How to develop a whole-school literacy strategy

Teachers working together to build 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 across the curriculum. Here, we explain how to develop your strategy in five steps:

1. Establish a literacy committee
2. Audit your current provisions – how are your students’ literacy skills currently?
3. Agree on your new 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 benefits of improving literacy


The arguments for disciplinary literacy – a cross-curricular approach to literacy teaching endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation – and for whole-school literacy policies are clear. Across the curriculum, students need literacy to access new information, evaluate it against prior knowledge and demonstrate their conclusions. But students can only grasp new information if the terminology used is familiar – 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 a whole-school issue, and improving literacy has a curriculum-wide impact. Our case study of the James Montgomery Academy Trust is evidence of this.

But how do we develop a whole-school literacy strategy that improves student attainment across the curriculum?

While every school’s specific needs are different, here are five tips to help you build the strategy that works for your school.


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. This could include:

  • Establishing your whole-school literacy objectives
  • Engaging staff with the strategy and the benefits it will bring
  • Agreeing and arranging literacy CPD
  • Identifying suitable T&L resources
  • Monitoring and evaluating the strategy
  • Communicating progress with all staff, as well as the wider community, such as governors and parents.

Decide how often your group will meet and who you will report to, and assign a lead (such as your Head of Literacy).


Step 2: Audit your current provision and students’ literacy

In order to 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. For example, Bedrock Learning’s alpha test provides data on students’ current vocabulary level – this provides a benchmark for progress, and helps you to identify particular gaps your strategy should focus on.


Step 3: Decide on your literacy strategy

Where you want to get to? How and when you will get there? How you will measure your progress? 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, able to use  Reading for Meaning  strategies to comprehend texts.

Writing: Students should use strong grammar when writing for a range of audiences and purposes.

Oracy: Students’ spoken communication should reflect their audience, purpose and context. A wide vocabulary is crucial here.

It’s important that your strategy is easy for all teachers to understand and implement, as well as for your literacy committee to measure. As the Education Endowment Foundation’s 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.”

  • Select three objectives to work on. These could be spread across the three components of literacy or focused on a single element.
  • It’s not only teachers who support the literacy strategy! Consider how students and parents can support its implementation.
  • 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.

Plan a variety of methods to evaluate the success of your strategy. These could include:

  • Assessment (e.g. exam results,  diagnostic assessments  or Bedrock performance)
  • Student engagement assessed by teachers
  • Student engagement assessed by students themselves

You should also think about who you will report the impact to – for example, your Headteacher and governors.

Unsure where to start? Our free whole-school literacy strategy template is perfect for planning your school’s new literacy strategy.

Download our strategy template


Step 4: Communicate your whole-school literacy strategy and organise CPD

To deliver on your 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.
Communicate your school’s literacy strategy, three key objectives, actions required and the timescale to achieve these.
Outline the CPD support you will provide for teachers. 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!
Involve students and parents in your whole-school literacy strategy – read our blog on how parents can help support a literacy culture in your school.


Step 5: Evaluate your whole-school strategy

Use your review to enhance the strategy, or even the way you plan to review the strategy next time! Your literacy committee may choose to add or replace objectives. Upon identifying that you’re on the right track with your whole-school literacy strategy, you can add additional tools and research, such as teaching and learning CPD or an educational technology tool, such as Bedrock Learning.

Develop strong literacy and confident voices in your school

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