Top-performing schoolsi come in all shapes and sizes. Schools with high Pupil Premium grants, large inner-city Edwardian schools surrounded by concrete, leafy little village schools and so on. For the first time in decades, the reading scores of eleven-year-olds were detached from other SATs results, allowing greater scrutiny of reading abilities.
By looking at the websites of the fifty most successful schools in 2016 SATs 2 reading, it is possible to find common themes – albeit tentative – concerning early reading instruction and developing a reading culture, in particular.
The majority of top-performing schools:
- Selected one of the main Systematic Synthetic Phonics programmes, either Letters and Sounds, ReadWrite Inc or Jolly Phonics, with some schools choosing Jolly Phonics for Reception, followed by Letters and Sounds, and two schools choosing Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Lettersii. Nearly all schools allocated the standard 30 minutes’ phonics period in Reception and Year 1, followed by a longer literacy period.
- Quickly moved on to a wide range of books following decodable readers and/or some of the original Oxford Reading Tree levelled books.
- Provided copious extra help for children in danger of failing.
- Ensured a close relationship with parents, including helpful information on phonics.
- Developed a powerful reading culture.
Examples of high performing schools:
Edward Pauling Feltham TW13 Reading Score 113iii
ReadWrite Inc Maximum 220 pupils, c.20% pupil premium
‘From Requires Improvement to Outstanding: Our school has won the regional and national award for 2016. See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-tackling-disadvantage-celebrated-at-pupil-premium-awards for more details.
Our parent volunteers come into school to support our pupils with their reading development by hearing individual readers and small guided groups on a weekly basis. Discrete teaching of phonics takes place throughout the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1. Additionally, the phonics skills are applied through daily literacy lessons and across the wider curriculum.’
St Antony’s London E7 Reading Score 111
ReadWrite Inc 484 pupils, c.20% pupil premium
‘Lunch-time reading club. Over 20 TAs and volunteers, 9 HLTAs, school therapist, additional phonics and reading support and RW resources across school.’
Thomas Jones N. Kensington, London W11 Reading Score 112
Jolly Phonics 233 pupils (2/3rds EAL), c.48% pupil premium
‘Analysis of national test data shows there has been no relationship between the achievement of pupils and Free School Meals status since 2006.
The school’s approach to the teaching of reading has been documented in the Ofsted report Reading by Six: How the Best Schools Do It and through the launch of the Ofsted Moving English Forward report and Building an Outstanding Reading School. Our success with the teaching of reading can be seen through our national test results.
Through the Foundation Stage and Key Stage One, our pupils follow a rigorous system of synthetic phonics, based on the Jolly Phonics scheme. Alongside this, pupils in this phase of the school have access to high quality books, both to study in legitimate English lessons and to read independently. The school follows the Pearson Bug Club reading scheme, supplemented with other high quality books banded into the scheme.’
Scotts Hornchurch, Essex Reading Score 114
Letters and Sounds 2 form entry (no information re pupil premium)
‘Teaching our children not only to become proficient readers, but to develop a love of reading is of vital importance at Scotts Primary School. Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.’
St Stephens London W12 Reading Score 113
Letters and Sounds with Jolly Phonics and Phonics Play 2 form entry. 8.6% pupil premium
‘Strong emphasis on readers – aspiration: appreciation of centrality of books and literature. V. active school library, author visits and reading events with parents.
Phonics is taught daily to all children in EYFS and Key Stage 1. Phonics is also taught to children in Key Stage 2, who require further support with phonics and reading.
Much of our phonics teaching takes place in small groups which are targeted to the needs of particular learners.
Home learning Policy involves teachers, parents and children working together.’
- ‘Additional teacher providing daily phonics teaching for groups of pupils. Targeted Phonics Teaching: School Leader deployed to support Phonics teaching. Focused groups of children daily. Additional learning assistant deployed in the Early Years.’
- ‘The teaching of reading, both the technical aspects of decoding language and the opportunity for pupils to develop a love of literature, is one of the most important aspects of school life here at Thomas Jones.’
- ‘All children engaged with Library service for personal, group and whole class reading for pleasure sessions. Enhanced by additional curriculum hand on resources for children.’
- ‘To improve pupil reading level, confidence, lifelong love of reading and increase range of reading.’
- ‘Parent workshops to be held in local library and parents encouraged to sign up their child; visits by authors for story-telling sessions (including POETS), and a visit by theatre groups performing shows to link with focus books will be arranged.’
- ‘Each child’s phonics knowledge is assessed every term.’
- ‘Children are particularly encouraged to improve their communication skills by speaking and listening carefully.’
- ‘Two well-resourced libraries – group sessions with librarian- who also runs a number of popular lunchtime Book Clubs for both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, with over 100 children currently attending across the school. Each month [the Librarian] selects a book that is suitable to be read aloud to children in both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Details about the book will be published together with links to associated activities and games that can be enjoyed as a family. Read Aloud initiative. Parents encouraged to read to their children including yr 6.’
- ‘Across the school, children from older year groups go to a younger class to read with them. This helps the younger children to develop confidence in reading aloud and hopefully inspires them to become independent readers.’
- ‘Our school book collection is vast and varied encouraging all readers to find excitement and pleasure in the books they read. Children are invited to take home at least three books a week, and our effective Home/School diary enables good communication between parents/carers and teachers, where learning and targets are shared regularly.’
- ‘Our curriculum promotes a love of reading, through events, a wide range of teaching resources and texts to engage readers. In our independent learning environment, pupils continually use their reading skills to research and apply knowledge into their writing.’
- ‘Letter to parents: Welcome to our last term in Year 1. You will notice that the emphasis in the weekly spellings will change as we progress through the term. I have nearly finished teaching the children to recognise the different ways of writing the 40+ phonemes we use to read and write.’
ii There are c.6-7 excellent SSP programmes in the UK – performance tables in the future may well reflect this wider choice.
iii Average reading score for England (2016) was 205. Scores of top performing reading schools ranged between 210 and 215 (only two private schools achieved a higher score: 216).