Strategies for improving literacy


Emily Boyle spent her first year with Future Leaders working on improving literacy across her school. She explains how.

The National Literacy Trust’s 2011 report Literacy: A route to addressing child poverty states that: “Literacy skills do not just enable educational attainment; they underpin strong family relationships, better health choices and an individual’s capacity (and confidence) to gain employment.” 

Reading this at the beginning of my first year on the Future Leaders programme at The Oldham Academy North, I understood the importance of raising standards of literacy at a school where
96 per cent of students have English as an additional language, and 57 per cent are eligible for free school meals (FSM).

Student attainment on entry to the academy is significantly below average — 56 per cent of year 7 students enter with a reading age under 9.6 years. The reading ages of almost all of our students are also low, with all year groups having at least 70 per cent of students below their chronological reading age. Students were struggling to access the curriculum, and as a result, progress was limited and student engagement was an issue across the majority of subjects. 

After introducing a successful “One Academy, One Book” initiative to raise awareness of the importance of reading for pleasure, I piloted several literacy programmes, including Better Reading Partnership Scheme, SRA/McGraw-Hill Corrective Reading, McGraw-Hill Read to Achieve, and the Lexia programme.

The literacy programmes ran alongside existing interventions, such as Toe By Toe and Accelerated Reader, which were made more effective and targeted. A key challenge I faced was tracking student progress, due to the variety of programme-specific measures. Using ratio gains (reading age in months divided by chronological time in months) allowed us to make effective comparisons of student progress between programmes. The outcomes of the pilots in six months were very positive, and included:

  • Eighty per cent of year 7 to 9 students completed the SRA/McGraw-Hill Corrective Reading pilot and made ratio gains of 2.5 or more; half made ratio gains of 5.5 or more.

  • Year 9 students who took part achieved at an average of 1.75 times the expected rate of progress during the intervention period (with boys making an average of 3.7 times the expected rate and FSM students averaging seven times this rate).

  • Year 8 students who took part in Accelerated Reader made on average 2.7 times the expected rate of progress.

The majority of students in years 7 to 9 now follow at least one reading programme, with a targeted group of year 10 students following a range of programmes as part of our “Read for Success” option block.

We have seven academy reading strategies, including “Activating Prior Knowledge” and “Visualising”, and these are used by staff across subjects to support students when accessing texts. The strategies have also transformed the way in which key stage 3 and GCSE English is approached. Between 2011 and 2012, three-plus levels of progress in English increased from 55 to 71 per cent.

Last year was a first, vital step on an important journey for the academy. New challenges include promoting academic discussion and developing writing skills. Our long-term objective is that all students leave the academy with the literacy skills required to gain employment and enjoy the broader life chances of their more socially advantaged peers. 

  • Emily Boyle is assistant principal (literacy) at The Oldham Academy North in Greater Manchester. She started with Future Leaders in June 2011.

Further information
Future Leaders are required to do an Impact Initiative, such as Emily’s above, each year to ensure they are making an impact for the most disadvantaged pupils. Applications for Future Leaders Cohort 2013 are now open. Visit


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