Giving pupils access to a full time education is a good thing but to really benefit from the opportunity so much more is required. Amongst others, one key element is a pupil’s ability to read. As the curriculum has substantially increased in content and challenge poor reading ability is significantly hampering too many pupils’ access in a whole range of subjects.
It’s taken twelve months for us to move from starting to wrestle with the problem to implementing a potential solution. Whilst the solution has been different in our two primary academies compared to the secondary academy there are also similarities; if we want good readers then we need pupils to read more. My line in various conferences I’ve spoken at is, “More reading is like less smoking; it’s just good for you”. I sometimes follow it up with what was my standard line to the young Tierney’s when broccoli appeared on their plates, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat (read) it”. I’m not sure it’s possible to teach a love of reading but if pupils read more often and read a range of different literature they will become better at reading; love may follow.
It is difficult to see how a pupil can achieve academically without being able to read well. Additionally, from a small evidence base in Blackpool, it appears that the overwhelming majority of pupils in alternative provision have reading ages substantially below their chronological age. We can do something about that and if there is a causal link then the reading may have a part to play in improving behaviour in class and consequentially reducing exclusions from schools. Improving the reading ability of all pupils becomes a powerful equity and school improvement lever.
The Road Map
The above logic model lays out the main elements of the plan and key aspects of the implementation. The programme is now being supported by the Opportunity Area and Right to Succeed as it has expanded from a St. Mary’s Project to involving nearly all of the secondary academies in Blackpool.
At a secondary level finding time to read can be a challenge; different schools have different approaches based on DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) with some schools using a literary canon and others commercial programmes like Accelerated Reader. The approach implemented at St. Mary’s (see logic model below) was to develop a literary canon and have a set daily reading time. The school’s lessons are 100 minutes long and so two were shortened by 10 minutes each and added to a 10 minute afternoon registration slot to create a 30 minute reading period. The whole school stops at 12:25 pm, four days a week, and pupils spend half an hour reading with their form tutor. It’s always difficult for heads of department and teachers to sacrifice their subjects’ lesson time but collectively the decision to sacrifice subject time for reading was felt to be worth it.
The literary canon was designed to give pupils an experience of different literature: American, Modern Literature, Different Cultures, 20th Century British, Pre-1900 British and non-fiction. Each book has a list of similar recommended books which pupils will hopefully read in their own time, having enjoyed the original book in school. These books are in addition to books read in English lessons.
Two complementary strands are being developed and implemented. Pupils in a number of year groups complete Bedrock Vocabulary – an online vocabulary programme – as homework and engage with Sound Training – another vocabulary based programme – taught over a six week hourly programme to small groups of pupils. Future plans will be the development of explicit teaching of Tier 3 (subject specific vocabulary) prior to it being required by students.
Pupils in Years 7-9 will read six books, in school over the year, and those in Year 10 and 12 three and two respectively. On Sunday, I’ll share the implementation process and resources for some of the first books being read.
During the second half of Years 10 and 12 and in Years 11 and 13, we have set up a revision programme based on retrieval practice to improve classroom learning and assist in examination preparation (more in another blog, sometime).