactive family reading days. It's a job designed to support those pupils who struggle with language, and to push those who excel.

Perhaps most importantly, it's not confined to English lessons. The role is as important in science as it is in humanities, and literacy co- ordinators stress the importance of what they do across the curriculum. "Even in a high-performing school like ours, literacy was still identified as a barrier to learning, an obstacle for the whole school," explains Debbie Murphy, director of literacy and assistant head at Wood Green High School in Wednesbury, West Midlands. "We had to make sure literacy didn't get edged out by other demands."

You'll need an overview of the whole school, everything from chemistry experiments to football reports. In addition, you'll need your finger on the national pulse: the Department for Children, Schools and Families sets literacy targets and co-ordinators spend a great deal of time developing frameworks to meet these. But it's by no means all paperwork.

"It's about what actually happens in the classroom," explains Adam French, literacy subject leader at Anston Park Junior School in Sheffield. "I go into other classes to report on literacy standards. I also do training sessions and every so often I teach a model lesson. And a lot of my work happens informally. People catch me in the staffroom and ask how they can develop literacy in a particular subject."

The best part of the job, everyone agrees, is finding ways to promote literacy every day to every pupil in the school. "It's a real opportunity to be creative and to do your own thing," says Ms Murphy.

At Wood Green, she has set herself the task of finding a word of the week, catering for every department in both the lower and upper schools, without repeating herself for five years. The word, its definition and pronunciation, as well as an apt quote, is used as the desktop display on every computer and interactive whiteboard.

Most literacy co-ordinators come from an English background, perhaps with experience as an advanced skills teacher or head of department. You need the confidence to advise colleagues on their use of language, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to be an English specialist.

"Teachers from other subjects have a different experience of the way we use language," says Ms Murphy. "It brings new perspectives to literacy." Whatever your background, you'll have to work closely with every department in school and you'll need management support.

Taking on the role of literacy co-ordinator is unlikely to make you rich - in primary schools, in particular, it is often not recognised with a pay rise. But it is an excellent way of getting cross-curriculum experience and job satisfaction is high.

"You're able to take a look at the bigger picture instead of getting bogged down in curriculum concerns," says Ms Murphy. "Literacy can both enhance and limit pupils' lives - we make a difference."

Next week: Truancy officer

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT

- Salary: There's substantial variation in how well the role is rewarded. It may come as part of the job, if you're head of the English department. If not, it typically means a TLR2 allowance of between Pounds 2,250 and Pounds 5,500.

- Key qualities: Love of language, outstanding literacy skills and the ability to work with a range of colleagues.

- Next step: No specific qualifications required. Keep an eye out for advertised posts or internal openings. Get involved in literacy projects, such as World Book Day and National Poetry Day.

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