Cover image for Vol. 50 Issue 2

Edited By: Jill McClay and Clare Dowdall

Impact Factor: 0.892

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2015: 62/179 (Linguistics); 118/230 (Education & Educational Research)

Online ISSN: 1741-4369

Associated Title(s): Journal of Research in Reading

UKLA 50th Anniversary: A Special Virtual Issue



As a journal of the United Kingdom Literacy Association (previously UKRA), Literacy has played an important part in the association’s history. Early issues of the journal - originally named Reading: a journal for the study and improvement of reading and related skills (from 1967) - were published in an A5 booklet, opening with an address by the current UKRA president. Following some changes in format, the journal was re-titled Reading: a journal about literacy and language in education in 1993, and then Reading: Literacy and Language from 2001. In 2004 the journal became Literacy, in recognition of the broadening scope of the organisation’s interests. Publishing accessible articles by practitioners and academics - many of whom are UKLA members - Literacy, like its predecessors, has provided an important space for reflection, critique and innovation.

In recognising and celebrating the journal’s contribution, we are pleased to offer this online special issue of Literacy to celebrate UKLA’s 50th anniversary. In compiling this issue, we contacted as many past editors as we could find and asked them to nominate at least one article for inclusion- ideally from their own period as editors - and write a short piece explaining why they felt this article was significant. Unable to locate editors from the 1970s and 1980s, we have added our own selections from this period, reflecting on resonances between these articles and more recent work.

As Asher Cashdan explores in the introduction to his chosen article, many educational innovations are fleeting. What the pages of the journal suggest however is the enduring nature of the themes that fascinate and trouble practitioners. We hope you enjoy reading - or re-visiting - these articles and that doing so reminds you of other Reading/Literacy articles that have been important to you over the years.

Cathy Burnett and Julia Davies, Current Editors, Literacy

Inconsistencies in i.t.a. and t.o. - an examination of four popular children's readers

Selected by: Asher Cashdan Editor of Reading 1967-1973

It was in 1967 that I became the first editor of Reading, starting off a hectic period of my life, in the middle of which I transferred to the embryonic Open University while continuing to enjoy bringing out the magazine for a further three years. The period marked the heyday of a determined attempt by many authoritative figures, led by Sir James Pitman (of Pitman Press) and John Downing, later President of UKRA, to persuade Primary Schools to replace Traditional Orthography (t.o.) with the Initial Teaching Alphabet (i.t.a.) as a vehicle for learning to read. The independent evaluation carried out by Vera Southgate and Frank Warburton found that “infants using i.t.a. learned to read earlier, more easily and at a faster rate than similar children using t.o.”. The majority of teachers who tried i.t.a. became great enthusiasts and I was pleased to accept J R Birnie’s paper in which he explored consistency between the two systems and found i.t.a. to do better. For all that and despite James Pitman’s strenuous efforts to have i.t.a. adopted as the mainstream system for use by the whole British population, i.t.a. is now no more than a footnote in history, speaking volumes for the transitory nature of the vast majority of educational experiments.

WARBURTON, F. & SOUTHGATE, V. (1969). i.t.a.: An Independent Evaluation. London. Murray/Chambers for the Schools Council.

Editorial for Special Issue: A Language for Life

Selected by: Cathy Burnett and Julia Davies Editors of Literacy 2011-present

Given current debates about English, language and the curriculum, it seems timely to look back at a 1975 issue of Reading devoted to A Language for Life (The Bullock Report), the first issue that was dedicated to a single topic. The editorial, written by Derek Thackray, editor of Reading at the time, outlines the scope and range of A Language for Life, noting that the Bullock Committee included 3 past presidents of UKRA: Keith Gardner, John Merritt and Vera Southgate-Booth. Derek Thackray lists the report’s key themes: language diversity; relationships between reading, writing, talking and listening; the complexity of learning to read; assessment; and initial teacher education. These themes are explored in the issue through a series of articles which include those by David Crystal (on the contribution of linguistics to language teaching), Asher Cashdan (on language and talk), Geoffrey Roberts (on early reading), Joyce Morris (on reading in the later years) and Donald Moyle (on teacher education).

Simulations-reading for action

Selected by: Julia Davies Editor of Literacy 2011-present

The year before this article was put online in 2006, Ken Jones also published an article with Carey Jewitt and Gunther Kress about English teaching in secondary schools. He was also cited in article by Carey Jewitt and Jill Bourne in 2003, in their paper about a project in which Jones also was involved, concerning multimodal analysis of interaction in the classroom. I was delighted to find this piece, ‘Simulations - reading for action’ in the 1980 edition of ‘Reading’ (the pre-cursor to Literacy). In this article Jones argues for meaningful teaching where learners had agency, could be active in their use of language and who could enact social roles as part of a reading activity. This article shows the seeds of thinking in Jones’ work, as well as in the early stages of academic thought generally, about literacy as a social practice. Further the article shows how Jones valued at that time multimodal practices in literacy work. While the article is now 34 years old, it celebrates literacy activities that should still have a place in classrooms today. It describes good practice that places learners at the heart of classroom activities and that takes a modern, multimodal approach to pedagogical practice.


BOURNE, J. & JEWITT, C. (2003). Orchestrating debate: a multimodal analysis of classroom interaction. Reading. Volume 37, Issue 2, Pp 64–72.

JEWITT C., JONES, K., & KRESS, G. (2005). English in classrooms: only write down what you need to know: annotation for what?. English in Education Volume 39, Issue 1, Pp 5 – 18.

Learning to read without effort

If you can’t read it then audio read it

Selected by: David Wray Editor of Reading 1991-1999

I became editor of Reading in 1991 and I can honestly describe the ensuing eight years as one of the most pleasurable periods of my life. Having responsibility for shaping the journal which had so strongly influenced my professional life (as a reader) since I trained as a primary teacher 15 years earlier was at once a great honour, a privilege and, yes, really hard work. I discovered that not only did I have to manage the submitted papers, but I also had to go out and persuade people to write, edit the resulting manuscripts, assemble issues which were vaguely themed - this on top of persuading an international team to become editorial board members and ensuring an adequate supply of illustrative photographs (I took all these myself in local schools). But the whole enterprise was rewarding and great fun!

My personal aims in editing the journal were two-fold. One was to recruit and encourage an international cast of authors to write about literacy issues of significance. One of the papers I have selected will represent this aim, being an insightful piece by Valerie Yule, from Monash University in Australia. Her paper on “Learning to read without effort” prefigured the on-going debate in the reading field about whether you could describe reading as a “natural” process or not. I remember not being all that impressed with her arguments at the time (being definitely on the real books, whole language side of the reading debate), although with the passing of time and accumulating research, I suspect I am closer to those views now than I was. But Valerie could write! And it was the sheer readability of her piece that convinced me to override at least one reviewer and include this paper. It has stood the test of time, I think.

My second aim for the journal was to encourage teachers to write for it, in which I was hoping for more than just the “this is what I do in my classroom” pieces. In Gilly Byrom’s piece on audio reading, I think I managed to find a really excellent example of classroom-based research. Not only does Gilly manage to give us a convincing account of her classroom work, but she also provides quite a sophisticated account of the theory underpinning what she did. This was the first time she had written anything quite like this, and naturally she needed quite a lot of support with the writing. But it is pieces like this, and many others like it, that I would like to stand as testimony to what a journal like Reading (Literacy) can achieve. Informing and exciting readers, but also providing a real learning opportunity for writers.

Tellings and retellings: educational implications of children’s oral stories

Selected by: Colin Mills Special issue editor, 1993

I was never a full time, bona fide editor of the UKRA journal, but I spent a lot of time reading submitted papers. I edited a couple of special editions in the early 1990s. The paper I am most proud of helping to bring into being was one by Carol Fox in 1993. Carol had done important work in her PhD thesis. Drawing on 200 invented stories by young children who had a rich experience of hearing stories and, through that, had gained (what we then termed) ‘literary competence’, Carol unpicked and documented what that kind of competence consisted of.

What I love so much about that paper is the way in which it weaves together data with theory with thinking with interpretation. And it comes forward with implications for school and classrooms. I select it for other reasons too. It represents the kind of work and thinking that the Association has always done so well. That is, it draws on observations of what learners do, and think. The funds of knowledge that Carol draws from (Vygotsky; Cazden; Labov, Genette) were important and significant. I am sure that Carol would acknowledge the work and influence of Margaret Meek, who supervised her work, and contributed to many members of UKLA’s thinking and development.

There’s a sharper, political and epistemological point I want to make as well. I never, ever want to hark back to a golden age when everything was good! If (and I know Carol will know how much I value her work) I were reading this as a new paper now, I’d ask questions about the formation and development of children’s alphabetical knowledge. BUT….I want to claim that this paper represents a careful thinker drawing on relevant knowledge and findings in order to sharpen action for her fellow practitioners. My fear is that, if we are not cautious, others, divorced from practice, will select what is relevant and appropriate for practitioners to know and draw on.

In a Bernsteinian sense, we see Carol recontextualising knowledge from the field of research to the field of pedagogy. It makes me keen to claim that such moves are still possible for all UKLA members. We need to guard against ‘simple solutions’ ruling the field of pedagogy, especially solutions that are based on an over-economised, simplified or marketised version of literacy.

Are the Key Stage Two Reading Tests becoming easier each year?

Selected by: Kathy Hall, Editor of Literacy, 2008-2011

Over the lifetime of UKLA and Literacy, issues of reading assessment have been debated, explored and critically reviewed. How reading is assessed goes to the heart of what literacy is, what literacy curriculum is valued and what literacy is enacted in practice. As the consequences of assessments increase for individual learners and teachers, for schools and even for entire nations, so the close study of assessment procedures, policies, and assessment instruments is crucial to us as reflective practitioners, inquirers and critical citizens. Mary Hilton’s 2001 article is an example of a rigorous analysis of, not just the change in the content of reading tests over a very short, three-year period of time (in itself arguably not controversial) but of the claims policy makers and politicians dare to make about standards, having manipulated the procedures. The article is important because it acts as a reminder of assessment as a message system and also of the politics of literacy where agendas beyond the welfare of learners are privileged. In the intervening period the use of literacy assessment for comparability and accountability purposes has increased, not lessened. Despite the naïve call in the TGAT Report (1988) that assessment should be the servant and not the master of the curriculum, experience suggests otherwise and points to the need for ongoing, critical engagement of how assessment results are used and abused.

BLACK, P. ET AL (1988). National Curriculum Task Group on Assessment and Testing: A Report (TGAT). London: HMSO.

From Tyrannosaurus to Pokemon: Autonomy in the teaching of writing

Selected by: Teresa Cremin Editor of Reading Literacy and Language and Literacy 1999-2003

In 2001 in the first Issue with a new front cover design (we lost the photographs), Lynda Graham shared significant insights from one of her many action research projects with Croydon teachers. UKLA and its members have long had a reputation for developing co-participatory action research projects with practitioners (e.g. Eve’s Raising Boys’ Achievements in Writing, and Teachers as Readers: Building Communities of Readers). Such work enables synergies between theory and practice, teaching and research to be explored and offers strong opportunities for impact. Graham’s project, which later resulted in one of UKLA’s bestselling mini-books Children’s Writing Journals (Graham and Johnson, 2003), sought to raise standards in writing through focusing primarily upon voice and choice, the will not just the skill. This remains a core focus for the profession thirteen years later, not only in writing but also in reading. Children’s volition and agency as literacy learners, so extensively exercised outside school, is often constrained within the boundaries of classrooms, though this was not the case with the 22 teachers involved in this work. These practitioners afforded new opportunities for young people to write about what mattered to them, to write as experts, and, significantly, to hear their work read aloud and experience genuine responses to their writing, from their teachers and their peers. Over time a shared culture of commitment to writing developed and new relationships developed between children and teachers, characterised by mutual trust and reciprocity. Regardless of the levels of curriculum specification and assessment structures set by government, state and school policies, as this project reminds us, teachers can make literacy learning relevant, pleasurable and purposeful - a creatively engaging and highly social practice.

BEARNE, E. & GRAINGER, T. (2004). Raising Boys’ Achievements in Writing. Literacy. Volume 38, Issue 3, Pp. 152-159.
CREMIN, T. MOTTRAM, M. COLLINS, F. POWELL, S. & SAFFORD, K. (2014). Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for Pleasure. London: Routledge
GRAHAM, L & JOHNSON, A. (2003). Children’s Writing journals. Royston, UKLA.

Synthetic phonics and the teaching of reading: the debate surrounding England’s ‘Rose Report’.

Selected by: Henrietta Dombey Editor of Literacy 2004-2007

The “Rose Report’ was the fruit of a governmental enquiry into the teaching of early reading, set up in response to a recommendation by England’s Education Select Committee, at a time when the media were trumpeting the apparently striking progress made by children in Clackmannanshire taught through a synthetic phonics approach. In the years since its publication in 2006, the report’s wholehearted endorsement of synthetic phonics as the most effective route of entry into literacy has been hugely influential on the teaching of young children throughout England.

But while political decision-makers and Ofsted inspectors have accepted the report’s findings without question, using it to justify an increasingly tight insistence on this narrow approach to early literacy teaching, many educationists - teachers, teacher-educators and researchers - have taken a more sceptical view of the ‘Rose Report’ and a wider view of what the teaching of early reading should involve. This is in large measure thanks to this paper by Wyse and Styles, which demonstrates with lucidity how shaky are the foundations upon which the espousal of synthetic phonics rests. Their paper carefully examines the research evidence cited by Rose and looks too at the broader context of reputable studies of early reading. It exposes the amateurishness of Rose’s survey and provides educators with a salutary reminder of the need to use their critical intelligence to examine key pedagogical issues rather than accept all government recommendations as infallible.

Remaking primary education: reading Children, their World, their Education: Final Report and Recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review

Selected by: Kathy Hall, Editor 2008-2011

Review articles are usually reserved for detailed scrutiny of one significant study or publication. This particular one by Gemma Moss is devoted to an analysis of the enormous corpus of work making up the Children, their World, their Education: Final Report and Recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review. The Cambridge Primary Review (CPR) was led by Robin Alexander and was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the latter particularly significant since one might expect government to fund an evaluation of its scale and scope. The CPR offered a root and branch review of educational purposes, aims, values and methods arguing that if government is not willing to embark on such a project then it behoves others with the relevant expertise to do so on the grounds that the system of education is a public one belonging to the people. Moss says how the CPR represents ‘a significant intervention into public and political debate about education and what its point and purpose should be’ (p148) and reflects on how England’s education system so highly centrally controlled remains ‘an oddity’ internationally. I suspect that four years on the CPR itself has many lessons about how to do and how not to do reform, about what really matters in primary education, about the principles, values and pedagogies that are in the public interest serving the public good in the broadest humanitarian sense in a democratic society. This article attests to UKLA’s interest in engaging not just with the specifics of literacy as a domain but also with the bigger picture of which literacy is such a vital part.

Students using multimodal literacies to surface micronarratives of United States immigration

Selected by: Cathy Burnett, Editor of Literacy 2011-2014

The work of UKLA has been considerably enriched over the years through the contribution of colleagues from outside the UK and, as the readership for Literacy has become increasingly international, we’ve had a growing number of submissions from outside the UK. During our time as editors, the journal has included articles from Australia, Canada, Greece, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria and the US. This article by Maria Paulo Ghiso and David Low - included as part of Bronwen Davies’ and Gabrielle Cliff Hodges’ vibrant, stimulating, and often challenging special issue on Narrative and Literacy - is from New York. It describes a project at a summer school for English Language Learners which aimed to draw on multimodal literacies to value immigrant experiences and stories. The article touches on many themes that have been explored and debated in the journal over the years - the role of popular culture, multimodality, linguistic diversity, identity - and explores the use of comics, which have featured in many issues (from Geoff Fenwick’s article in Volume 11, Issue 2 to Rhonda Nixon’s article in Volume 46, Issue 2). What I like about this article so much is the account of Low’s sensitive intervention as he finds a way for one teenager to explore and share his experiences more fully. It is this careful, sensitive work with individuals that so many teachers are doing every day in classrooms which often passes unremarked and gets missed in the grand narratives about teacher quality and educational standards that tend to dominate the policy discourse in England as well as the US.

FENWICK, G. (1977). Comics: An Alternative View. Reading. Volume 11, Issue 2, Pp. 3-11.
NIXON, R. (2013). Teaching narrative writing using comics: Delainey and Rasmussen, the creators of Betty, share their composing strategies as rich literacy resources for elementary teachers. Literacy. Volume 46, Issue 2, Pp. 81-93.