It was a real pleasure to run our first workshop for SLT, focused on strategies for whole school literacy, recently. Despite the Southern Rail strike preventing some from travelling, a group of us met at Teach First, overlooking the steady stream of Thames river traffic and the Tower of London, while just to our right the flags of Tower Bridge fluttered. It’s an iconic location, and one that we shall miss when Teach First make their move to Greenwich in July.
It was very much a learning exercise for all of us as we grappled with some of the practical issues around developing a literacy strategy: how do we ensure that we target the right students with the right interventions, and how do we know that what we are doing is effective?
We covered the practicalities of obtaining reliable data on the whole school population, and the importance of not letting those who are good at masking their problems slip through the net. We spent more time than planned on this, as it was clearly an issue for every school represented. How to make budgets stretch so that small group and one-to-one support are effective was also a theme. The key principle we explored here was that of effective instruction: it is essential that the rate of progress in interventions is extremely high – not only to maximize use of limited funding, but also in order to have students back in their usual classrooms as quickly as possible.
Another key question to emerge was that of changing teachers’ mindsets. We looked at common misconceptions and the limiting influence these can have on the way that schools deal with students with literacy issues. We considered solutions in three areas: policy, CPD and communication. Of these, communication of student data that confounds low expectations is perhaps the most powerful.
Above all, the focus was on developing a clear, co-ordinated strategy that ensures that tight funds are well spent and that students’ time is treated as precious.
Feedback showed that those attending found it very practical, gaining a sense of how screening for the whole school might be accomplished efficiently:
“Clear, practical and evidence-based strategies presented which can be instantly implemented across the school.”
“I found the morning extremely useful. It has given me a clear idea for a workable whole school literacy strategy and blew many misconceptions out of the water.”
“An excellent session that has given me loads of ideas to take back.”
We specifically asked for comments on timing, and there was a consistent message that more time to confer with others, and to reflect, would be welcome.
When feedback says that a session wasn’t long enough, there are grounds for optimism. Next time we will be running the session for five hours, with a working lunch for participants to compare notes with other schools. One of the great satisfactions of organising events like these is bringing people together as a professional community, one with a shared commitment to solving adolescent illiteracy.
We always knew that the timing was tricky: on the one hand, it needed to be early enough to support planning for the coming academic year; on the other, it needed to avoid the pressures of the exam season. We decided that the solution was to do both, so we ran a second event on July 6.
“The day helped me to galvanise my thoughts on my own school context and begin a journey towards a ‘fix’.”
“Rare to have well informed secondary literacy focus.”
You can find out more about working with us to develop a whole-school literacy strategy by visiting our website.