Deb Shorthouse aims to tackle underachievement in young children through innovative “Family Literacy Project”

Back to: Our impact
In this section: Latest News StoriesCase Studies Twitter

Deb Shorthouse, a teacher at Astrea Academy Trust in South Yorkshire, is tackling underachievement in young children through her “Family Literacy Project.” This project, now in its second year of SHINE’s funding, focuses on early literacy and supports families in the home to ensure children have adequate language and literacy skills before starting school. By involving families, the project recognises the importance of the home environment in shaping children’s literacy development.

Deb established the project with the aim of targeting underachievement in early literacy by working with families through practitioners on various strands of literacy. In its first year, the project involved four participating schools with a total of 32 families, and in the second year, four additional schools within the academy trust joined, with a target of 64 families. Currently, 57 families are enrolled, and more may join in the coming weeks.

In its third year, the project aims to have 15 schools participating, demonstrating its success and growing impact. Through the Family  Literacy Project, Deb and Astrea Academy Trust are taking a proactive approach to ensure all children have the necessary skills for academic success.

Deb recognises the importance of addressing the complex issue of underachievement in early literacy by valuing the role of the home environment. Through this nuanced approach, the project aims to make a real difference in the lives of participating families and ultimately, address the issue of underachievement in early literacy.

One of the highlights of the project for Deb has been the practitioners’ enthusiasm and skills in working alongside families in a facilitative role. “I was heavily relying on the practitioners and the schools being on board with the project and they were absolutely amazing,” Deb shared. “They were so enthusiastic, delivered beyond my expectations and made it work on the ground.”

Deb’s project has been a success so far, but it has not been without its challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the project during the first year, forcing Deb to adjust the schedule and work within a smaller time frame.

She said, “The challenge was Covid itself, we obviously couldn’t go into people’s homes during this time so I had to work within a shorter timeframe, and I was concerned this would have an effect.

“However, despite this, the practitioners were able to adjust and still make an impact and the project continued to work.”

Deb also faced the challenge of recruiting families in the second year of the project. Some schools were able to recruit more families than others and Deb suggests possible reasons for this. She said, “Sometimes it may be due to scheduling constraints or personal preferences that they don’t want to take part.

“To encourage more families to participate, we introduced incentives, such as providing four free gifted books during each visit and a bookshelf at the end of the project. This not only serves as an incentive but also ensures that families have access to books that support the development of early reading behaviours for their children.”

Deb’s project has yielded positive outcomes, both quantitatively and qualitatively. To measure progress in literacy attainment, Deb used the EYFS Curriculum statements, and practitioners filled out pre-and post-assessments to track progress.

According to Deb, “There was clear progress made by the children which was evident in their everyday learning. However, the more powerful data came from the qualitative data.

“The qualitative data was collected through practitioners keeping reflective journals and gathering photographs, samples of work, quotes, and reflections.

“At the end of the year, the practitioners presented a case study about a particular child. One practitioner shared about a child who had come a long way and became tearful when presenting the evidence because of how invested they were in the project and in helping the children succeed.”

Moreover, the project has had a positive impact on the relationship between the practitioners and the parents. One practitioner shared that they used to think families didn’t do things because they were disengaged but now they think that families might not have had ideas to do things.

This was confirmed by one parent who said, “You have given us so many ideas to use. We are inspired to try more now that we can see what he’s doing.”

Deb has ambitious goals for the future of her literacy project. She wants it to continue to evolve and have a long-term impact. Her ultimate vision is for family literacy to be available to all families who need it.