Disciplinary literacy | Literacy

How to develop a whole-school literacy strategy

By Kate Bibby

09 Mar 2022

Five people collaborating on strategy around a table

Create, embed and evaluate a curriculum-wide whole-school strategy in five simple steps

A whole-school literacy strategy improves literacy and attainment across the curriculum. Here, we explain how to develop your whole-school literacy strategy in five steps:

  1. Establish a literacy committee
  2. Audit your current provisions
  3. Agree on a new literacy strategy
  4. Communicate the strategy through literacy CPD for teachers
  5. Evaluate and plan the next stage

Why should you develop a whole-school literacy strategy?

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.

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 a whole-school strategy that works for your school.

Step 1: Establish a literacy committee

Establish a working committee that can meet regularly to agree on strategy and monitor progress. Members should include your Head of Literacy/Literacy Coordinator, your librarian, and teachers from across all subjects to ensure literacy is represented across the school.

Agree on this 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

Step 2: Audit your current literacy provisions

To identify areas for improvement and measure progress, you need to audit your current literacy provisions, as well as the current level of learners' literacy.

When auditing your current literacy provisions, you could also evaluate the impact any issues with literacy are having on:

  • Teaching and learning
  • Behaviour and absenteeism
  • Test and exam performance

Auditing your learners' current literacy level can be difficult without clear diagnostic tools. Bedrock Learning's alpha test provides great data on this, pre-organised to save your literacy committee time. The most important step is having that benchmark so you can identify gaps in your strategy and measure literacy improvement.

Step 3: Decide on your current literacy strategy

Where do you want to be with your literacy improvement? How are you going to achieve literacy goals? If you're not sure where to start, it can be helpful to split your desired outcomes into the three components of literacy:

  • Reading
  • Writing, including grammar
  • Oracy

Your strategy should be easy for teachers of all subjects to implement, ensuring that your literacy improvement efforts are consistent throughout the curriculum. As well as this, your strategy should be simple for the literacy committee to measure through data, eg. using holistic assessment data from Bedrock's grammar curriculum.

The Education Endowment Foundation's guidance report, Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2, recommends you take "at least two terms to plan, develop and police strategies on a small scale before rolling out new practices across the school."

  1. Select three main objectives to work on. These could be all three components of literacy or one element you want to focus on.
  2. You're not alone when implementing a whole-school literacy strategy. Learners and parents can be key to making sure the strategy sticks.
  3. Think about whether your literacy objectives support learners with additional needs, such as EAL and PP students.
  4. Set a realistic timeframe to measure impact. After a term, a small evaluation would work, but do a thorough evaluation after a full year.

Impact can be measured through data such as:

  • Exam results
  • Learner engagement
    • Assessed by teachers and by learners themselves!
  • Bedrock performance data

Step 4: Communicate your whole-school literacy strategy through CPD for teachers

To deliver on the objectives set in your strategy, your committee will need to:

  1. Engage all teaching staff around why literacy is important in every discipline, the benefits of whole-school literacy and their role in its implementation.
  2. Communicate your school's literacy strategy, objectives, timescales and required actions to your colleagues.
  3. Outline the whole-school literacy CPD and the support you'll offer other teachers. Bedrock's free CPD webinars are a great option!
  4. Involve parents and learners in your whole-school literacy strategy.

Step 5: Evaluate your whole-school literacy strategy

Use data to review your strategy and enhance your strategy. As your strategy progresses, you may want to add, change or replace objectives to fit with the components of literacy.

If you feel you're on the right track with your literacy strategy, you can use additional tools such as Bedrock Mapper and T&L CPD to enhance your literacy even further.

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