Reading: the master skill

By Alex Quigley, critical friend to the Blackpool Literacy Project

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that skilled reading, writing and talking, is crucial for our students to succeed in school. And yet, too many secondary school teachers and leaders prove undertrained and simply too busy to support their students to best access the demands of the academic curriculum.

What every teacher needs to know is how academic reading mediates the sophisticated language of each subject in secondary school, and what they can do about it. This analysis by GL Assessment of their New Group Reading Test data, featuring over 370,000 secondary school pupils in the UK, found a significant correlation between students’ reading ability and their eventual performance across all GCSEs. The match was just as strong with maths and science as it proved in the arts and apparently literacy-rich subjects, like English and history.

Reading then proves the master skill of secondary school. The increased reading demand in the latest batch of GCSEs is widely known, but what is a school to do when 24% of your students enter Year 7 with a reading age of only 5? Such demands, faced by the students and teachers of Blackpool, saw the KS3 Literacy Project developed to support school leaders and teachers in their vital efforts. Investing in the hard-working teachers and leaders of Blackpool to enhance every facet of literacy was simply a priority.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that skilled reading, writing and talk, is crucial for our students to succeed in school.

Reading proves the master skill of secondary school.

In secondary schools, literacy was too often seen as a bolt-on extra for teachers of science, geography and PE. Yet, when you dig into the research evidence, it is revealed that being literate is the most essential factor for disadvantaged students studying science1. Reading, writing, vocabulary and talking all mediate the school curriculum. Every teacher can then gain from targeted, evidence-informed training. By investing in literacy training, alongside leadership training on implementation (based on the EEF ‘Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation’), each school had important additional supports to tackle the issue.

There are no easy wins nor Hollywood endings when working in schools facing challenging circumstances. And yet, with sustained support and collaboration, there are positive signs about what can be achieved for the students of Blackpool.

Schools are continuing to keep the main thing the main thing. Literacy is high on the agenda and is proving a priority, with training and support being sustained in schools. It is not just the green shoots of reading assessments that make this work meaningful – it is a project that focuses hard on students succeeding in school and gaining knowledge and skills that will prove long-lasting far beyond the school gates and the challenge of GCSE examinations.

It has been a sincere pleasure to work with so many committed and talented school leaders and teachers to close the gap for the students of Blackpool.

  1. T. Nunez et al. (2017) Review of SES and Science Learning in Formal Education Settings: A Report Prepared for the EEF and the Royal Society. Education Endowment Foundation: London.
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