School-wide Literacy
Comments 14

Are all students screened for reading?

Gold prospector 1850 California

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Last Chance Academy, a Panorama documentary about an academy which has set up its own alternative programme for students who are regularly in trouble. The academy not only refuses to exclude students but also aims to get them at least five GCSEs.

What struck me was the prominence of reading problems amongst these students. In particular, Chelsea exhibited very stressed behaviours in her exams: it turned out she couldn’t read the paper, but the school hadn’t known. How could such a thing happen? The head’s comment said it all: “She was so good at masking her problem that it never occurred to me that she couldn’t read.”

Greek Drama Masks - Pompeii

A tweet from @MrDavies_Leap suggested that she had missed the screening tests, and this highlights the importance of screening all students. It is important to bear in mind that the students who are often away are also often the ones who need the most help. They avoid school because they find it so aversive, and because they are away often they fall further behind. As this story suggests, poor readers often exhibit disruptive, avoidant or helpless behaviours.

We advocate whole school screening for all students, with subsequent one-to-one assessment for the weakest 35%. This ensures that we can identify whether the problem is decoding, comprehension, a combination, or poor performance due to test motivation. If students are away, we wait until they return and then pull them out of class to screen them. No subject is more important than reading. We can’t help students to overcome difficulties if we don’t know who has a problem. When everyone is screened, we don’t have to worry about students who fall through the cracks. The results are often surprising.

Panning for gold

There are several useful tests available that can be implemented over the whole school and which take relatively little time. If you would like to discuss how to implement screening for all students, then get in touch via or on Twitter @ThinkingReadin1.

You can find out more about working with us to implement screening and develop a whole-school literacy strategy by visiting our website.

Visit our website

You may also be interested in:

10-Point Checklist: Literacy at Secondary School

Headline Measures?

A Question of Progress


  1. Pingback: Are all students screened for reading? | Phonic Books

  2. Spot on, Dianne!
    When I first started working in secondary education in the 70s, we screened all what are now known as Year 7 students, using the Schonell. It certainly wasn’t a perfect test but it gave a very good idea about which students needed help with their reading – and this in a school where, later, they would meet with Great Expectations.
    Testing isn’t popular these days, largely for ideological reasons, but if you want to find out something as important as whether a child can read or not, you need to test. Or, you end up by failing students like Chelsea!
    john walker


    • Thanks John. One wonders whether there is less interest in identifying problems because that would then require a solution. Unfortunately, in many secondary schools there really is a lack of expertise when it comes to solving reading problems.


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