Boosting student reading skills at ¼ϲʿ - News Blog - ¼ϲʿ


News Blog

Boosting student reading skills at ¼ϲʿ

Posted on: 31st May 2024

Kay Tinsley, ¼ϲʿ's Director of teaching and learning, has written an article published recently in about how secondary schools can boost student reading skills. 

Reading is a key part of our Trust's success strategy; the aim is that children develop a lifelong love of reading and the skills needed to help them access a wider curriculum.

Kay's article is reproduced here:

"Reading can be a fraught topic in schools. Recent surveys have found that as many as a third of pupils in every class struggle to keep up with lessons because of their reading ability, while 9 in 10 teachers think they have a personal responsibility to help weak readers improve. Thirty years ago, when I first started teaching, I doubt most teachers in secondary schools would have said they were responsible for teaching children to read.

That was the job of primary schools or the English department. Now, thanks to the overhaul of the GCSE curriculum and the renewed focus on reading by the Department for Education and Ofsted, few teachers can be unaware of just how crucial reading is.

Regardless of whether they are studying maths, physics, drama, PE or history, students will have little chance of accessing the text-heavy curriculum common to all if they struggle with reading. Teachers are only too aware of this.

There is another, less palatable, reason why reading has become a more prominent issue in secondary schools: the lingering after-effects of the pandemic.

In our schools, we’ve noticed that the gap has widened between weak and more able readers in those years hardest hit by lockdowns, a worrying development that is backed up by .

Consequently, we now run phonics programmes after Year 7 for those students who struggle. 

Yet it would be a mistake to confuse awareness for understanding. Just because teachers are more aware than ever before of the importance of reading doesn’t mean they know how to teach it.

Yes, teachers are a highly literate profession, but we shouldn’t expect avid readers to know automatically how children learn to read.

Indeed, the same survey quoted that found teachers overwhelmingly felt it was their personal responsibility to help weak readers, also found similar numbers were at a loss at times to know how to do it.

It is reasonable for schools to expect their science or history teachers to embed vocabulary acquisition or reading comprehension skills in their lessons. But it isn’t reasonable to expect them to figure out how to do that for themselves.

Teachers in secondary schools must be taught the mechanics, the pedagogical strategies, if they are to effectively support struggling students. How is that best achieved?

Ensure every teacher reads aloud to students

We know that the more children are read to, the more likely they are to move forward quickly and become fluent readers. It is imperative that teachers model reading and that schools embed reading aloud into the curriculum.

Teachers may be nervous initially, so it’s essential that schools support them with training on how to read fluently to children because it’s a skill like everything else.

Identify reading ability accurately

As the DfE’s new reading framework makes clear, it’s essential to identify those children who have fallen behind and by how much. It’s imperative that schools find out who they are and do something to address any barriers to learning. Then share that information.

Class teachers won’t know for certain what the reading ability of any student is unless that information is shared and is easily accessible.

Empower senior leaders to inculcate literacy

There is still a lack of knowledge outside of the English department in secondary schools, of the kind common in primary schools, about how children acquire reading skills.

I certainly didn’t have that knowledge until fairly late on in my career, but schools need leaders who understand how to lead reading across the institution.

Make sure that teachers and students have access to an online resource. In our Trust, we’ve seen fantastic uptake from students if they can read on digital devices and their phones outside of lessons.

In any case, that’s how kids like to read. They would rather be reading on their phones or listening to audiobooks, and this should be encouraged."

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