A whole-school approach to improving literacy


Tackling the attainment gap between Pupil Premium pupils and their peers at King Edward VII College has been a key focus for staff, including the aim of improving literacy levels. Cathy Bhundia discusses their strategies.

King Edward VII serves the historic mining community of Coalville in Leicestershire. The area has suffered from the decline of British industry since the 1980s and while there is a sustained programme of local regeneration, we are still one of the most deprived areas in the county.

We have 1,000 students aged between 14 and 19 and, while the number eligible for free school meals is average, the performance of our Pupil Premium cohort is significantly below that of other students.

Within our 2012 GCSE results, there was a 33 per cent gap between the proportion of Pupil Premium students achieving the benchmark of five A* to Cs including English and maths and the comparable attainment of their peers. This was linked to a substantial proportion of students in years 10 and 11 having reading ages below their actual age and this was an issue I set out to tackle as part of my work on the Future Leaders programme.

Improving literacy

I worked with the English head of faculty to support literacy interventions throughout the school, altering the curriculum, assessing students’ reading age, and initiating a literacy and spelling programme.

The education system in Leicestershire poses an additional challenge. After primary, students spend key stage 3 in a high school and only transfer to us at age 14. This gives us the students for only five terms before they sit GCSEs, meaning we have to intervene very quickly if they are not making expected progress.

With the English advanced skills teacher and the SENCO, we decided to trial an online literacy programme (called Lexia) during the autumn term.

It offers unlimited downloads in school or at home and covers a wide ability range, from material for dyslexic students to looking at Latin suffixes! It also has reporting functions that make it easy to track groups and individuals.

We amended the curriculum so that any student who enters the school below Level 4 is given an extra 10 hours of English lessons each fortnight, with those at Level 4a getting an extra 7.5 hours. This has added supervised time within the curriculum for students to work on Lexia, and for English teachers to use the additional Lexia worksheets alongside existing techniques to help students who struggle with a particular concept.

It had already been decided to assess the incoming year 10s’ reading ages, but I had this extended to include year 11 students too, allowing us to use these results as a baseline and to help target our initial work.

We identified a trial group from students in the bottom third of reading ability and gave them access to Lexia’s games and exercises to develop fluency, phonics, comprehension and vocabulary.

I also introduced Breakfast Readers, where a computer room was opened one hour before school, with teaching assistants and English staff there to provide support, as well as tea and toast, so that students without computer access at home had the opportunity to sit and read, use Lexia, or get help with general literacy.

Results from the trial group were very promising. During the period from October 2012 to March 2013 there was an average progress of 3.2 levels. From March, we rolled it out across all the key stage 4 students, building time into the extra English lessons for those underperforming students who had not been part of the trial.

In the spring, I was given line management responsibility for the English faculty on top of my existing SEN duties, meaning more students have been able to access reading interventions.

This included Lexia and a spelling intervention programme based on small group withdrawal sessions every week. The objective of this extra support is to help those achieving below expectation to make at least four levels of progress in a single year.

The average reading age of year 10 is now 14.16, approximately their chronological age, and over the year there was an improvement of eight percentage points in the proportion of students with a reading age of 14 years or above, to 60 per cent. The average reading age of year 11 is now 14.7, having shown an improvement of five percentage points to 72 per cent in those with a reading age of 14 or above.

Our biggest success has been in raising the proportion of students reading at age 16 or above. In September 2012, only 22 per cent of year 10 had a reading age above 16, but this has increased to 39 per cent. Comparable figures for year 11 show an increase from 38 to 55 per cent.

Monitoring the Pupil Premium

The support that our literacy initiative demanded was funded from the Pupil Premium, but staff had no clear idea as to which pupils this funding was for.

I used SIMS to identify our free school meals students and I tasked our assessment co-ordinator and bursar to draw up a list based on information from the Department for Education.

Through the Future Leaders network, I found someone who had designed a Pupil Premium tracking sheet that allowed me to import our Pupil Premium cohort from SIMS and record what interventions have been put into place for each student. 

These students are now tracked on a database overseen by our pastoral team and at the end of the year we compare this with students’ outcomes and evaluate the success of what has been put into place.

We also supported Pupil Premium students’ studies by making sure they all had the equipment they needed, from calculators and memory pegs to revision guides and sketch books, with the finance department reimbursing the faculties.

This tracking focused on all students who were making less than the expected three levels of progress and made use of SIMS, including a red-amber-green rating system on tracking and datasheets to highlight underperformance automatically.

This enabled class teachers, middle and senior leaders to access the information, closely monitor individual student’s progress, and respond accordingly.

The overall impact of all these interventions is still being analysed. GCSE results from August show the proportion of Pupil Premium students gaining the GCSE benchmark has remained at 26 per cent, but this does not reflect the progress that has been made in students’ reading ages.

Where next?

So where do we go from here? Lexia has been rolled out across the whole of the new year 10, with log-ins given out during their induction, along with the opportunity to complete the assessment test. At the time of writing, we are assessing the reading ages of our new intake to measure the impact this has had and tutors have been given staff log-ins to monitor the usage and progress of their forms. 

This has been complemented by an increase in students accessing the spelling intervention programme and we have formalised how our SEN department uses student data to apply for exam concessions for incoming year 10 students.

The beginning of a new academic year is filled with so many possibilities. Our aim is that every young person will get the GCSEs that will give them choices about their future.

  • Cathy Bhundia is assistant principal at King Edward VII Science and Sport College in Coalville, Leicestershire.

Future Leaders
The Future Leaders programme is a leadership development programme for aspiring headteachers of challenging schools across England. It offers a residency year in a challenging school, personalised coaching and peer-support through an online network of more than 400 Future Leaders. Applications can be made this term for a 2014 start on the programme. For more information, visit www.future-leaders.org.uk


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