How to develop a whole-school literacy strategy
Create, embed and evaluate a curriculum-wide approach in five steps
A whole-school literacy strategy improves literacy and attainment right across the curriculum. Here, we explain how to develop one step by step:
1. Establish a literacy committee
2. Audit your current provision and students’ literacy
3. Agree your literacy strategy – where you want to get to, how you will get there and how you’ll evaluate impact
4. Communicate the strategy and organise staff CPD
5. Evaluate and plan the next stage
The arguments for disciplinary literacy – a cross-curricular approach to literacy teaching, endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation, in which literacy skills are recognised as being both general and subject specific – and, indeed, for whole-school literacy policies are clear. Across the curriculum, students need literacy: they learn new facts and information, evaluate it against prior knowledge and demonstrate their conclusions. But they can only grasp new facts if the terminology is familiar, and as they progress through education, they encounter more niche, academic Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary that they need to understand to unlock new concepts.
Literacy is therefore a whole-school issue, and improving literacy has a curriculum-wide impact. Our customer case study of the James Montgomery Academy Trust is tangible evidence of this. Their T&L Lead Jo Davenport says:
The schools in our Trust that have had the most success with Bedrock have embedded it as part of a long-term, whole-school development linked to their school improvement plans. Where staff from across schools have got involved, the teaching strategies have reached a wider audience and we can see this impact. Many feel that it is this application of a consistent whole-school approach that will ultimately have the greatest impact on learning, rather than continuing to use Bedrock alone – so effectively Bedrock has acted as a springboard for them to implement their own literacy strategies.
Having established this importance in principle, how do we develop an actual whole-school literacy strategy that demonstrably improves your students’ literacy and attainment across the curriculum?
Each school’s precise approach will reflect their specific situation and needs, so no two will be identical. However, we suggest a step-by-step sequence as a guide.
Step 1: establish a literacy committee
✓ Establish a working committee to agree on your strategy and meet regularly to monitor progress. Members should include your Head of Literacy/Literacy Coordinator, librarian, and staff from all subjects to ensure representation from across the school.
✓ Agree the committee’s role in the first meeting. Its remit could include:
- establishing your whole-school literacy objectives and feeding these into a strategy
- engaging staff with the strategy and the benefits it will bring
- agreeing and arranging CPD
- identifying and acquiring suitable T&L resources
- monitoring and evaluating the strategy
- communicating progress with all staff and the wider community, such as governors and parents.
✓ Agree how often the group will meet (such as twice each term) and who it will report to (for example, the Headteacher), and assign a lead (such as your Head of Literacy).
Step 2: audit your current provision and students’ literacy
In order to accurately identify areas for improvement and measure your progress, you will need to audit:
✓ Your current provision. Our article How well does your school teach vocabulary? 8 key questions could be helpful as a starter. You could also evaluate the impact any literacy issues are having on:
- teaching and learning
- student behaviour and absenteeism
- test/exam performance.
✓ Your students’ current literacy. Our article on diagnostic tools for literacy can help you evaluate current attainment. Bedrock Vocabulary can determine students’ Tier 2 vocabulary level and target which words to teach on an individual student level. As well as providing a benchmark for progress, this evaluation will identify particular gaps your strategy should focus on.
Step 3: agree your literacy strategy
Now, establish where you want to get to and how and when you will get there, and how you will measure your progress.
✓ Where you want to get to. Establish realistic criteria for success. It might help to split your desired outcomes into the three components of literacy:
- Reading: students should become confident readers, using a range of techniques to develop reading for meaning. This will develop their vocabulary and enable them to express their ideas clearly in speaking and writing.
- Writing: students should use strong grammar to write with structure, brevity and fluency for a range of audiences and purposes – introducing, substantiating and developing their points effectively
- Oracy: students’ spoken communication should reflect their audience, purpose and context. A wide vocabulary, used appropriately, is crucial here.
✓ How you will get there (your objectives). It’s important that your strategy is easy for all teachers to understand and implement, and for the literacy committee to quickly and reliably measure. They should be ‘SMART’ – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. As the EEF Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2 guidance report notes: “we recommend taking at least two terms to plan, develop and police strategies on a small scale before rolling out new practices across the school.” Other points to remember include:
- We suggest you select three key objectives to focus on. Depending on the unique needs of your school, as identified in your audit, these could be spread across the three key elements of literacy – reading, writing, and oracy – or focus on a single element.
- The strategy should not be the sole responsibility of teachers to deliver: consider, too, how students themselves can support its implementation. You can also engage your parent community.
- While a whole-school strategy should cover all subjects and apply to all students, you may want some objectives to focus on students with additional needs, such as EAL, SEN and PP.
- Ensure your timeframe for measuring impact is realistic. Consider an interim evaluation of progress after a single term, and a thorough one after a full academic year.
✓ How you will evaluate impact. Plan a variety of methods to evaluate the success of your strategy. These could include:
- assessment (e.g. exam results, diagnostic assessments or Bedrock Vocabulary performance)
- student engagement assessed by teachers
- student engagement and learning assessed by students themselves
You should also think about who you will report the impact to – for example, your Headteacher and governors.
Our whole-school literacy strategy template enables you to clearly document and communicate:
✓ your objectives (including suggestions to inspire your own)
✓ how they will be achieved
✓ how and when the strategy’s impact will be measured.
Step 4: communicate the strategy and organise staff CPD
To deliver your agreed objectives, you will need to:
✓ engage all teaching staff about why literacy is important in their discipline, the benefits of a whole-school approach to literacy and their role in embedding it. Our customer case study of the James Montgomery Academy Trust offers compelling evidence of the role of staff from across schools in supporting literacy.
✓ communicate with them your school’s agreed literacy strategy, initial three key objectives, actions required of them and the timescale to achieve these (download and populate our free template to support this)
✓ outline the CPD support you will provide for teachers to contribute to the achievement of the objectives. At Bedrock we can support you in considering your staff CPD needs and suggest a literacy and vocabulary CPD plan to support your unique needs. Contact us for a discussion
✓ communicate the whole-school approach and its benefits to students and your parent community – read our blog on how parents can help support a literacy culture in your school.
Step 5: evaluate and plan the next stage
Most impact reviews prompt enhancements either to the strategy or its evaluation criteria. Your literacy committee may choose to add or replace objectives and/or its evaluation methods. Common refinements include providing further CPD for teachers (contact us for a discussion on this) or purchasing resources, such as Bedrock Vocabulary.