SWIFT is pleased to be supporting the Devon Right to Read initiative that launched at the end of April.
Primary School colleagues gathered together on Monday 26 April 2021 for the online launch of the new Devon Right to Read initiative (www.devonrighttoread.org.uk).
Director of Kingsbridge Research School (KRS), Jon Eaton introduced proceedings, joined by Lorwyn Randall, the Regional Delivery Lead, South West & South Coast for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), as two of the partners in the project. Also present were partner representatives: Samantha Chapman, Strategic Lead for Effective Learning, Babcock LDP; Zoe Milligan, Evidence Leader in Education on behalf of KRS; Tatiana Wilson, Education Adviser with the Diocese of Exeter and Alison Jones, Primary English Adviser for Babcock.
The partnership originates from joined-up thinking about exploring ways to tackle the stubborn achievement gap for disadvantaged pupils in Devon with reading at the core of the programme. As Alex Quigley said, “Reading is one of the most metacognitive things you can do.”
Devon Right to Read focuses in particular on reading in Years 3 and 4, as analysis of reading outcomes in Devon has found that Disadvantaged children currently do less well than disadvantaged children nationally in achieving expected standards at KS2 in reading: 56.6% (Devon) vs 59% (National). There is a 20.2% gap between Disadvantaged Pupils and non-Disadvantaged Pupils in Devon: 56.6% (DS) vs 77.6% (Non-DS). Based on verified 2019 SATS data. In addition to this on average approximately 60% of our NQTs are assigned to Years 3 and 4 classes, which often sees a slump in children’s progress. Head Teachers deduce that reading goes under the radar in these year groups with an earlier focus on phonics.
Indeed, the statistics speak for themselves. Devon is in the lowest third of Local Authorities in terms of months gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. At the end of KS2 disadvantaged children in Devon are 10.8 months behind and by the time of GCSEs, disadvantaged children are 20.8 months behind in Devon compared with 18.1 months nationally
The main focus, or the DNA of the Devon Right to Read project, is to focus on the principles behind literacy and to ensure a strong implementation with a focus on improving the teaching of reading by supporting teachers to provide children with effective reading strategies. By closing the reading gap for disadvantaged children there is the double positive impact in boosting pupils’ confidence, and their successful outcomes in all aspects of schooling. Ultimately enhancing children’s life chances.
With its decisive and alliterative use of “Right to Read” the project feels dynamic, strong and positive. A call to arms. Or a call for school improvement to confront reality and to use practical ways to tackle and close the gap through evidence-based assessment and diagnosis, and targeted interventions and principles that make them effective. EEF Key Stage 2 guidance support is the basis of nine modules delivered over three days training.
Literacy Content Specialist for the EEF, Caroline Bilton joined the event from Newcastle. Familiar with some areas of deprivation in the North East, she is co -author of the EEF Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1 guidance report, and is now working on the Key Stage 2 report.
Caroline reiterated the importance of understanding the context and evidence in knowing your own schools and families and making evidence as accessible as possible. There is value in supporting and developing a trusting relationship with those families who desperately want their children to read, and are struggling in understanding and the complexity of that task.
The most important thing is talking. By giving children every opportunity to learn through talk they are provided with the foundation and essential starting point to develop as confident readers. “Talk is the sea upon which reading and writing float,” (James Britton, 1970).
A teacher herself, Caroline understands that teachers make it look easy; but it is vital to get children involved in high quality interactions and to show genuine interest in them with effective modelling/scaffolding and to use explicit teaching as building blocks for fluent reading; referring to The Matthew Effect, of creating a rich literacy experience. Remember the mantra: talk with children, not to them! Talk will build on the architecture in a child’s brain. Those children who have benefitted from a rich experience write instinctively.
Caroline’s joy of reading with children and inspiring, motivating and engaging and making reading an adventure was palpable. “Be a reader of children’s books. Your love of reading is infectious…Take children on adventures in the books you share…Allow all children to feel successful as readers.”
Ultimately, teaching children to read is a moral imperative. All the more essential in the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown effect. Again, the data is stark. Comparison of reading tests between 2017 and 2020 showed that children were two months behind and disadvantaged children seven months behind.
Dawn Stabb, Head of Education and Learning at Devon County Council, reflected on how society has changed rapidly in the past year. Not least the ongoing context of interactive technology in which children are immersed. She reminded the audience to remember the power of simply reading, which can transcend barriers to learning and spark the imagination and build curiosity. Reading also has the added benefits to help children build their own vocabulary, develop their fluency and help their writing. Reading can help children understand what is written and what they hear, as listening outcomes make a difference to help children achieve in the classroom, with the added awareness of children with visual or hearing impairments.
The lockdown has also impacted on mental wellbeing with a special role for books and reading to play beyond raising academic achievement. Reading can develop emotions and interactions with friends and family and help children and young people work through difficult situations and build up children’s thoughts. With both wisdom and passion, Dawn reminded the audience, “Don’t forget what made us fall in love with reading and impart this to children.”
Professor Jonathan Sharples, who works with Lorwyn and Caroline at the EEF and is based at UCL, explained the processes of effective implementation. Citing Dr Jake Anders on the EEF Projects Review, he noted that “Where there are problems of implementation these often appear to be linked to a lack of shared understanding among senior leaders and teachers of what is involved.”
Implementation is lots of small things done well, what he termed, “uncommon common sense.” A shared and a central vision with tacit expertise and knowledge that is explicit and structured. In other words, the essential thing is that implementation is manifested in day-to-day work with an enthusiasm so that staff feel trusted to lead the changes. Drilling down needs to be done to identify the active ingredients (using a memorable stick of rock image) as the essential practices and principles for intervention in order to achieve the intended outcomes. Using a gardening metaphor, Jonathan explained the value of preparing the ground, clearing out the garden and creating space to plant: Explore, prepare, deliver and sustain.
Action for schools as part of this exploration, understanding reflection phase, was to set up an implementation team and to complete a CPD Short Course questionnaire.
Lorwyn and Samantha concluded the launch by thanking schools for attending and expressed their excitement to work with so many schools on the project. The emphasis on long-lasting embedded sustainable literacy practices was one of the many memorable takeaways from the launch, with the benefits of the Devon Right to Read programme for ALL children, as well as the disadvantaged.
We will watch with interest.
Report by Jude Owens
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