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Literacy Strategy

Context:

The Hednesford area has high levels of historical socio-economic deprivation, with the Multiple Deprivation index ranking Cannock Chase as the most deprived district in Staffordshire. Several Cannock Chase wards which surround the school have also been identified as falling within the most deprived national quintile. The district has the highest number of adults in receipt of working-age benefits in Staffordshire; only 35% of residents work in a role associated with higher skills and earnings, compared with the national figure of 46%.

Adult literacy levels are low, with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills estimating that as many as 19% of 16-64 year-olds had literacy skills that were entry level and below in 2011. This is well-below the national average of 15%, placing the district in the second lowest quintile.

Aim of this policy:

To ensure that all students who attend Kingsmead School read and write at a level that is above their chronological age.

Pillar 1 – Our Reading Strategy

The research makes clear that reading is the hallmark of almost all professional jobs, it is the master skill of secondary school and the greatest tool any school has to unlock social mobility and move children and their families out of poverty. The problem for students is their vocabulary: students can only write as well as they can speak and need to know 95% of words on a page in order to properly comprehend a passage of text. As a direct result, “vocabulary at 5 correlates directly with attainment in English and Maths at 16” – Alex Quigley[1]

At Kingsmead we have weekly hour-long reading lessons for all Year 7, 8, 9 and 10 students to address precisely this need. 60 minutes of reading per week puts each Kingsmead student in to at least the 70th percentile of readers nationally, before it is even then supplemented by their own reading for pleasure and reading in tutor time. 60 minutes of curriculum time dedicated to reading each week is the equivalent of 1800 minutes in the average school year and exposes students to over 564,000 new words – Nagy and Herman, 1987.[2]

For many Kingsmead students, reading is the highlight of their week, however for some we know it is the only reading they get. As a direct result of what Geoff Barton calls The Matthew Effect, “the word-rich get richer and the word-poor get poorer”.[3] For this reason and this reason alone, the essentiality of curriculum time dedicated solely to reading and the development of reading skills cannot be understated. Reading is vital, it is life-giving, and it is the key to enabling our students to confidently take the next steps on their chose career path when they eventually leave us.

Sub-Strand 1 – Reading Lessons:

Students will read 3 whole-class readers throughout the school year, 1 per term and in addition, they will also read at least 1 further book per half-term as part of their own reading for pleasure. Each set of whole-class readers has been specifically chosen by members of the English Department and SLT to ensure the highest levels of challenge and most importantly, that all students in each respective year group read at a level that is consistently 2-3 years above their chronological age. Kingsmead reading lessons are characterised by discussion, comprehension activities modelling of effective reading strategies and above all, sustained periods of extended reading where students will read out loud, in pairs, in groups and individually, in silence. As EEF research notes, “reading comprehension strategies are high impact and add an average of 6 months” [4] on to the progress of students and in addition, oral language approaches such as reading out loud “have a high impact on pupil outcomes of 6 months’ additional progress”. [5]

Sub-Strand 2 – Tutor Time:

In tutor time, students are taught functional literacy skills in the form of basic spelling, punctuation and grammar, which are then assessed through half-termly quizzes. The results of these quizzes are tabulated and key content is re-taught in tutor time and English lessons where underachievement is found.

Sub-Strand 3 – Reading for Pleasure:

Kingsmead is a school that reads and accordingly, all students are encouraged to also read for pleasure in addition to participating in discrete reading lessons. As part of reading lessons, students visit the library on a weekly basis and are issued with books to read in their own time alongside the reading that is done in class. Students are able to loan out as many as 5 books at any one time from the school. Students in Year 7 take part in the Reading Champion programme, which rewards students who are able to read as many as 10, 20 and 40 books throughout the year and Kingsmead also hosts a Scholastic Book Fair each term, which gives students the opportunity to purchase exciting, recent releases at affordable, wholesale prices.

In 2017, the Kingsmead library underwent a significant renovation and has been turned into an engaging and dynamic space for students to sit, work and read. The library stock has been doubled over the past 2 years and a considerable range of new and recent titles have been added. Students are encouraged to come, grab a beanbag and spend some time reading under the reading tree!... The library is open to students before school, after school and during break time and lunch, so that they can exchange books and of course, read in a calm and quite space. In the spring and summer terms, outdoor silent reading spaces are also opened up around school for students to use.

Sub-Strand 4 – Intervention:

At the end of each half-term progress is measured by students taking a sophisticated online reading age test called Literacy Assessment Online, which uses a series of multiple-choice comprehension questions to accurately assess the precise reading age of students, between the ages of 9 and 16. Students who push themselves to consistently achieve a reading age that is above their chronological age receive a range of rewards, including XP, book tokens and entry into the termly Kindle prize draw. Students who are found to be below their expected reading age receive a range of small group support and intervention as is appropriate for their need:

  1. SEN intervention – some students are given specialist support by the SEN department to help develop reading speed, basic literacy skills and their grasp of phonics,
  2. Peer-tutoring – some students are coached by members of the 6th form student body, who come alongside them for a period of time, listening to them read and supporting their development,
  3. Direct Reading Support – most students who are below expected receive additional specialist reading support from members of the English Department, who specifically focus on developing key aspects of pronunciation, reading for meaning and how to make sound inferences from text with small groups of students from each year group,
  4. The Governor’s Reading Programme – to encourage engagement with and raising the profile of reading, members of our own Governing Body will mentor older students for an extended period of time, meeting with them regularly over Zoom, reading alongside them and coaching them through the process of pushing through with a novel that really challenges them

As EEF research notes, “small group tuition has an average impact of four months’ additional progress over the course of a year” and “Small group tuition is most likely to be effective if it is targeted at pupils’ specific needs.” [6]

Pillar 2 – Extended and Creative Writing

The craft of writing is taken very seriously at Kingsmead and as a result, is practiced often. Every half-term students complete extended writing tasks as part of their assessments in all subject areas, but at Kingsmead we also use a range of strategies to help students to develop their writing skills. In lessons, students will receive writing frames, scaffolds, models, sentence starters, word-wheels and many more things, if they need support with their extended writing. We also use “micro” writing strategies, the “I do, we do, you do” method and a “stepped” approach to ensure that students are taught effectively how to write in a clear, step-by-step, methodical way. Staff members are experts in their field and so, will regularly use “live” writing to model the correct process of composition with students. Students are also encouraged to write creatively at Kingsmead and are encouraged to join the Creative Writing and Debate Club extra-curricular activities. Both clubs enter students into competitions each half-term, where they have their skills tested against other students at both the regional and national level.

Feedback:

Once extended writing has been completed it is marked and students receive detailed, formative feedback that clearly outlines the strengths and areas for development within the writing. Students are then given the opportunity in class to correct, upgrade and develop their extended writing to ensure that it is completed to the very highest standard possible.

Pillar 3 - Vocabulary

The Room of Curiosities:

In 2019, the Room of Curiosities was conceived and created as a truly unique space to stimulate creative writing ideas for students. The room contains a great range of curious, genuine, historical artifacts such a skeletons, swords and shields, preserved animals and fossils, a typewriter and even a mermaid’s hand and is regularly booked by staff to use in conjunction with lessons where extended and creative writing is completed. The artefacts themselves each come with their own unique story that sparks the imagination and are displayed alongside etymology cards that explain the origins of words and phrases associated with each artefact.

Tier 2 and 3 Vocabulary:

The importance of vocabulary cannot be overstated. Each Kingsmead classroom features a subject-specific tier 3 vocabulary display that aids students with mastering the nomenclature of each distinct academic discipline. These words are explicitly taught and referred to as an integral part of all lessons. In addition, focus is given to developing students’ tier 2 vocabulary through the use of Freyer models in lessons, literacy activities in tutor time, connectives displays around the school and Word of the Week, which students will be taught and then encouraged to used in their speech and writing.



[1] Closing the Vocabulary Gap, Alex Quigley, 2018

[2] Breadth and Depth of Vocabulary Knowledge: Implications for Acquisition and Instruction, Nagy and Herman, 1987

[3] Don’t Call it Literacy, Geoff Barton, 2013

[4] https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit/reading-comprehension-strategies

[5] https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit/oral-language-interventions

[6] https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit/small-group-tuition

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