Given that many children without SEN still start Y7 with a significant deficit in their reading skills, Alison Wilcox considers the characteristics that successful literacy strategies share…
With reading and literacy being so fundamental in terms of accessing learning, let alone as skills for life, it is clear that this must be an area for focus which is tackled using a strategic, whole school co-ordinated approach.
Success often starts with expectations. If schools have high expectations for pupils’ achievements in literacy, and sharp assessment of progress in order to determine the most appropriate programme or support, then the start is solid. This applies to all pupils and, for those with higher needs, Nasen’s member schools sensibly suggest that SENCOs should work with the senior leadership team (SLT) to ensure that approaches for struggling readers are co-ordinated across departments. The learning support/SEND/inclusion staff must work closely with the English department, but with all others too, to ensure consistency of approach and avoid unnecessary duplication.
In addition to this, it’s important that an annual review and audit takes place to identify pupils who are working below expected levels and then to ensure a focus on effective interventions, rather than ‘more of the same’. This would mean that a rigorous focus is placed on tracking the progress of this group of learners, and consideration is taken of the possible impact on other curriculum areas.
What they want
As well as looking at the areas on which schools need to reflect to ensure good practice, we could look at the ‘shop front’ for books in this environment. As any good librarian knows, just making space to arrange titles on shelves will not create a swathe of children interested in reading. A good bookshop meets the needs of a range of customers, so make sure you audit the school’s range of reading material and find out students’ thoughts about the selection .
Some school libraries have great success engaging students by working with the school council to focus on developing a range of books to support key groups. Others have invited guest speakers from the local community or further afield, and authors, using the school website to promote the event and share news resulting from it. Making it more social can also be useful; peer recommendations and book groups can be effective, and encouraging students to produce short, punchy reviews of books for use with their peers can be great ways to ramp up engagement.
Remember, a prominent library space helps draw attention to key texts, and if a book covers a particular issue, why not include some more information? Ensure that book displays live beyond the school library – classrooms, communal areas and playgrounds all offer valuable ‘advertising space’ and help the school ensure that reading for pleasure is to be valued
Once access to literature and a culture of reading for pleasure is promoted, questions about approach could include whether there is a focus on talking to children and young people about their reading, writing and spelling, and how language is used effectively for different purposes. Is this taught, not just within English lessons? And how can we identify ways in which achievement has been raised?
Looking at the rates of progress in reading and literacy across key stages, as well as the rates of progress of pupils on intervention programmes will help the school analyse the progress of higher need pupils and use the data to deal with any underachievement, but it’s also important to look at how you evidence expectations, challenge and support in all aspects of reading and literacy. For specific reading and literacy interventions that are funded via pupil premium, are there published criteria for access to intervention, the purpose and nature of review and measurement of impact and outcomes? Having this information ready helps prepare for inspections. It’s also important that the analysis should go beyond English, with all subjects able to provide evidence of the quality of reading and spoken English. By examining whether all teachers are aware of the challenges students might face with any reading and writing tasks, schools can then ensure that there is a consistent use of effective strategies to support pupils with reading in all subjects. Ultimately, we should examine our own strategies as much as we examine the progress of our pupils; there’s never going to be one perfect plan, but we can continuously ‘perfect’ what we are doing along the way.
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