Embedding a whole-school literacy strategy: tips from Bedrock teachers

Primary and secondary school leaders share best practice for engaging staff and students

We know the curriculum-wide impact of improving literacy, and our blog on how to develop a whole-school literacy strategy has become a valuable resource for teachers. To share expertise from the Bedrock school community, we held a webinar with three primary and secondary school leads giving their tips on:

engaging staff with a whole-school approach to literacy
implementing quick wins and longer-term approaches
evaluating the impact of a whole-school approach.

How to develop a whole-school literacy strategy

On our panel alongside Bedrock’s Alex Randle (bottom left here), Head of Engagement and former English teacher and GCSE examiner were:

Ellie Ashton (top left) – Head of English at John Smeaton Academy, Leeds, part of United Learning. On entry, 50% of students have a reading age below their actual age. Pupil premium rates are higher than the national average. Ellie oversees the whole-school literacy strategy in KS3-4 and its overarching impact across the curriculum, with particular emphasis on vocabulary. She uses the NGRT diagnostic tool at the start and end of every year and most recently when schools reopened. Students had continued to study Bedrock at home and regression was lower than expected. Read JSA’s Bedrock case study.

Craig Early (top right) – Headteacher, Wygate Park Academy, a one-form-entry primary school in Spalding where 50% of the intake is EAL. Diagnostic tools are crucial to understanding students’ ability when they join, and reading and vocabulary are at the heart of their curriculum. Read Wygate Park’s Bedrock case study.

Tara Hobson (bottom right) – Reading, Writing, Communication & Maths Lead at Hailsham Community College in East Sussex, which has a high ratio of pupil premium students. Tara has composed a whole-school literacy strategy and oversees KS3+4 reading tests and Bedrock implementation. Read Hailsham’s Bedrock school case study. She loves Bedrock so much her nine-year-old son uses it at home!

What are your tips for getting staff invested in school-wide literacy?

Craig: Staff can get a bit anxious about the impact of any new strategy on their workload, so we ensure we introduce actions that are easy for us to explain, and for them to implement, but have a big impact.

Ellie: I agree, quick wins are crucial to getting staff buy in! Our whole-school CPD training has enabled all teachers to realise the importance of reading. One activity that particularly resonated was an infographic (left) I created with ‘blob people’ representing our students who are below their reading and writing ages. It was hard-hitting in portraying the extent of our challenge – I had history and science teachers especially who were then prompted to commit to supporting these students.

Tara: We use the Access Reading Test to check our students’ reading ages and show teachers students’ literacy data so they can ensure each lesson is aimed at the reading age of that class, and also create seating plans that allow them to easily see students’ reading age.

I’m creating a booklet to help teachers understand different reading ages and adjust their approach to teaching vocabulary accordingly. I’m looking at Bedrock data [show pic of knowledge organiser] and saying to teachers: ‘X% of students are studying these words from this block – let’s stretch them by showing them these words from this block.’

Can you share some of your successful approaches?

Craig: Yes, we have a two-pronged approach: reading for purpose, to build skills and confidence, and reading for pleasure. On the former, we use scheme books linked to reading ability, such as the Oxford Reading Tree. We introduced Bedrock to make sure students are challenged and it’s been very successful – the Alpha test, which assigns blocks according to ability, is crucial to that. In terms of ‘quick wins’ for reading for pleasure, we have:

Daily 15-minute sessions in which the teacher reads to their class
Daily ‘silent reading’ time for students to enjoy a book
Displays of class texts on classroom doors, so everyone can see what each class is engaging with; as I walk around school I ask students about their text
Class displays of Tier 2 and 3 words, new words from students’ books and students’ definitions. When I walk around classes I ask students what random words on the boards mean
Ebooks alongside physical books, to reflect the blend of books in many homes and encourage parental engagement
Reading fairs and competitions that engage parents.

Ellie: When students get into reading, everything else falls into place. Some of our activities that support that include:

Reading time for 20 minutes each day – tutor and tutees all read the same book
Students’ ‘reading for pleasure’ books; when they encounter a new word in these, they add a post-it and write the definition
The title of every book a student reads is written on a card and stuck to their class door, making for corridors that are very visual and empowering!
Tapping into national events like World Book Day and Roald Dahl Day to improve the status of reading
Promoting our library – 94% of students have a book on loan
Literacy lessons in KS3, which consist half of reading and half of studying on Bedrock. In reading journals, students log books they’ve read, new vocabulary they’ve learned and write reviews, plus they list their new Bedrock vocabulary, capturing a full picture of their learning.

Tara: Yes, these give a flavour of the scope:

We want to instil a passion for reading and encourage students to read for pleasure. In KS3, mentors read to mentor groups once a week for 20 minutes. Reading to students helps them access new vocabulary they may not be able to read yet, and discuss new words and their meanings and contexts. It’s so relaxed you can hear a pin drop!
While we set classes up, students either do silent reading or look at the key words we’ve displayed at the front of the class, identifying roots and affixes to break down their meaning ahead of the lesson starting.
We really focus on introducing Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary into our lessons across the curriculum. I explain definitions, give examples and encourage students to remember new vocabulary by asking if they can act out, see, or hear new words
Bedrock is fully implemented across KS3. Curriculum pressures due to COVID mean that it’s now a purely home learning tool, so I’ve engaged students by awarding achievement points when they complete it and arranged catch-up clubs in school for those who haven’t. All parents get a text if their child hasn’t completed their Bedrock. I contact parents, encouraging them to use their free parental login to monitor their child’s usage and progress. When students complete two Bedrock lessons in a week they earn two achievement points. When they have 50 points, they earn a token for our book vending machine.
I also engage students via social media [Alex: in the Bedrock office you’re known as the TikTok teacher!]. During lockdown especially, we did lots of fun activities – hundreds of students entered competitions about their favourite books and submitted their funny reading positions on Twitter.

What impact have the whole-school literacy strategies you’ve put in place had?

Craig: Despite talk of lost learning during lockdown, our students returned at the same level or better. Reading books and using Bedrock at home obviously had an impact!

Recently a lower-ability Y6 student learned the word ‘arid’ on Bedrock. When it then came up in class, he immediately pointed out that it was his Bedrock word. The whole paragraph made sense to him because he understood that single word.

Anecdotes like this have reassured us our focus on vocabulary and reading is crucial and we can celebrate our approach.

Ellie: Bedrock has underpinned the impact of our approach. When I tracked our NGRT diagnostic test results against Bedrock completion levels, it revealed a direct correlation between consistent completion of Bedrock and improvement in reading age. For example, Y9 boys who had completed over 75% of Bedrock lessons had improved their reading age, on average, by 25 months in a year – despite lockdown.

Along with ‘soft data’ – like students articulating their pride in achievements such as topping the Bedrock leaderboard and their increase in confidence -this confirms that our implementation of Bedrock, complemented by what we do in lessons and our focus on reading for pleasure, is having a positive impact.

Tara: I have noticed the same as Ellie. Despite only using Bedrock for 18 months, we can see Bedrock’s impact. The reading ages of two high-usage students have increased by three years in that time!


If these highlights have whet your appetite, view the full one-hour webinar.

Build a whole-school literacy approach in your school

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