All posts filed under: Education Policy

Allies and Friends

It takes a movement to conquer illiteracy. It was a tough decision.  Would I stay in my school, with my programme and my team, and enjoy seeing students succeed where they had previously failed? Or would I take the leap, strike out on my own to develop the programme and so enable many more children to leave school reading well? When I did make the leap, it proved to be even harder than I expected. First of all it required building an organisation from scratch, which is no mean feat.  Secondly, I quickly found that while many people sympathise with the cause of improving reading, few are willing to be its champions. I can say with some confidence that if it wasn’t for the support of allies and friends, I wouldn’t have made it this far. This post is about how important they are, and why they  too are worthy of support. We had our first breakthrough with Teach First: we applied for the 2015 Innovation Award and were one of the five winners. There are …

Reading Crisis? What Crisis?

The reading problem in our secondary schools is serious but solvable. I have long been pleased that the Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb, is a fan of the knowledge curriculum and a promoter of effective early reading instruction through systematic synthetic phonics, informed by the use of the Phonics Check – so I was looking forward to hearing him speak yesterday at researchED 2017 in Stratford. The introduction of the Phonics Check is important: not as it is often wilfully mis-described, but as a check on the impact of our ‘teaching’ (not the teacher, and certainly not the child). The Check enables us to change the teaching, should we need to. However, until we have uniformity in the effective teaching of early reading, we will continue to see children arrive at secondary school reading well behind. While some schools have adopted effective early reading practices, there is evidence that some schools still use a ‘mixed methods’ approach (with a sprinkling of phonics), or teach using multi-cueing, with phonics as a strategy of last resort. So …

A Heart for School Improvement

What one issue lies at the heart of school improvement? You are reviewing your school improvement plan, weighing up what to prioritise, what to focus on, thinking about whole staff vision, professional development, and of course how to prioritise resources. Tick off the list. Behaviour. Mental health. Wellbeing. New, harder GCSE specifications. A more knowledge-based curriculum. The ‘long tail of underachievement’. What theme runs through all of these? Better reading. Is there a link between poor reading and poor behaviour? We know that poor reading leads to poorer behaviour outcomes. Hempenstall (2013) summarises relevant research : A few studies have evaluated whether poor reading performance negatively impacts ‘distal’ feelings and behaviours that are not specific to reading activities. In these studies, poor readers have been reported to be more likely to act out or be aggressive (e.g., Morgan, Farkas, & Wu, 2009; Trzesniewski, Moffitt, Caspi, Taylor, & Maughan, 2006), distractible and inattentive (Goldston et al., 2007; Morgan, Farkas, Tufis, & Sperling, 2008), and anxious and depressed (Arnold et al., 2005; Carroll, Maughan, Goodman, & Meltzer, 2005). …

How to save time and money through screening

There is a well-known framework for intervention, known as Response to Intervention (RTI), which proposes that students can receive help at three different levels of intensity: Tier 1 – good quality classroom instruction and school structures that encourage learning. Tier 2 – small group instruction to address needs that a few students have in common. Tier 3 – intensive one-to-one instruction for students where Tier 2 is not effective.   Sometimes people are critical of this model as it is deemed an ineffective intervention, but RTI is not strictly an intervention, it is model for delivering interventions – more specifically, for deciding how to allocate resources, so that those who need the most get the most. To get the most from an RTI model, appropriate strategies have to be used at each level – not just more of what they’ve already received (and hasn’t worked). Recently I came across this short but useful practice brief on RTI implementation via the Institute for Evidence in Education. It is recommended reading for school leaders who are responsible …

Are grammar schools the best way to address social mobility?

You may think that providing disadvantaged children with the opportunity to attend a grammar school – supposedly resulting in a more academic education – would go some way to addressing that disadvantage, but it isn’t. It’s a diversion from a much more important solution. Once upon a time, I believed that grammars could be an effective way of addressing the problem – but having read contributions from both sides in the debate, have changed my mind. One reason is the impact on neighbouring schools. Having their highest achieving students ‘creamed off’ will just make it harder for schools to raise aspirations and attainment for the rest. The second reason is that, contrary to the government’s recent claims, low numbers of disadvantaged children succeed in getting into grammar schools. As Dr Rebecca Allen points out in ‘Ordinary working families’ won’t get access to grammar school – and government data confirms as much, genuinely disadvantaged children are seriously under-represented in selective schools. Students from wealthier backgrounds are far more likely to attend such schools. There are significant …

It’s Not Too Late

Our second session at ResearchED English and MFL, Oxford was entitled It’s Not Too Late to draw attention to a common misconception in secondary schools: namely, that students who are reading seriously behind when they arrive at secondary can never catch up. We surveyed the research and what it tells us about what it takes to enable struggling adolescent readers to succeed at something where they have always failed. The keys points are: 1 The difficulty of teaching reading has been underestimated; 2 Reading is more complex and less intuitive than we think; 3 Addressing the problems of older struggling readers is very intricate – and also immensely rewarding. We finished the session with some case studies to show just what is possible with regard to turning around reading failure at secondary school.   Session 1: Wars and Waste Visit our website. Download the reference list for both sessions here. You may also be interested in: Looking Past the Masks Building on the Evidence Why is there a reading problem in secondary schools? No Excuses Left

Wars and Waste

Our first session at ResearchED English and MFL, Oxford was called Wars and Waste to highlight two key ideas: 1 The lack of agreement and open conflict regarding the best ways to teach reading; 2 The immense waste this has created in time, money, and quality of life. The session is divided into three sections: 1 The extent of illiteracy; 2 The reasons for this; 3 The two main approaches to teaching reading, and why one is demonstrably superior to the other. Download the reference list for both sessions here. Session 2: It’s Not Too Late Visit our website. You may also be interested in: Peeling Back the Layers Addicted to Denial? Code-Teaching or Code-Breaking? Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science