Education Policy, From the Chalk Face, Reading Interventions, School-wide Literacy
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Doors to Opportunity

January is named after Janus, the god of doors, who looks both backwards and forwards.

As always at this time of year, it is a time to reflect on the previous year as we revise and make plans for the year to come. Here are this blog’s most popular posts of 2017 :

  1. Does phonics help or hinder comprehension?
  2. Seven Steps to Improving Reading Comprehension
  3. Reading is Knowledge
  4. Recommended Reading for Adolescent Struggling Readers: Fiction Series
  5. Six Ways to Help Struggling Readers in Your Classroom
  6. 7 Misconceptions About Teaching Adolescents to Read
  7. Seven ways to increase a student’s chances of exclusion
  8. Beware the Reading Traps
  9. Code-Teaching or Code-Breaking?
  10. Pulling the Strands Together

Now we stand on the threshold of another year. I read with interest the replies to a tweet asking, “If you could change one thing in education / schools in 2018, what would it be?” (The replies were summarised in this blog post.) Unsurprisingly, funding was at the top of the list. People were also concerned with political interference, accountability pressures, and recruitment and retention of staff. There were also a number of replies focused on greater inclusivity, building a more caring climate, and seeing the child as a whole person.

What intrigued me was that there was no specific mention of how we might help the 20% of children at secondary school with reading difficulties. It is as if this problem doesn’t exist, or is insoluble; it is simply part of the wallpaper of our teaching lives, and to be accepted. Literacy intervention is usually managed from SEN, with the underlying assumption that support for struggling readers will always be needed. This would make sense, perhaps, if these students couldn’t be helped.  But, as we try to make clear through so many of our blog posts, that simply isn’t true. The problem exists only because we allow it to. What could be more important in education than ensuring that all students leave secondary school with a competent level of reading? If that is the case, then perhaps we need to adjust our priorities, and, as one tweeter suggested, give our students “what is right, not what is left”.

Looking forward, here’s my wish list for 2018:

  1. That schools would place the same value on children who are struggling with reading as they do on those who are successful. Students at ‘the lower end’ are capable of massive progress if they are taught the skills they need to access the curriculum. I hope that school leaders will understand the importance of intervening now to ensure that these students get the best Progress 8 grades possible in one or two years’ time.
  2. That students with low reading would cease to be seen as ‘low ability’ but rather as ‘low attainers’ – in the sense that they haven’t attained because they haven’t been taught as they needed to be, not because they lack potential.
  3. That schools would take the time to evaluate what is working and what is not, and to abandon the notion that doing ‘something’ is sufficient. It isn’t. We should only be investing students’ time in activities that will be of real benefit to them. I’d like students’ time to be seen as the most valued resource in schools.
  4. That we would see literacy interventions being managed as an extension of the English curriculum, where the staff have a real incentive to see results.

Let’s open the doors of opportunity for these students. There is so much that can be done, for relatively minor expense, that will be of enormous benefit to schools, communities and the children themselves. Here’s to an ambitious and successful year for education in 2018.

If you are thinking about literacy in secondary school, then you may wish to read this blog’s most popular posts of all time:

  1. Does phonics help or hinder comprehension?
  2. 7 Misconceptions About Teaching Adolescents to Read
  3. Seven Steps to Improving Reading Comprehension
  4. Code-Teaching or Code-Breaking?
  5. Pulling the Strands Together
  6. 10 Point Checklist: Literacy at Secondary School
  7. No Excuses Left
  8. Reading is Knowledge
  9. Recommended Reading for Adolescent Struggling Readers: Fiction Series
  10. 15 Tests for Secondary School Reading Interventions

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