Arlene Holmes-Henderson’s Story
Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson travelled to Australia and New Zealand in 2014 to discover ways to improve the teaching of critical literacy in UK schools.
Arlene’s background is in the teaching of language and literature in schools and universities. She applied for a Fellowship as she was interested in learning about other countries’ approaches to cultivating critical literacy. Critical literacy means equipping learners with the knowledge and skills they need to critically analyse communication. This involves helping them to identify ways in which language is being used to persuade them or manipulate their emotions, and ultimately aids a learner’s ability to discern truth from fabrication.
During her travels, Arlene observed teachers, interviewed school leaders, met policymakers and collaborated with researchers in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. In addition to visiting schools and universities, Arlene was also met education ministers at the Australian Government in Canberra. She shared her knowledge of educational policy, curriculum change and assessment redesign by giving talks to state governments in Victoria and New South Wales. In New Zealand, she met policymakers at the Ministry of Education and academic colleagues at the Universities of Auckland and Otago. She was interested to note the similarities between Scotland’s and New Zealand’s approaches to curriculum reform.
She was particularly inspired by the work of Dr Susan Sandretto at the University of Otago, on ‘multiliteracies’. Sandretto leads a research project which focusses on in- and out-of-school literacy practices. This approach represents a new direction in supporting and valuing literacy beyond the classroom.
Impressed by how embedded critical literacy has become in classroom practice in New Zealand and Australia, Arlene has shared her findings with various stakeholders including: Education Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the University of Oxford Faculty of Education and the Network for Oratory and Politics.
To maximise the impact of her Fellowship findings, she was awarded follow-up funding in 2016 by The Mercers’ Company to host a one day ‘Oracy across the curriculum’ seminar for school teachers, educational charity representatives and curriculum advisors. She shared her Fellowship findings, and invited others to present including the Communication Trust, DebateMate, the English-Speaking Union, Voice 21, the Fair Education Alliance and Oracy at Cambridge, as well as communications professionals such as a professional speechwriter and an ex-hostage-negotiator. The day attracted 80 participants, many of whom have since formed a network of change-makers in UK education.