What’s the hubbub?

Lady in library

Maybe you’ve heard of the ‘English hubs’, maybe you haven’t. Recent teacher research suggested that the message wasn’t quite out there, with awareness of the initiative patchy at best.

What are the English hubs?

In a nutshell, the English hubs will build on the success of maths hubs run by the NCETM. Recognising the success of the maths hubs as a way to disseminate pedagogy, and allow peer to peer learning, the government has committed £26m to set up a network of English hubs to enable high-performing schools to share their success with those who are struggling and ultimately raise standards.

Unlike the maths hubs, these won’t be focusing on mastery, but instead on the very earliest stages of a child’s education - the Reception years. With a focus on developing early language, vocabulary, literacy and phonics, the hubs will be tasked with closing the word gap and preparing all children for the demands of KS1 and formal schooling.

"Unlike the maths hubs, these hubs won’t be focusing on mastery, but instead on the very earliest stages of a child’s education - the Reception years."

Why does this matter?

Research has shown that that the ‘word gap’, that is the amount of vocabulary and words you know, can have a serious impact on your future progress in education. In 2003, Hart and Risley published a study in the US journal American Educator, which referred to the 30 million ‘word gap’.

In short, families where parents were professionals who engaged their children in high levels of talk, compared to disadvantaged families where the frequency of dialogue between parent and child was much smaller, the study concluded that over the course of four years, from age 0 to 4, children engaged in high levels of dialogue would cumulatively hear 30 million more words than their disadvantaged peers. Further to that, the study showed that there was a huge correlation between the language parents used and the language their children used - the children were picking up their vocabulary from dialogue with their parents.

This matters because when a child starts school aged four, with a 30 million word advantage, they’re already ahead of their peers. While initiatives to help promote talk in families have been implemented before and aimed at parents (e.g. NLT’s Early Words Together), this is the first time we’ve seen a concerted effort to address the issue in the early years of schooling, and proactively try to ‘close the gap’.

"This is the first time we’ve seen a concerted effort to address the issue in the early years of schooling and proactively try to ‘close the gap'."

Vocabulary is essential for understanding the text you read, to be able to communicate articulately both verbally and in the written form, and to be able to learn. We’ve all at one time read a technical piece of writing in an area we’re not too familiar with (for me, it’s usually my niece’s A level chemistry homework) and struggled because there’s words in there, critical to understanding the text, which we just don’t know. Luckily as adults we can Google it, look it up in a dictionary, or ask someone. For a child with no access to a computer and no books in their home, they have little chance of being able to identify a word.

What happens next?

The government intend to appoint a supplier to run a Centre of Excellence for Literacy Teaching, which will support the 35 hubs and train the five ‘literacy specialists’ within those hubs. Hubs will be schools with demonstrable expertise in early language, as evidenced through their phonics check results, their EYFS profile levels, Ofsted grades, and KS2 reading attainment.

The focus will be drawn towards the ‘category five and six opportunity areas’ - that’s Derby, East Cambridgeshire, Fenland, Norwich, Ipswich, Blackpool, Oldham, Hastings, West Somerset, Stoke on Trent, Bradford, Doncaster and Scarborough. Each hub is intended to support 20 schools intensively and up to 150 schools less intensively. Their focus will be approaches to close the word gap in Reception, promotion of phonics and particularly the Reception to KS1 transition.

Read the official DfE announcement