Improving literacy in your school: how to embed the Education Endowment Foundation guidance

How to embed the EEF guidance on improving literacy in your school

The evidence is clear: developing a curriculum-wide approach to literacy boosts students’ chances of success. Literacy impacts all subjects and as students progress they need to demonstrate an understanding of more complex Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary across the curriculum. (Our article on the curriculum-wide impact of improving literacy explores this in more detail.)

Improve literacy in your school

Ofsted’s report, Moving English Forward, confirms:

“Schools need a coherent policy on developing literacy in all subjects if standards of reading and writing are to be improved. Even with effective teaching in English lessons, progress will be limited if this good practice is not consolidated in the 26 out of 30 lessons each week in a secondary school that are typically lessons other than English.”

So, if you’re looking for strategies for improving literacy in your secondary school, where do you start? Each school’s literacy strategy is unique, as it will be informed by its own distinct challenges. However, there are some universal guiding principles to consider:

Involve all teachers and ensure they are engaged in using language to promote learning in their subject.
Identify the particular needs of all students across all three domains of literacy – oracy, reading, and writing
Ensure active engagement in literacy – activating prior learning and providing opportunities to apply skills so that students find it rewarding
Make strong links between school and home.
Plan for the longer term, emphasising the integral relationship between language for learning and effective teaching in all subjects.

The EEF’s report, Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools, is designed for secondary teachers across all subjects. It provides recommendations on reading, writing, talking, vocabulary development and supporting students who are struggling. They are designed to support teachers and leaders to come together and consider how disciplinary literacy – a cross-curricular approach to literacy teaching in which literacy skills are recognised as being both general and subject specific – applies to their subject discipline.

The report notes: “every teacher communicates their subject through academic language….reading, writing, speaking and listening are at the heart of knowing and doing Science, Art, History, and every other subject.”

Here, we summarise the key recommendations from the EEF’s report and suggest some of the ways in which each could be achieved in practice. (A KS2 approach will differ as individual teachers use a more multidisciplinary approach; the EEF’s Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2 report contains recommendations for a coherent literary approach at this stage.)




1. Prioritise ‘disciplinary literacy’ across the curriculum Ensure all teachers are supported in teaching literacy and communication skills, especially subject-specific literacy Our guide to delivering outstanding whole-school vocabulary CPD provides some structured ideas
Instruct teachers on vocabulary tiers and specialist Tier 3 vocabulary in particular
Guide them through key things to consider when teaching new terms, such as our maths examples
2. Provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject Teachers should explicitly teach academic language using approaches related to etymology and morphology to help students make connections Evaluate your current vocabulary teaching
Train teachers in vocabulary teaching and vocabulary curriculum design
Roots and affixes are a key route to enhancing literacy across all subjects. Download our free roots flashcards resource. Our Common Roots topic is available at no extra charge with all subscriptions to our Bedrock Vocabulary curriculum
3. Develop students’ ability to read complex academic texts Train teachers to convey reading strategies such as using prior knowledge, making predictions and questioning Consult our article 10 top tips for teaching your students subject-specific terminology for a variety of suggestions including presenting terms in context and breaking words down to identify their roots and suffixes
4. Break down complex writing tasks Teachers should give explicit instruction, like breaking down writing into planning, monitoring and evaluation. They should motivate students with approaches such as collaborative and paired writing Our Bedrock Vocabulary curriculum is suitable for KS3-4 students of all abilities. Having read a fiction or non-fiction text, they complete writing activities to scaffold learning using their own language.
Bedrock GCSE English schemes, including GCSE English Terms & Analysis and Jekyll & Hyde English Literature GCSE, scaffold students’ written responses to a text with planning, writing, and modelled analysis.
5. Combine writing instruction with reading in every subject Teachers should ensure students can recognise what good writing looks like in their subject Bedrock Vocabulary exposes students to a range of engaging fiction and non-fiction texts encompassing geographical, historical, scientific and mathematical subjects and provides opportunities to embed new knowledge in their own writing
6. Provide opportunities for structured talk Teachers should model subject-specific talk by guiding well-structured discussions with students Our articles on teaching Tier 3 vocabulary and the curriculum-wide impact of improving literacy provide a framework for this
7. Provide high quality literacy interventions for struggling students Schools should have a whole-school approach to proactively supporting students with the weakest levels of literacy, especially in Year 7, and monitor the impact of interventions Our Bedrock Vocabulary curriculum algorithm adapts to each student’s ability and ensures optimum progress. Teachers can monitor progress on an individual and cohort level

Develop strong literacy and confident voices in your school

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