Reading by the beach

In Closing the Reading Gap by Alex Quigley1 Comment

Reading by the beach normally evokes glossy scenes of lying on the beach, amidst the heady scent of suncream and sea air, along with a good ol’ story. Well, this blog isn’t about such a sunny scene…

Today, GL assessment released a report on the national challenge of reading at secondary school – featuring case studies from Blackpool. It made the TES on the challenge of reading in maths at secondary school and the Daily Mail, zeroing in how just how many fifteen year olds have a reading age of twelve according to their assessments.

The main news will focus on the national challenge of too many pupils struggling to read but when you dig into the report, in focuses in specifically on a literacy project (commissioned by Blackpool Opportunity Area), led by Stephen Tierney and St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Blackpool (who are an EEF Research School). The seaside scene faced by schools described in the report by Stephen is gritty, not glossy.

The report shares the work undertaken by the majority of the secondary schools in Blackpool to tackle the literacy challenge and to get their pupils reading and accessing the school curriculum.

For example, Bernadette Kaye, from South Shore High Score, describes tackling the challenge of developing literacy when half of your pupils are living in the most deprived area of the country, along with a quarter of them having a reading age far below their chronological age.

Bernadette describes some of the changes led in her school to tackle the issue: “We have gone from having virtually no textbooks in the classroom – and relying on simpler, non-contextual handouts – to ensuring that each child has a high-quality textbook in every subject.” She describes how pupils are trained to skim, scan and access material in textbooks, so they aren’t just spoon-fed chunks of decontextualised information.

Bernadette also describes how the curriculum at South Shore is more joined up than before, with a richer diet of daily reading, both woven into the school day, and in the subject specific curriculum plans and teaching practice in departments.

Having worked as a critical friend to teachers and school leaders in Blackpool on the project, I have realised that we have some of the best teachers and school leaders in places like Blackpool, but the selfsame teachers face much greater literacy challenges than in many other areas.

Despite some of the challenging and worrisome insights gleaned from the GL report, there is the positive exemplification of schools and teachers tackling issues like academic reading and vocabulary head on. It makes me hopeful and mindful that sunshine always returns after the storm.

It proves a less familiar, less glossy beach scene, but one we should all be interested in.

You can read the full GL report here – ‘Read all about it – Why reading is key to GCSE Success‘ (Warning – there is an email sign up to access the report).


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