Have you ever been presented with a student you were at a loss how to teach? That is why I created City Phonics.


A student came to my Monday afternoon Adult Literacy class unable to read or write and I did not know where to begin with her. It took me a number of weeks to work out that she was just copying my words and not writing; she, in fact, could only read two words, her name and the name of her favourite football club! I had numerous Adult Literacy and ESOL teaching qualifications but, like many others, had never been taught the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how to teach an adult how to read and write! I was fortunate enough to be teaching Family Literacies at that time too when I was introduced to synthetic phonics, a reading and writing scheme brand new to me. I saw how well it worked with children and knew I could adapt it to suit my students! There was much to learn: phonemes, graphemes, blending, decoding and then I had to put them into a teaching structure which my students could understand and learn from. We have always followed a social practice model in Adult Literacy in Scotland and using Friere’s model as my template, I set about creating a whole language programme that included   alphabet awareness, basic grammar and spelling. It took a while and after some trial and error, all happily accepted by my Monday students, City Phonics began taking shape and whilst it was hard work, usually always in my own time, I was continually enthused by the progress all the students were making! Once I had established a recognised teaching programme with formative assessments, I was keen to make City Phonics an accredited course in order to offer my students the same opportunities as all the others and after a rigorous quality procedure, City and Guilds accredited the programme thus filling the gap that existed for Adult Literacy students in Scotland. 

Throughout the time I had been developing the course I had also been developing tutor training in the hope that other colleges and stakeholders would share my enthusiasm and choose to purchase the resources for their students. When the course was officially launched in February 2018, two NHSGGC Forensic Mental Health services, a local Community group and Glasgow Life had done just that. I was over the moon and I trained all their Adult Literacy and delivery staff using the most current version of the Tutor Training which was very well received.

Just before the launch a casual conversation with a colleague resulted in a meeting with the college’s Senior Learning Technologist who was convinced that an app could be created and developed around City Phonics! It can come as a surprise to know that many of our students already use SmartPhones in a range of ingenious ways and this opens another avenue for learning. He suggested one that mirrored the course and that students could access in class or in their own time and after a lot of hard work on funding applications we have brought a  team of like-minded folk together to work on the project. After some initial work last year with students from the Digital Skills Academy in Dublin to create a prototype, we are now funded by the Ufi Charitable Trust to  dedicate time each week from September 2019 to create a SmartPhone app for Apple and Android phones which will feature voice and handwriting recognition and multimedia gameplay. This will help our students to practice exercises between F2F classes and opens up opportunities for developing their digital literacies. We have decided to call our App the ‘Citizen Literacy App’ as it gives a social justice identity – highly appropriate to the history and traditions of the city of Glasgow. Our team consists of John Casey, Senior Learning Technologist COGC, Colin Hamilton from Micro Phonics Ltd, Will Gregory from ReachWill Ltd., Claire Collins who is very well respected in the Adult Education field in England and myself.

When City Phonics launched last year we had three customers and now have over twenty all over Scotland and one in Northern Ireland and I have had notes of interest from Australia and am due to deliver a presentation at a Literacy Conference in Nicosia, Cyprus in October which will help raise awareness of City Phonics, the Citizen Literacy app and hopefully helping to bolster our opportunities to work with European partners in making phonics-based, Adult Literacy resources available in other languages.

When our 2019- 2020 term begins, I start developing the next two levels of City Phonics for my college-based class as well as continuing to deliver City Phonics at one of our stakeholder locations. Please contact me if you would like to hear more about City Phonics and the Citizen Literacy App.